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The following anecdote has gone viral, seen as a gaffe by someone ignorant of the atomic bombing of the city.

From The morning catch-up: a Battlebus poll, a surprising secrecy advocate and a majestic gaffe

Finally (thanks to Iain Macintosh), Daniel Finkelstein in Saturday's Times (pay wall), recalls William Hague's visit to Japan:

He went with a group of MPs, and one of them had a pressing question to ask the mayor of Hiroshima. “Everywhere else we’ve been in Japan,” said the MP, “the streets have been higgledy-piggledy. Yet here in Hiroshima your streets are laid out in a well-organised grid. How did you achieve that?”

The mayor paused and quietly responded: “We had some help. From the Americans.”

Finkelstein insists the story is true, but he won't say who the former MP is.

"Help" is is being used rather ironically here, as can be seen by the pause. It means the city being the target of an atomic bomb. As described in the NZ Herald:

A commenter who lived in Hiroshima says the story rings true, explaining that residents of the city are "prone to joking about the American-assisted urban renewal project of 1945".

Like the commenter, I suspect the conversation did take place. However, I don't know if the explanation, that the USA bombed Hiroshima, eliminating virtually all buildings, enabling the government to start from scratch and change the layout of its streets, is correct.

Did Hiroshima change the layouts of its streets subsequent to the war, using the opportunity based on buildings being damaged or destroyed by the bombing?

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    I like this question but it needs work. It's not quite clear what the mayor is implying, beyond "Americans nuked Hiroshima and we rebuilt our city" (which is trivially true). He is not saying they are straight because of the bombing though.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 13:59
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    Maybe the question you want to ask is "Is the current layout of the city streets significantly different from the layout as it existed before the atomic bombing?" Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 18:11
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    @Nate: it us clearly different (e.g. a memorial park), but then every city is different to its layout in 1945. I am unaware of any metric to use to calculate the deltas.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 23:47
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    @EbenezerSklivvze In a sense it doesn't matter what the mayor was implying: what matters is whether a significant number of people believe that. It's clear that a significant number of people believe that "help from the Americans" is referring to the bombing and/or to the rebuilding after the bombing.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 1:40
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    I've heard a similar anecdote about Dresden.
    – SQB
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 23:14

2 Answers 2

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Hiroshima City- Burning Ash to Metropolis is a speech by Tadatoshi Akiba who was mayor of Hiroshima from 1999 to 2011. He may or may not be the mayor described in the anecdote.

In the speech, he quoted Professor Nakatani of Waseda University as saying the planning of a city can be traced to a city's history.

He then goes on to say that the redeveloped city's roads are laid out in a grid, unlike modern Japanese city planning and the un-redeveloped portions of the city.

He also refers to the Peace Boulevard, a 100m wide structure. It was created during WW2 as a fire break, but the people of the city decided not to re-develop the area because many involved would have died from the atomic bombing.

The mayor of a city may not be unbiased about their city, with regards to how well-organized it is, but I am confident that the biggest bias he would have is to telling the truth about its history.

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An overhead photomosaic of Hiroshima pre-bombing can be found here (U.S. National Archives, NAID 540225).

Comparing that to a present-day map of the city (Bing Maps link), it's clear that the answer to the question in the title is no. Most of the major streets from before the bombing are still there, and the street layout in general is rather irregular, and no more regular now than it was before the bombing.

It's not impossible that an MP commented on the regularity of the streets even though they are not regular, or that the mayor implied the layout was due to the rebuilding though in fact it wasn't, but it seems more likely that the story is made up.

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    Unfortunately, the "before" picture doesn't show the interesting parts: the layout of the minor streets. The modern layout of the minor streets is a reasonable approximation to a river-aligned grid. What was the earlier layout: river-aligned grid, or something else?
    – Mark
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 4:21
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    @Mark It does show a lot of smaller streets. The first of the 3 images is low-res, but choose one of the others (they seem to be identical) and download it rather than trying to use the lousy web interface to zoom in. The quality is still worse than it should be – a blurry photo of a printed photo that must have had much better resolution initially – so I wonder if a better version of it exists online. Also, there must be other detailed maps of the city, but that was the only one I could find.
    – benrg
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 5:45

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