A change of pace from our sopping day in Kyoto, we took the bullet train down to sunny Hiroshima for a day in the southern most stop of our whirlwind tour of Japan. After disembarking from the bullet train we hopped on one of the city’s many trolley cars. Kinda like the cars from Fishermans’ Wharf in San Francisco, these electric train car lines criss cross the main avenues of the town. We took one of these electric cars out to Miyajima Island, home to the famous “Floating Torii Gate.”
Arriving at the ferry terminal we were amazed by the crowds. granted it was a weekend morning but this small town ferry terminal transformed into downtown Tokyo for the day. Across the river we were surprised by something we hadn’t expected on the island: deer. These “wild” deer have learned to come out of the inland forest and into the shoreline towns to search for food. As we walked down the crowded boardwalk to get a better view of the torii gate we saw dozens of these fearless deer walk up to visitors, food stands, and even snatched some food off one guy’s lunch platter! After the pleasant walk down the beach we were a little bummed to find the famous “Floating Torii Gate” at low tide. A mighty impressive and elaborate gate, but is certainly more impressive at high tide if you can plan it right. Still, we made the most of our trip and had a blast taking photos, people watching all the tourists, and having a tasty street vendor lunch of corn on the cob and yakatori chicken.
After our stop off at Miyajima Island, we took the ferry and train car back to central Hiroshima to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum. First thing to catch your eye is the A-Bomb Dome, which used to be the Industrial Promotion Hall. Almost directly underneath the epicenter of the blast this building survived where almost no others did. Used as a gathering place and emergency treatment station immediately following the blast, it now has been preserved as a testament to the destructive harm and power of nuclear weapons by UNESCO in 1996.
Just across Ota River is the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park, which includes several memorials and monuments commemorating those who perished as a result of the blast. The Children’s Peace Memorial, inspired by the story of Sadako Sasaki, is the most easily identifiable with the colorful bins of origami cranes, loud crane bell, and tall figure just off the main road crossing the bridge. A short distance from that is the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound and Peace Clocktower, and just across the street from the Children’s Peace Memorial is the Peace Flame, which has been burning continuously since it was lit 1964. It will remain lit until the last nuclear weapon on Earth has been dismantled and destroyed, thus ending mankind’s potentially destructive nuclear age.
Following the main corridor pathway past the eternal flame is the Memorial Cenotaph, the official marker for all those killed by the A-Bomb blast, this marker is a popular attraction for locals, Japanese nationals, and foreigners alike to pray for the peaceful rest of those lost and for continued pursuit of world peace. At the end of this corridor is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. In its beautiful simplicity the museum is lined up to form a straight line of sight past the epitaph and eternal flame, over the river, and onward to the dome of the A-Bomb Dome.
Once inside the museum gives a detailed history lesson in the build up of military and commercial activity in Hiroshima as well as on World War II the development of nuclear fission, and the decision to drop the bomb. And while the museum is built to remember and document the sorrow and horrific nature of that day, its primary mission is to stand as a cautionary tale to the destructive force of nuclear weaponry in the hopes for world peace. Moving through the museum there are dozens and dozens of photos, artifacts, and even pieces of buildings that had survived that fateful day. It is a somber hall filled with ripped and burnt clothing, warped girders and shutters, and heartbreaking tales of survivors struggles with losing loved ones and dealing with the fallout of radiation. Once through the exhibits of the museum, we walked past the full length windows that overlook the park and memorials with a new sense of what happened August 6, 1943. While it may seem off-putting since it happened only 69 years ago or as an American walking through the halls, I highly recommend paying a visit to this Unesco World Heritage Site.
From the museum we took a short and lovely walk following the river, catching glimpses of the numerous community and unofficial memorials in and around the park. Making it back to our train station we took two short rides and went to visit the historic Hiroshima Castle. With a storied history that dates back to 1590s, the castle grounds had risen and fallen in prominence depending on the region’s ruler, until the castle structure was destroyed in the a bomb blast. It was rebuilt in 1958 and turned into a museum on the area’s rich samurai and shogun history. Like a smaller version of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Hiroshima Castle has a large stone wall surrounded by a large moat, which was breathtaking as the sun dipped down out of the sky. We continued to walk around the wooded grounds, which include the Hiroshima Gokoku Jinja Shrine and historic military headquarters for the Japanese forces during the Sino-Japanese War. Soon thereafter we came upon the castle tower, peeking up through the trees, sun glinting off the grey stone tiled roof. The building has five successive levels, each featuring gorgeous white stucco and traditional woodwork to the region.
While we enjoyed the towering giant for its beauty and grandeur, Beth and I had dinner to eat and a train to catch, so we made our way back to the electric car line. Along the way we stopped by a tasty little Chinese restaurant and chowed down on tasty gyoza dumplings, fried noodles, and simmered pork before making our way back to the train. With only 15 minutes to spare we made our way through the stations and even purchased two traditional Hiroshima dessert cookies before we boarded the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) bound for Kyoto. The soft cookie is shaped like a maple leaf and typically has a sweet bean paste center, but can also be filled with a variety of cremes, including chocolate and green tea. After a long day of sightseeing the major attractions Hiroshima has to offer, we nibbled on our treats and relaxed along the ride back to the B&B for the night. Stay tuned for our second day in Kyoto, as well as our trip north to Nagano!