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Published: March 24th 2014
6thAugust 1945. The world took a step closer to the abyss.
We went from one iconic image of Japan, Mt Fuji, to another, this one with an altogether different atmosphere. Hiroshima. 6th August 1945. The first atomic bomb was used in warfare.
And we got to Hiroshima on yet another icon of Japan – the bullet train. It was a long day of travel for the girls. A bus from Kawaguchiko to Mishima. One bullet train, or shinkansen, from Mishima to Osaka. A second shinkansen from Osaka to Hiroshima. Then we took pity on them and took a taxi to the hostel instead of the tram. Or perhaps took pity on ourselves as the tram would have been hard work with two tired, grouchy kids and our bags. Which incidentally, we don't have many of. We packed super light.
The shinkansen were great. Long, sleek and very fast! And we weren't even on the Nozomi, the fastest of them. They were surprisingly spacious too, great as we'd only booked two seats. It seemed like we'd been travelling all day, and we had, but looking at a map later that evening, we had covered an amazing amount of
ground in a short time. And it all ran on time. 6th August 1945. At 8.15am that day, the world changed forever.
Eye witness accounts tell of the blinding flash, the roaring of the blast, the heat. The following silence, pierced by the screams of survivors. People running or staggering about, bloodied, clothes in tatters, looking for family and friends. In an instant, the city and thousands of lives were destroyed.
We'd considered not coming, not exposing the kids, well, Samara at least, to the horror that mankind inflicts upon itself. At three, she is too young to understand. She is also at the age where she questions everything. I'm glad we did come. And I am glad that today she wasn't interested in questioning everything. In the Peace Park, they were more interested in running around than memorials. It was great, the most freedom they'd had since we arrived. There was a lot of space to burn off energy. Which is exactly what they did, so by the time we got to the Memorial Museum, Katrina was asleep and Samara only wanted to know when we were going back to the hostel, where it was on the
A-Bomb Dome on the mural
National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims
model of Nakajima area, and what was for lunch. It made for a rushed visit to the museum though. It was very crowded and hard to see the exhibits or read the text through the lines of slowly shuffling people. By the end of 1945, over 140,000 lives were lost.
Many bodies were never identified. Many didn't leave any remains to be identified.
We started our day in the Peace Park, walking amongst the trees looking at the many memorial statues and monuments. We went in the National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. The girls were given small origami boxes on the way in with two little paper cranes inside, their way of spreading peace through the world. We've kept these boxes and will give them back to them when they are older. The Memorial Hall is an underground hall of remembrance. We walked down a spiralling walkway into the main area with its panorama made from 140,000 tiles. The panorama shows the view of the bombed city from the epicentre, the Shima Hospital. You leave this hall and go into an area displaying the names and photos of A-bomb victims. Back upstairs there was
an exhibition of childrens accounts of the bombing. This was hard reading.
This lead on to the cenotaph and the Flame of Peace. Looking through the cenotaph you see the flame and the A-bomb dome across the river.
We had a brief look at the Childrens Peace Monument and all its paper cranes inspired by the story of Sadako before heading over the river to the A-Bomb Dome. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is probably the best known and starkest reminder of the destruction. The building had served various purposes pre 1945, and was the Industrial Promotion Hall when the bomb detonated almost directly above it. The epicentre, the Shima Hospital, was about 70m away. Everyone inside the building was killed instantly but the building was one of the very few left standing. Initially the city was divided over whether to keep the dome as a memorial, or to tear down an unstable wreck. Eventually, after all the other buildings were torn down, it
was decided to stabilise this one as a stark reminder and memorial.
Back in the Peace Park, we walked past the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound where the ashes of thousands of unidentified or unclaimed victims are interred. Past the Korean memorial commemorating the thousands of Korean victims, more than 1 in 10 of those killed by the bomb were Korean slave labourers, shipped over during the war. Past other memorials and the remains of grave stones from hundreds of years ago.
Lastly was the museum with its stories and photos, models and displays. Ragged clothes, photos of burned bodies, descriptions of the hours and days following the bomb, wax models and dioramas, a melted tin lunch-box, a rusted kids tricycle (it was a favourite toy of its 3 year old owner, and was buried with him days after the bombing. When his remains were dug up from his family garden to go into the family burial plot 40-something years later, the tricycle was donated to the museum.)
The rest of our time in Hiroshima was less morbid. We took a streetcar ride looking for a market, hoping to find more variety and cheaper fruit and vegetables. The
girls enjoyed the tram ride but the market place was in the process of being demolished to build a hotel complex. We did find a fruit shop though with more choice and slightly cheaper prices than our local (to the hostel) supermarket. That is one thing that has surprised us, and frustrated us, the price of fruit here. In some ways maybe its not so surprising as it was the same in Korea the other year. And it is spring and perhaps out of season for many fruits. But our options have been limited. Otherwise we have been fine food-wise, once we have worked out what things are!
And talking of food, after unsuccessfully finding the market, we took another tram to the centre of the main shopping district looking for okonomiyaki. Our guidebook and some others in the hostel had said to go to Okonomi-mura, a kind of food-hall for okonomiyaki. There was meant to be over 25 stalls making and selling this local speciality spread over 3 levels. We just went up to the first level and wandered around till Samara suddenly sat down at one of the stalls ready to eat. It was good enough for
us. Others were eating there which is generally always a good sign. So with the help of our phrase book we ordered one with meat and one without. Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake dish with cabbage, beansprouts, noodles and meat cooked and served on a hot griddle in front of you. Each stall seemed to be making it slightly differently, but the basics appeared the same. At our stall, the lady spread some batter on the griddle then layered cabbage, beansprouts, spring onions and something else on top. She added bacon to one, noodles to both then flipped them over. She cracked a couple of eggs and spread them around like the batter then sat the whole pile on top. When the egg was cooked, the pile was turned over again and some kind of thick, sweet soy sauce was brushed over and the pile was pushed our way. We cut off bits at a time and put them in bowls before eating them. Yum! The lady gave the girls forks with their bowls but Katrina used her fingers to eat and Samara clumsily tried using chopsticks. Top marks for effort, some of the food made it to her mouth
We had a wander through the shopping district, brightly lit, neon everywhere, crowds of people (it was a Sunday), big department stores and small boutiques, got given balloon animals and product emblazoned tissue packets, and hopped on another tram for the hostel.
We'd intended to go back out to the Peace Park and A-Bomb Dome after dark but the girls crashed again early. It only took one day to get over any jet lag, or body clock issues. The first morning here Katrina woke everyone up at 3.30am (7.30am NZ time, which for her is late!) and since then she's woken up about 6am, and proceeded to wake the rest of us up (the downfall of us sleeping in a line along a row of futons on the floor in the same room). So they have both been crashing sometime between 6-7pm.
We only had two full days in Hiroshima, and tomorrow we are off to the island of Mijajima for the day. Mijajima is one of Japans most visited tourist spots and home to another iconic image. This is one we recognised in the photos but couldn’t have said where it was.
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