Wednesday 19th April 2017 – Hiroshima
An early start this morning as we were booked to take the bullet train from Kyoto to Hiroshima for our day in the south-east, so up at 5:30 and on the train by 7. The bullet trains are something else, sleek white, perfectly clean (of course!) they look like concord has been repurposed to fly without wings.
Hiroshima is of course famous for the atomic bomb dropped on the 6th August 1945, at around 8am. We started our visit with a trip to the point commemorated as the epicentre, directly below where the bomb exploded mid-air. The entire area was almost completely decimated but the Industrial Promotion Hall directly below is almost completely intact and has been preserved as the Atomic Bomb Dome Memorial to all of the people inside who were killed immediately, and all those around who died either on the day or because of the aftereffects.
The Peace Memorial Park is a green space crossed with paths that is bordered by 2 rivers and at it’s point still has the T shaped bridge that the bombers used to identity the drop spot. In the centre is a curved concrete monument that holds the names of all the known victims of the bomb, and behind is a Flame of Peace that is set to burn until all the worlds nuclear weapons are destroyed. Sadly that feels further away now than ever with everything that is going on.
Just to the north there is the Children’s Peace Monument inspired by Sadako Saski who was just 2 at the time the bomb was dropped. She wasn’t hurt at the time but developed leukaemia at 11 and decided to fold 1000 paper cranes, believing if she did it she would recover. Sadly she died before she finished, but her classmates folded the rest and the story inspired nationwide paper-folding which gets sent to the monument and is displayed in glass cases until the next batch arrives.
At the end of the park is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which is a harrowing collection of items salvaged from the area along with the stories of some of the individuals caught in the blast. The area had been damaged before the bomb so crews were sent in each day to keep roads clear for fire trucks, and school children who were 13+ were encouraged to join the effort. Over 6000 of them were in the area when the bomb was dropped and the shredded uniforms and stories of terrible suffering are really hard read.
It doesn’t leave you with any doubt that the use of nuclear weapons is unacceptable, the bombs that are around today are some 3000 times more powerful than the A bomb dropped here. I’m happy to pay the entrance fee for any world leader that needs reminding. If they need an extra incentive there are a team of instructors at the exit of the museum that teach you how to make your very own paper crane.
Our next stop was Miyajima a 40 minute train ride further down the coast and the location of one of Japans most visited sites, the red torii (shrine gate) of Itsukushima-jinga. This shrine gate sits out in the bay of the Sea of Aki, and at high tide it seems to float on the water shining brilliant orange-red in the sun.
To get there we took a train from Hiroshima then a car ferry over to the island of Miyajima. From the ferry terminal it was a short walk along a restaurant and shop lined walkway, past lots of cheeky deer, to the temple. Tempted by the excellent plastic versions of their dishes in the window, Wayne and I stopped for a quick lunch of Kaki Curry (fried breaded Oysters in curry sauce) and Osaka Donburi (chicken and egg with rice). Oysters are grown locally in the bay and lots of the restaurants were serving them, either raw, grilled in their shells, deep-fried or even baked inside a rice ball.
It was a gorgeous sunny day, so we walked to the Itsukushima-Jinja shrine and paid our admission fee. The shrine is right on the beach with piers out into the water, originally commoners were not allowed to set foot on the island so came to the temple by boat via the torii, today, there is land access so the piers make create photo points for the gate in the sun.
The main temple was being used for a wedding, and bless-em, they got a whole pile of tourists gawking at their special day which they studiously ignored. The ceremony had them stand on opposite sides of a walkway and looked as though it concluded with the passing of a bowl of liquid from one side to the other which they both drank from.
We took a walk around the cute little town then met the others back at the ferry terminal for our long 4 hour trip back to Kyoto. This evening we needed to pack a small bag for our next 2 nights in a Ryokan in Takayama. Who knows what you need for traditional Japanese living but we were about to find out..