Renovated main building of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum receives favorable response from visitors

by Keiichi Nagayama, Yusuke Egawa, and Kyoko Niiyama, Staff Writers

On April 25, the main building of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, located in Naka Ward, reopened after undergoing extensive renovations. The response from visitors has been very favorable with comments like “We can clearly understand how destructive the atomic bomb was” and “The exhibits keenly convey the thoughts and feelings of A-bomb victims and their family members.” Some visitors were in tears as they looked at the exhibits. At the same time, other visitors felt that some changes and improvements are still needed with regard to the exhibits and the exhibit explanations.

When it comes to the new exhibits, there is emphasis not only on communicating the facts involving the damage wrought by the atomic bomb, but also conveying to visitors the suffering experienced by the A-bomb victims and the members of their bereaved families. “When I saw the belongings of the dead children and the messages from their mothers, it broke my heart. War must never be waged again,” said Mariko Bessho, 70, in tears. Ms. Bessho is from Zushi City, Kanagawa Prefecture, and was visiting the museum for the first time.

There were also streams of students from nearby elementary schools and students on school trips visiting the museum. Nagisa Mimoto, 11, a sixth grader at Honkawa Elementary School in Naka Ward, Hiroshima, said she had previously visited the museum a number of times. “But I felt even more terrified than before,” she said, moving closer to her friend. “I’ll never forget the tattered clothes of the children.”

The wax mannequins, which were once on display in the main building and represented A-bomb survivors in the aftermath of the atomic bombing, have been removed and the exhibits now focus on authentic artifacts. Ryoichi Hori, 57, the principal of Kurayoshi City Seitoku Elementary School, takes students to the museum on school trips almost every year. He said, “In the past, most students would mention the mannequins in their trip reports. Will the new exhibits be able to clearly convey the catastrophic damage caused by the atomic bomb to the students? It will be interesting to see what these students write in their trip reports.”

A newly installed section that offers information about people of other nationalities who also experienced the atomic bombing is attracting the attention of international visitors. Josh Myers, 25, a company employee from Scotland, said with his expression growing somber, “I didn’t learn much about the damage caused by the atomic bomb when I was in high school. It upset me to realize how horrific the damage really was. The exhibits have made me think about how the victims suffered as they died.”

The explanatory texts for the exhibits have been kept brief so that the items on display can appeal directly to people’s senses. As a result, the role of the museum’s volunteer guides will grow in importance. Shoso Kawamoto, 85, a volunteer guide and A-bomb survivor who lives in Nishi Ward, said with strong enthusiasm, “Each personal belonging has a story to tell about an A-bomb victim and their bereaved family members. I will therefore undertake my role as a museum guide with a sense of duty.”

Meanwhile, there were various reactions from those involved in A-bomb survivors groups and others who visited the museum prior to the day it officially reopened. Toshiyuki Mimaki, 77, the vice chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hiroshima Hidankyo, chaired by Sunao Tsuboi), said, “The new exhibits effectively convey the terrible catastrophe of that day. In particular, the photo of the girl at the entrance to the main building, and the children’s belongings, are profoundly compelling to people visiting the museum.” On the other hand, Kunihiko Sakuma, 74, the chair of the other Hiroshima Hidankyo, said, “Given the new configuration of the museum, it now takes a long time to fully comprehend the total extent of the damage caused by the bombing. When the museum is jam-packed with visitors, I worry about how they will interpret the exhibits.” He called for some creative ideas to further strengthen the exhibits and explanatory texts.

Hiroshi Harada, 79, an A-bomb survivor and a former director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, said, “I’d like the museum staff to listen carefully to the opinions of the A-bomb survivors and to update the exhibits as necessary so that visitors will not underestimate the damage caused by the atomic bomb.”

(Originally published on April 26, 2019)