We woke bright and early on Thursday morning, full of beans (figuratively speaking) and ready for our trip down to Hiroshima. The travelling time on the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Osaka was only 15 minutes. We then changed trains for the 1 1/2 hour Shinkansen ride down to Hiroshima. Like previous Shinkansen trips, it was enjoyable, but with a disproportionate number of mountain tunnels obscuring the view.
Hiroshima is fairly low lying, flat and sandy. As such there's no subway system, rather a few tram lines for getting between the major landmarks in the city. The trams complement the City of Peace allusion. To get to our Mikawa Ryokan was just 3 stops on the tram from the main JR train station.
We walked into the city centre and, with guidance from the Lonely Planet, located a Hiroshima-Yaki restaurant. Actually, we found a building with 3 floors full of small shops all just serving exactly the same thing - Hiroshima pancake! It's a local version of a dish called Okonomiyaki and is an egg-based savoury pancake made with soba (thin buckwheat) noodles. They were very filling and tasted great. The chef simply cooks them in front of you on the hotplate and moves them over to the edge of the hotplate when he's done, and of course accommodates the many different requests of customers, thus baffling the uninitiated who were merely trying to keep track of where their pancake was. Our husband/wife team looked like they'd been doing this job since the dawn of time. The chef looked almost asleep while cooking, but it all seemed to work. If memory serves, we didn't eat much that night. The pancakes contain goodies including egg and fat bacon (I detected a few bits of red meat amongst the white before it was added to the stack). Shredded seaweed and shredded squid gave it a salty and fishy flavour which was a little …interesting, but ok. It was part of the whole taste experience.
We walked in the clear air with a gorgeous midday sun down to the Peace Memorial Park, the museum & surrounds dedicated to the A-bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945 (city convention refers to it as 'the A-bomb'). Out the front there was this statue of a woman protecting her child from the blast.
The museum had many, many displays depicting what happened on that day. There was miniature models of Hiroshima showing before and after views of the city. There was a number of videos running explaining various aspects of the whole thing, like the construction of the bomb, the geography of the area, the people who lived there at the time and the events leading up to it being dropped.
There's a whole range of artefacts that have been preserved. Some of the most interesting ones were this watch that stopped at exactly 8:15am, a small tricycle, some glass bottles that had melted together, some stone steps that still showed the outline of someone sitting on them and various items of clothing.
The whole museum was very emotionally geared. It told the story very much from the Japanese perspective. There was very graphic waxworks figures with people with dripping skin and flesh in red-light settings of crumbling rubble and chaos. The fact that the Japanese government had twice rejected the terms of peace, the second time only a week or two before the bombing, was tucked away in a corner. The music was very sombre and depressing. Gail found it especially so. There was lots of information about WHAT happened but there was very little information about WHY it happened. Almost no historical context. This was obviously intentional, but it detracted from the experience.
Having said all that, there's no getting away from the fact that what happened was utterly terrible and thousands lost their lives. I think it would have been better to go quickly, however the nature of the bomb meant that people suffered for years and years after. These days it seems that it's impossible to separate Hiroshima from those terrible events years ago.
Out the front of the museum is the memorial cenotaph which burns continuously. It will be extinguished when the last nuclear weapon is removed from the earth.
Beyond the cenotaph lay the Korean Memorial for the thousands of Korean slaves who died in the blast. Apparently a large proportion of those in Hiroshima at the time were Chinese and Korean slaves. A little further along is the Children's Peace Memorial, inspired by Sadako Sazaki, the paper crane-folding girl. Each year children from all over Japan fold paper cranes for hanging at the memorial and they are placed in these glass display cases (BTW Gail learned a song about her in primary school, in the pentatonic scale; very lovely and moving song).
The A-bomb dome was an interesting piece of architecture. It was originally built in 1915 as a promotions hall and was designed by a Czech architect. Remarkably, it was left standing after the explosion. The bomb detonated approximately 600m above and 160m south-east of the structure. The relatively vertical direction of the blast is one of the reasons that the building survived however you can still see the slightly sideways deformation of the metal frame of the dome from the blast. The building was left derelict for many years until it was decided to preserve it as a memorial. It has subsequently been internally braced and was World Heritage listed in 1996.
Following on from the museum we found our way down into an Internet cafe, where for 545 yen we had 1 hour of Internet and unlimited tea/coffee/etc. It was a good opportunity to check up on mail, see what had been happening in the world during our absence and do a quick blog post. It was also a fascinating cave, where there was everything from basic desktops through to fully enclosed leather chair cubicles. The walls of the place were lined with rows & rows of manga cartoons. The price was worth it just for the novelty of sitting in leather executive seats, and making your own caffeine concoctions, hot chocolate and sampling a few herbal teas and even a (highly processed) corn soup.
We found a small cafe to settle down in for dinner, as we took the walk back to our Ryokan. Once again Hiroshima was showing itself to be consistent with other parts of Japan by presenting an air of safety and security, even in the cool of the evening.