Peace in the morning forest and peace in Hiroshima
Trip Start Jan 30, 2010
25Trip End Feb 22, 2010
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Today was the 14th February - Valentines' Day. The difference in Japan however was that the women give the men chocolate. We had already seen the crazy floor of chocolate in the department store in Kyoto, and had heard the legend of Valentines' Day whereby the women tell their man how much they mean to them by the quality and amount spent on them. Needless to say I had picked up some chocolate in the 7/11 store on the ferry to Miyajima and surprised Andrew with it this morning. I did however pick out the most expensive chocolate in the store but it was still only about 300Y, so Andrew didn't feel too special. He was appreciative that I even bothered, but I thought it would be funny!
We had to be at breakfast at 8:00am - which was good for us as we wanted to get going up the cable-car before the masses
We were ready to check out and start the Walk to Mt Misen. Momojiso Ryokan is the best position possible for the walk as it is literally 100m from the cable-car. Mrs M stored our bags whilst we headed off for our walk.
We paid the 1600Y (each return) and caught the first car up the mountain. It was a superb view of the Japanese Inland sea, Hiroshima and surrounding islands. Andrew got excited when he saw two Japanese Navy ships leaving the port. It was only about 5 minutes in the first smaller cable-car before we switched to a larger carriage to continue up the steeper part of the 500m mountain.
Soon we were at the top and headed off on the path to the top of Mt Misen. I was not feeling the best but persevered and very glad I did. It was only a half hour walk to the top, and had magnicent views from every angle. We met some friendly deer that Andrew had fun with. We had read that the deer ate just about everything, but the only thing we had on us was some paper
The path to the top of the mountain was dotted with various shrines and small temples. Many of them had numerous piles of rocks which I noted to investigate the meaning when I got home. The path played with my head... we would go up and then back down before going back up again, but before we knew it, we were at the top area where the main temple (to great Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi), and the temple of the eternal fire were located. It was quite peaceful as there were only a handful of people there.
We continued onto the very top of Mt Misen (just a little further up another path) and climbed the stairs of the lookout. The lookout was a rusty old structure built on top of a "restaurant" which looked like no-one had been to in a number of years (although we could not believe it was actually open a few minutes later). The menu consisted of sake or noodles, to be eaten on a collection of old wooden and plastic stools. Not your regular 5 star restaurant but I guess if you are desperate....
From the top we could see for miles
It was great to get out before the crowds. As we were walking back down a steady stream of people had already started their way up the mountain.
We collected our bags and headed towards the floating O-Torii Gate as we had been told that at 10am it was exactly high tide and when the gate looked as if it were floating. We were quite disappointed. The gate looked quite run down and with the wash of the ferries, the water was quite rough. I grabbed a few pics, but we both agreed it was so much prettier the night before. So that made me feel glad that I had paid the small fortune to stay the night on the island.
Another reason why staying on the island was good was the lack of people. By 10am the island was chockers! We had come on the Oyster festival weekend, and there were street stalls, a stage with entertainment and people - lots and lots of people queueing for miles for the oysters
Andrew again had fun with the deer, and taunted them with an old map in his back pocket. This time the deer were more inquisitive and went straight up to his backside and nipped out the paper of his pocket! It was very funny!
We pushed through the packed people to the ferry which was there straight away. The local train to Hiroshima was also there and 20mins later we were in the city centre. I had booked us into K's House Backpackers (same as Kyoto) as it was very close to the station (only a couple of blocks away). Although we only expected to leave our bags there, we were lucky enough to be able to check-in. This room had a private bathroom so we could freshen up before heading off for the afternoon.
We jumped on an electric train, which spans the city over 6 routes. It only costs 150Y ($2) for each trip, and took us directly to the Hiroshima A-Dome. Danielle and Julie had told us about their visit the day before and how much it had affected them. I had heard that it affects people in many different ways, and I was not entirely sure how it would affect me
Julie had told us to look out for the free guides dressed in red outside the museum as they gave a very different and personal view of the bombing. Andrew saw one of these guides and approached him. He was happy to tell us what he knew and gave us a history of what his family members were doing that fateful day.
He told us about the numbers of survivors have been branded "hibakusha" (explosion affected people) and the levels of exposure determined their band number. He was an "In-Utero" survuivor as his mother was 4 months pregnant with him - so he was a level 5. He told us about the numbers in each bank of hibakusha, but there are probably many more as they do not want to be known as hibakusha, even though they get medical discounts, some people fear them and their radiation levels. He pointed out some of the other surviving buildings and structures, took us to a graveyard that survived (granite survived quite well) and the actual hypocentre of the bomb
We expected him to give his personal sided view of the bombing, and we got it.... he believed it was his duty as a survivor to tell what the museum does not.... that the American Government should apologise for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We were polite and let him speak, but do not necessarily agree with his standpoint.
We said goodbye and crossed the bridge to the museum. Across the bridge a group of people were holding up "Free Hugs!!!" to which Andrew rushed over and accepted. I took a photo of them with him and then gave my hugs too.
Just on a little further we were politely stopped by a group of young scholars, who asked in very nice (but slow!) English if we could answer a couple of questions. Their teacher was with them and she said they were learning English. They asked us some questions about Japanese language and culture and also questions about our country, and its culture. At the end of the interesting little survey they asked if we would mind having our photograph taken with them. It was a nice experience and we were glad we could help out. At the end of it they gave each of us an origami crane which was a really lovely gesture
There were lots of people milling around, some dancing and singing - and generally a very happy place. Quite a contrast to the feeling at the A-Dome.
We continued onto The Hiroshima Peace Museum - perhaps the most solemn and quiet museum I have ever been in - and we learned of the story of that day that changed history....
On August 6, 1945 the air raid sirens sounded early in the morning, but was given an all clear at 7:31am, so the people of Hiroshima were going about their morning business,.... to school, to work etc.
At 8:15am, without any warning, a nuclear bomb exploded over the clear blue skies of Hiroshima. It was dropped by a US B-29, called the Enola Gay (which we found out was the name of the pilots mother - he had handpainted her name onto the plane).
Hiroshima city had changed forever.....
From what I now understand, the bomb actually exploded in the air (about 600m)
Following the attacks, tens of thousands of died from radiation poisoning. Later on, many died from cancers (usually multiple cancers) and other tissue related diseases. These photographs were so graphic that I could not continue to look at them - they were too disturbing.
We learned of remarkable things such as the way that Hiroshima quickly pulled together to rebuild, and how the children after the event, even though they had lost everything, even their families - had such hope for the future. Their school lessons continued in the outdoors with hardly anything to sit on or write on, but they made the most out of nothing.
The whole park was a pretty amazing place. In particular the A-Dome as mentioned earlier, but also a surviving tree (1.5km from the hypocentre transplanted in the park), the building that withstood the blast and the T-shaped bridge that was the actual orginal target. Perhaps for me the two most significant parts of the park were the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound (70,0000 unidentified bodies) and the Children's Peace Monument
We had seen numerous photos in the museum of children who had become orpaned by the bomb (the children had been moved from the cities out to safe houses in the country to protect them from air raids), the disease called encephaly that many of the in-utero children were born with, and the story of Sadako Saski, who was exposed to the radiation (at 2) and 10 years later died of leukaemia.
When she was diagnosed, she was given less than a year to live. She didn't want to die and wished to live. She remembered a story her mother had told her that if you fold a thousand paper cranes, your wish will come true.
She had a mission. She would fold a thousand paper cranes to make her wish come true. She used not only paper which was scarce to fold paper cranes but even scraps of candy wrappers and gift wrap. Even when she had folded a thousand paper cranes and her wish hadn't come true, she started on her second thousand. Even when in severe pain and discomfort, she continued to fold paper cranes right up until days before her death. She died on October 25, 1955.
Sadako's schoolfriends wanted to do something to honour her life, and all the children who had been affected by the bomb
For me, this was truly an inspiring and emotional memorial. There are numerous covered shelters of paper cranes that have been folded by people from all around the world.... thousands, probably millions of beautiful cranes to represent peace.
Andrew ended our visit by ringing the peace bell. It's haunting sound cemented our views "No more Hiroshimas'. Just as we passed the A-Dome for the last time, we heard the sound reverbrate as someone else agreed.
As we had such a huge breakfast we had skipped lunch, so we both agreed on an easy early dinner and a walk around the city centre. We passed a KFC and I wanted the KFC chicken pie again - so I twisted Andrew's arm. Andrew made me laugh as he said that we are eating what the Japanese eat, as they place was full of Japanese people!
Whilst we were walking through the shops, I saw a 100Y shop.
Hiroshima city was just like other Japanese cities, but not nearly as flashy. It had some more wierd kids, strange things to buy in shops, lots of bikes, banks and pachinko and amusement arcades. We watched two little kids have a ball at a drum machine - they were sooo good at it!
We walked back through the city to our hostel. The bathroom was very small and felt a lot like a toilet on a plane, but the bath was nice and deep. I must have looked a sight with my legs up the wall, but I didn't care - it left me warm and relaxed.