Japan Trip – Day 14: Hiroshima

Dateline: November 21, 2008

Morning

Three in a Row by kepibear, on Flickr

We jumped onto another Hikari Rail Star Super Express for the journey to Hiroshima. It’s likely the same one we’ll be taking on Monday when we go to Osaka since that’s this train’s terminal station.

After arriving at JR Hiroshima Station, we took an underground passage to the tram platform to make our way over to the Peace Memorial Park. It was raining that day in Hiroshima. Right next to the tram area stood a butt-shaped fountain, which was … different.

The tram platform was structured with separate loading and unloading areas. When a tram comes into the station it would go right to the end to let the current passengers off. Once the tram was empty, it would pull back the way it came to an earlier part of the station to load up the new waiting passengers. The tram system, which is run by Hiroshima Electric Railway (Hiroden), is quite old — established on June 18, 1910 — so there are lots of different car types in service from old to really new.

Since the older trams all had steps in them, we had to wait until one of the newer low-floor models showed up on line 2 or 6 (the ones that go towards Peace Memorial Park).

Peace Memorial Park

We got to the A-Bomb Dome just before a big group of school kids arrived so we managed to get some good pictures even though it was still raining lightly. The dome is now called the Hiroshima Peace Memorial but it’s original name (and purpose) was Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition when it was completed in April 1915. Because the bomb exploded almost directly above the building — 600 meters up and 150 meters to the southeast — some of the walls remained; most of the building was completely destroyed, however.

From the Back by kepibear, on Flickr

Just inside the one edge of the park is the Zero Milestone of Hiroshima Prefecture which its plaque describes as what once was “the intersection of main overland traffic routes” and “a main stop in water transport on the Ota River and formed the center of the Hiroshima Castle town”. It’s just a small concrete post off in the shrubs nowadays.

There were large trees everywhere in the park and a little further on we came across the Children’s Peace Monument. Inside the small glass “rooms” that ran across the monument were strands of thousands of tiny folded paper cranes that get brought to the site by various school groups and anyone else who happens to stop by. There’s even a sign that encourages visitors who bring cranes to register with the Paper Crane Database which is run by the Hiroshima International Peace Promotion Department.

In another area of the park is the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims which is a very solemn place. Outside the building is a fountain in the shape of a clock set to 8:15. This is important for two reasons: 8:15am was the time the bomb exploded over the city so most watches and clocks were “frozen” at that time, but also during the aftermath when people were horribly burned by the blast’s heat wave and resulting fires, they would stagger around begging others for water. To this day, on the anniversary of the bombing some residents of Hiroshima will place a glass of water outside their homes in a symbolic gesture to all those victims.

The building itself is quite modern in design. Once you enter, you head down a long spiral walkway which has inset into the outer walls illuminated plaques detailing the lead up to the bombing (political and otherwise) and the effects it had on the area and its people. At the bottom of the walkway you arrive at a sign with a solitary guard standing beside it. This is the entry point to the Hall of Remembrance; the sign reads:

The walls in the Hall of Remembrance that you are about to enter are covered with approximately 140,000 tiles, the number of A-bomb victims who died by the end of 1945. These walls symbolically express the profound tragedy inflicted on Hiroshima.

The scenes depicted on the walls are a panoramic view from the former Shima Hospital, which stood at the A-bomb hypocenter approximately 200 meters northeast of this Memorial Hall.

Inscribed below are the names of the neighborhoods as they were known at the time of the bombing.

You walk into the circular hall and it’s just very still. The images of destruction encircle the room and placed in the center is another example of clock & water imagery. I went to one of the small benches that ring the outer edge of the room and just sat for a while in silence taking it all in.

8:15 by kepibear, on Flickr

After you exit the Hall of Remembrance you come to a room with a wall full of screens that cycle through images and profiles of people who were killed in the aftermath of the bombing. There are even standing terminals where you can search the Atomic Bomb Victim database.

Heading back up to the main floor of the memorial you find a small collection of artifacts as well as a fairly substantial library wing where you can watch video interviews with survivors, browse massive photo libraries, and read written accounts from people who witnessed the bombing. In one section there was a 14 minute video playing on loop that contained the memoirs of three people who survived the bombing.

Kosei Mito

By the time we left the memorial, there wasn’t a cloud left in the sky; a nice change from the past few days! While making our way towards the museum, a man randomly walked up to us and introduced himself. His name was Kosei Mito, and his mother was 4 months pregnant with him at the time of the blast. She arrived in Hiroshima on August 9, three days after the blast. He had a bunch of old pictures with him and told us a lot of interesting information. For example, his mother is still alive at 92 years of age. He’s part of the 4th Survivor’s Group and has an official card indicating this. He also mentioned how the Makurazaki Typhoon that happened soon after the explosion cleared out much of the radiation from the area.

He would hang around in the Peace Park giving impromptu tours around the area. This turned out to be a great happenstance since he showed us some of the “off the map” things that most visitors to the Park don’t see. For example, he took us to the blast’s hypocenter which is actually about a block away from the edge of the park. Very close to the hypocenter is a small graveyard which gave a great example of one of the effects of the blast, namely that any stone surfaces directly exposed to the blast wave became rough while those that received more glancing blows remained smooth.

Here’s more information about his story as well as a short video interview with him.

Cenotaph and Museum

Bridge Streetlight by kepibear, on Flickr

Once we parted with Kosei Mito we continued on to the museum. Out front is the memorial cenotaph which contains a flame that when lit was decreed to only be extinguished once nuclear weapons no longer existed.

We managed to get into the museum for free (it’s only ¥50, otherwise). There were many interesting exhibits including scale models of a large section of Hiroshima showing what it looked like before and after the blast. There was even a (slightly smaller) replica of the dome from across the park. The museum offered not just information about the after effects of the bombing but also a tremendous amount of history of that events that lead up to it from both the Japanese and American side of things.

The balcony on the upper floor of the museum provided for a great view of the Memorial Park looking straight on towards the dome.

Heading Back

The Hiroden has the usual handy digital signs at the stations showing which trams were coming when, but more helpful for us was that they included which ones were accessible.

Back at JR Hiroshima Station we stopped for dinner before our train to Hakata arrived. On tonight’s menu: okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake). All the teppanyaki tables were full so we got to go into the private reserved area which was very nice. Pork, cabbage, egg, cheese, noodles; yum! It was really good and better than I was expecting given that one of the main ingredients is cabbage. Wikipedia describes Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki as follows:

Cozy Restaurant by kepibear, on Flickr

The layers are typically batter, cabbage, pork, optional items (squid, octopus, cheese, etc.), noodles (yakisoba, udon) topped with a fried egg and a generous dollop of okonomiyaki sauce.

I also tried a Mitsuya cider, though it was listed on the menu as a soda (it actually is a soda and not a true cider, which probably explains that). It was quite tasty with sort of a light flavour similar to Sprite.

After dinner we wandered around the station a bit, but not before stopping at the big model train store right across from the restaurant! I bought an N-scale Shinkansen N700 engine and a short piece of display track for it, but wanted to buy so much more.

We picked up tomorrow’s train tickets before we left as we’d be coming back through Hiroshima on our way to Miyajima. Then once we arrived back in Hakata we snagged our tickets for heading to Osaka on Monday which was the next major stop.

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