DAY 6: Where are we going again?
It never really occured to me that I would be standing foot in Hiroshima, the city that was subjected to the first atomic bomb in history. As I got off the Shinkanzen and walked to the bus station, I could not imagine what this city had looked like after the apocalyptic destruction in 1945. It was definitely a strange feeling. There was a sense of unusual attraction among the somber monuments of Hiroshima. Even so, this city was just absolutely breath-taking.
We loyally followed the map to our hotel, World Friendship Center (WFC), which we stayed at for two nights. For the price we paid, we thought it would be a really dingy hotel, but little did we know it was going to turn out like a homestay environment. The hosts were Americans, who volunteer with WFC. And, I still do remember their names … Sarah and Kent 🙂
The house, or shall I say … “hotel” … has only five rooms, enough to accomodate a maximum of 8 guests. Our room was located on the 2nd floor. I felt like everything was so familiar; from the wood-laminated closets and small, purple washing machines to the lace table cloths and flower-patterned curtains hung from a horizontal wire. It felt like grandma’s home, humble and secure. We only planned for two nights in Hiroshima, and so without further ado we took off on foot to explore the city’s charm.
Hiroshima is a city of rivers. As we were crossing one of the bridges, we saw a cute, pink tour boat cruising pass us. We continued walking until we arrived at the Peace Memorial Park/A-Bomb Dome.
The park was created in remembrance of the lives that were lost in the atomic bombing, and most importantly as a means of hope that this would never be repeated in future generations. It was a huge park, with many monuments to explore, and a musuem that houses exhibits relating to the atomic bombing incident. We entered the main hall of the musuem, which had a few interesting exhibits on display. One of them was a giant taiko drum that was painted in a rich combination of colours. At the base of the drum is a turtle. This giant drum is a gift from Korea, in commemoration of the Sister City agreement between Hiroshima and Taegu Metropolitan City on May 2, 1992. These giant drums are the oldest musical instruments in the Repulic of Korea, mostly used in the Imperial court ceremonies during ancient times. It is a symbol of friendship with the citizens of Taegu and wishes for peace and tranquility for Hiroshima.
There was this huge painting, which I felt was quite eerie. It was just flames everywhere engulfing what looks like Hiroshima back in 1945. And there was this supernatural being watching from above the flames. There was no English translation of the origins of the paintings, and so I do not know the details. We paid a small fee to view the exhibits in the basement of the building. Although, I have to say … it was quite depressing. I don’t mean it in a bad way. The exhibits were really good, but the sorrowful ambience was just overwhelming. There was a room, which displayed paintings drawn by people who had survived the bombing. In each picture, the artist describes in words what he/she saw, heard … or experienced. I recall one painting, which had nearly brought me to tears. The artist witnessed a woman, who was carrying a baby in her arms, crying and begging anyone to find her a doctor. She claimed that her baby was hurt and needed immediate medical attention, but she was probably too upset to accept the fact that her baby was already dead. The artist did not know what to do as he couldn’t bring himself to tell her the truth. Seriously, after that room I really felt that I could not take anymore sadness in this place. We proceeded into a different exhibition hall which was, thankfully, less sorrowful. This section showcased old artifacts picked up from the aftermath of the bombing.
After a tour of the musuem, we took a walk through the park. We arrived at an arched tomb called the Cenotaph for the A-bomb victims. Below the arched tomb is a stone chest holding a register of over 220,000 names of those who have died as a result of the initial blast or exposure to radiation. Behind the Cenotaph is a pond which spans a distance of about 150m, and trees are lined up on each side of the walkway. The trees were trimmed into cute bob-like shapes.
As we walked further down the pond, we arrived at the Children’s Peace Monument, which is a statue in memory of the children who died as a result of the bombing. The statue is of a girl with outstretched arms and what looks to be a folded paper crane above her. This statue is also based on the true story of a girl named Sadako Sasaki, who died from radiation from the bomb. She had believed that if she folded 1,000 paper cranes, she would be cured from her sickness. That is why till this day, young children from around the world fold paper cranes and send them to Hiroshima where they are placed near the statue. We saw many collections of folded paper cranes there.
And finally … we arrived at the A-bomb Dome! We asked ourselves, why was it called A-bomb Dome? Very silly of us indeed to think that it was because the building was the first to be bombed. A-bomb simply meant Atomic bomb … duh! Although, it was amazing to know the building was left how it was in memory of the casualties. It is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage site, and is officially recognized by the nation as the designated site of the memory and shared heritage of the catastrophe.
The evening continued on with more shopping … and food! We were so hungry that we just stepped into one local noodle store and ordered a simple meal that costed less than 8 yen. And still yummy! Then, we proceeded to a nearby shopping street called Hondori Shopping Arcade. I love the concept of these indoor shopping streets. Convenient, one pass through, and sheltered from sun and rain.
Day 7: To the holy island, Miyajima
I have to say, I was curious to know what everyone meant by this island being sacred grounds. Little did I know that there are no maternity wards or cemetries on this island because no one is permitted to give birth or die on Miyajima. Apparently felling of trees is also forbidden, and tame deer are allowed to roam at will. So yeah, I guess they will just have to ferry a dying person out in time or something like that … it really got me thinking there. Anyway, we took a ferry to Miyajima island, as it is just located several miles off the coast of Hiroshima. But before we began our sightseeing plans, we had to taste Hiroshima’s famous okonomiyaki dish.
At the island, we were immediately greeted by friendly deer as we stepped off the ferry. I have to say, the deer were too friendly. I was actually afraid of them. Well, more so afraid of what they will nibble and eat at. The Lonely Planet guide had warned not to have any form of paper in sight. Otherwise, playing tug-of-war with deer is a losing battle for humans. Apparently, there have been cases where deer ate tourists’ Shinkanzen passes, or worse … passports. Now, imagine explaining that to the immigration officer. We did witness an amusing tug-of-war show between a deer and a 10-year old kid. The deer was fighting for the map in his hand. Obviously, the deer won.
We proceeded to the Itsukushima Shrine, which was founded in 593. This shrine is built on stilts over a cove and it is best viewed at high tide when the glorious red buildings are reflected in the sea. Unfortunately, we were there in the morning and the tide was low. Also, we were unable to witness the scenic view of the floating torii, which is the sea entrance to the shrine. Apparently, at high tide, the great torii appears to be floating in the water. Even so, at low tides it was possible to walk up to it. Deer were everywhere. And anytime you had food or something in your hand, it was dangerous business to walk pass them. We bought ice-cream, and we had to scuttle around some of them so that they won’t get too close to chase us. In Canada, deer sprints away at the sight of humans. Here, they just adore you. Very interesting. We continued our walk up the hill to Daisho-in Temple.
I have to say, it was blissfully peaceful. Surrounding the temple, there were these adorable looking Buddha statues placed strategically to the keen eye. We found this one taking a sneaky nap amongst the bushes. We made our way back down the hill to catch the ferry back to Hiroshima. We passed by a shopping street again, and this was where I bought a yukata for myself! (A yukata is a casual summer kimono made of cotton).
Also, we came across this huge rice spoon! Apparently, it is the largest rice spoon in the world.
As dusk turned to night, we walked along the river to head back to the hotel. We sat by the steps overlooking the river and chatted about life in general. It was peaceful. It was calming. And I love Hiroshima for that.
Our next stop –> Kyoto!