Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hiroshima and Miyajima

I got to Kyoto Station and tried to find my train but I didn't see it anywhere on the panel. I looked around, but I was in the right place. I checked my ticket again, and realized the train left at 13:10, not 3:10. I wasn't sure what to do, but it was a very expensive ticket, so i tried going through the gate anyway, and it let me. I'd paid extra to have a reserved seat on the 13:10 train, so I figured there must also be free seating, or at least a standing area. I got on the next bullet train to Hiroshima, found the car for unreserved seats, and there were about three empty. I took one of them, near the front, and no one questioned me the entire trip.

There's something nice about watching the countryside go by at 300 km/h. It feels like flying, but you are right in the landscape, rather than miles above it. The countryside looked similar to that of Korea, with many small mountains, small villages, and rice fields, but the old buildings looked better kept. Many of the old homes you see across the Korean countryside look as though they're about to crumble.

I'd sent an email to Reiko, the girl from Hiroshima I'd met in the Fukuoka train station, to say I was coming, then sent another once I'd arrived to tell her I'd be at the Aster Plaza International Youth House. While on the train, I read the Hiroshima section of my book and learned of the Peace Memorial Park and A-Bomb Dome. I'd never been told by anyone that this even existed.

Many of the city's buses started their roots right in front of the train station, so I found the bus that passed the park and got on. I figured I'd know when to get out, but it got dark very quickly, and I didn't make out the name in Japanese to hear the stop announced. When I mentioned to the bus driver where I was going, he said I'd missed it by a few stops, so I got off with quite a walk ahead of me. There were many young people out in the streets, so every couple of blocks, I would ask directions, and bit by bit I got closer.

I started seeing information panels along the street, and as the thought of where I was began to sink in, I was over come with a sickening feeling. Even though it had been over 60 years, I was still feeling a strong energy from the place. As I read the panels, the feeling only increased. 200,000 people taken, 70,000 in an instant.

My step slowed, my skin began to tingle, and my hair stood on end. As I approached the stream that made up the island park, there on the other bank still stood the A-Bomb Dome, A visual reminder of humanity's most terrible moment. Though the walls are supported with scaffolding, the rubble surrounding them has been left untouched since the tragedy.

At the time of the bombing, it had been the Industrial Promotion Hall, and since the bomb was detonated almost directly above it, the blast pushed the roof and dome downward but left the walls intact, while nearly everything else in a 2km radius was flattened.

Nearby is the Flame of Peace, surrounded by a list of the names of all the know victims. When all of the world's nuclear weapons have been destroyed, the flame will be extinguished, and the A-Bomb Dome demolished.

At the youth hostel, Reiko called to say her father would be picking me up in the morning and he would drive us to Miyajima to visit an important temple. When I met them, I was surprised how similar he looked to A typical Korean man. He had a large, solid build, and a strong but friendly face. He didn't speak English, but we conversed through Reiko. He said he was honored that I would visit Hiroshima and was pleased to bring me to see Miyajima. He left us at the ferry, and we crossed to the temple.

Traditionally, lay-practioners were not allowed to set foot on the island, so the Itsukushima-jinja Shrine was build on stilts over the water. Though we got off about half a km away and walked through the small tourist park, traditional we would have been taken straight to the temple, passing beneath a large torii out in the water.

It was high tide when we arrived, so I got to see the temple in its prime view, but by the time we'd walked around a while, the water had receded, leaving nothing but a field of mud.

The places has turned into a bit of a carnival atmosphere these days, with dancing monkeys, cotton candy vendors, deer roaming around the grounds, a streams and streams of people.

There was a massive hall sitting up on the hill, away from the crowd that we sat in for a while, and I photographed the giant timber beams and artifacts inside, which I ended up loosing, along with nearly all the other photos from that day, and many from Kyoto, as well.

Once we made our way back to Hiroshima, she wanted to show me the A-Bomb Dome  again, and we visited the museum together, which wasn't an easy thing to do. Inside were more artifacts, photos, and details descriptions of the bombing, the wounds people suffered, an image of a shadow cast on the wall from a body that was entirely vaporized where it stood. Descriptions of people running out, with mouths open, when the Black Rain began fallen, because they were so dehydrated from the radiation. The army had been instructed not to give people water to people injured in bombings, and they didn't known at the time how much people needed water. One man, who'd had the flesh burned of his hands, resorted to drinking the fluid of his blistered fingers.

Reiko told me her grandfather was in his 20's when the bomb was dropped. He had serious radiation poisoning, but recovered and has been healthy ever since.

There is an interesting account from a doctor who is one of the few survivors to witness the explosion. I found an online interview with him retelling his experience. It's worth a read, despite the annoying ads on the sidebar.

I'm not sure how, but after the museum, we were both hungry. I offered to pay for dinner, since she and her father had brought me around all day, but she said her mom had given her some money and told her that she must treat me, so I didn't argue. She wanted to show me Okonomiyaki,Hiroshima's local food, so we went into a place with table-like grills which you sat around on the floor with a sunk-down area for you legs and feet. Okonomiyaki is something like a pancake, but it's made of flour, eye, shredded cabbage, and a choice of meet/seafood. The ingredients come in bowls, and with a large spatula, you cook and shape it yourself, there on the grill. When it's finished, you top it with criss-crosses of mayo and other sauce, then finish it off with Katsuobushi, thin strips of dry fish flakes, that dance around in the rising steam. It was really fun, and really good!

After eating, it was time for her to go home, so we walked back across the Peace Park, to the bus stop and bid farewell. I was a little sad to say goodbye. We kept in touch for a while, and she did graduate and start her job at Mitzubishi. I should send her an email, now, and she how her and her family are doing.



shrine for the 20,000 Koreans who died

Ground Zero, now

tomb for the ashes of the victims


a young, real-life tanuki. not much like the ceramic one's you see around...

1 comment:

  1. You have such a finely attuned memory, Joseph! The immediacy of your ramblings creates a sense of timelessness and stirs my heart and consciousness--and likely everyone else's who read your postings. You've clearly honoured the Muse of travel with your child-like sense of wonder of even the simplest things you've encountered.
    I look forward to trekking along beside you again one day, somewhere out in the world...