Tuesday, 25 September 2007

広島 Hiroshima

After the Game Show we did not go home, but only as far back as 新宿 (Shinjuku), where we then entered the longest night bus trip, I had so far. From 新宿 to 広島 (Hiroshima) the night bus takes 12 hours according to schedule. Still by night bus you can get there as cheap as 6.000 Yen, when booking in advance, which we did too late and therefore had to pay 7.500 there and 7.800 back. Now I strongly assume that the night bus prices rise with every day close to their departure (as in opposite to last minute). So if you want to travel cheaper, book as soon as possible!

Alex, Youngki and Hong Lun parted from us at the Game Show, so leaving for 広島 were from left to right Manu, me, Ryan and Wendy. The night bus was horrible like every time, though much less horrible than the last ones, so we all, even Manu, could get some sleep and had enough power to live through the first day in 広島 without much burden to carry along.

Hiroshima Youth Hostel

I am really running out of money, because of all these trips, so of course we also decided for the cheapest place to sleep, what happened to be the Hiroshima Youth Hostel (2.100 Yen). You can get there with a bus from the station for 210 Yen fairly easily and the bus even says in English "Hiroshima Youth Hostel", at the correct station (牛田新町 Ushita Shinmachi).
The Hostel is on a small hill, so after getting off the bus, you will have to do some hill climbing, but it is not as bad and worth it. Because the hostel is really big, clean and nice. It was many accommodations like a big get together room, very good breakfast for 500 Yen (salad, fruit salad, toast, marmalade, butter, coffee, tea, oranges and sausages, which Manu and I left out ;)). The rooms contain six beds each, and even on the 連休 (long weekend) it was not booked out, so chances of getting a room for yourself are quite high. The male part of us did, Wendy being alone had to share her room with 3 other girls.
The bathrooms are Japanese お風呂, public baths with a big tube filled with lenient hot water (30 - 35 degree Celsius) and places to wash in advance of getting in.
Altogether a really nice place, which I can recommend, being the cheapest place in town. Only downside for us were the American teenager girls and boys which happened to be there and did all the teenager thing you know from American movies. I think you can imagine very well what I mean, so there is no need to continue about this matter.

宮島 Miyajima

After leaving our luggage at the Youth Hostel, we decided to visit the island of 宮島 on our first day. 宮島 is a small island at the coast of 広島 25 minutes away by train (400 Yen). However there is no bridge so luckily we had to take a ferry (170 yen) after the train. Going by ferry is real fun!

Our ferry

宮島 from afar

A model of 宮島

邪魔鹿 Deer Plague

The first thing you will notice on 宮島 is deer and you won't stop noticing them. As cats secretly conquered 猫島 (nekoshima), I mean 江ノ島 (enoshima), deer openly conquered 宮島. They are everywhere and they are not shy at all. I saw old Japanese people kicking them with their shoes to keep them away from their お弁当 (obentou), but the deer didn't care. Apart from not being shy they are hungry, all the time, and they eat everything. So you do not only need to be careful, when eating something, but also when reading a map. The map is sooner gone as you can imagine. They seem to love maps. Oh and running away won't help you, they will follow you... everywhere.

They were everywhere and never let you alone, ...

But of course they were just too cute :)

Traditional Crafts Center

There are many things to see on the small island and they have wonderful tourist guides at the information center at 広島 station. So be sure to get one in advance. Equipped with this guide we started out tour at the Traditional Crafts Center, a free museum, mainly about wood arts. It is free of entrance, right on the other side of the station and not very big. So it is a nice place to start and though not really being impressive it is a nice cozy museum with some nice wooden figures.

You can even watch the craftsmen at their work

Shopping District Main Road

Afterwards you will probably follow 宮島 main road in the direction of the お通り (Otoori) and 厳島神社 (Itsukushima Shrine). Well what should I say, the road contains an awful lot of never ending tourist shops. The only two things mentionable are the island's famous もじ饅頭 sweets, maple leave shaped manjuu and spatulas. For some reason the island is famous for its spatulas, so on this road you will find two things, the world's largest spatula (see picture) and every tourist shop selling spatulas. It you don't have one, you can get a nice spatula here, if you do it is at least a really nice お土産 (present).

The story of the hatter

These statues tell the story of a Japanese hatter, which long ago went to the far city to sell the hats he has made to buy some food and clothing. However after a long day in the city, he was unable to even sell one hat. So he made for his home again, without food or clothing still carrying all of his hats. Even more it started raining on the way home. This is when he saw these five statues on the way and felt pity for them, having nothing to protect them from the rain. So one after the other the hatter placed his four hats on the statues. Then he looked at the fifth statue, which was still exposed to the rain. So eventually he even gave his very own hat, he was wearing, to this fifth statue and continued on his way home.
Back home the gods noticed his selfless deed and blessed him with luck and fortitude. :)

お通り Otoori

After the shopping road, you will already be very close to the famous Miyajima Toori, which in case of flood, is partly under water. In this seasons flood only sets in the late afternoon and reaches its peak at 19:50 o'clock. Therefore the 通り was completely uncovered by water and we could walk the beach, stand under the 通り and touch it. Really nice =)

The お通り when we arrived,

and when we left the island

standing right under the お通り


Next station on the way is the five level pagoda, which according to our guide, served as a library for Buddhist sutras. It is nice to view and for pictures, but alas you cannot enter it. However what you can enter is the wooden hall right next to it. It contains no furniture, except for some little shrine, but it is a perfect place for a rest and many people use it as such. Just lie down and rest for a while looking at the awesome paintings all over the wall. Especially after a burdensome night bus trip a short stay/nap in this hall is really invigorating, I additionally assume that it contains some kind of magical power which acts invigorating to humans.

the pagoda

and pictures from inside the wooden hall next to it

厳島神社 Itsukushima Shrine

Afterwards we walked all the way through Miyajima's famous 厳島神社, the shrine right in front of the お通り, which is also above the water, in case of a complete flood. It is quite long and a nice way to walk and I love the Japanese bright orange, they are using for Shinto shrines and Toori.

The shrine as seen from under the お通り

The sacred bridge leading from the shrine to the main land, only to be used by the 天皇 (Tenno)

You often see sacrificed sake in shrines

Don't mess with the gods!

大聖院 Daishouin

After some more browsing in the central area around 厳島神社 we went up a really nice nature path up to our last station the 大聖院 temple. This is according to Wendy a traditional Buddhist temple, very less influenced by 神道. It covers quite some areal and is really wonderful to walk through. There are a lot of tiny child Buddha statues, which look totally cool and cute. On top of the areal you can also discover some magical water spring guarded by 7 statues of Buddha. You can unlock the magic of the place and let the power flow through your system, when using the wooden spoons to spray some water on the Buddha statues to cool them down from the hot sun.

The wonderful nature path leading to the 大聖院

On the path you can also encounter the little brother of the pagoda

The temple's entrance

A Tengu guarding the temple (Tengu are mystical creatures of old, living in the mountains)

In Japan you will often see people not only sacrificing money, but also food, including modern food :)

A garden with cute little Buddha statues

These statues have a hard time in the sun, therefore wandering temple visitors can cool them down with the water in front

And thus ended our first day in 広島 and we took the ferry back to the main land and went back by train to 広島. There we had some お好み焼き (Okonomiyaki), here prepared a bit differently with noodles and then went back to the Youth Hostel. In the hostel Wendy found that she had a really nice room mate Lyudmila, which she abbreviated to Lucy, from Bulgaria.
Before we went to bed, we all sat a bit together in the Get Together Room and Lucy, studying Bio-Technology for now six years in 名古屋 (Nagoya) told us some very interesting stories about sexism and racism against herself and a friend of her, who is trying to get a Ph.d. in Japan, but is unable to do so even after having managed to get six publications/papers to major science magazines, simply because she is not Japanese and not male. It was really depressing and sad to hear this, but of course even more so for Lucy, who therefore considers to leave Japan for good and make her Ph.d. in some other country, maybe even Germany.

from left front to back: Wendy, Lyudmila and me
from right front to back: Manu and Ryan

Hiroshima City

In any case Lucy is a really nice girl and she decided to tag along with us for the second day browsing through 広島. She had an exam in 広島 this 連休 and decided to stay here until Monday evening before going back to 名古屋. And she also had visited 宮島 the day before, so exploring 広島 together was a neat idea.

A picture from the top of the castle in the middle of 広島


Common in Germany but apparently uncommon in most of the rest of the world, 広島 had streetcars or trams (or better trollies according to Ryan) next to the bus system. I love trams and Hiroshima's trams are especially cool, because they cover some parts of the city by tracks above the city. Going by street car is only 150 Yen, no matter the distance and there is a day ticket for 600 Yen. However since most of Hiroshima's interesting things are very close together you are probably better of in taking single tickets. You can even walk from the station for 30 min. as an alternative to taking public transportation at all.

Hiroshima Castle

Although we visited the castle in the end, I will tell of it here before I tell of the happenings and consequences of the Atom Bomb dropping in 1945.
Of course the castle has been blasted to smithereens by the atom bomb, but it was a very important symbol for the people of Hiroshima, so after they recovered from total destruction they decided to rebuild it. Like in Kanazawa they rebuilt it in a traditional way only using wood, keeping the medieval charm of the castle. The inside has been turned into a really cool museum with a lot of interesting facts about the history of Hiroshima and its unique location in Japan (having several rivers to trade, a natural water distribution system through the many river branches and the sea coast for international trade). Also interesting is how they were able to built a castle and a city on marsh lands lacking modern technique. There are many cool animations, some even very funny and nice, telling these stories. But there are also a lot of remains displayed in glass.

What I also liked was this little place, where you could try on the clothes wore back then.

when we left the castle

Atom Bomb Dome

We started our exploration at the peace memorial park, where most of the places related to the Atom Bomb are located. As for example the Atom Bomb Dome, one of the only two buildings, which were left standing after the impact. Well it would be more precise to say one of the few buildings, which kept standing after the impact, since most buildings were simply made equal with the ground.

a picture of the dome before 1945

千羽鶴 Paper Cranes

Not far from the dome, you can find a statue of a little girl holding a paper crane to the sky. This tells the story of Sadako, who was affected by the radiation of the atom bomb. Sadako wanted to live with all her little power, but she knew that her power was not enough. It was then that she remembered a story of her grandmother: Whoever succeeds in gathering 1000 paper cranes will be granted one wish.
Her plan was decided, if she could gather that many cranes, she could utter her wish: to live. So she started folding paper cranes immediately, but soon realized she could never make it in time. So instead of folding, she started writing letters to her family, friends, school teachers and everyone the little girl knew. Then she started writing letters to different schools bidding the people to help her folding cranes, to make her wish true.
When Sadako died she had gathered more than 1000 paper cranes, which originated from the hands of people from all over Japan.

Eternal Flame Of Peace

Afterwards we proceeded along the park, passing the eternal flame of peace. A flame that will only then be extinguished, when the last nuclear bomb has been disarmed. Until then it will keep burning as a reminder of what has happened.

The Arc Of Peace

In the center of the peace memorial park an arc has been placed. It acts as 広島's symbol of peace and as a central point for peace celebrations. It is also the symbol of the city itself.

Peace Museum

Then we entered the museum, which is a must see for everyone. It covers the history of the Atom Bombing, why it Hiroshima was chosen, why there was no prior warning from the Americans, how nuclear weapons work, stories of survivors and a huge collection of image and video material, actual remnants of the bombing and a lot of replicas.
However this place is really powerful. I had to cry for several times and in the end I could read no more stories and see no more images, because it simply became to much for me. Though you should try and learn as much about it as you can.
The most scary thing was to realize that the devastating power of the Hiroshima atom bomb has in the mean time been improved by more than 4.000 times in power. If you see how powerful this bomb already has been and how much havoc it caused, it is unimaginable what a modern version could cause.

the museum from the inside


A globe with an account of how much nuclear weapons countries own

One of the most horrific places was a wax replica, where you could see people's skin melting under the heat rays. Another one was a collection of black spots. The heat rays emitting from the atom bomb are so strong, that everything is turned into a white facade. Black spots indicate where people where standing or sitting, shielding the surrounding from the heat rays like a tree cats a shadow. The black spots are the only indications left that there ever has been people, because after the heat rays, nothing was left of them.

The Destructive Power Of Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons actually destroy life and creation in three ways, as explained in the museum. First are the heat rays, the enormous heat melts everything. And causes major burns for people far enough the hypocenter to survive (the hypocenter is the hypothetical center of the explosion. Hypothetical since the bomb was exploded in mid air 600 meters above the ground to multiply its destructive power with surgical precision). Second is the blast, which was strong enough to even bend really thick steel and immediately turn complete houses into ash. Last is the radiation which is able to penetrate concrete and steel, so that even the x-ray images in the safe of the cellar of the hospital were destroyed.

the watch stopped 08:15 on the 6th August 1945

被爆者 Hibakusha

被 (hi) means victim, 爆 (baku) is the explosion and 者 (sha) person. Hibakusha are all the people who survived the impact. There are a lot of possibilities to listen to their stories in the museum, but they are not always easy to take. Luckily we had Lucy, who was also able to talk to the people working in the museum and explaining things in Japanese. So we were able to learn that these Hibakusha had a even worse fate, than you might imagine. Because even after they survived and partly recovered they were social outcasts. People were afraid of coming to near to them and held distance. They had problems entering public facilities and transportations and almost no chance on finding a partner. If they have been lucky enough to find one, most stayed without children. The ones who dared, even if their child was healthy, then also face antipathy against their child. It is interesting that the museum did not talk about this, and we only got to know about it through Lucy's curious questions :).

The Reason For The Bombing

There are various reasons why Hiroshima was chosen for the first atom bomb used against a city in world history. One simple one was the good weather, since the B-29 bomber pilot had to use visual confirmation when to drop the bomb.
The other was that the Americans where curious about the actual effects of their new weapon. That is why two other B-29 bombers dropped measurement equipment to measure the power of destruction immediately after the impact. Also against the protest of American scientists the military thus decided to drop the bomb without prior warning.
Hiroshima was also chosen, because sadly, the population concentration was high enough. So of course Tokyo was also a possible target, but it was omitted, because too much allied war prisoners were kept there and almost none in Hiroshima, except for Korean and Chinese forced laborers.
Another reason was that Hiroshima had the 5th division of the army stationed inside and was traditionally a place with military installations.

The Afterward

After the bombing the horror did not end, because people were robbed of medical treatment and life essentials like food, water and clothing. Because of the intensive heat, everyone needed water very much and had totally dry throats. However the first rain after the impact was black rain. Because of all the soot in the air and the bomb itself, radioactive black rain reached the earth. Alas many desperate people drank the rain, some died some suffered under diarrhea for 3 months. After that there was a shortage of everything, because people fled into the countryside, where there was simply not enough for everybody. You might have seen the movie "Grave Of The Fireflies", so you can fathom the situation here, as anywhere else in Japan. Especially cotton run our, because of medical treatment, and wounds could no longer be treated. That is why even after the bombing and after the war many many more people died.
Also shocking was that the Allies occupying Japan forbid the people of Hiroshima to write or talk about the atom bombing and prevented research of the consequences for the surviving people. Even back then Hiroshima already planned peace festivals and the like, but festivals celebrating peace were forbidden by the allies. Only after the occupation ended, people could finally really start to help the survivors, give them treatment and research the consequences.

Dedication Towards Peace

What I found most impressive about Hiroshima, the places and the people there is their dedication towards peace. Somehow I might imagine people getting angry after being attacked by an atom bomb or even trying to get revenge or something. However Hiroshima and its people hold no grudge against any living person. The only grudge they hold is against war and nuclear weapons. They admit that they have performed many cruel things in their own past and are eager to learn about them now and never to repeat anything like that. That is for example why children use foreign history books, especially of countries Japan has invaded and occupied, to teach their children what their grand parents had done.
Apart from that they strongly dedicated themselves to peace, holding annular peace festivals and addressing global nuclear players ever and ever again. But most impressive for Japanese people, they also address their own government concerning the governments attempt to drop article 9 of the constitution, the article that prevents Japan from having a military and waging wars.
There is also a large collection of such letters where you can in an interesting way follow the history of pledges and treaties about nuclear disarmament and how they were ignored after being sworn.
From my short stay there I also had the opinion that this dedication also has a big influence to the people who live there. They seem to be much more open minded than people anywhere else in Japan.
Wendy noticed that the girls here for example dress in a much more natural way, without this artificial look many girls in Tokyo have.
Oh and Hiroshima is also the place in Japan with the highest average English capabilities, even the elderly are very good at it.

I really was impressed about this aspect of the city and I think I would really enjoy living here :)

dreaming of a world without war

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