A colleague who has lived in Japan for quite a while recently told me that of his two favorite places to visit in this country, Fukuoka is number 1 and Hiroshima is number 2.
I have never been to Fukuoka, but last weekend Lisa and I visited Hiroshima.
I will say this – the place was amazing. Was it better than Kyoto? I don’t know. You can’t really compare. Kyoto is the cultural and historical capital of Japan. Hiroshima is serene, surreal, beautiful and grotesque.
It is one of the prettiest places in Japan to witness the fall foliage. Last Friday was ‘Thanks Day’ in Japan and most people had a holiday from work, including Lisa. So everybody and their mother was on the train to Hiroshima to look at the damn momiji (maple) trees.
It was a four hour train ride. We took the shinkansen, or bullet train, that travels up to 200 miles an hour. Lisa and I bought non-reserved tickets. There are three cars on the train reserved for non-reserved travelers. The seats are first come, first serve. Luckily Tokyo Station is the first stop along the way so Lisa and I had our pick of seats. However, all of the seats on the non-reserved cars (which cost about $50 cheaper than reserved seats) were full before we left Tokyo.
So the poor saps who boarded at each subsequent stop had to stand in the aisle. With their luggage. Did I mention this was a 4-hour train ride?
That is why if you ever visit Japan, make sure it isn’t during one of the work holidays. Most Japanese salarymen don’t take vacations except during the national holidays. So on these 3-day weekends every tourist area is ridiculously crowded.
Unfortunately, we don’t have much of a choice since Lisa herself is a salaryman.
Me, I’m just a friter/gaijin/freelance writer who can go where ever the hell I please whenever I want. Anyway, I somehow got distracted.
Of course as you know, Hiroshima was the site of one of the A-bomb drops that ended World War II. Over 200,000 people died as a result, of which about 120,000 were killed instantly. A large swath of the city is dedicated in memoriam to this tragic event, and as an American I couldn’t but help feel awkward and ashamed for the duration of the trip.
However, the people of Hiroshima were delightful and welcoming. But still, history wears in the bones.
We arrived in Hiroshima on Friday and after a lunch of okonomiyaki our first stop was the Peace Memorial Park. I’m not going to describe to in depth about my feelings or give you long boring descriptions of statues, monuments and fountains because there is a series of pictures coming up, but I will share this anecdote.
The Children’s Peace Monument is dedicated to Sadako Sasaki, the girl who was exposed to the radiation when she was 2 and contracted leukemia when she was 10 and died. She is the girl that folded 1,000 paper cranes and started a worldwide peace movement.
The monument is a statue of a large atomic bomb with a girl holding a crane perched atop the nose. There is a bell underneath the statue that people can ring. Ringing the bell is a prayer for peace.
Before we went in to the Peace Museum, Lisa asked me if I wanted to ring the bell. I refused. I told her that I didn’t want to be one of the stupid Americans naively ringing the peace bell for a photo op even though you aren’t aware of its significance.
However, after touring the Peace Museum and witnessing relics from the destruction of that day in 1945 – seeing the pictures and the tattered, bloody clothes worn by children, children who lived in agony for as long as 10 days after the bombing – I was compelled to ring that bell.
I haven’t been moved like that in quite some time.
The Peace Museum is worth a visit – once.
Friday night we explored the shopping district, which was nice, and found a decent restaurant on tripadvisor that served oysters and anago (an eel-like fish), both delicacies local to the area.
Saturday we took a ferry ride to Miyajima island. The island is supposed to be one of the top 3 most beautiful places in Japan, especially during the fall season, and it also houses Itsukushima shrine, the orange torii that during high tide is supposed to look like it is floating on water.
This was a great place to soothe the psyche after the trip to the Peace Museum, which felt like your soul was scraped to the bone by an over-aggressive dental assistant.
After another nice dinner of oysters, steak and okonomiyaki (Hiroshima has a special style of okonomiyaki filled with soba noodles) we walked along the river.
On Sunday, a little hungover and weary, we toured through the Shukkeien Garden, which was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel. This is a tea garden built in the 1600s and is one of the few gardens left in Japan that replicates the ancient cultivation style.
It was a nice half-hour stroll and then we headed back to the train station. Once again, we were able to take a shinkansen that started from Hiroshima so we were able to sit, while other forlorn travelers were forced to shuffle from foot to foot in the aisle. Once again, it was a four hour trip.
Enough talk. Here are the pictures:
What was nice about the Peace Museum was that it was not over-critical of the U.S. In fact, it was much more accusatory to the warmongering nature of WWII era Japanese government. Hiroshima was a military site, where soldiers were trained and weapons and ships were built and stockpiled. Soldiers were preparing for an endless battle and were instructed to take 100 million lives.
Children were also involved in the war movement and worked in rather stark conditions in the factories. In fact, many of the children died while they were walking from school to the factories.
Still, after meandering agape through the Peace Museum, it is impossible to justify the use of the A-bomb. In fact, it seems atrocious that nuclear bombs still exist in the world. I wish that everyone had a chance to tour this spectacle in order to truly understand the immense destruction and agony caused by this single manmade action.
Anyway, moving on to brighter things: