Bullet trains are cool, the atomic bomb was not.
Greetings fans! Another day for us here in Japan, and boy was it a hot one: 32 degrees Celsius with enough humidity to leave you sticky and sweaty, even at 7:00am. What a great day to be packing up and lugging our backpacks through the crowded streets of Osaka to the station – NOT. For starters, we checked out of the wonderful Hotel Kinki at the not-so-clever time of 8:00am, which meant we were trying to move towards the main train station just as a million morning commuters were trying to get out. Swimming against the current of people in the heat and humidity, whilst carrying backpacks = hard work.
It got even more fun when we had to catch the local subway from Osaka Central Station to the Shin-Osaka Station with another million commuters (a word of warning to anyone considering traveling by train in Japan: don’t bring a big, heavy, square suitcase with you; Japanese train stations have LOTS of stairs and it is way easier get around if you have a backpack. We saw a couple of tourists trying to navigate through the station with 2 giant Samsonsite cases with much difficulty). But why would we need to go to a different station, I hear you ask? Because today we were catching a shinkansen (translation = super-fast, ultra-cool train) to Hiroshima, and these trains are so long they often can’t stop at “regular” train stations, so special “shin” stations have been built in many Japanese cities to accommodate them. Shin-Osaka station is a little way out of town and is HUGE, but oh so easy to navigate (Disclaimer: Only if you can read Japanese). Within 10 minutes of arriving at the station by subway, we were out, had bought a ticket, found our platform and were on board our train bound for Hiroshima – thank you Shane, once again your Japanese language skills made things MUCH easier for us. So easy and way better than flying. It’s official: WE LOVE SHINKANSENS!
It took just under 90 minutes to travel the 400 kms to Hiroshima, where we quickly found our hotel just a few hundred meters away from the station (we’re planning to stay in hotels or ryokans fairly close to the train stations for ease of portage), left our bags and went sightseeing around this small city. That’s small by Japanese standards by the way: just over a million permanent inhabitants (compared to Osaka’s 6+ million). It’s small(ish) size makes Hiroshima much easier to navigate and less of a sensory smack in the face than Osaka, but no less interesting.
The main purpose of our visit here was to visit the Peace Memorial Park. This is the extensive parkland built at “ground zero” of the 6 August 1945 atomic bomb detonation. As we walked into the park, the first structure that caught our attention was the A-bomb Dome. This building had been a hall prior to 1945; the metal, domed ceiling and a few pieces of wall is all that is left now. This was the only building left standing within a 3km radius after the bombing – its skeletal remains were a rather somber introduction into Peace Memorial Park.
The park contains numerous monuments for the many victims of the bombing, including the Children’s Peace Monument. This monument was built in honour of all the children who died as a consequence of the bombing. This statue shows a young girl holding an origami crane standing on top of an elongated oval dome, and is in memory of Sasaki Sadako, a young girl who was exposed to nuclear fall out from the bombing and then went on to develop leukaemia. She started folding paper cranes from her hospital bed (these are a symbol of health and longevity), hoping that if she folded 1000 of them she would live. I remember reading her story for school in grade 4 or 5 and it has always stuck with me because it is such a poignant reminder of the human price paid during war – any war. Whilst we were there, hundreds of Japanese school kids were also there on school excursions “to study peace” as they told us. I was particularly struck to see some of them running and playing chase under trees and through flower-beds planted in the after-math of the destruction, as a sign of hope and renewal.
The museum itself was pretty intense – there were numerous exhibits capturing the events of the day of the bombing itself, and from the days afterwards. The displays that remain clearest in my mind were the photos of the mushroom cloud taken from miles away, the ceramic roof tiles that had bubbled and fused at temperatures of more than 1000 degrees Celsius, and the 1:50 scale model of Hiroshima before and after the bombing. Worst of all though were the photos of survivors with their skin burnt black and their clothes hanging in tatters or fused to their skin. It was a dramatic testament to the destruction wrought by the atomic bomb and something that is not easily forgotten.
After lunch we headed over the see Hiroshima-jo (Hiroshima Castle), for a change of pace. This is a relatively small and new castle, for Japan. Built in 1583, it’s barely 5 stories high, but had a great display of samurai swords on display. The castle has a particularly special place in the hearts of many Japanese people as it survived the bombing of 1945. All in all, a good day.