On April 5, 1915 (Taisho 4), construction of the building that we now know as Hiroshima’s A-Bomb Dome was completed. It was officially opened to the public on August 5, and was initially named the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition (HMI). It went through several name changes and was known as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotions Hall in August 1945 (Showa 20) when it was destroyed by the atomic bomb.
The building had first been suggested some ten years earlier when the economic development of Hiroshima required facilities for marketing the area’s products. Tokyo based Czech architect Jan Letzel (ヤン・レツル, 1880-1925) was selected to design the building.
Letzel had come to Japan in July 1907 (Meiji 40). During the decade that he worked in Japan, he designed more than fifteen buildings, including Sophia University, Ueno Seiyoken and the Matsushima Park Hotel in Miyagi Prefecture. The last building became his ticket to Hiroshima.
The governor of Miyagi Prefecture when the hotel was built was Sukeyuki Terada (寺田祐之, 1851-1917). In 1913 (Taisho 2), he became governor of Hiroshima Prefecture and commissioned Letzel to design the commercial exhibition hall. Construction started in early January 1914 (Taisho 3).
The building was located close to the point where the Kyu-Ota-gawa River (旧太田川) and the Motoyasu-gawa River (元安川) converge. The distinctive T-shape of the bridges here became the visual target for the atomic bombing raid of August 6, 1945 (Showa 20). The nuclear explosion that devastated Hiroshima found place almost directly above the building.
The 120 people working inside the building were killed instantly, but the shell of the building remained standing and became a landmark in the empty landscape. Shinzo Hamai (浜井信三, 1905-1968), who became mayor of Hiroshima in 1947 (Showa 22) wrote, “The relics of this building remained like a ghost that symbolized the catastrophe of that day.”
At some time, citizens started to call it A-Bomb Dome. By August 6, 1951 (Showa 26) this name started to appear in headlines of the local Chugoku Shimbun newspaper (中国新聞). The A-Bomb Dome became the symbol of Hiroshima’s tragic atomic bombing.
There was some controversy as to whether the building should be preserved as it reminded inhabitants of the horrors they had experienced. But the words of a young girl influenced a lot of people to change their mind. Hiroko Kajiyama (楮山ヒロ子) was only 1 year old when her city was destroyed. She survived the bomb, but in 1960 (Showa 35) she died from leukemia caused by the radiation of the bomb.
She was one of many victims, but the words she had written in her diary left a big impact: “Only the distressing Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall will continue to show to the world forever how awful the atomic bombing is (あの痛々しい産業奨励館だけが、いつまでも、おそるべき原爆のことを後世に訴えかけてくれるだろうか).”
Six years after her death, in 1966 (Showa 41), the city assembly decided to preserve the building. It was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List in December 1996 (Heisei 8).