October 2 – October 8 – Hiroshima
If you haven’t already heard, public transportation is AMAZING in Japan, but unlike in *some* places in the US, the amazingness of Japanese transport systems spans the entire country. Getting from one major city to the next is super easy and fairly affordable.
Thus I decided to take my first longer distance trip in Japan on the light-rail (this time the Shinkansen) to Hiroshima.
—sidebar: About a year ago (September 2014), I took a vacation to Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary to visit major WWII sites and learn more about the war and its effects in Eastern Europe. It was an incredible trip. So, almost exactly a year later, being in Japan, I thought it would be fitting to visit one of the cities where the A-bomb that helped end the war was dropped. —–
Quick note on the high-speed light rail: Make sure you wait for the express trains when you are traveling from one major city to another. Do NOT take a local unless you have to stop at one of the areas not visited by the express. My trip to Hiroshima (on the express) took ~1 hour; my trip back (on the local) took 3 hours.
Also, light rails look like spaceships and are super spacious 🙂
I was most excited to visit the Peace Memorial site and museum in Hiroshima, but I knew my time there would be heavy. So, as I made my way from the train station to the site and saw all these people walking to a sectioned off area under a big blow-up arch, I knew it would be nice to follow and have some light-hearted fun before a more serious afternoon.
Rule of thumb: if you see something like the above while traveling, YOU MUST EXPLORE. Turns out, the gathering was a small festival in the heart of Hiroshima.
The festival had mascots, inflated bouncy houses, two performance stages, tons of arts and crafts, lots (and I mean LOTS) of pretty awesome food, and (my favorite) free samples!
I have to say, one surprising (or maybe it shouldn’t be surprising?) aspect of spending time in Hiroshima, particularly at this festival, was it really confirmed for me how different all the major cities (or at least the ones I have visited) in Japan are. The food, the people, the culture of each place are very distinct while still feeling Japanese. I liked mingling with the Hiroshimans (?) a lot.
Anyway, from there I headed to the Peace Memorial and, like getting smacked with a ton of bricks, ran head first into the Atomic Dome.
Even the park around the Atomic Dome and the museum was pretty somber. The Children’s Memorial (pictured below) had millions of origami cranes stored and I would later in the museum find out way (see below).
The museum itself was sobering. Filled with visitors of all types of nationalities and with an entrance fee of roughly $0.50 USD, the place was incredibly accessible (just as one might expect). What was really powerful for me was that I had, up until that visit, never walked through a museum where we (the US) were the bad guys. Not to say the museum was negative towards the US at all (it totally wasn’t and I thought did an incredible job of stating facts as objectively as possible), but I couldn’t help but feel, as I went from room to room, reading of the horrors of the bomb, escapes through black radiation rain, the families who would never find out what happened to their loved ones, that Americans made the decision to do this to these people. Without having ever been in a war, I can’t begin to understand what it is like to make those difficult calls, but I couldn’t help but feel like what we created and did to these people was evil.
The stories of survival and the survivors (some first-hand video testimonials) were incredibly powerful. The one that touched me the most was of a young girl named Sadako. The bomb had been dropped when she was two years old. Her mother had had to carry her through the black radiation rain in order to escape the blast zone. Sadako had a normal healthy childhood until she was around 10 or 11 years old. Then, suddenly, her neck began to swell and the doctor her mother took her to quickly diagnosed her with leukemia (sometimes referred to as “the atom bomb disease”). Unfortunately Sadako wasn’t the only child to suddenly show symptoms of “the atom bomb disease” around this time. Sadako was immediately moved to a hospital where her roommate would tell her of an old Japanese legend that said if one folded 1000 paper cranes a wish would be granted. Sadako, emboldened by this, learned how to fold paper cranes and folded over 1000 of them, wishing that she would get better. Although she achieved her goal, when Sadako was only 12, she passed away.
Today the Children’s Memorial in the park holds millions of paper cranes to commemorate her and the other children who passed away because of their exposure to the atom bomb. You can fold a crane or send one in to be added to the exhibit.
Leaving, I couldn’t help but think that, had the roles been reversed and Japan had dropped an atomic bomb on some city in the US, would we as Americans today be as welcoming, accepting, patient, and kind with Japanese visitors to our country as I believe the Japanese are with Americans? My respect and admiration for the Japanese only grows.
I highly recommend visiting the museum if you are ever in Hiroshima.
Afterwards, I continued to explore the city (including a surprisingly well-stocked art museum). Overall I was impressed with Hiroshima. It was a lot more developed and bustling than I would have anticipated. And of course, even had it not been, the Peace Memorial itself was worth the trip.