[Western Honshu Spring Trip] Hiroshima - Day Two

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March 19th 2014
Published: March 23rd 2014
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I woke up feeling ready to tackle the day after my first night's stay (though my hostel was wonderful and comfortable, a reoccurring issue with hostels in general is the other guests and how loud they are). I had an itinerary planned out so that I knew what I wanted to do, and my main reason for going to Hiroshima was to visit the peace museum and atomic bomb-related memorials. Since I'd walked through the remains of a concentration camp in Germany, I knew I wanted to do this to round out my World War II visitations, and to make sure that I never forgot the horrible things that humans can do to other humans. It's important never to let history die, lest we risk making the same mistakes again. Seeing as how Japan is my adopted country, I also knew this was going to be an emotional thing to walk myself through.

Peace Memorial Park is built at the "T" junction where the atomic bomb was deployed. The park itself lies along the river, separating it from the city around it on the side. The park is built so that when you walk in, the first thing you see is the museum building (connected to a conference center), and then the rest of the park leading up to the end, the always in-sight as you walk, A-bomb Dome. I started with the museum, because I knew it would be the most difficult thing. It only cost 50 yen to go in, and they allowed photos, though I didn't take many because it was too powerful an experience.

There weren't many people talking inside, and even groups tended to split and wander independently - that's just how it seemed to be. It was very emotional, even just starting, which began with the military history of Hiroshima and how the city was used in the fifty years before World War II even started. It didn't shy away from addressing Japan's often brutal dealings with neighboring Asian countries, which I really appreciated, as that stuff tends to get really glossed over here by both school curriculum and textbooks. There was also a lot of information regarding why Hiroshima (and Japan) were chosen as targets for the atomic bomb (Hiroshima because they did not believe there were any Allied POWs held inside, and there were clear skies the morning of).

When the bomb went off, it decimated everything in the 2km blast zone and most everything 3km out was also hit by the fires that started because of the incinerating temperatures. It LEVELED the city. Those close to the blast that weren't killed instantly were horrifically burned, and most died within days or a week, succumbing to the injuries. I knew that it would be hard when they started showing artifacts and clothing worn by those who died, but so many of the uniforms they showed were high school aged children, and they are just the same as my students are, so those are the parts where I cried the hardest. It was so, so sobering and terrible and just, really important. 250,000 people killed at the touch of a button.

I spent a lot of time crying over displays, and then at the end, signed a notebook in Japanese they had sitting out for reactions and comments about the museum. Then I headed out towards the park itself. There's a cenotaph for the bomb victims that you see first when heading down, so I visited that, which was covered in flowers, and then past the flame that won't be extinguished until all nuclear weapons are gone from the earth. There were many groups of Japanese school children out, which made me smile and feel more hopeful again.

I passed the Children's Monument, which was very powerful because inside the museum we were given Sadako's paper crane story (she developed leukemia from exposure to the radiation at the age of 2, and made a thousand paper cranes believing that her wish would be granted to get well; she didn't, but her story will never die). The monument was surrounded by paper cranes sent from all over the world hoping for peace. I found the large burial mound for those who were killed nearby the site and lit some incense, and then visited the Bell of Peace and the Korean Victims Monument. It was an absolutely beautiful park space, incredibly well-designed, and I was very moved by not only the story it contained, but the feeling of hope and peace for the future.

A-Bomb Dome is the last stop in the park - one of the only structures that was left standing after the bomb hit. Seeing it amongst the river and the skyscrapers and the flowers was both startling and soothing at the same time - a weird mix of emotions, but that was basically the whole morning. I sat by the river and took some pictures, and then wandered across to get closer to the dome itself. After that, the park was concluded, and I decided to stop and get some coffee and a pastry to sort of "settle" myself again.

After that, I headed north and decided to go into the Hiroshima Museum of Art. (Traveling alone is sort of great for things like this!) They had some really great paintings from the masters of the 19th and 20th centuries: Picasso, Degas, Renault, Renoir, Monet, etc. It reminded me of all the art history classes I took in university. There was also a special display from a Japanese artist, and while I liked most of the Japanese works they had, this particular artist did not seem like anything special to me, and I was a little underwhelmed by the exhibition for him. But all in all, a nice little side stop. (And I found an adorable Alphonse Mucha hair-tie in the gift shop.)

North of that was Hiroshima Castle. The castle was, naturally, leveled in the bomb, but rebuilt afterwards and didn't feel like it was as new as it really was. It was a very faithful and well-done rebuilding. The grounds were pretty big and had some neat things in them. As I approached the castle itself, an old Japanese man came up to me and said, in English, "Welcome to Japan!" I responded in Japanese with, "I live in Tokyo..." then he pretended to fall down in surprise. After that, he talked to me for awhile in Japanese, and I taught him how to say "Nice to meet you" in English. He was very cute and nice, and it was a fun, surprising little encounter.

Hiroshima Castle was full of samurai swords, old pottery, and replicas of the interior of houses, but no pictures were allowed until you got to the viewing platform at the top, which overlooked the city. It was very cool. I left and decided I needed a proper meal, so I found a ridiculously gorgeous mall and a quaint cafe that served a yummy three-course meal (and I didn't feel too weird eating alone). I had a lot of time to kill, so I decided to go all the way back down to the entrance of the park and then walk along Heiwa-dori, called the "Promenade of Peace". It's really well designed and beautiful; Hiroshima, as a city, is my favorite city in Japan I have visited due to its atmosphere and welcoming nature.

Somehow, I missed the park at the end I was aiming for (I walked under it???) and had gone about 2km when I was like oh screw it, I need to just head back and get some dinner, so I finally decided to chance the streetcars and managed to get back to my area with the shopping streets and restaurants. Hooray! Great success. I found my favorite restaurant, Saizeriya, which has 100 yen glasses of wine (!!!!!), had dinner, and then went back to my hostel. I was exhausted from a really emotionally draining day!

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