Hiroshima

Hiroshima is a place that echoes the end of the war in the Pacific and the beginning of the cold war and threat of nuclear annihilation. The museums and the monuments all bespeak this. But this is only where those monuments are. If you walk around the city, you would hardly have guessed that none of the buildings are older than seventy years. As of writing this I am in an okonomiyaki cafe, sitting next to a television, set up a like a fish tank, playing a constant loop of fish swimming. On the walls are autographs of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp baseball team.

Hiroshima seems very amiable and there seems to be a greater understanding of English here. The streetcars, or trams, are the only way to get around this city and are as prompt as the subways from other cities.

The day before, I stepped out of the train station and saw a pagoda high up on the hill, it was north of the station and my hotel was on the way. So I checked in, but my room wasn’t ready, so I left my luggage in the hotel staff’s care and then trekked on, hiking up a steep neighbourhood. I didn’t have a map and basically found my way blind through the street of a quiet suburb. I took a wrong turn and ended at a dead end near a school and had to go back down, near the bottom of the hill to start all over again. In the end I did find the way, but to make it to the pagoda itself I had to climb a steep concrete staircase through the middle of a cemetary. But from the pagoda the view is fantastic, you can even see a sliver of the sea that is Hiroshima bay. The Pagoda is called the Peace Pagoda and was erected in 1966, as part of the effort to ban nuclear weapons. I took some photos of the view and then headed back down the steep staircase and hope that I didn’t die.

The next morning, I headed out to the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The entire Peace Park used to be the centre of the city, which all changed on one fine sunny August day. One of the few remaining buildings after the blast, which was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall and its ruins have been preserved a a constant reminder of the near complete destruction of the city. Inside the Memorial Museum, visitors are shown the history of Hiroshima from it’s founding to a reconstruction of events that led to it destruction, with a brief showing of its recovery. There are photos and artifacts from the event, from the torn and ripped clothing of school children and sample of things that survived or was burnt by the blast.

I talked to a man outside of the museum, he said that that the museum omitted certain details as they were “too political”. He apparently was in utero when the bomb dropped and is counted among the victims of the bomb that is compensated with medical cover for the rest of his natural life. But after a lengthy discussion about things that did not appear in the museum we parted ways with directions to the hypocentre of the blast.

Having still time left in the day, I walked to the Hiroshima Castle. While smaller than Osaka castle, it’s not as steep climb to get a view of the city from the top. The castle has been rebuilt three or four times, the last being the after the bomb was dropped. The park is nice and filled with people that spend their day painting the trees turning to browns and oranges.

The next day, I headed to Miyajima to see the temples and the famous floating torii of the Itsukushima Shrine. I rode the street car right through the town to the end of the line. I got off to get on the ferry and met a Finn, Juho (sounds like “you-hoe”), who travelled through Russia and China, by train and boat alone. He liked to avoid planes. While walking to temples and shrines, about home, local delicacies and our respective trips across Japan.

Miyajima has two sides to it. There is the beauty side of it and there is the tourist side of it. The beauty side is walking and watching untouched, sacred forest, the deer which freely roam around and the temple and shrines and torii. These things are worth way more than the price you pay to get there. The tourist side is that there are so many souvenir shops. There is a shopping arcade for them. It’s a little mind boggling considering that they all sell the same things and at the same prices. The only thing that really stood out as a shop were hand carved, life-sized reproductions of the statues. They expensive, but hell impressive. The food there is a little more pricey as well, but maybe that its working on the tourists to get their cash. The only food that seemed to be worth checking out was the okomiyaki (which was still reasonably priced) and these little maple leaf-shaped sponge cakes. They had different fillings. Juho and I tried the red-bean one and it was kind of sweet and savoury at the same time, but one was certainly enough.

I picked up a couple of momentos and then we both left the island. Overall Miyajima should be the real reason that you visit Hiroshima, not the Atomic Bomb Dome. It’s something that I will keep in mind when I return. Juho and I exchanged contact details and then parted ways. He was on his way to meet a friend and check out some okonomiyaki, which he yet to try. I’ll write about the food in a later post. I ended up in town, and there were all these stalls being set up, as if they were drafted from some carnival. Turns out its going to be (I think) Tori-no-ichi. Which is used to celebrate the first days of the rooster from the old Chinese zodiac calendar. I was told this by a British ex-pat, Andy, who had been living in Hiroshima for the last two years, running a bilingual restaurant near the heart of the city. The participants carry around these decorated bamboo rakes in hopes of gaining wealth and prosperity. I ate some spaghetti while I learnt this. I said I would sadly miss it, because I was heading to Tokyo. “Too Bad”, he said, “It’s a sight to be seen.”

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