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Published: August 3rd 2018
Greetings from Hiroshima! After a blissful few days off the beaten tourist track on the island of Shikoku, I have returned once more to the tourist trail. But this feels very different to Kyoto – most tourists here are either Japanese or Westerners, there are no hordes from the Chinese mainland, which is a relief. It also feels a bit different here – I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I feel the people here seem a little feistier, hardier, than I’ve seen in other places. There are some really friendly people, but this doesn’t always seem the case, and compared to other places so far where everyone greets you in a lift, for example, not everyone does so here. I wonder if it’s just the way people are here, or I do indeed wonder if in fact the memories from 1945, some anti-western sentiments, still continue here. I wouldn’t be surprised to be honest, I’ve often wondered whilst here how I would feel if the situation were reversed – if the Japanese had dropped a nuclear bomb during World War Two on England, perhaps, would all English people today, including myself, 73 years later, be so
welcoming towards Japanese visitors…?
Alas, my time here has indeed been spent contemplating the events of 6th
August 1945, as indeed would most visitors I believe who come here. Yesterday I spent around the Peace Memorial areas of Hiroshima, whilst today I enjoyed a wonderful day on the nearby sacred island of Miyajima.
I believe I last wrote from Matsuyama, about to leave this really agreeable city on the beautiful island of Shikoku. On Wednesday morning I took a bus to the ferry terminal, and then the slow ferry (as opposed to the super-jet hydrofoil), taking a blissful three hours to cross back over Japan’s Inland Sea, arriving back on the main island of Honshu, this time in the port city of Hiroshima. From Hiroshima’s ferry terminal, I took a streetcar, or tram, to my current accommodation, another wonderfully welcoming, small, but highly efficient business hotel, the Vessel Inn Hiroshima Ekimae. Indeed, my travels here do not involve taxis between stations and hotels, but public transport everywhere, and walks of up to half-a-mile so far from tram, bus or metro stop to hotel. This has been manageable, and despite the sweltering temperatures, I can do pretty well with
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
The exact date and time of the bomb - 8.15am, 6th August 1945
my backpacks balanced – the big one on the back, the small one on the front. They are indeed filling up fairly quickly with souvenirs, but this I do not mind at all, and is one of my great pleasures of travelling at the moment – collecting original, quality souvenirs and displaying them in my beautiful home when I return.
After a very comfortable night’s sleep, I awoke yesterday morning ready to explore the sights of Hiroshima in connection with what the city really is most widely-known for – as mentioned, the events of 6th
August 1945, at 8.15am to be precise. It was a very moving and emotional day. Although I am in complete and unequivocal agreement with the US decision to drop the bombs on Japan, in order to end the unimaginable suffering of the six years of world war, in which 60 million people worldwide lost their lives, I couldn’t help but shed a tear for the innocents of Hiroshima who died so tragically and horrifically on this day, and those left suffering for the rest of their lives. Whilst many more lives would have been lost had the war continued, had the Americans not decisively
ended it with the two bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading to the unconditional surrender of the Japanese, it was still a moving experience to see what happened here almost exactly 73 years ago. I should also say that the Japanese were no innocent force whatsoever during the war, and did atrocious and inhumane things to their opponents and prisoners - this I have not forgotten. I did spend the day, however, feeling the emotion and loss of the citizens of Hiroshima, and was glad to have understood and seen it, if not disagreeing with the decision to drop the bomb, yesterday.
The day began with a visit to the well-known Atomic Bomb Dome, on the northern flanks of Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park. The building was once the Industrial Promotion Hall of Hiroshima, originally built in 1915, and at the time was a well-known building in Japan outside of Hiroshima. The decision was made after the war to keep the outer shell of the ruined building as it is, as a reminder and memorial of that terrible day. The bomb itself, called “Little Boy”, and released by the US B-29 bomber “Enola Gay” (apparently not all on board the
Matsuyama Ferry Terminal
Gosh, the things you can do at a ferry terminal nowadays...!
plane that day knew what they were carrying at the time) detonated 150 metres away from the building, and 600 metres in the air. It was one of the few buildings which were left standing, as within seconds the whole city of Hiroshima was blasted, instantly killing 80,000 people and destroying 90% of the buildings. With a core temperature of 2000 degrees at the centre of the detonation site, it was quite unbelievable to my mind that anyone survived. Amazingly though many did, though the figures are very sobering: out of a population of 350,000, a total of 130,000 either died instantly, or in the months to follow due to their injuries and radiation poisoning. The survivors were all affected, all presumably having known someone who was killed, and all learning to deal in some way with the pain and the loss for the rest of their lives. The Japanese government believe that as of 2015, there were around 187,000 atomic bomb survivors, all I am sure with stories to tell. Most of those killed were civilians, including 20,000 forced Korean labourers imported during the war, and what was quite pertinent to me, was the story of twelve US airmen
who were prisoners of war at the time in Hiroshima. Eight were killed during the blast, two were subsequently executed by their captors, and two who were released badly injured, were then stoned to death by survivors. This last point stood out to me the most, I can’t explain why. As you can imagine, my day yesterday was moving and emotional.
Following on from the sobering visit to the Atomic Bomb Dome, I took a walk through the beautiful and equally touching Peace Memorial Park. Here lie a number of memorials. Firstly I visited the Children’s Peace Monument. This was erected in memory of the children killed by the bomb, and was inspired directly from the story of Sadako Sasasi. Sadako was only two years old at the time of the bombing, but like so many other survivors suffered later in life from the after-effects of the radiation poisoning, developing leukaemia at only 11 years old. She believed that if she could make 1000 origami paper cranes, she would be cured of her illness. Sadly, she never got to achieve her goal and died before – her classmates reached her target for her. Since then, Hiroshima has received countless
origami paper cranes from people all around the world, in her memory, and as a gesture of peace, many of which are displayed in glass cabinets behind the memorial. After this, I headed to the Flame of Peace, set to burn on until all the world’s nuclear weapons are destroyed. From here, a short walk along the Pond of Peace, past a Japanese flag flying at half-mast, to the Cenotaph. This is a curved concrete monument, which perfectly frames within it the Pond of Peace, the Flame of Peace, and the Atomic Bomb Dome in the distance. It also holds the names of all the known victims of the bomb. Beyond this was the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound, below which lies a vault containing the ashes of thousands of unclaimed or unidentified victims. After this, a new building contained a very beautiful piece of artwork - a 360 degree mosaic depicting the image of Hiroshima in all directions from the centre of the bomb, just after the explosion, containing 130,000 small tiles in total, each representing a victim of the bomb. In the middle of the mosaic is a fountain, depicting the time of the detonation at 8:15am. The water
flowing in the fountain is offered for the victims, as many of them died begging for water. This point I felt was very emotional.
Finally, my walk culminated in a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, at the southern end of the Peace Memorial Park. Whilst the main building is currently undergoing repairs to make it earthquake-proof, and thus off-limits to visitors, the east-wing still contained a number of its most important exhibits. What stood out here for me was some moving imagery shown over a large scaled-down map of Hiroshima, depicting the bomb being dropped from above, then exploding in a flash of light and heat, followed by the infamous mushroom cloud rising out of the centre. Other stand-outs included time spent in an individual video booth, choosing to watch two out of the countless survivors’ stories to play in full. The first of a lady who was a schoolgirl at the time, blinded by the flash, and telling her account of trying to find her mother after the explosion. It took her a number of days, but eventually she found her mother, injured but safe. The second of a Japanese soldier, positioned in the open air
just outside the original Hiroshima Castle (which was destroyed by the blast, and subsequently rebuilt in 1958), who recounted in detail what happened, from the flash of light to the bomb blast and the searing heat, which caused his clothes to catch fire – he was able to put them out, and survived the subsequent days lacking adequate food and water. Pertinent to most survivors’ stories were their descriptions of the days that followed, of the heat which continued to emanate from all around for days afterwards, the horrific injuries sustained by all around, and their missions to be reunited, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, with their loved ones. Finally, an exhibition displaying some of the items carried and clothing worn by victims of the bomb, at the time of the blast – many were kept by their family members their whole lives, and subsequently donated to the museum upon their passing to serve as a reminder of “never again”.
In fact, Hiroshima seems to have taken on a mission, and my goodness do they have every right to I believe, to spread the word around the world that all nuclear bombs should be destroyed. The mayors of Hiroshima apparently
Matsuyama to Hiroshima Ferry
Bento lunch - these are very popular traveller set meals, and can be heated up when bought. This one was absolutely delicious, and cost around £3!
write personal letters to the leaders of each nuclear nation, every time they carry out a nuclear weapons test, including 19 written to the UK, to strongly protest their actions. Indeed, with Hiroshima, along with Nagasaki, being the only two cities in the world who have personally suffered the devastating effects of a nuclear bomb attack, I can completely understand their desire to spread their message of peace to all corners of the earth. Whilst my personal belief is that if you want peace in the current world we live in today, you must be prepared for war – perhaps indeed at some point in the future there will be no need for nuclear weapons, but I do not believe we are there yet. Despite this, I completely respect Hiroshima’s efforts towards global peace, and hence this is the reason why I, along with many I believe, view Hiroshima as the City of Peace.
Indeed, yesterday was an emotional, moving and sobering day. It has given me much to contemplate, which is indeed the very reason I planned to include Hiroshima on my journey in the first place.
Today’s activities were of a completely different nature, and I
was back to being a tourist, traveller and explorer again – how wonderful this was. I took a train and then a short ferry ride across to the nearby, beautiful, spiritual and sacred island of Miyajima. Miyajima contains the third of the three most famous sights of Japan apparently (the other two I believe being Mt Fuji and the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, both of which I have also seen!). Here lies the oft-photographed torii gate built out into the tidal sands and waters just off the coast of the island, the very famous Floating Torii – no visit to Japan I believe would be complete without a visit here! It was in fact the sight in Japan which I have most desired to see, and feel very happy and satisfied to have visited today. Fortunately my visit was at high tide, which means the torii gate was indeed “floating” – at low tide it sits, unphotogenically, in a swamp of sand and mud! Once some irritating kayakers were out of the way, I happily snapped away some amazing photos of the gate. Miyajima is also much more than the gate though, and I spent much of the rest of
Matsuyama to Hiroshima Ferry
Being overtaken by the super-fast Super-Jet hydrofoil!
my time there exploring its stunning, and once more magical, primeval forest blanketing most of the island. A short walk, followed by two ropeway (cable car) journeys, and then a sweltering 30-minute hike up steep slopes, brought me to the island’s highest point, Mt Misen, at 530 metres (directly!) above sea level. At the top was an amazing observatory which allowed a 360 degree view all around – back to the mainland and Hiroshima, and far out in many directions over the Inland Sea and its countless islands. There was also the typical jovial atmosphere you often find in such a place, where people are happy to have gotten to the top, and everyone is friendly with everyone. It was good to talk with two Lithuanians who had hiked all the way up to the top with their backpacks, a solo French traveller, and a former US marine who now works teaching children with special educational needs in Chicago. Very interesting. They had all, however, walked all the way up to the top, so I felt a bit of a cheat having taken the ropeways up most of the way… I did walk all the way back down again though!
This was a sweltering steep descent for just over an hour, but through stunning, lush primeval forest – although it was really hot and I sweated buckets, it was very much worth it to once more experience the beauty, sounds and serenity of the Japanese forest. I was slightly perturbed by signs all the way down, warning hikers of deadly vipers in the area, though I arrived back at the bottom fortunately not having encountered one. Passing the stunning torii gate once more, and for the last time, I hopped on the ferry back over to the mainland, and then bumped into the French guy, Gautier, again at the train station, who I shared the journey back to Hiroshima train station with.
I am currently writing this one up after having taken a well-needed shower, turning the air-conditioning on full-blast, and having my clothes laundered five floors below me in the coin laundry room, feeling very clean once more after a really very enjoyable, if very sweaty, day on the beautiful island of Miyajima. I am looking forward to a cold beer after publishing this blog entry, followed by a delicious spaghetti bolognese microwave meal, and a final night
here in Hiroshima. Tomorrow I plan to take my final shinkansen train on this journey (sniff…), and then a local train called “Sonic” (should be interesting!) to my next destination, the popular Japanese onsen town of Beppu on the volcanic island of Kyushu, west of here. I plan to write up my next blog entry either from Beppu, or from Fukuoka shortly after.
I have really enjoyed my time here in Hiroshima. On the one hand, it has been emotive and moving, and definitely a learning experience, on the other it has been another fantastic place that I have visited on this wonderful journey that I am thoroughly enjoying in Japan. My prior two joint-favourite countries of Brazil and Turkey may have met their match at their top spot with Japan – for me, my favourite countries are those which are both beautiful, and also have very friendly and welcoming people. Japan seems to be fulfilling these two criteria completely!
So until the next time, I wish everyone all the best! Thank you for reading, and take care.
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