Hiroshima was a city of extremes for me, immense sadness and also a lot of enjoyment. With little over 48 hours here my first afternoon was spent within the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Starting in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was fairly harrowing. Entering the exhibition with an audio guide you are immediately presented with life size figures and a poem about trying to pull a girl from the rubble as fire rages steadily closer to her. From this point on I spent most of the exhibition with tears rolling down my face. The exhibition demonstrated both the immediate and long term horrors of the Atomic bomb.
Watching videos from survivors of the bomb you realise that aside from the health issues that arose from the use of nuclear weapons almost just as troubling was fear of potential health issues – many of these people lived out the remainder of their lives fearing that they would be diagnosed with a terminal illness that was a consequence of their exposure to radiation. By the time I left the museum I felt both immense despair and also pride. Despair that we continue to live in a world where nuclear weaponry exists and could again be used, and pride to come from NZ, a country who’s identity is partially formed on being steadfast in their commitment to being nuclear free.
Moving through the Peace Memorial Park there were numerous monuments and statues dedicated to both those lost and those who survived the bomb.
While this monument is dedicated to all children who suffered from the A-Bomb, it was inspired by one young girl called Sadako Sasaki. Aged 2 when the bomb occurred she survived the bombing but died at age 12 from Lukemia – prior to her death she relentlessly folded paper cranes (under the belief that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes your wish will come true), hence the depiction of a girl holding a crane on the monument.
The A-Bomb dome is perhaps one of the most controversial reminders of the bombing in Hiroshima, much like our own Cathedral in Christchurch people don’t like the idea of the centre of the city being framed by such visible destruction that undoubtedly evokes painful memories. However, the building continues to undergo reinforcement work and will forever remain in the city – serving as a reminder to the world of the destructive nature of atomic weaponry and a continuing appeal for their abolition.
My second day in Hiroshima played out in a fairly stark contrast to my first. I spent the first part of the morning running through Hijiyama Park and eventually finding my way back to my hotel. I then went and explored Hiroshima Castle – while not particularly exciting, it was interesting to learn about Hiroshima’s identity prior to the dropping of the A-Bomb. It is very easy to forget that Hiroshima had an entirely separate existence from the one it now has.
Afterwards I made my way via foot, bus, train and ferry to Miyajima Island. The island is about 45 minutes away from the centre of Hiroshima and is categorised as one of the “3 best looking spots in Japan” (or so the brochures say) – this would have to be a fairly accurate assessment from what I have seen so far. The island is probably most famous for the “floating Torii” (it at least appears this way at high tide) – but the best part about it in my opinion is the view from Mt Misen. While I had originally planned to hike up the whole way, with the temperature being 32 degrees and quite humid I decided against this and instead took the lazyman’s option of the cable car.
The view from the cable car was spectacular, both the bush that you glide over and the views out to the sea. Once I had reached the top of the cable car there was still a 1km quite steep hike up to the peak of the mountain – with the sun beating down I got quite burnt and very hot! It was 100% worth the walk however, on such a nice day you could see out round Hiroshima and the surrounding towns as well as other islands in the area.
Along the walk there were some very cool mini shrines and areas of worship…
One thing that Buddhists do here is often the statues are dressed up, their dress changed according to the seasons – throughout this walk however it appears that some people were also having a bit of fun with the Buddhas with this guy being my favourite…
Working my way back down the hill to the seaside I managed to time it perfectly for high tide so that the Torii and Itsukishima Shrine were both surrounded by water, therefore achieving the desired look of apparent floating!
Returning to Hiroshima I again successfully navigated both trains and buses (something that I was very proud of myself for doing) and made it back to the noodle shop next to where I am staying… I had eyed this shop up the night before and decided to go in and my god am I glad that I did! My cold soba noodles with dipping sauce and tempura vegetables and prawns were so goddamn tasty I had to restrain myself from ordering the dish twice over!
It is fair to say that much like the rest of Japan, Hiroshima has continued the trend of stealing my heart – with views, food and history like I have experienced in the past two days I know that I will return here for a more extended visit in the future!