Monday, 26 October 2015

Caroline vs. Hiroshima

Hiroshima has long been near the top of my list of places to visit, so I convinced my family to add it to their itinerary when they visited in May.  Hiroshima doesn't have as much going on as other major Japanese cities, but the city's history with the Atomic Bomb draws visitors from across Japan and the world.

Before jumping into the historical side of things, we started off our visit with a surprisingly popular Japanese pastime: baseball!  Baseball is HUGE in Japan, and my dad managed to score us some tickets to a Hiroshima Carp vs. Yokohama Baystars game.  The atmosphere was different than at Blue Jays games I've been to, with each team having a designated band and cheer section keeping things exciting.  As with sumo tournaments, spectators could bring in their own food and drinks, provided drinks were transferred to cardboard cups before entering the stadium.  The food offered at the stadium, though expensive, was a fantastic departure from typical North American baseball food: sushi, takoyaki, yakitori, onigiri... all of it so good!  We had tickets in the Yokohama section, and despite our best efforts at cheering, the Baystars lost.  It was a fun afternoon, though, and a great way to break up a trip with a not typically tourist activity.

We spent the better part of a cool and rainy day exploring the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, starting first at the Atomic Bomb Dome, which was an exhibition centre before the bombing, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Did you guys know the A-Bomb never hit the ground, but exploded a couple hundred metres in the air?  I didn't know that, so it was interesting to learn.  Because the bomb exploded directly overhead, the building pretty much retained its shape, including its distinctive dome.  Looking at pictures it is incredible to see this one lone building standing in the middle of a decimated city.

There are several other memorials and shrines throughout the park: for mobilized students, for Korean victims, for the remains of unidentified victims, a Flame of Peace that will burn until all the world's nuclear weapons are destroyed... but the one that touched me most was the Children's Peace Monument.  There were several school trips in the park that day, and each group stopped at the children's memorial to sing, read poetry, and present their strings of paper cranes to be added to the memorial.  By the time one group finished, another was waiting quietly off to the side for their turn.  It was really special to see how Japanese school children interact with this part of their history.  After each group finished their presentation, they were often split into groups and raced around the park to talk to tourists as part of an assignment.  A small group of kids came up to my mother and me and asked us our names, where we were from, and what we thought would be a way to achieve world peace.  Once we answered, they yelled in unison, "THANK YOU!" and scampered off.  Teachers who came up with this exercise in Japanese history and English language practice at the same time are geniuses!

Early in the afternoon it began to pour rain, so we headed into the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.  I was so surprised to see that the cost of admission was only 50¥ per adult (roughly 50¢ CAD), which is a great way to keep it accessible.  Along with our entrance tickets we each got a postcard, made of recycled paper cranes from the memorials and shrines in the park; the concept of 'rebirth' kept coming up throughout the day, and I thought the postcards were a lovely little reminder of how the cycle of life continues.  The museum itself was packed, partially because of the rain, and partially because half of it was actually closed for renovations, so there were limited spaces people could spread into.  It had tons of artefacts, including some we could touch, which I always think it a great way to have people, especially kids, engage with history.  Many personal items were accompanied by descriptions of the people who owned them, and what had happened to those people in the aftermath of the bombing.  And as I found with a lot of Japanese museums, it was very diplomatic about the fact that the Americans had dropped the bomb; there was no finger-pointing in the displays, which focused mostly on individual stories.

After a very late lunch in the museum cafeteria, we headed back to our hotel for naps and to watch the rest of the day's sumo matches on TV.  We didn't plan on doing much in Hiroshima, so it was nice to take our time going through the park and museum; the city is also pretty easy to navigate, thanks to the grid system on which Hiroshima was rebuilt after the war.  Along with Tokyo and Kyoto, Hiroshima should definitely be a stop on any Japan travel itinerary.

xx, C.