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Hiroshima & Miyajima island

May 6, 2013

Hiroshima & Miyajima island

May 6, 2013

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by Kt

06.05.2013

I did think about not using a bad pun for the Hiroshima blog but actually, a bit like in Phnom Penh with the killing fields, it’s a shame that with Hiroshima, it generally gets talked about outside Japan with only one topic in mind. Obviously it is one of the most important and horrific events of recent centuries and should never be forgotten, but that’s not all there is to Hiroshima. It’s a vibrant and interesting city in it’s own right and therefore I decided it should get poked fun at as such. However, Hiroshima and Miyajima are really not easy words to work with so we failed to come up with anything!

I will start with talking about the dark shadow of Hiroshima though. Let’s get it over with. Like I said, Hiroshima is a great place, but would I have gone there if it wasn’t for the history, quite possibly not. But it’s a city that functions in it’s own right, I’m sure ‘bomb’ tourism is big but that’s not all there is and even that is not as negative an experience as you would think.

The Peace Park is where the museum and various sites and memorials are. It’s a gorgeous place and it’s open-ness in the middle of the city, instantly shows you the scale of what went on as this was the epicentre of the city flattening a-bomb.

The dome, is apparently an image synonymous with Hiroshima, but somehow Mark and I had never seen it before. This is one of the few structures that remained partly standing and is still standing today.

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All around the park are different memorials that have been put up over the years. They are all different and commemorate different types of people who were killed – from the children, to the workers, to different nationalities (there were a lot of Korean forced labourers for instance). It’s a quiet place, for obvious reasons and is a place for reflection.
There was a service going on at one of the most shocking memorials which is a mound. This was for the ashes of 70,000 people who were never identified. Imagine. That many people. Some must have been entire families wiped out with no-one left to claim their name. I definitely found this the most upsetting. When you think of huge disasters of recent years, perhaps the tsunami aside, this kind of figure is insane to imagine so many people lost but not accounted for.

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The children’s peace statue is of a little girl who died, years later, from disease related to the exposure. She passed the long hours she spent in hospital, by folding paper cranes. Thousands of them. Her classmates did the same and now children and adults from all over the world make them and send them to Hiroshima.

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To the south of the park is the museum. I’m not going to lie, this wasn’t the highlight of my trip. Sometimes you wish you just didn’t know things but it’s important to get information in the country affected – it’s interesting how skewed history books in any country can be to their own agenda. The museum has a very gracious message and of course condemns it’s government at the time and you learn how pretty much everyone who died there were just victims of the war themselves and often prisoners or forced labour. The city of Hiroshima spends a lot of of time, energy and money campaigning for an end to nuclear weapons – having been one of few places directly affected. When they tell you how tame, for want of a better word, the bombs dropped in Japan were compared to the bombs of today – it’s chilling. It wasn’t directly stated, but from assessing some of the information I was uncomfortable to understand that the bomb dropping wasn’t as necessary as we’ve always been led to believe for the war to end. It was looking like Japanese forces were going to fall anyway but there was paranoia in the west about other world powers, Russia in particular, getting in there first and thus controlling the region. It’s unsettling how many political choices seem to have lead to un-necessary death and cruelty but then I guess that is the nature of war and power. And it goes on now and probably always will. Happy days.. not!

Anyhow, the museum itself is pretty good, though a little dis-organised with the layout not being in any particular order sometimes. It contained a lot of scientific information about what actually happened and some of the processes of destruction. Lots of interesting artifacts, like melted roof tiles and glass bottles.
It’s the stories about individuals that really gets you – men, women and children, stopped in their tracks. Or even worse, the pain and suffering that went on in the aftermath – cancers and awful disabilities of children in the womb at the time of the bomb. Children’s burnt clothing donated by their parents to tell their story, so they can be remembered.

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I can’t imagine that anyone would go to Hiroshima as a tourist without going at least to the park, but once you’ve been here then you can look to some of the other things about Hiroshima and the surrounding areas. We didn’t have much time here, but the guy who owned the apartment we stayed in in Tokyo said it was one of his favourite places as it has great proximity to all kinds of things – the mountains, the sea, the countryside.

Trams
One of the things that I liked about Hiroshima were the vintage trams – these were collected from all over Japan and I like they reclaimed a bit of Japans history back into the city – as pretty much all architecture has gone.

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The centre of Hiroshima is just that a centre, and although it takes a lot of walking you could potentially get to a lot of places on foot or at least with a few tram stops. Although the trams, unfortunately, don’t run till that late at night.
There’s a lot of great shopping and cool bars and restaurants. In fact there’s a lot of high end, uber trendy dining going on I noticed. But then you would only be a short walk to more down to earth (or seedy) places should it suit.

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We spent St Paddy’s night in an Irish bar which for the first time in Japan, we got to enjoy smoke free. Never was sure if that was just that bar or if it was a Hiroshima thing. But it was a sweet place which had the owners kids running around earlier in the evening and attracted a fun crowd. There was a particularly be-hatted, jolly, middle-aged Japanese lady who liked a good dance who we found rather adorable.

Miyajima
If you tell anyone you’re going to Hiroshima they’ll always ask if you are going to Miyajima. They are quite rightly very proud of it and it is a much loved tourist destination for the Japanese. You have to get a train to the outskirt of Hiroshima and then get the ferry but it’s Japan, so it’s super easy and efficient.

When you walk out of the ferry station you immediately stumble across, literally, the deer. I knew there was deer in the island but thought we’d find them in the surrounding parks, but no, they trot or laze around the mostly pedestrian streets, stealing food from unsuspecting tourists (they have a very sweet tooth).

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There are huge Tori gates outside the Miyajima shrine, in the sea which at certain times apparently look like they are floating. This is what the island is most famous for and this is the big money shot. It’s fun just watching everyone jostling to pose for their photos here.

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The island has lots of park areas scattered about and is just a generally pretty, pleasant place to be. It’s full of tourists but they could be fun to watch too. Like in Kyoto we saw girls dressed in Kimono’s, I guess as part of the experience.

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There other thing Miyajima is famous for – the food, especially the leaf sweets.

My absolute favourite thing was the food. OH MY GOD!!! This place is insanely amazing food wise. There is snacks cooking everywhere you turn and we tried as many as we could. All soooo good! Particularly the fishy stick things – kind of a soft doughy long thing which was a taste sensation, I obsessed about for hours after (and still do).

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And on a gorgeous sunny day what could be better than some green tea ice-cream. Swoon!

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The tourists go crazy for the Maple leaf cakes. There were shop windows showing the machines making batches and we found, down a back alley, a small shop where they had a small machine, but much of the process was done by hand. So we popped in for some tea and to try one. I’m not a huge cake lover but they are nice and watching them being made is cool.

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I’d heard about this and here it is – the worlds largest rice spoon… and Mark… enough said.

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Our hotel
This was the first time we stayed in a hotel in Japan and it was a curious experience. No wifi in the rooms but you can plug in a lan line – what is this 1999? The room was tiny but very cute and best of all we got pajamas to wear to lounge around in. This is obviously a thing in Japan as we had the same in our next Tokyo hotel. Mark was beyond delighted by this. I will spare you the photos!
The breakfast was ok – some japanese stuff but a kind of cheap hotel version. What was quite good was we could eat in the reception area during the day so on our first day, not having found anywhere nearby to eat, we descended on the nearby 7’11 and brought back some lush food from there. As I have said before, Japanese convenience stores aren’t like the convenience stores you get in any other country. The food there is REALLY good. Well, on the most part. Of course they have some dodge stuff. I got this hotdog style thing with the cutest little sachet that came with it, that when you snapped, dispensed mustard and ketchup in even amounts on either side of your sausage. So simple, so genius!

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The only other notable experience I had in my Hiroshima hotel was, while Mark, who I’d knackered out with sight seeing, slept soundly, I had my own little party with one-cup sake from the 7’11 and watching Kabuki on TV. Kabuki is kind of odd to explain but I found it quite enthralling. Looking it up it’s described as dance-drama but it’s too weird to describe really. The female roles seem to be taken by men, but not in a camp, pantomime kind of way. One of the most amazing things was the sets and costumes. They were so clever and so well styled. They could have a scene completely change by just a bunch of people turning around to show a different colour outfit on a different side – so precise. I was taken with it and I don’t normally like anything theatre-y. I think it’s just so different to anything I’ve seen before.

The trip home and Mount Fuji
The trip home was nice and easy of course but I was a bit bummed that it was a cloudy day so our view of Mount Fuji, even though we’d sat on the left side, was a bit rubbish. It first came into view about 12.15pm and had completely disappeared by 12.20pm, so snooze on the train and you’ll easily miss it.

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