In first year since renovations, Peace Memorial Museum marks 15-percent increase in visitor number—before temporary closure—due to popularity of authentic artifact exhibits

by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer

On April 25, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, located in the city’s Naka Ward, will mark the first anniversary of its major renovations. The museum’s new displays, with increased focus on A-bomb victims’ personal belongings and authentic artifacts, have attracted increased attention from Japan and overseas, with the visitor number for fiscal 2019 reaching a record high of 1,758,746 people. The Peace Memorial Museum’s exhibits convey the reality of destruction caused by the U.S. atomic bombing and call for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The first anniversary of the museum’s major renovations will arrive during the unusual situation in which its doors are temporarily closed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The renovated exhibits consist of four sections, including “Devastation on August 6,” through which visitors can visualize the conditions of the destroyed city, and “Cries of the Soul,” which uses photographs of A-bomb victims and their personal belongings to encourage visitors to confront the pain and suffering experienced by survivors and bereaved family members. Each of the four sections centers on authentic artifacts. A total of 539 photos and A-bomb drawings created by A-bomb survivors, including 305 authentic items and some replicas, are displayed at the museum. The museum also installed a new section that features Korean and other non-Japanese A-bomb survivors.

In June 2019, when the G20 Summit of leaders of developed and emerging countries and regions was held in Osaka, Donald Tusk, then president of the European Council, and numerous other G20 leaders visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum. Also inspiring large numbers of people to see the museum were messages written by Pope Francis, who visited the Peace Memorial Park in November last year.

Starting on February 29 this year, the museum has been closed temporarily as a measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The number of visitors to the museum while it was open during 11 months of fiscal 2019 was 15.5 percent higher than the total visitor number during fiscal 2018, a year in which the visitor number was down due to torrential rains that struck western Japan that summer. Monthly visitor numbers between the museum’s post-renovations reopen in May 2019 and January 2020 increased by 20.1–51.2 percent compared with the figures from the previous fiscal year.

The museum’s temporary closure coincides with the school-trip season. As of April 20, as many as 1,008 reservations for programs involving A-bomb survivors recounting their A-bomb experiences and memory keepers conveying the experiences of A-bomb survivors on their behalf have been either cancelled or postponed. For the time being, the Hiroshima City government has scheduled the temporary closure period to conclude on May 17. However, because the number of coronavirus infections is on the rise in Hiroshima City, projections for the museum’s reopen remain unclear.

A museum official says, “Although it is regrettable that the temporary closure has gone on this long, we have to take measures at the moment that place maximum priority on peoples’ lives. Any plans we make to prepare for reopening the museum will also take into consideration the possible need to further extend the closure period.”

(Originally published on April 24, 2020)