Why Have Japanese People Stopped Visiting Hiroshima?

August 11,2016


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(Photo by koki/PIXTA)

The number of tourists visiting Japan from abroad has risen noticeably in recent years. 

Formerly, Japan was seen as trailing behind on the international stage when it came to tourist services, be it the dearth of money exchange locations, the scarcity of lodging facilities willing to take in foreigners, or the poor understanding of Islamic customs. Japan was the target of criticism from all sides.

This story originally appeared on FUTURUS operated by INCLUSIVE.

However, that is fast becoming a thing of the past, and the country’s tourism-related services and facilities have improved greatly. Moreover, the types of destinations in Japan visited by international tourists are also becoming more diverse: rather than only going to well-known destinations such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, many are exploring out-of-the-way destinations that make Japanese people want to ask them, “How did you even know about this place?!”

One such place is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Although many non-Japanese knew that Hiroshima was the place where an atomic bomb was dropped a long time ago and the city was almost entirely destroyed, until now, not many have tried to discover what exactly happened on that day and after. Frankly, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the American military during World War II were formerly of interest only to the Japanese people and nobody else.

For the sake of comparison, consider Hiroshima’s sister city of Ypres, Belgium. During World War I, Ypres was targeted by large-scale gas attacks, and unexploded poison-gas ordnance still remains buried in the ground in some areas in and around the city. I doubt that many Japanese people are familiar with this piece of history—Hiroshima’s history is no different for non-Japanese.

Hiroshima's transformation

The website nippon.com recently published an article titled “Hiroshima’s Transformation from Military Center to Symbol of Peace and Tool of Diplomacy.” One section of this article explains, “Hiroshima was long a common destination for field trips for Japanese high school students.

The visits inevitably included hearing from survivors of the atomic blast, and the bombing is therefore the first thing that comes to mind about Hiroshima for numerous Japanese. Hiroshima is losing its draw, however, as a destination for high school field trips. That is evident in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum data about the number of museum visitors.”

In contrast to the decline in Hiroshima visits by Japanese high school students, visits by foreign tourists are on the rise. The number of visits by tourists from abroad has grown steadily in recent years, posting a new record annually. Some 230,000 people from outside Japan visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in 2014, and they accounted for 18% of the total number of museum visitors.

The number of foreign visitors is set to soon outstrip that of Japanese visitors on high school field trips, and in June of this year, U.S. President Obama made a historic visit to the city and its memorial park.

In short, foreign tourist numbers are poised to overtake Japanese student visitor numbers. Japanese school trip destinations have been diversifying greatly, with more than a few schools choosing overseas resort destinations rather than domestic destinations like Hiroshima. Students only have one opportunity to take a big trip together, so they tend to choose a place that will be the most enjoyable for everyone.

From the standpoint of schools and their students, this thinking makes a lot of sense, but in reality, it may lead to a disparity between the awareness levels of modern-day Japanese citizens and people from other countries.

Hiroshima’s widespread reputation as a center for left-wing activists is likely another reason why Japanese schools have begun shying away from the city. It is home to numerous public advocates and citizen networks whose views are seen as insular, and this has contributed toward people’s excessively leftist impression of the city today.

The truth is that this perception of Hiroshima as a left-wing stronghold is nothing more than the result of misunderstanding and misinformation. A single, small electoral district of the city has been dominated for a long time by Fumio Kishida of the Liberal Democratic Party; other than that, Hiroshima is one of the country’s leading centers of conservative politics.

Furthermore, it is important to understand that learning about Hiroshima’s past and participating in citizen movements are entirely unrelated things. Individual political views have nothing to do with the study of history.

Here we can see a difference between Japanese people and the citizens of other countries. In Japan, people are unable to respect each other’s views unless they include easily observable, clear commonalities. In my view, it is this lack of ability to identify common ground when it comes to Hiroshima that is causing the decline in Japanese visitors to the city.