Friday, November 02, 2007

Japan Day 8: Hiroshima and Miyajima

The day after Kobe we had a rather less lighthearted day planned. We got up early that morning, met Steph's friend Yumiko again, and took the Shinkansen--bullet train--to Hiroshima. Arriving there we got on a trolley and took it to the Atomic Bomb Dome in Peace Park. It was supposed to be a rainy day but instead it was incredibly sunny and hot.

The dome was once a huge building--it's remains are not so huge--and it's now one of the few buildings remaining close to where the bomb dropped. From there we walked to the memorial for the mobilized youth--more on that later--which is a tower with a angel standing at the bottom surrounded by cranes that people have sent in from all over the world.

And from there we walked to the children's memorial. The bell has a golden crane hanging from it and the little glass sided boxes contain more of the cranes that people send. Leaving that memorial we went to the Peace Museum. Which is, I think, the sort of place that one doesn't particularly want to go to but instead feels that they must. And don't get me wrong, I'm glad I went because I think it's important to confront these sorts of realities, particularly when your own country is responsible, but it was certainly one of the most depressing places I'd ever been.

The museum is actually wonderfully well done and accessible. Everything is in English as well as Japanese and there's an audio guide as well. You're allowed to take pictures but I didn't take any. I'm sure you could find photographs online if you wanted to.

The first section of the museum is dedicated to the bomb itself: it's development, the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima, the facts of the damage, the letters of protest successive mayors of Hiroshima have sent for every nuclear test done since, the later developments in nuclear weaponry, etc. They do an impressive job of being even-handed and non-accusatory about everything.

The second part of the museum concentrates on the victims of the bomb and it's just indescribably sad. Many of the people outside in the center of the city at the time of the bombing were students who were working to create firebreaks and prepare for conventional bombing. So the museum displays scraps of their clothing, lunch boxes, hair and bone, and tells us about parents going into the smoldering city to search for their missing children. And they would find them, often recognizing them--if they were fortunate enough to find them--by the sound of their voice because they were burned beyond recognition. So they would take them home and nurse them until they died, hours or days later. Other parents found only remains, or belongings, or nothing at all. Going through the exhibit, from a scrap of coat, to a toddler's tricycle, to a pair of broken glasses it was almost unbearable.

Exhibits tell you about the lack of medical supplies and doctors, the long-term health consequences for survivors, the effort to rebuild after the incredible heat that burned buildings, melted roof tiles, and scarred such buildings as survived, and the slow rebirth of the city. It's very thorough and makes you feel a bit wrung out.

Over four hours later we went back out into the sunny day. Yumiko had suggested going to Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima, which is across the harbor from Hiroshima. So we took the trolley down to the harbor and got on the ferry just as dusk was falling. The harbor is wreathed with mountains receding into the distance and it's incredibly beautiful. Also comforting after the horror of the museum. It seems so peaceful that it's hard to imagine something so awful could have happened here.
Looking toward Miyajima.

And while there was no multicolored sunset, as it grew darker the mountains grew more misty and indistinct, while the lights of Hiroshima began to come on.
Looking back at Hiroshima, not yet lit.

Itsukushima is most recognizable for its gate that stands out in the water, so that at high tide it's so far out that a boat can sail up to it.
The gate as viewed walking to the shrine (sorry it's such a horrible photo--I had to use flash on something too far away for the flash to really cut it).

The shrine itself is actually built out into the water, and while there's mud around it during low tide, at high tide the water washes up under the wooden boardwalks so it's like you're standing on a very complicated dock. We had expected it to be closed when we got there so we would only be able to look from the outside, but it was actually open slightly later then we expected and we were able to go into the complex.
We were there at some point between high and low tide and so got both water and mud.
It was almost empty and quite quiet as the night continued to fall. There were only a few other people walking around the shrine taking photographs and talking softly.
The view of the gate from the shrine.
Looking back toward Miyajima proper from the shrine.

After that, it was a quick trip back to Hiroshima and to the Shinkansen. We arrived back in Osaka, quite tired, late that evening.

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