A-bomb Images

Landmarks of Hiroshima: Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound

by Masami Nishimoto, Editor and Senior Staff Writer

Remains of 70,000 rest in the vault

On top of the mound made of soil, 16 meters in diameter and 3.5 meters tall, stands a small stone pagoda, a decorative finial. This is the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound located in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in the heart of the city. The underground vault holds the ashes of about 70,000 people who were deprived not only of their lives but also their identities when the U.S. military dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The remains of 817 people who have been identified, yet remain unclaimed, also rest in the vault.

At the time of the atomic bombing, the area was called Jisenji-no-hana. To the north is Aioi Bridge, which was the target of the bombing. A Buddhist temple once stood here, and the temple grounds were turned into a crematorium soon after the area was devastated in the attack. Temporary crematories were established at various sites in the city, including Honkawa Elementary School on the other side of the river, Koi Elementary School in the western part of the delta, and Ninoshima Island in Hiroshima Bay, as great numbers of wounded were brought to these places.

In the spring of 1946, a man made a personal plea to then Mayor Shichiro Kihara, saying, “Pursuing reconstruction efforts without properly respecting the souls of the victims would be terribly wrong.” When the city began clearing away the debris, the remains of many were found here and there. Under these circumstances, the Hiroshima Society for Praying for the War Dead was established, headed by the mayor. This body erected a memorial monument for the war victims at Jisenji-no-hana in May, and in July, a chapel with a temporary vault was built, with donations provided by individuals. On August 6, 1946, one year after the bombing, the remains which had been kept by the city were placed in the vault, and a memorial service was held here.

As the reconstruction efforts gained momentum, more remains were found. DNA analysis did not exist in those days, and most of the remains were delivered to the vault as victims whose identities were unknown. In 1950, because of the issuance of the Potsdam ordnance decreeing the separation of religion and state, the city government withdrew from the society, and the society became a private organization. The start of the Korean War led to the cancellation of the Peace Festival (now, Peace Memorial Ceremony) due to pressure from U.S. forces taking part in the conflict, but the bereaved families nevertheless visited the memorial and offered incense.

In 1955, with the memorial deteriorating, the effort was made to rebuild it, resulting in the form of today's memorial mound. The national government was reluctant to agree with the plan to rebuild the monument, as it lay inside the park, but the city was determined to undertake the project.

The memorial mound was designed by Kikuji Ishimoto, who also designed the former Hiroshima Municipal Baseball Stadium. Even today, the remains of A-bomb victims continue to be delivered to the monument. In 2004, the remains of 85 people found on Ninoshima Island were laid to rest in the vault. The Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound is indeed the “grave of Hiroshima.”

(Originally published on June 6, 2011)