Friday, May 16, 2014

Hiroshima and Miyajima

August 6, 1945 - the world's first atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima. An estimated 80,000 people died instantly, and a large portion of the city was reduced to rubble. The nuclear attack brought Japan to its knees, effectively ending World War II - a devastating end to a war which had its roots in the atrocities of the concentration camps. The history is well known - and visiting Hiroshima is like stepping back in time.

The Japanese are a remarkably resilient people - earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear attacks, nothing seems to faze them. So, Hiroshima was rebuilt, and today is one of the largest cities in Japan. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is of course, a constant reminder - not only to Japan, but to the rest of the world - of the horrors of war, and the fallout of nuclear weapons. Now known as the City of Peace, Hiroshima should be on the itinerary of every visitor to Japan!

Getting to Hiroshima from Kobe is easy - by this time, we were veterans on the Japan Rail system - navigating stations, and finding trains with panache! A little longer ride, about 3 hours to get to Hiroshima! Hiroshima uses electric streetcars for public transport - a fancy name for trams! The tram station is right outside the train station, and a short ride on tram number 6 brought us to the entrance of the Peace Memorial Park.

This park is built around the Genbaku Dome - this building is a ruin of the Hiroshima Prefecture, and is the only surviving structure near the bomb's detonation center. It is an extremely somber sight - voices hushed instinctively, heads bowed respectfully. Framed by whispering trees, the Dome is both serene and full of emotions. A reproachful monument to the follies of mankind, and yet, it is also a beacon of hope and peace. Very few places have this electric atmosphere - a sense of living history!

The Motoyasu-gawa river flows right beside the Genbaku Dome, and through the Memorial Park. The park is very beautiful and peaceful - could have easily spend a day here! It is dotted with monuments - Children of World Peace Monument, Hiroshima City Zero monument, Peace Clock Tower, Statue of the Merciful Mother and many more. At the very center is the Flame of Peace and the Memorial Monument for Hiroshima - in my opinion, an eternal flame is one of the most beautiful, symbolic sights ever - the one here is no exception. I also loved how the Memorial Monument perfectly frames the Genbaku Dome - absolutely wonderful! At the end of the park is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum - we dithered at the entrance, deciding not to go in - would have been a little too much to handle.

Motoyasu-gawa river

Statue of a Prayer for Peace

Memorial Monument

Close to Hiroshima is located the Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima - one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. The shrine is located on an island - we were pleasantly surprised to find that the ferry is run by JR as well, which meant a wave of our magic JR passes got us right onto the boat! The shrine is designed to appear like it is floating on the water at high tide, and the striking red gates or torii are one of the most recognizable features in Japan! We didn't get to see this floating marvel - the tide was out - nevertheless, the excursion was quite enjoyable!

JR ferry
View of the island from the ferry
The torii up close

The highest point on the island, Mt. Misen, can be reached either by cable car or a hiking trails - we had to pass on both, time restrictions as always. The island is home to a particular type of deer - they were quite tame, and in some cases, aggressive - reaching out for paper bags and food!! We did walk to the shrine, and then through a typical shopping area - plenty of souvenirs and even more eateries. Tried the fish cakes and a speciality of the Hiroshima region, okonomiyaki - this was actually quite interesting. It is made fresh on a hot griddle - fresh means you can customize the ingredients, make it vegetarian! - starts off with a thin pancake, then layered with cabbage, sprouts, vegetables, cheese, pork/seafood (if desired), fried noodles and topped with an egg, and then finished with a special sauce - Japanese food, at last!!


Of course, like everywhere else in Japan - the sakura was in full bloom!! Only a couple of photos, I promise - so beautiful, so irresistible!!

Hiroshima wasn't on my initial itinerary, but I'm so glad we came! Truly one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities!!

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