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The renovation of east wing of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

The "White Panorama" exhibit, which shows a video recreation of the moment the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, is seen here. This particular image is a depiction of the sunny morning scene in Hiroshima, just before the bomb was released. (Mainichi)

The renovation of east wing of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

The facade of the recently reopened east wing of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is seen on April 25, 2017. (Mainichi)

HIROSHIMA -- The renovated east wing of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, reopened on April 26, has been designed with the senses in mind. You can literally reach out and touch a recreation of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, commonly known now as the A-bomb Dome, as it was before the atomic attack and after. Or you can stand around a miniaturized version of the city as it is consumed by a virtual blast, bright and terrifying -- an exhibit aptly called the "White Panorama."

    After going up to the third floor by escalator, you see photographs of scenes from Hiroshima before the atomic bombing -- streetcars rolling down city avenues, a horse drawing a cart and children jumping into a school swimming pool -- on a 25-meter-long, 2.7-meter-tall wall. It almost feels like you are transported back to before the bomb fell.

    All this disappears, as you are confronted with a wall bearing nothing but a date: Aug. 6, 1945. This is the boundary, between city bustle and smiling children, and the bomb. Past this point, the visitor is confronted with a panoramic view of Hiroshima in autumn 1945, photographed by the United States military from the ground zero and stretched across 34 meters of wall. The city is gone, replaced by a nuclear desert punctuated by a few surviving buildings -- including the A-bomb Dome -- and almost no people.


    The "White Panorama" exhibit, which shows a video recreation of the moment the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, is seen here. This particular image is a depiction of the sunny morning scene in Hiroshima, just before the bomb was released. (Mainichi)
    "Little Boy," the atomic bomb that was dropped on Aug. 6, 1945, is seen falling toward Hiroshima in this image. (Mainichi)

    Just a few steps away is the five meter in diameter "White Panorama" installation, a visceral virtual recreation of the moment the bomb fell. The one-and-a-half-minute video presentation begins with the city as seen from above, rebuilt in CG based on aerial photographs from before the attack. The "Little Boy" atomic bomb appears, plummeting earthward. And then there is the blast, burning the heart out of Hiroshima.

    "What I really want people to see is the materials on the bombing from the main museum building," said museum curator Kenji Shiga. The "White Panorama" and everything before it, he says, is to get visitors to care about "the horrific scene underneath the mushroom cloud."

    Hiroshima is overwhelmed by orange flames after the atomic bomb is dropped in this image. (Mainichi)

    Before the renovations, this is the point where the walking route would go into the main building and its exhibits designed to immerse visitors in the hellish immediate aftermath of the bomb, before winding back to the east wing and its more detailed historical explanations. However, the main building is currently closed for its own renovation, and is scheduled to reopen in July 2018.

    Junior high school pupils touch a 1:8 scale model of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. (Mainichi)

    The revamped east wing also has an exhibit designed with visually impaired people in mind: the miniature of the industrial promotion building in both its before- and after-bombing states that visitors can touch, and get a tactile impression of the bomb's scorching power.

    Eyes closed, the visitor can feel that the building is roughly square and crowned by a large dome. However, reaching out for the post-bombing building -- the iconic A-Bomb Dome -- and it's hard to find. Eventually, searching fingers find the skeletal remains of the dome, and the visitor realizes most of the once-stately structure has been destroyed. Nearby, you can also touch roof tiles and bottles from before and after the blast, the latter scarred and warped by the bomb's intense heat.

    A clock showing the time when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima is seen here in a walkway connected to the "White Panorama" exhibit. (Mainichi)

    On the second floor, the facility also has touchscreen panels called "media tables" so visitors can search for information. Also on the second floor, messages from Nobel Peace Prize winners including the Dalai Lama who have visited Hiroshima are seen projected onto a wall.

    "I think that this message from people from so many different countries about 'building peace together' really stays in visitors' hearts," commented Noriko Shimooka, an interpreter and museum guide for foreign visitors.

    Reaching the first floor, there is a temporary exhibit of items from the main building -- among them a charred tricycle which belonged to one Shinichi Tetsutani, aged 3 years, 11 months when the bomb fell. Shinichi was tooling around in front of the family home when the bomb detonated, and the heat wave left him badly burned. He died that night. His father Nobuo, feeling that Shinichi would be lonely in his grave, buried his little boy with the tricycle in the back garden.

    When Shinichi's remains were exhumed about 40 years later for transfer to a proper grave, Nobuo donated the boy's tricycle to the museum.

    The tricycle is known as one of the museum's most emotionally impactful artifacts, but the toy is now accompanied by a life-sized photo of Shinichi himself. With him in the photo is his sister Michiko, who was 7 years old when she, too, was killed by the bomb. The artifacts here each have a story -- of a life, of a death -- and their telling brings many to tears.

    A photograph of Shinichi Tetsutani, far right, who died as a result of the atomic bomb at the age of 3 years and 11 months, as well as his badly damaged tricycle, left, are seen here. (Mainichi)

    Hiroshima peace museum to continue to show 'what happened on that day': director

    Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum director Kenji Shiga said in a recent interview with the Mainichi Shimbun that the aim of the museum to display what happened on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, remains unchanged after the completion of renovations to the east building. Below is an excerpt from the interview.

    The east building of our museum has always existed, before and after the renovation, to show "why the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima" and "how the city recovered from the catastrophe." We display photos of the pre-bomb Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome (what used to be the Hiroshima prefectural industrial promotion hall) as well as the Kamiya-cho district and Hondori street in downtown Hiroshima for visitors to first learn about the city before the bombing.

    At the exhibit showing people's everyday lives in the pre-bomb days, where the new multimedia "White Panorama" display is located, visitors can get a certain feeling that everyday life existed in that area that is now Peace Memorial Park. We recreated the realistic imagery of the city, with the image of a boat sailing along the Motoyasu River and the audio of cicadas singing, using photos taken by the U.S. military 12 days before and five days after the bombing.

    On the third floor of the building, the main theme of the exhibition is about risks of nuclear weapons, and on the second floor there are exhibits to show the city of Hiroshima during World War II and the city's efforts toward peace after the war. We also offer information about nuclear weapons to a wide audience using sign language and Braille, as well as displays for children and other displays using different languages.

    Our mission is to show that a city was ruined in a split second because of the atomic bomb and display what was going on under that mushroom cloud.

    We are planning to transform the exhibition at the main building to one that places emphasis on documents of A-bomb damage after renovations to the building are completed. We will recreate the scenes that A-bomb victims saw, which we hope will make visitors feel empathy with each victim. We will continue to display what happened on that day and what was lost.