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Hiroshima for Global Peace

Column: The Genbaku Dome: a Symbol of Hiroshima


In December 1996, an architectural structure from Hiroshima became a World Heritage Site. This building was officially recorded as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome). It is also known as the A-bomb Dome.

When Japan joined the UNESCO World Heritage Convention in 1992, people began to raise their voices in support of making the A-bomb Dome a World Heritage Site, because it is “a living witness that tells the story of the terrors of nuclear weapons.” A national campaign to collect signatures conducted by the citizens of Hiroshima was a success, and it was designated as a national historical site in June 1995 and registered on the list of World Heritage Sites in 1996 as a symbol calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons and for world peace. 1) 

1 The Work of a Czech Architect

The A-bomb Dome was formerly an exhibition hall that displayed local products from Hiroshima. During the Meiji period, the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce facilitated various kinds of exhibition halls to raise public awareness to modernize the nation. Exhibition halls that showed the modernization of industry were set up at various places and in 1917, there were 26 public halls. 2) Hiroshima also adopted a four-year plan beginning in 1911 to establish an exhibition hall, but the plan was delayed due to criticism saying public investment should favor the rural areas. Under this backdrop, in February 1913, Governor Sukeyuki Terada, who was transferred from Miyagi Prefecture, aggressively pushed for the project in the hope that the exhibition hall would become central to regional growth by acting as a base for improving the quality of local products and expanding sales.

While governor of Miyagi, Terada had set up a new prefectural hotel in Matsushima, one of the famed three most scenic places in Japan, a measure to attract foreign tourists. This hotel, the Miyagi Prefectural Matsushima Park Hotel, was designed by Jan Letzel, a Czech architect. Terada once again called on Jan Letzel’s skills in Hiroshima. Letzel had come to Japan in 1907, upon learning modern Czech architecture from Jan Kotera. It was Letzel who introduced Japan to the authentic secession style, the fore-runner to modern architecture.

The City of Hiroshima prepared a site for the exhibition hall covering 974 tsubo of land (3,214.2 square meters) comprised of the site of a former rice granary from the Edo period that once belonged to the Asano Domain, a reclamation site on the bank of the Motoyasu River, and additional land. The site sat across from what was then a bustling shopping district, and the 310 tsubo (1,023 square meters) exhibition hall was constructed by Hiroshima Prefecture at the cost of about 120,000 yen.

In April of 1915, a white-walled multi-storied building, topped with a cylindrical tower approximately 25 meters tall, was completed on the bank of the Motoyasu River. On August 15 of the same year, Governor Terada proclaimed that the building would serve to further promote and improve the prefecture’s products and contribute to the development of related industries. With this, the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall was opened. 3) Not only were prefectural products displayed in the hall, but there was also a place where people could receive advice on topics such as improving the quality of local products, conducting transactions, and enhancing sales methods. In May 1916, one year after the hall opened, the First Hiroshima prefectural Art Exhibition was held. Afterwards, the Hiroshima Prefecture Art Association, led by Hisanobu Yoshida, who was also the first director of the hall, held prefectural art exhibitions every year. 4) The exhibition was used for a wide range of events, including concerts and lectures. It is also notable that the German treat, Baumkuchen, was first introduced to Japan at this exhibition hall. 5)

In January of 1921, the hall’s name was changed to the Hiroshima Prefectural Products Exhibition Hall, and then in November 1933 it was changed again to the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. 

2 The Rise and Fall of the Industrial Promotion Hall, and the Fateful Day

In 1934, the Industrial Promotion Hall established branches in Dalian and Xinjing in eastern China and Harbin in northeastern; and from 1938 it set up offices in Mukden, Tianjin, Shanghai, and in Kobe. After this, offices such as the Hiroshima Prefectural Central Commerce Consultation Office were established inside the hall ushering in the busiest period of activity for the hall during the prewar Showa period.

Even the Industrial Promotion Hall fell under the dark shadow of war. The Hiroshima branch of the Japan Lumber Regulation Company moved into the hall in June of 1941. Around this time, the metal gates designed by Letzel were sent to the government per order of the Metal Collection Act. Exhibits in the exhibition rooms also took on a deep overtone of war. The last exhibit, entitled “Masterpieces of the Holy War,” was held in December of 1943, and all of the exhibit rooms were converted into offices for the wartime administration, including those for prefectural and national agencies as well as regulating agencies. On March 31, 1944, all functions as the Industrial Promotion Hall came to a halt and the hall would meet its destiny in less than a year.

On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, an American bomber, dropped an atomic bomb that exploded 600 meters above the ground, approximately 160 meters southeast of the Industrial Promotion Hall. The Hall received the full force of the blast, heat waves and the radiation as it was almost directly below the explosion. According to Eizo Nomura, who was exposed to the Atomic bomb at the Fuel Hall (now the Rest House in the Peace Memorial Park) across the river from the hall and miraculously survived, fire began billowing out the windows of the hall some time between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. 6) At the time of the bombing, the 30 people inside, all staff of the regulations agencies and prefectural offices, died instantly.7) The central structure was an oblong column shape with relatively thick walls, and since the pressure from the blast came from almost directly above the building, it narrowly escaped collapse. 

3 What to Do with the Atomic Bomb Dome

“I won’t look. I won’t remember. I can’t stand remembering. Even if I don’t want to look at the remains of the exhibition hall, I have to see them. What should I do about these ruins?” 8) There are the words of Iri Maruki, an artist who, together with his wife Toshi Maruki, painted “The Hiroshima Panels,” five years after the atomic bombing. 

For many citizens of Hiroshima, the remains of the Industrial Promotional Hall were a terrible reminder of the atomic bombing, but the imposing ruin became a landmark that brought in tourists from Japan and abroad to “Atomic City, Hiroshima.” In 1946, a British soldier visited Hiroshima and received a pamphlet, which had been created by the occupying forces (British Commonwealth Occupation Force and U.S. Eighth Army) for military visitors to Hiroshima. It includes a dramatic illustration of the site, which was introduced as the “Dome” Building Commercial Museum.9) When the City of Hiroshima put together a list of 10 A-bombed sites in August of 1946, perhaps the A-bomb Dome was not included out of consideration of the feelings of survivors. However, when the Hiroshima City Tourist Association selected 13 A-bomb memorial preservation sites (13 Famous Atomic Bomb Locations ) in July 1948, the dome was the first location listed. 

Around this time, a photograph of the atomic bomb ruins with the caption, “How long will you stay there like that?” appeared in the Yukan Hiroshima. The accompanying article argued for reconstruction over preservation and urged for the demolition of all reminders of the past. 10) During this time, in the spring of 1949, it was almost certain that the Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law would be enacted, and a design competition for the “Peace Memorial Park and Museum” was held. It was an expansive competition that sought designs not only for the buildings but also for the entire public park space. A group led by Kenzo Tange, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo, came in first. Tange believed that the A-bomb Dome should be maintained as a symbol and used it as the centerpiece of his design. 11)

In October of 1949, the City of Hiroshima conducted a survey of 500 A-bomb survivors to determine whether or not the dome should be demolished. 428 people responded, and according to the results, 62% were in favor of the dome’s preservation while 35% were in favor of its demolition. 12) The Mainichi Newspaper Company also conducted a survey in which 63% were for the dome’s preservation and 23% were for its demolition. Of the group that supported preserving the dome, 64% described it as “a famous building symbolizing the A-bombed city of Hiroshima” 13) It seems that few citizens desired a hasty demolition of the dome during the early postwar period. 

The name “A-bomb Dome” was first used in an editorial from the Chugoku Shimbun dated June 23, 1950 entitled “Discussion on Tourism.” A haiku by Yoshinori Fujii appeared in the September 1950 edition of the haiku magazine, Yoru (Night). It read, “Kanatokogumo, Genbaku Dome ni, Ari Kuruu (Anvil Cloud, at the A-bomb Dome, Ants Running Wild).” In the summer of 1951, the name “A-bomb Dome” came to be used more frequently in newspapers and magazines, and by 1952, when the peace treaty went into effect and sovereignty was restored to Japan, it was in common use. 14)

4 Tug-of-war over Preservation

In November 1953, Hiroshima Prefecture announced that management of the A-bomb Dome would be handed over to the City of Hiroshima. 15) Even under city management, the dome was left as it was for a time. At a Hiroshima City Council meeting on March 15, 1956, the mayor of Hiroshima, Tadao Watanabe, responded to the question of what to do with the dome by saying, “We will leave it as it is. “ 16)

While the matter remained unresolved, the phrase “the A-bomb Dome” continued to take root, and people argued that it would be a symbol of peace unlike any other A-bombed structure. For example, Robert Jungk, a Jewish journalist from Germany, argued for the dome’s preservation, writing that it is a worldwide symbol that holds special significance as “a warning of our possible future destiny.” 17)

“I just wonder if the painful reminder that is the Industrial Promotion Hall (A-bomb Dome) will always be there to tell the world how fearsome atomic bombs are.” (paraphrased) This sentiment appeared in a diary entry dated August 6, 1959, written by Hiroko Kajiyama, a girl who died at age 16 to leukemia, even though she survived the bombing at age 1. Her parents entrusted her diary to Ichiro Kawamoto, an advocate of the Hiroshima Paper Crane Club, and a close friend of Jungk. On May 5, 1960, members of the organization gathered at the Children’s Peace Monument where they read the diary aloud and on August they started collecting donations and signatures to support the preservation of the A-bomb Dome. 18) Meanwhile, opposition to preserving the dome remained strong. In fact, in October of 1963, when the Hiroshima Chamber of Commerce and Industry (located just north of the dome) asked Hiroshima University’s Faculty of Engineering to conduct a survey of the dome before the renovation of the chamber building, the mayor of Hiroshima, Shinzo Hamai, shared his point of view, stating, “I believe there is no value in reinforcing the dome for preservation.” 19)

5 The Dome to Be Permanently Preserved

In March of 1964, the National Council for Peace and Against Nuclear Weapons (Kakkin) announced a plan to construct a “Flame of Peace” north of the Memorial Cenotaph in the Peace Memorial Park. The Flame of Peace Construction Committee was organized by 40 representatives from Hiroshima Prefecture, the City of Hiroshima, political and business circles, labor unions, religious circles, academia, and other groups. Kenzo Tange was commissioned to design the Flame of Peace, and it was completed on August 1 of the same year, upon which a lighting ceremony was held. 20) The Flame of Peace was completed on the axis where the dome could be seen from the Memorial Cenotaph, making the A-bomb Dome a stronger symbol of the peace movement.

In December of the same year (1964), 11 organizations, including the Hiroshima Congress Against A- and H-Bombs (Hiroshimaken Gensuikin), the Hiroshima Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Hiroshimaken Gensuikyo) and Kakkin sent out a joint proposal for the preservation of the A-bomb Dome. This proposal requested that the City of Hiroshima preserve the dome as it is as a “Memorial Tower of the Nuclear Age.” In March of the following year (1965), eight individuals, including Hideki Yukawa, a professor at Kyoto University, submitted similar requests to the chairman of the Hiroshima City Council. Upon receiving requests from both home and abroad, the City of Hiroshima budgeted 1,000,000 yen, out of the 1965 fiscal budget, to conduct a survey on the strength of the A-bomb Dome exactly 20 years after the bombing. According to the results of a survey report they received from specialists, the dome could be preserved with reinforcements. 21)

On July 11, 1966, the Hiroshima City Council unanimously passed a resolution to permanently preserve the A-bomb Dome. Donations for the dome’s preservation came in from people throughout the entire country and by July 1967 approximately 66,200,000 yen had been collected. The structure underwent preservation work to reinforce key points of the structure with steel framing and inject adhesives into the building’s brick walls, which solidified the entire wall structure. A completion ceremony was held on August 5, 1967. Since then, preservation work has been carried out several times. Today, in order to control the structure’s decay due to aging, the City of Hiroshima conducts a strength testing survey every three years, as a rule. 

(Shinobu Kikuraku and Hitoshi Nagai)


1. Flyer Call for 1,000,000 signatures made by “the Committee to Promote the A-bomb Dome as a World Heritage.” City of Hiroshima. Genbaku Dome Sekai Isan Toroku Kinenshi (Record of Registration of the Atomic Bomb Dome as an World Heritage). 1997.

2. Chugoku Shimbun, Oct. 21, 1917 edition.

3. Chugoku Shimbun, Aug. 16, 1915 edition.

4. Chugoku Shimbun, Jun. 22, 1916 edition.

5. First introduced and sold at the “German Prisoners of War Technology and Crafts Exhibition” held in March 1919. On March 5 of the same year, the Chugoku Shimbun reported that “the biggest crowd in the hall was at the cake sales counter, and the three prisoners of war at the sales counter were extremely busy.”

6. Drawing and text by Eizo Nomura, one of the drawings by A-bomb survivors, Collection of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (collection code: GE28-33).

7. City of Hiroshima (Ed.). Hiroshima Genbaku Sensaishi: Dai Ni Kan (Record of the Hiroshima A-bomb War Disaster, Vol. 2). City of Hiroshima, 1971: p.73.

8. Maruki, Iri. “Chinretsukan ato” (Remains of the Exhibition Hall). Chugoku Shimbun, October 5, 1950.

9. An A-Bomb artifact preserved at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (collection code: 0103-0049), donated by Susan Natalie Townsend. It is a pamphlet with illustration of the A-bomb Dome made for occupying forces visiting Hiroshima and kept by an English soldier who visited Hiroshima in 1946.

10. Yukan Hiroshima, Oct. 10, 1948 edition.

11. Tange, Kenzo. Tange Kenzo – Ippon no Enpitsu kara (Kenzo Tange: From a Single Pencil). Nihon Tosho Center, 1997: p.65.

12. Chugoku Shimbun, February 11, 1950 edition.

13. Mainichi Newspaper, Aug. 5, 1951 edition.

14. Nishimoto, Masami. “Hiroshima no Kiroku” (Record of Hiroshima). Chugoku Shimbun, June 5, 2007 edition.

15. Chugoku Shimbun, Nov. 15, 1953 edition.

16. Hiroshima City Council (Ed.). Hiroshima Shigikaishi: Giji Shiryo Hen 2 (History of Hiroshima City Council: Agenda and References,2). Hiroshima City Council, 1987: p. 816.

17. Jungk, Robert. “Genbaku Dome” (The Atomic Bomb Dome). Chugoku Shimbun, August 5, 1954 edition.

18. Materials on Ichiro Kawamoto archived by Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

19. Chugoku Shimbun, Oct. 5 and Oct. 23, 1963 editions.

20. National Council for Peace and Against Nuclear Weapons. Kakuheiki Haizetsu to Jinrui no Hanei wo Motomete – Kakkin Kaigi Goju Nenshi (Pursuing the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons and the Prosperity of the Human Race – A 50-Year History of the National Council for Peace and Against Nuclear Weapons). 2011: p.41.

21. A survey conducted by the Department of Architecture of Hiroshima University’s Faculty of Engineering began on July 28, 1965. Professor Shigeo Sato presented the City of Hiroshima with an interim report on November 15 of the same year.

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