Published: November 14th 2007November 6th 2007
The A-bomb Dome. Standing here on a quiet, sunny morning, it was difficult to comprehend the destructive fury unleashed just a few hundred feet above us.
Tortured girders try to keep the shattered bricks up, rubble all around. You can't touch it, the security system tightly governs access to the 'A-Bomb Dome'.
All around this monument to mankind's madness, a thriving city re-grew. Children were born and laughed, while their parents grieved for the dead, trying to comprehend the graphic deaths their loved ones had suffered.
It happened on a normal morning, people trying to stop the rumbling tummies, hungry due to war-time rations, making your way to school or the office. Did you remember your homework or your bus-fare. In cities around the country, in countries around the world, a war-torn world, people go about their business.
If it had been cloudy maybe we would be visiting a different monument in another city today.
I have no words for what happened or how it feels to be there sixty one years later. It must never happen again. It may happen again.
Children from schools throughout Japan visit the city everyday, they bustle, giggle, travel in packs, laugh, talk with intensity. It's difficult to see the displays in the Museum of Peace, so many children are there, their high pitched voices and
View from the memorial cenotaph past the eternal flame to the A-bomb Dome in the distance. The flame will remain lit until the last nuclear weapon on earth has been destroyed...
excitement demanding your attention. It's a testimony of the lesson the Japanese want us to learn from the horror of Hiroshima - it must never happen again, and teaching our young is our only defence.
A group of children spotted us and ran over 'HELLO' they chorus, 'we're from Nara and we're studying peace, can we ask you a few questions?'
We respond, and they laugh hoots of laughter, practicing their English on people who actually understand them, the joy of communication, like me when I say 'itchy knee' (one two in Japanese) and people understand. These ten year olds speak great English, my Japanese is limited to scratchy parts of my legs.
'Where you from?' one asks.
'Ireland' I say.
They look at one another and heads shake.
I'm a long way from home.
They give me a postcard they've made of all the attractions of Nara and I wish we had time to visit, but we don't. I keep it as my momento of Hiroshima, and we make our way back through the city to the train station.
The experience of visiting Hiroshima quietens us. We take it easy that
The memorial museum from the eternal flame monument
night, enjoy being alive, enjoy that it's 2007.
The next morning we head onto Osaka, and Shinsaibashai where we're staying, a young fashionable part of the city, perfect for people watching.
Tiny trendy boutique shops dot the backstreets, while big department stores and shiny branded shops line the mainstreets. We wander for hours, through covered walkways, past amusement arcades, wandering into CD shops and even a Hello Kitty store, until it gets dark and we find ourselves crossing a new bridge, admiring the neon signage which begins to look dated beside the newer plasma screen displays.
It's tiring and we wander away from the lights to a side-street where we find a talking vending machine outside a noodle shop, that tells us these are 'the best noodles in Osaka' and we put in our money, thank the stars that the dishes are described in English, and buy a few Asahis to wash it down.
Inside we hand our receipts to one of the six chefs and he reads the order out while smoothly getting our beers, and the requisite glass of icy water the Japanese like you to drink before eating. Hands us two napkins to
Paper cranes. A little girl developed lukaemia as a result of the bomb and felt that if she folded 1000 cranes she'd get to live. Now children from across Japan fold them in her memory and bring them here.
clean our hands, and we lift the container to take out fresh chopsticks. I sniff the garlic and chili in the jars and look around at the autographed signs above our heads from satisfied customers.
A chef tastes the stock in front of me, and I look around at the other customers, men and women, business suits mingling with asymmetrical haircuts. Steaming huge bowls, some with eggs cracked on top of the soupy noodles are doled out to waiting mouths.
An hour later, drowsy with eating we make our way back to the hotel, contemplate another beer, but we're heading to Himeji in the morning, so we go to bed instead.
Early morning we make our way to Shin-Osaka station, bemoaning the fact that this is our last full day in Japan, and pull out the Japanese Rail-passes for the last time. The lady tells us a train is leaving in five minutes and gives us our tickets. Sure enough, we only wait a minute or so on the platform before the slinky white Shinkansen purrs across the rails.
We aren't supposed to be sitting together, but the man who sits beside me insists on changing
The Dome from across the river. The older locals like to say that the Dome is getting smaller every year as the new city grows around it.
places with Alan. We thank him 'Arrrragatto, domo arrrrrrragatto' hoping our pronunciation is alright, he nods and I bop down in an awkward bow.
The castle in Himeji is visible from the train, and we can't wait to see this wonderful Unesco world heritage site, featured in the Last Samurai (with Tom Cruise) up close. It's a straight walk to the castle, so we stroll in the November sun, marvelling at the fact that this feudal castle survived the war, and again thanking our lucky stars that we are here and that autumn is such a great time to see Japan with the leaves turning such amazing colours. We grumble that we're leaving so soon, and talk about making a return visit to the country.
Inside, we bumble our way up the twisting walkways and talk about how hard it would have been to take this castle (it never was). We note elaborate defensive features, such as the fact that triangles and circles appear in addition to the more familiar narrow rectangle, and we imagine Samurai kneeling down one eye closed, with arrows and later with guns, defending the castle walls.
The castle is white, which contrasts
Hiroshima have a good baseball team, apparently. The stadium is right beside the Dome...
with dark wooden interiors, and grey tiled roofs. The different families that ruled here are remembered in the style of tile that caps the roof - with chestnuts, butterflies, lotus flowers and spirals among others - these peaceable symbols belie the martial nature of society at the time.
Too soon, we have to return. That evening we find ourselves wandering back through the streets to our noodle bar and slurping away. Exhausted again, we make our way back to the hotel to pack.
Tomorrow morning the Su Zhao Hao will be waiting in Osaka port to take us back to Shanghai.
There are more photos below