Hiroshima: the A-bomb dome

Two Domes: (Above) The A-bomb dome (Gembaku Domu) across the river from Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. It had been an industrial promotion hall; it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Henry Moore: Nuclear Energy (Left) Henry Moore's sculpture Nuclear Energy at the University of Chicago, just around the corner from the Enrico Fermi Institute High Energy Physics lab where the first nuclear reactor was built in 1942. (Right) Atom Piece, a model for the sculpture in the Open Air Museum, Hakone, Japan. Henry Moore: model for Nuclear Energy

The Ginkgo Trees of Hiroshima

'Phoenix trees' that survived the A-bomb blast,
6 August, 1945

Notes by Craig Robertson

The famous A-bomb Dome in Hiroshima remains a stark reminder of the destruction by the first nuclear bomb dropped in warfare.

Perhaps even more eerie is the hypocentre, the spot on the ground immediately below the blast, just a short block from the dome. The bright sunlight in the photo recalls a split second on that morning when 600 metres up in the clear blue sky another terrifying sun burst open.

But there are other reminders of the event scattered around the nowadays thriving city, referred to as 'phoenix trees'. You can get a brochure with a map locating many of these, but unfortunately it doesn't include the ginkgos.

I have had a particular interest in the gingko tree of late - see my 'The Ginkgo Tree: Tales of a living fossil' in Collections Magazine, No.19, December, 2016.

And I was partly inspired by Cor Kwant's website The Ginkgo Pages, in particular her page on the A-bombed Gingkgo trees in Hiroshima.* I went on a little pilgrimage to these survivors. At each tree I collected a few fallen leaves (not always easy to find in such a tidy country). The results are presented here.

(Right) In a small side street around the corner from the Dome, a simple plaque marks the hypocentre of the blast. In the clear blue sky immediately above, it is hard think about how it looked 600 metres up in that first microsecond. (Photographed 12 August, 2017, just six days after the anniversary; the blast was at 8.15 am.)

Hiroshima: the hypocentre


Hiroshima: the flashpoint was 600 metres up
Hiroshima ginkgos: Hosen-ji

(Above) The nearest ginkgo to the hypocentre, at 1.13 km, is in the temple Hosen-ji, on an island in the Honkawa River just across from Peace Memorial Park. There are a number of temples in the area (Tera-machi) and it was busy with funeral traffic at the time I visited. This tree appeared to have lost its plaque at the time.

Hiroshima ginkgos: Hosen-ji
Hiroshima ginkgos: Shukkeien Garden Hiroshima ginkgos: Shukkeien Garden
Hiroshima ginkgos: Shukkeien Garden

(Above) The next closest, at 1.37 km, is in a completely contrasting setting, the beautiful Shukkeien Garden, where it stands on a knoll above a tranquil lake, not far from Hiroshima Station.

It was the only tree to survive in the garden, as the plaque indicates, and the lean on it is obvious in the photo. (It is no 'giant' by ginkgo standards.)

Hiroshima ginkgos: Shukkeien Garden

Hiroshima ginkgos: Shukkeien Garden

(Above) The ginkgo is just visible up to the right of the pavilion on the lake. The plaque visible amongst the vigorously sprouting foliage in the lower photo is the standard phoenix tree plaque; examples are shown for various trees below.

Hiroshima ginkgos: Shukkeien Garden
Hiroshima ginkgos: Josei-ji Hiroshima ginkgos: Josei-ji

(Left) The third ginkgo, at 1.42 km, is in front of another temple, Josei-ji, an unassuming building on the bank of the Honkawa River. The standard phoenix tree plaque (above) is attached.

There is a fourth ginkgo, at 1.65 km, in the grounds of Senda Elementary School. It is not far from Josei-ji. Unfortunately that hot afternoon took its toll and I stuffed up finding it. After finding Josei-ji I walked to Senda Park all right but did not go far enough along the tram route. I realised my mistake later that day, but too late, as there was no time to go back. I was no more than 100 metres from the tree : ((

Hiroshima ginkgos: Josei-ji

Josei-ji gave some welcome shade on a hot afternoon.

Hiroshima ginkgos: Josei-ji
Hiroshima ginkgos: Myojoin

(Above) The fifth ginkgo, at 1.78 km, is in the temple Myojoin. I found it in the late afternoon, the golden light of the sun from the south-west, the direction of the blast, recalling another fateful moment in its life.
Hiroshima ginkgos: Myojoin

Hiroshima ginkgos: Myojoin
Hiroshima ginkgos: Myojoin
Hiroshima ginkgos: Anraku-ji Hiroshima ginkgos: Anraku-ji

The sixth and final ginkgo on my quest, at 2.16 km, is again in a temple, Anraku-ji, also near the river bank.
Hiroshima ginkgos: Anraku-ji
Hiroshima phoenix trees: camphor Hiroshima phoenix trees: camphor
There are a number of other 'phoenix trees' around Hiroshima. The ginkgos are by no means the champion survivors when it comes to nearness to the blast. Better on that score is this camphor tree (left), at a mere 490 metres from the hypocentre, just off Peace Boulevard. (There is at least one tree closer.)
Hiroshima phoenix trees: the grove
Hiroshima phoenix trees: the grove

Hiroshima phoenix trees: the grove

A short distance from the camphor, right on Peace Boulevard, there is a small grove of trees at 530 metres, all survivors. They include Japanese hackberry (on the left in the top photo; see the plaque), and a clump of muku trees, Japanese bead trees, Japanese persimmon, and Kurogane holly. Other isolated examples of these trees are scattered around the within a kilometre or so of the hypocentre.

Hiroshima phoenix trees: eucalyptus Hiroshima phoenix trees: eucalyptus Hiroshima phoenix trees: eucalyptus
Some other interesting phoenix trees are in the parkland surrounding the old Hiroshima Castle, less than a kilometre north of the hypocentre. Next to the southern section of the moat is a Eucalyptus (above) (with two of its leaves), and slightly further back overlooking the water, a pussy willow (far right).

A little further away, up toward the castle at 910 metres, is another Kurogane holly ((below).

Hiroshima phoenix trees: willow Hiroshima phoenix trees: pussy willow
Hiroshima phoenix trees: Kurogane holly Hiroshima phoenix trees: Kurogane holly Hiroshima phoenix trees: Chinese parasol tree  Hiroshima phoenix trees: Crinum lily

And finally, there are two examples near the north side of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The Chinese Parasol Tree (above left) was at 1.3 km from the hypocentre, and some Crinum Lilies (above right) which were at 2.2 km. Both of these were later transplanted into the positions where they are now.

One tries to think of something profound to draw from these encounters, but anything seems cliched, fatuous. Just behold the trees, speechless.

* Note: Cor Kwant's page has the addresses of each of the six trees. I found the tourist information desks at Hiroshima Station helpful with all locations, especially the one in the little bus station office on the north side of the train station.

  • Hosen-ji is just a 10-15 minute walk from the southern boundary of the Hiroshima Castle Park. Walk west across the Honkawa River, and one block further then turn right/north to Teramachi and look for a large ginkgo.
  • There is a tourist jump on/jump off loop bus service that goes around Hiroshima. Get the map with timetable at tourist information. (You can use a JR pass on it.) It has three lines: orange, yellow and green. Shukkeien and Mojoin are on the green line. It has a stop near Shukkeien Park entrance. Get off at the next stop - Futabanosato Historical Trail - for Myojoin.
  • Josei-ji and Senda Elementary School can be reached via a Hiroshima Port tram (they start at the station). Get off at Takanobashi for Josei-ji and walk through a shopping arcade and across the Motoyasu-gawa River to the bank of the Honkawa River and look for a large ginkgo. You can walk back from there to the tramline and the next stop down is Senda Park. Just make sure you walk far enough down to find the turn off to the school!
  • You can get a bus to Anraku-ji from stop No. 1 outside the north entrance of Hiroshima Station. Along the river bank, get off at Kandabashi and look for Cafe Grow; it's down a little alley behind the cafe. But check with the tourist information desk in the little bus office at the station.

Updated: 18 December, 2017

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