We spent the whole day flying (from 6 till about 6). Getting back to Japan felt almost as good as I imagine getting home will feel. Japan is clean, and free, and clean – everything China fails to be. In fact, our guide, thought that it was a good thing that the government blocked facebook and all information about the cultural revolution! Although we had a great time in China, it is always nice to go back to something more comfortable. As I said to Wes, Beijing is what you imagine China to be like and Shanghai is what you expect China should be like but … Japan is what you expect home to feel like. Needless to say, when we arrived in Tokyo (and then in Hiroshima), we breathed a sigh of relief.
The Japanese are very polite. As your plane takes off towards the runway, the entire ground crew stops what they are doing to wave goodbye and then bow. I like it very much. The flight from Tokyo to Hiroshima was pretty much the coolest flight I have ever been on. As we left Tokyo behind, and ascended into the clouds, looking out the window I noticed something black. Could it be? Yes, there she was, Mt. Fuji, breaking up through the clouds. We had a great view of her for perhaps the seven minutes it took us to fly past. It was the best time I have ever had on a plane! Plus the views of the country side near Hiroshima weren’t too shabby either.
When we arrived we managed to get on the correct ‘friendly airport limousine’ towards Hiroshima (which was about 30-40 mins away). The bus stopped and dropped us off on the 4th story of a mall/bus station. After navigating our way out (and trying unsuccessfully to find an ATM) we started our walk towards the hotel. We thought walking there might be nice, and as the walk wasn’t too long, we were right – there were fireworks and everything! Being Saturday night, the night life was especially happening and we decided to try our luck at dinner after dropping off our suitcases in the hotel room. Turns out the reason the area was so ‘happening’ was because it was an adult entertainment district. Whoops! The next street over seemed to have some normal restaurants and we ended up in a sushi bar (the kind where they all yell when you come in the door). We picked two roll sets and within a few minutes we had fresh sushi! We were surprised to taste the wasabi inside the sushi – so our sinuses sure got a cleaning. Wesley wanted to try some sake here in Hiroshima. On the map of the city, the sake is advertised as feminine because it has a mellow and mild taste. This ended up being true, allowing Wesley to drink a whole pot full. On the walk back to the hotel we stopped in an arcade and I convinced Wes to play tetris where he put up the second highest score of the day on the machine. The arcade was full of power ranger and hello kitty toys with claw machines and tekken games (there was even a mario game).
We stopped at a 7-11 for some water and salty watermelon soda (which packs quite a punch) and it was filled with customers dressed in kimono! I wonder what they were doing there. Tomorrow we will see the peace park and a-bomb dome.
Our guide Kotoe met us at about 9 in the morning for a walk over to the Peace Park. We walked through an indoor/outdoor shopping area (where the street is covered with a roof). Kotoe offered us free coffee because she had a deal with a café where she teaches the staff English and she gets free coffee in return. Kotoe seemed to be more often and interpreter than a guide but nevertheless she did a great job. (And I’m sure she did a great job the next day where she had a group of 400!) I noticed that Kotoe and many other Japanese women were wearing elbow length gloves in the 100 degree weather. The purpose of this was to make sure they would not get a suntan. Quite the opposite of what we do.
Kotoe asked if it would be alright with us if she took us to the Peace Park. I suppose some tourists get too upset by the museum but I can’t imagine why someone would chose to go to Hiroshima without visiting the Peace Park (there isn’t much else there). On our way, we walked down a couple back alleys and stopped at the most ordinary looking hotel. A small marker on the side of the hotel marked the location as the hypocenter or ground zero. The bomb exploded in the air right above the hotel leveling all but two or three buildings (a school, a kimono store, and some industrial building survived) and kill all but three people in the area (they all happened to be in basements). The hospital is owned by the same director, who happened to be out of town that day and rebuilt his hospital. The hospital was the center of the attack because the pilot aimed for a nearby bridge shaped like a T. This bridge made a natural target. In fact, because Hiroshima was enjoying clear skies that day, they selected Hiroshima instead of some of the other cities.
As we continued on, we arrived at the a-bomb dome. I spent most of this time thinking about toenail fungus to avoid crying uncontrollably. The building was the pride of Hiroshima, made of brick and metal frames, it was very modern, and housed the new industrial products available in Hiroshima. In the night, they illuminated the building, and it was a beautiful addition to the Hiroshima city skyline, right along the river and next to the T bridge. Because the building was built of metal and stone it sort of survived the blast. The Japanese people convinced the government to leave it to remind everyone of what happened there. The mental support beams for the dome of the building are somewhat intact, thus the name a-bomb dome.
The center of Hiroshima has two rivers meeting, and therefore also a sort of peninsula in between the two rivers. This peninsula was accessed via the T bridge and was a location where many common people lived. Now the entire peninsula is called the Peace Park. Walking past the a-bomb dome and across the bridge to the peninsula, nobody would ever know. It is a peaceful and beautiful park. The silence is interrupted by bells ringing and the normal bustling city noises. There are many monuments in the park; one monument is a nukehead bell with Sadako atop. When you step up to ring the bell, you are saying a prayer for world peace. Wesley and I went together to ring the bell. All around this monument are cases filled with hundred and thousands of cranes. All colors and styles, even some organized by color to make pictures. Most are donated by school children but they come from all over. We added a single dollar bill crane that Linton had folded for me a while ago. I bet he never guessed it would end up in Hiroshima.
Also, there were many children with clipboards stationed all around the park. These school children were collecting signatures against nuclear weapons and were planning to travel to NYC to petition the UN to abolish nuclear weapons. There is also a flame in the park that will be extinguished only when nuclear weapons are in fact abolished. In addition, there are a few parts of the park that lie about three feet below the level of the ground. After the bomb, they brought in tons and tons of sand to cover the debris and these low spots are areas that were not covered. Our guide said that if you dig far enough, one might still find debris. However, there is no residual radiation because the bomb was detonated in the air and because about a month later there was a strong typhoon that washed all the radiation out to sea.
In the museum, there are artifacts from the bombing, pictures of people with burns and radiation poisoning, children’s tricycles, people’s clothing, clocks stopped at 8:15, a dark spot on the wall seeming to be a shadow of where someone once was sitting, and even some of Sadako’s cranes (they are SO SMALL, you wouldn’t believe it, even Eric wouldn’t be able to make them so small!). The museum also had some dioramas depicting the before and after devastation of the city and even some depictions of skin melting off of survivor’s fingers. As we left the guide told us that her mother and mother in law both saw the bombing from a little further off in the mountains. They didn’t know what it could possibly be because the mushroom cloud had never been seen before. She said that her mother touched people to help them, and now she is having some problems with her hands.
Although this was a very somber experience what was disturbing was that the pilot claimed that he would do it again if he was ordered to. I didn’t even know what to say to that bit of information. Because the anniversary of the bombing is soon, they were erecting tents to prepare for a lantern ceremony. On the way out from the museum there was a tree with a little music box in front. School children had composed a song for the tree because it was the only tree that survived the bombing and they had taken clippings and planted them in the school yard. The song expressed how happy the children were to meet the ‘mother tree’ and they wished the mother tree a long life. An old lady was standing in front of the box singing along.
On a lighter note, the women’s toilets have a button with a picture of music notes. When you press this button, the noises of trickling streams and waves begin. I’m not sure if it is to mask the toilet flushing noises or to help you out. The men do not have this button. At least these toilets were of the western style! In addition, we figured out that the bumps along the road are for the blind, not for wheelchairs. Lunch was a traditional Hiroshima food, sort of like a pancake made of noodles and cabbage served on a hot plate. DELICIOUS!
Hiroshima is known not only because of the bombing but also for the street cars. When other cities discard their street cars, they send them to Hiroshima. So there are both old and new cars, and many street car enthusiasts visit Hiroshima to see the street cars. Our guide said that two of the street cars are cars from before 1945 that survived. We took a street car all the way to Miyajima, the island of the Gods.
Back in the day, the Japanese believed that this island was a God, so they built a shrine on it. At high tide the shrine sits atop the sea and at low tide you can walk all the way under the self supported Torii gate. Although most people do not know it by name, this Torii gate is the most stereotypical image of a shinto shrine I can think of. All around the island are wild but tame deer that will let you sit right down next to you (and if you aren’t careful they will eat your passport!). After the shrine, our guide led us to a secluded stream where we dipped our feet in and enjoyed the scenery. Our guide purchased traditional Hiroshima maple candies with red bean paste inside for us to enjoy, and they were actually pretty good. The cold tea was especially nice on such a hot day (yes, I got sunburned). The most popular souvenir from the island was a rice spoon, it was invented there and they have the largest rice spoon in the world. The ferry back was interesting as well because we met a man who had visited 33 shrines in the Hiroshima area and he had a stamp/calligraphy from each of them.
We made our way to the Shinkansen and headed off to Kyoto!