We were sad to leave Kobe, one day didn't feel quite enough, but we had Hiroshima and Miyajima Island to look forward to. It took pretty much a whole day of travelling on local trains, with several transfers, to get to Hiroshima from Kobe, so it was early evening by the time we got to our hotel.
Off the back of a Rough Guide recommendation, we tracked down an area in the city called "Okinomi-Mura" (okonomiyaki village), my idea of food heaven! Two floors of basic diner-style eateries that serve up Hiroshima's famous local dish. It was an excellent place to eat like locals, sat on swivel stools at an unpretentious counter, with our food cooked right in front of us. Hiroshima style is different to the Osaka style I was used to. It contains more cabbage, noodles, and a variety of fillings and is cooked in a slightly different way, with the pancake at the bottom. I think I prefer the Osaka version the best, but these were delicious too, washed down with a cold beer.
Our first full day we headed for the island of Miyajima via a scenic ten minute ferry ride from Hiroshima. The island
is famous for its beautiful floating torii gate, Itsukushima Shrine. "Miyajima" means "shrine-island" in Japanese. The shrine and torii gate are unique for being built over water, seemingly floating in the sea during high tide. The shrine complex consists of several lovely red buildings connected with each other by boardwalks and are all supported by pillars above the sea. The island is also famed for its wild deer, which wander nonchalantly amongst the tourists, nibbling guide books and anything else they can get their teeth on.
We spent the day wandering around, soaking up the festival atmosphere (it was still the period of hatsumode) took the cable car up to the top of the island's mountain, and stayed until after sunset to see the shrine and torii lit up at night. A truly magical place to visit.
The second day we spent exploring Hiroshima. This was a place I have long wanted to visit. I remember as a child being haunted by tales of the first atomic bomb, and the shadows of people burnt into the ground. I also recently helped teach English lessons to the 3rd years at school on the story of Sassaki Saddako, the little
girl who died of leukaemia after exposure to the bomb when she was two. She tried to fold a thousand paper cranes (a sign of peace) in the hope it would cure her condition. She died age 12, but her story still inspires people today and you see thousands of paper cranes near her statue in the children's peace memorial.
We visited the striking atomic bomb dome, which is part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The haunting ruin serves as a memorial to the people who were killed in the atomic bombing on August 6, 1945. Over 70,000 people were killed instantly, and another 70,000 suffered fatal injuries from the radiation. Many hundreds of children were also born afterwards with terrible disabilities.
We braced ourselves and went to the peace museum. The museum gives a very balanced account of the events leading up to the bombing and shows what happened in its aftermath. It is a sobering experience. The full details of the political motivations behind the decision to use the bomb were new to me and I found the picture it painted of both the US and UK government's dealings at the time brutal and unfathomably
In part of the museum they present items recovered from the blast area. You see the burnt and twisted frame of a child's tricycle, the charred remains of a boy's school uniform and horrific photos of severe burn victims in hospital. There is a step removed from the front of a bank building, where the shadow of a man is forever cast into the stone. Many of the victims at ground zero were school children and students who had been put to work as part of the war effort.
At the end the museum paints a picture of the grip atomic weapons still have in the world. Every year the mayor of Hiroshima writes a letter to the heads of state in these countries urging them to remove their weapons, but the nuclear proliferation grows ever stronger. Utter maddness.
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