Miyajima to Hiroshima, Saturday 5-Nov

Having done a day and a half in Miyajima, it was time to spend some time in Hiroshima. Since our plans were for only one night, we knew we would be doing all of our sightseeing after we arrived in the morning. Everything we went to centered around the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park.

While the French group had left the previous day, there were just as many people on our floor, just scattered around. However, it seemed like we were up and about before the other people, so we once again didn't have trouble getting into the shower.

As we got downstairs for breakfast, it looked like people had a really good time the night before, with beer bottles scattered around, the ping pong table askew, and random shoes scattered (one pair on a stool). I guess the staff had departed before people were finished.

The morning staffer had arrived early and was there to see us off, wishing us good travels. Since we got such an early start, we boarded an earlier train. It was pretty full, so we ended up standing. Within a stop or two, it became packed. We figured it wasn't rush hour, it being Saturday.

Arriving in Hiroshima

We expected most of the people on the train to exit at Hiroshima with us, and indeed they did. The station was swarming with people, many wearing Hiroshima Carp jerseys. It wasn't clear to me whether there was a game, but there was definitely something going on. We managed to make it out of the station and started working our way to the hostel, which ended up being pretty straightforward.

One of the first things we looked for was the streetcars since we had heard they were a collection of various trams from across Japan and Europe. We saw several different ones on our short walk, some old, some modern.

It was early enough that we didn't expect to be able to check in, but this hostel was different; the room wasn't ready, but we did check in and got our key. The staffer said they'd take our luggage to the room, too. He also told us that all the jerseys were because the Carp had just won the divisional championship and there was going to be a parade. He warned us that the Peace Park and Peace Boulevard were going to be packed, but that it should be done by 11:30. We were hoping to be done with our sightseeing pretty early, so we figured we'd go in the direction of the park and deal with whatever crowds are still there.

Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park

The main attraction for us was various parts of the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park, and we decided to walk the half hour from the hostel. There was yet another shopping arcade which allowed cars to drive up and down but became pedestrian-only in the afternoon. We came to a large intersection, and instead of crossing, we went down towards the subway and found a long arcade there, too. It went the rest of the way towards the Peace Park, and we exited right by the  Atomic Bomb Dome.

Atomic Bomb Dome

The former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall is the only building not leveled near the hypocenter (ground zero) of the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on 6 August 1945. Hiroshima has decided to preserve it for as long as they can because the bomb survivors and other citizens of the city thought it a symbol of both the horror of nuclear weapons and humankind's pledge for peace.

Children's Peace Monument

Perhaps the most emotional experience we had in all of Hiroshima (all of Japan so far, actually) was the Children's Peace Monument. It was unveiled in 1958 on 5 May, Children's Day. It depicts Sadako Sasaki on the top, holding a wire crane above her head. Having radiation poisoning from the bomb, she began to fold origami cranes, hoping to reach a thousand, since doing so is supposed to grant you one wish. It's not clear whether she actually reached the thousand cranes before she died on 25 October 1955. The monument was funded by a campaign by Japanese school children, including her classmates.

Behind the sculpture are cases which hold cranes donated from around the world. There are other monuments with cranes hanging around them, but nothing like the Children's Peace Monument. It's interesting to see that there are some donated cranes with random colors, some in rainbows, even some glued to boards like mosaics.

There's a statue representing Sadako in Seattle (it's near the University Bridge in s small patch named Peace Park), and people hang cranes on it. Of course, the cranes often get drenched in rain, but there is no shortage of fresh cranes which get draped onto it.

What made being at this monument so moving was the presence of a group of dozens of children who were there. Someone was explaining the significance of the memorial, and then they all removed their caps and shared a minute of silence. It was so poignant that several onlookers were weeping.

Memorial Cenotaph, Peace Flame, Pond of Peace

Prominently in the center of the park are three pieces, the Pond of Peace, the Peace Flame, and the Memorial Cenotaph. The pond is a reflecting pool with the flame right in the middle. The cenotaph is on the south end of the pool, and things are arranged so you can look through the cenotaph and see both the flame and the Atomic Bomb Dome.

Memorial Cenotaph is actually underneath the concrete sculpture. The cenotaph itself was built in 1952, one of the first monuments in the field that is Memorial Peace Park. The inscription on the cenotaph takes advantage that polite Japanese speech uses lexical ambiguity, and can be read as, “Please rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the error” or, “Please rest in peace, for they shall not repeat the error.” This creates a memorial while reducing the political implications.

The Peace Flame, burning since 1964, is not only a memorial to the victims of the bomb but will remain lit until all nuclear bombs on the planet are destroyed.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

Before we went to the museum, we saw a huge swarm of people walking away from the Fountain of Prayer, a large number wearing Carp jerseys. It seemed the parade had left the park, and fans were starting to disperse. Most of them were bypassing the museum, but several of them went in, and we joined the line.

Admission to this museum is only ¥300 (about $3), which seems intended to encourage people to visit. They're doing a bunch of work to improve the flow, hoping to encourage people to stay longer.

The museum is really well done and can be an emotional experience. There are a lot of articles of clothing worn by and possessions carried by victims.

There were also exhibits about buildings, including a section of a smokestack which survived, possibly because its shape allowed the air to flow around it. Tiles blistered from the heat were made available to touch, with signs reassuring people that they were safe to touch. One large display was a map of the city at the time of the bombing, with a big ball representing the explosion.

A section was devoted to Sadako and her cranes. There were some very small cranes on display, but it wasn't clear whether they were folded by Sadako herself or by other people in her honor (I'm able to find references to her cranes in other museums, but not in this one).

Also on display are two cranes folded by Barack Obama which he presented during his visit to Hiroshima. They were very popular, with many people taking pictures of every aspect of all the objects in the display.

All throughout the museum, there was a crush of people, making it difficult to actually get close to many of the objects. For the most part, people were going in lines, so it worked OK to get into the line going past what you wanted to see, then bail once you passed that object.

As we stepped out of the museum, we saw that there was no line to enter, and the park was pretty empty. We were in probably the worst part of the day, but all in all, it worked out fine.

Rest of the day

Having finished the museum, we had a few more hours before our room would be ready, so we set out to find lunch. The staffer at the hostel mentioned an okonomiyaki restaurant, but the line was pretty far out the door. A couple other places we found were also long waits (one was on the fourth floor, and the line was down the stairs and into the street). We ended up getting quick meals from a nearby bakery, and while we were there, picked up a couple cheesecake tarts for dessert.

We still had a little while to wait, so we went to a Tully's to hang out. The one we chose was on the 7th floor of a big department store; the rest of the 7th floor is a bookstore, and we had fun wandering around. At one point we weren't sure what section we were in, but some of the books also had English titles, which gave us clues. It as also easy to see when we were in the Computers section, with several computer languages represented.

Near the escalator, we saw a table dedicated to the Hiroshima Carp, with photos, books, and other Carp-related items. The city seems very dedicated to their team, even outside of them being the champions; we saw a few Carp-decorated utility covers on the sidewalks, too.

The time came when our room would be ready, so we walked back across town. Our room was on the fifth floor, which meant that we would be doing the walk up and down each time we wanted something from the common area. The hostel did have an elevator, but it usually ends up being about as fast to take the stairs (plus our stair-climbing muscles were in good shape from climbing Mt. Misen the previous day). Checking out the rooftop, Melody saw a couple of the guys from the French group we had seen in Miyajima. They must have thought we were stalking them.

Because of the timing of where we were staying, it worked out best for us to do laundry, so down the stairs to get that going. Once the laundry was done and put away, we did some planning and writing. A quick trip to the store for dinner that night, as well as breakfast and lunch the next day. After that, we set out the futons (we were in a Japanese-style room) and called it a day.