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From Kyoto, we went to Hiroshima. Hiroshima was… fun, which, from my American perspective, is not what I was expecting. The small part of the city we saw is beautiful. We stayed at a hotel right by the train station and river, and our room had a lovely view of river-park land. The train station itself seems a lot more barren than the other big city stations we've been in. The underground is mostly large concrete halls with few ads or decorations and reminded me slightly of a nuclear bunker, though that may say more about my brain than the place itself.

The APA Hotel

The APA Hotel, where we stayed, bears mentioning if only because it has its own manga, apparently the uplifting story of a perky hotel employee girl who has some sort of machinations with a very serious guy with a blockish jaw. It looks incredibly boring, but its existence is wonderful in itself.


(River from the hotel)

Hiroshima Castle

The evening of our arrival, we happened onto Hiroshima Castle, just as twilight was settling in. This happened to be the perfect time visit. The area is open free to the public, but in the low light, it was nearly deserted. We rarely saw more than one other person at a time. The weather had cooled off with sunset, and it was sprinkling intermittently. In fact, it felt a lot like Eugene, Oregon in, say, May.

The castle grounds are a tranquil and beautiful mix of gardens, buildings, open courtyards, and walkways. The structure was only partially rebuilt after the A-bomb, which may lend to a greater sense of open space than the original.


(Castle courtyard from the street)

We strolled up to a very beautiful, ornate Shinto shrine, and as we were starting to wander off, a young woman in a very stylish miniskirt and high heels came up to the shrine to pray. (She clapped her hands to get the spirits' attention, but we didn't watch her after that.) It made me wonder about the intersections between the ancient and modern, and spiritual and mundane in Japan today. What led this young woman to that shrine in the dark? Is it part of her usual walk home from work? Was she a tourist (or a pilgrim)? Had something happened in her life that made her seek that place that day? (I have always been told that the Japanese, in general, are quite a secular people, but I have seen a great deal of religious reverence and active practice here.)

We continued up to the castle itself, which was still and ghostly in the now full dark. On the way back down, we passed a middle-aged man. Most of the time, however, we were by ourselves, which was freeing and restful after several days of bustling through cities.


(Hiroshima Castle)

Dinner

On our walk back to our hotel, we stopped for dinner at a sushi place and had, to date, our only experience of being completely at sea in a Japanese menu with no pictures. The comedy was intensified by our charming waiter, who spoke next to no English, but apparently expected us to know what we wanted to order toute suite. He pretty much handed us a menu and sat there expectantly while we stared in bafflement. (My friend, Chihiro, tells me this is not a standard Japanese practice. Maybe, she said, it's local to Hiroshima. Or maybe he just enjoyed looking at the gaijin. (^^) )

Marshall, being an accomplished manager of these situations, took him out to the front of the restaurant to point at the pictures of what we wanted from the ads by the door. This worked very well, but had I been on my own, I probably would have done my best to ask for a little time to read over the menu and then guessed as best I could. I did do a pretty good job interpreting the drinks menu, given my minuscule Japanese. The food was very good, as it generally has been here.

Peace Memorial Park

The next day, which was bright and warm, we went to the Peace Memorial Park. Ironically for what might be considered the most obviously important stop of our trip, we ended up behind schedule and had difficulties figuring out how to get to the park, with the result that we only had about an hour there before our long train ride to Niigata. These logistical problems created some frayed nerves, and I'm not sure how much of the pall on my mood going into the park was due to these irritations and how much to the context of visiting the park per se.

At the park, we split up for about 45 minutes to get some reflective time on our own. I mostly circled the A-Bomb Dome, the ruins of the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. Here is a little bit on the ruins from the Hiroshima city website:

"When the atomic bomb exploded, it ravaged the building instantly. Heat blazing from above consumed the entire building, killing everyone in it. Because the blast attacked the building from virtually straight overhead, some walls escaped total collapse. Along with the wire framework of the dome, these form the shape that has become a symbol. At some point it became known as the 'A-bomb Dome.'"

I sat there for about 15-20 minutes while looking at it/through it. I suppose my thoughts were pretty close to what most Americans there must think, so I don't know I need to go into them. I cried for a while; I would worry if I hadn't. If such a monument to the lunacy of war serves as a uniquely apt expression of the necessity of peace, then the Peace Memorial is well named.[1]

I also took a turn around the Children's Peace Monument, which is hung with many beautiful strings of origami cranes. (I have to say, though, the pictures I'm seeing online look nothing like what I remember seeing; the brain plays funny tricks.)

Marshall noted that the park seemed remarkably unsolemn. I added that it seemed touristy: lots of folks, Japanese and foreigners, were strolling around taking pictures in a way that was kind of nice and ever so slightly disturbing at the same time. Marshall said, though, he wasn't thinking of tourists but rather that the war seemed a fact of life here: "accepted," is how he put it.


(A-Bomb Dome)


(A-Bomb Dome scribbled by me)

I was surprised by how much I liked the feel of this city. If I come to Japan again, it's somewhere where I would like to spend more time.



[1] There's a scene early in Grave of the Fireflies in which a bunch of children just after the end of the war are sitting with their backs against pillars in a train station, starving to death. At some train station or other on this trip, I saw two teenagers sitting with their backs to a pillar, poring over a smart phone. It put me in mind of that scene and gave me a great sense of cognitive dissonance.

* Photos by Marshall.
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