Hiroshima is known for its historic destruction during WWII. The city has once again become a bustling metropolis, but it is also a place of remembrance. Hiroshima has developed its own, new legacy by promoting worldwide peace and education of the repercussions of war. While in Hiroshima, we also took a day to visit another world heritage site, the Itsukushima Shrine and its famous watery torii gate.
Day 1 – Sunday, April 19, 2015
We rode the shinkansen to Hiroshima from Himeji. The most exciting part was waiting at the station for the train. Several times other shinkansens, which weren’t stopping, would sail through the station with a thunderous roar that shook the doors. In our train, all the reserved seats were full, so we had to try our luck in the three non-reserved cars. The cars were crowded but we managed to find two seats across the isle from each other. And at the first stop, we were able to move into a row together. The ride was uneventful and we listened to podcasts. From the Hiroshima train station, we managed to figure out the street car system (160Y flat rate) and take one to our hotel.
Day 2 – Monday, April 20, 2015
We woke in our hotel to a gloomy, rainy day. Before heading to the sites we walked through a covered arcade where we stopped for breakfast at Tulley’s, a chain of coffee shops we’d seen in most of the Japanese cities we visited. We weren’t too thrilled with the food there or the prices.
When we finished eating we headed to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. During our time in Japan we had visited many gardens and parks. It is clear that the Japanese enjoy nature and being outdoors and usually the parks are full of friends strolling and picnickers. Hiroshima Peace Park is different and, as it should be, is a place of reverence and solace. However the park wasn’t empty, even on this rainy day. Many people walked in silence contemplating the monuments and the history they represent. The park surprised me with its focus on peace and remembrance. There was very little written about the politics of war and the specific history of the atomic bomb and much more about humanity and compassion.
Our first stop in the park was to the Atomic Bomb Dome. The Atomic Bomb Dome, formerly the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, is a building which remained standing after the bombing of Hiroshima. It has been preserved in this state as a memorial. I doubt this building would have become architecturally significant if it were not for the history which it has seen. The steel skeleton of the building’s dome also remains standing. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being a ‘witness of human history’. Throughout the park there are many more monuments to victims, survivors, and world peace. We took some time to visit the memorial to children laborers who left school to join the work force as part of the war effort. We also stopped at the Children’s Peace Monument, which is based on the story of Sadako Sasaki and her thousand origami cranes. Both monuments featured displays of countless paper cranes, which can be brought in by visitors or mailed in.
In the center of the park is the Memorial Cenotaph through which the peace flame and atomic bomb dome can be seen. Finally there is the Peace Memorial Museum. The museum is 50Y (that’s less than 50 cents) to visit. During our visit the east wing was closed for renovation, but we were able to enter the main building. The building explains the history of the bombing and houses many artifacts that belonged to victims of the bombing. The artifacts show what the bomb did to clothes and possessions in the blast area, but it was the small descriptions of the survivors’ stories that accompanied them that were interesting.
Outside again, signs directed us to the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall. The hall houses a memorial to the victims, but also a library of their stories and testimonies. On our way out of the hall, we were asked if we wanted to watch an English testimony by the family of a survivor. We were seated in a classroom and a lady talked about the firsthand experience of a man (possibly her grandfather) who was 19 years old at the time of the bombing. She also reviewed the history of the bombing and advocated for the worldwide disarmament of nuclear weapons. Afterwards it was pushing 4pm and we were exhausted so we walked to the Okoyaki area for lunch. A lot of restaurants were closed between 2pm and 5pm while they prepare for dinner, so we ended up at another ramen restaurant. We then went back to the hotel to relax.
Surprisingly we started to get hungry again later in the evening. Our hotel suggested some nearby sushi restaurants, but we wanted something more casual. We ended up at Kemby’s, an ‘American bar’. It really did feel a bit like a bar at home, especially because we got larger glasses of water that were continuously refilled (something we found lacking across Japan). We split a salad and a hamburger, and while they weren’t the best food, we were very happy with our choices. Late that night Jon took a walk back to the Peace Memorial Park to see it at night.
Day 3 – Tuesday, April 21, 2015
It was sunny when we woke up. We left our hotel and decided to get breakfast from a convenience store and eat in the park. A small breakfast of bananas, yogurt, and a waffle was really refreshing. Because the sky was blue, we decided to walk past the Atomic Bomb Dome one more time. The crowd was about the same size as the previous day, but there was definitely more energy. Models of the original dome and volunteers with information talking about the bombing were around the building. We left downtown Hiroshima and took a day trip to Miyajima. Miyajima (宮島) is a small island south of Hiroshima. To get there we took a street car to the train line, followed by a ferry to the island. The entire trip took under 2 hours. From the ferry we could see Miyajima’s signature feature, a large torii gate in the water. When we docked we walked straight to the torii gate. Along the way, free roaming deer were abundant and would approach tourists, much like in Nara. The gate itself was much lovelier up close than it had been from the ferry. Behind the gate is Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社, 300Y) which is built on stilts over the water and is a world heritage site. While we were at the shrine there was a wedding going on. The town of Miyajima was nice as well. At first we stuck to the water and saw some small parks and shrines. Eventually we made our way into the town area. The first thing we noticed were a large number of shops making and selling Momiji Manju, a type of local cookie. We stood at a store for a while watching the mechanical machine which makes each cookie. One store was offering free samples so we tried a bite. The manju had a sweet bean paste filling surrounded by pancake type batter. In the town we also sampled grilled oysters and a chocolate filled variety of manju. The manju cookies were a huge hit to the other tourists, but we didn’t think it was anything to rave about.
On our way out of town we passed a large wooden paddle. This turns out to be the world’s largest rice scoop and Miyajima was where the rice scoop was invented. The trip back was the reverse of our journey to Miyajima; ferry, train, and street car. We had to stop in Hiroshima again to retrieve our luggage. While we were there, we stopped for a meal of CoCo Curry, which had quickly become our go to restaurant in Japan.
We then caught a shinkansen to Osaka, our last stop in Japan.