Hiroshima means “wide island” in Japanese. The city was established in the 16th Century on Japan’s largest island, Honshu, and grew into an important shipping center and prefecture capital, boasting a fine castle. Although it was an important city in Japan throughout the imperial period, its reputation in the greater world was burned into history when it became to target of the first atomic bombing of a civilian target in August of 1945. The United States airplane Enola Gay dropped a nuclear device nicknamed “Little Boy” on the city that morning, obliterating everything within a two-kilometer radius and directly killing 80,000 people. Approximately 70 percent of Hiroshima’s buildings were destroyed. Within a year, injury and radiation illness had killed an additional 90, 000 to 116,000 citizens. The attacks on Hiroshima and nearby Nagasaki quickly led to the surrender of Japan and effectively precipitated the end of World War II in Asia.
Within a few years, Hiroshima had begun to rebuild, and the city became the focus of an international movement to eliminate nuclear weapons from future wars. Relics of its past such as the impressive Hiroshima Castle and the tranquil Shukkeien Garden were rebuilt, and the city undertook the construction of a Memorial Peace Park, which today attracts visitors from around the world. The park, which holds a museum and a memorial “Atomic Dome” constructed on the closest remaining building to the blast site, is a moving and impactful place of pilgrimage in this re-born City of Peace. One notable feature is a colorful memorial to Sadako Sasaki, a young woman whose dying wishes for world peace were recounted in the story A Thousand Paper Cranes.