Next Stop, Japan

Hiroshima City

Hiroshima's History

Hiroshima, for me at least, is city which is impossibly hard to define; history and circumstances make it that way. Most descriptions of the city start with "Hiroshima was bombed with an atomic bomb..." and end with "... and is dedicated to promoting world peace." But, that's just a description of a bomb and a righteous (quite justifiable) political message. If Ashton Kutcher lived in Hiroshima and read that, he would exclaim, "Dude, Where's my City?"

The Beginning of Hiroshima

The Ota River delta that Hiroshima City is built upon has been inhabited since before written history. Small villages and towns on the islands came and went on the river estuary for thousands of years. The people established a strong local culture and worshiped Itsukushima Island as holy place of purity.

Many famous samurai leaders visited and worshiped at Itsukushima Island and its shrine (founded November 12, 593) but the area where Hiroshima City is today wasn't of huge importance in samurai-ruled Japan. Despite the value of a good harbor, no warlord built a castle to live in nearby; reeds, marsh and small fishing villages aren't very glamorous to conquer or rule over. As well, the lack of large natural hills to place a castle on made the location harder to defend.

From the Nambokucho period (1336-1392), the powerful Mori family ruled Aki province from Koriyama Castle (about 45km northeast of Hiroshima). This family eventually secured possession of 9 provinces of ancient Japan in western Honshu. Terumoto Mori in 1589 built a castle on the Ota River delta at what was called Gokamura (Five Villages). From 1591 to 1600 he ruled at the castle before being defeated by Fukushima Masanori.

What had been a large village quickly became a large castle town which needed a more suitable name. One theory is that "hiro" came from a character from an important Mori family ancestor, Oeno Hiromoto, and "shima" was taken from Fukushima Motonaga who identified the site for the new castle. The second theory is that came from a large island in the river delta and that characters for Hiroshima (wide island) simply describe it. In any case, modern Hiroshima was born and from that time and until the end of World War II, large numbers of military forces were stationed in the center of Hiroshima in the castle complex.

Meiji Period and World War II

During the Meiji period (1868-1912), many changes happened to Hiroshima. By 1872, Hiroshima City was established and construction of modern infrastructure was begun. Ujina harbor's ground breaking ceremony took place on September 5, 1884 after much political appeasement of fishermen who feared reclaiming 2 sq. Km would disrupt fishing and former samurai whose trust fund was spent to build it. By November 1889, the harbor that made Hiroshima an effective modern shipping port was completed.

Railways construction exploded during this time. The Sanyo railway was connected to Hiroshima City on June 10, 1894. The rail line to Ujina port was built in just 16 days and construction began the day after the Sino-Japanese War started. The railway to Kure, constructed to connect the two military ports, was completed in 1903.

August 6, 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on the city. The city center within one kilometer of the blast was reduced to a piles of ash and rubble. The rest of the city was either flattened or burned to the ground in the ensuing fire.

After the bomb

Hiroshima City has long since recovered from the effects of the bomb. Buildings can be fixed; economies restarted; some injuries can't be fixed; and the survivors move on. In some ways, only the peace park and a few survivors are all that remain.

Looking forward, trying to keep the same level of intensity in the city's antiwar and antinuclear weapons stance may prove difficult. Peace and outrage aren't traditions. Druids still gather around Stonehenge every year because they have chants and dances. There are no chants and dances that will bring back the pain and perspective of survivors have after they pass away.

Sister Cities

Hiroshima has formed a large number of bonds with other cities.

  • Honolulu, America (1959)
  • Volgograd, Russia (1972)
  • Daegu, South Korea (1977)
  • Hannover, Germany (1983)
  • Chonqing, China (1986)
  • Montreal, Canada (1988)

Posted: April 5, 2011 Updated: February 21, 2015

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