Japan Tour – Hiroshima and Miyajima, Japan

Saturday, October 23:

Memorial Cenotaph and Atomic Dome
Memorial Cenotaph and Atomic Dome
A number of us board the Hiroshima Shinkansen at Kyoto. And, thanks to Miki, we had reserved seats which she had thought to arrange for us long in advance. The group now consists of Esther, Anne, Jutta, Lily, Verbeck, Michel, Mimi, Lil and myself – along with Miki who had never been to Hiroshima, herself. The train ride was quite interesting as we passed through lots of cosmopolitan areas as well as open countryside. We arrive in Hiroshima station and catch a bus to our hotel, the International Youth Hostel. We find that we can’t check in until 3:00 p.m. – so we stow our bags and head in the direction of the Peace Memorial. However, it is lunch time and we finally all agree on a sidewalk cafe to stop at. Inside, we find a curious vending machine arrangement. Miki finally figures out that we each have to order our food and pay for it from this vending machine. Once our transaction is complete, we get a ticket which is then handed to a waitress who then processes the order. A most interesting thingy – and quite unique to this observer! The lunch turns out to be surprisingly good. Lil and I each had some sort of rice and shrimp pilaf which we have by now become very accustomed to.

After lunch, we walk on about two blocks to the Peace Memorial. I won’t go into the history of Hiroshima – I have to believe that any enlightened person in this day and age knows what happened here in August of 1945. I will say this, however – the Peace Memorial here is far more comprehensive and impressive that I could have ever imagined. That along with some other things that have been preserved certainly made the trip worthwhile and I am sincerely glad that we made the journey here. To say that it was an emotional experience would indeed be an understatement. I came away from here fully concurring with all those who see the folly of war and how perfectly ridiculous it is for anyone to think that unfettered force and brute power should ever be allowed to prevail. Going through the Peace Memorial is something that I believe a person needs to do alone as there is a lot to ponder and try to understand. And, as I said, it can be a very gut wrenching experience.

Lil and I then walked together to the Children’s Memorial. This is just north of the Peace Memorial and is in honor of a little girl whose name was Sadako. She was in Hiroshima the day the bomb fell and received massive doses of radiation. She survived the initial blast, however, and spent many years in a hospital while undergoing treatment for leukemia – which she finally succumbed to. It was while trying to recuperate that she started making origami cranes and tying them in batches to strings. The story of her crane making spread and, today, children all over the world are encouraged to make a thousand cranes and tie them to a string. These can then be sent to an address in Hiroshima and they will eventually be placed on display at Sadako’s Children’s Memorial.

We then walked a short distance away and visited the Atomic Dome – which is the remnants of an administrative building that was very near the epicenter where the bomb exploded overhead. For some reason, this building was one of the few buildings in Hiroshima that was not completely leveled by the blast. It has now been preserved – exactly as it was right after the bomb blast – and the plan is to keep it as a permanent reminder. As I said, it really is a drain on one’s emotions to witness these things, today, and ponder what it must have been like in 1945.

By now, it was past 3:00 p.m. and we had found our way back to the hotel to get checked in. Our room was nice and we actually had the most spare room here of any of the hotels we stayed at. We also found a nice restaurant in the hotel which ended up being where the whole group later met and had dinner. Back in our room, Lil was taking a shower and I had the TV on to news channel which I was not really paying much attention to because the announcer was speaking in Japanese. All at once, I noticed some footage showing a shaky scene in a grocery store where cans were falling off the shelf. Then the picture turned to a map of Japan showing the area north of Tokyo – and it was then that it began to dawn on me that there must have been an earthquake.

It wasn’t until the next day that we found out that the quake was in a rural area well north of Tokyo and that, due to much rain from the typhoon, the quake had triggered massive mud slides and several people had in fact been killed. Ichiro was at home in Gyoda (which is near Tokyo) at the time of the earthquake and he later reported that this was the strongest quake he has ever personally felt. Fortunately, there was no visible damage in or around Ichiro’s home.

Sadako's Memorial
Sadako’s Memorial
After cleaning up and resting for a while in our room, we then met the others in the restaurant I previously mentioned and had a nice dinner. Just before we sat down, Miki had asked if this might be a suitable place and time for me to recite the Robert Service poems that I had offered to do a long time ago. So, after we finished eating, Miki gave me the high sign and I gave a quick and impromptu lead-in to the life and times of Robert Service and how it was that he came to be known as the “Yukon Poet”. I then recited “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”.

Sunday, October 24th:
After breakfast, we all find our way to the ferry boat to Miyajima Island. Since ancient times, Miyajima has been regarded as one of the “Three Most Beautiful Spots” of Japan, and as a part of the Seto Inland Sea National Park, it has received several distinctions, such as a place of extraordinary scenic beauty, exceptional history, and a natural monument. The island is roughly rectangular, with a length of 5.6 miles (9km) and width of 3.7 miles (6km). Mt. Misen, Mt. Komagabayashi, and Mt. Iwafune are located on Miyajima, and all three rise and tower over the shoreline of this mountainous island.

On the ferry, Lil notes that there is a group of Boy Scouts who have gathered on the lower deck – she encourages me to go down and meet them as she knows that I used to be in the Boy Scouts. So, I get up and wander to the stairs and walk down. Sure enough, I see a group of boys and I walk up and flash the Boy Scout sign with my right hand. This consists of holding one’s thumb over the little finger while keeping the other three fingers extended upwards. That must have been correct because the next thing I know, I see lots of returning Scout signs – and lots of grins and “Konnichi wa’s!” I then did my best to introduce myself to some of the boys and extended my hand which was shaken many times. I then said, “Hajimemashite,” which means, “Nice to meet you.” So, assuming that not too much got “lost in translation,” I guess I’m here to tell you that the scouting movement is alive and well in Japan.

Also on the ferry to Miyajima was an American lady whose name was Joan that we befriended and have a nice chat with. She is a retired medical doctor who did her undergraduate studies at Northwestern University (near Chicago) and now lives in the Philadelphia area. She now travels a lot and was going to stay the night on Miyajima in one of its several resort hotels before meeting up with some friends.

We no sooner come ashore at Miyajima than we start to see those deer – or shika. And these guys are really tame and know the drill. As a matter of fact, if you don’t start offering these deer something to eat, they start rummaging around in your pockets with their muzzles. Methinks a little bit of this might start to go a long way. Lil and I get a map of the island and, after deciding on a strategy, we set off. The island has hundreds of small shops and boutiques and we buy several pairs of designer chopsticks to give to our kids. Plus we buy other little goodies too numerous to mention. We note that, no matter the size of value of every purchase, each item is carefully wrapped and folded with care by the merchant. And, as we get our change and hear the now familiar refrain, “Arigato goziamaus,” I now say, “Doo itashimashite,” or “You’re welcome!” I wish you could see the warm smiles (and sometimes, giggles) that this expression invokes!

Lil and the deer at Miyajima
Lil and the deer at Miyajima
As we walk up a back trail on the island, we come to an area where some pretty good sized trees have been uprooted. Then I overhear someone say that this was caused by the typhoon that went through here a few days ago. I really hadn’t give much thought to the typhoons up until now – but seeing this gave me pause!

On the way back to the ferry, I see the familiar icon that denotes a post office. By now, I have come to equate the post office with ATM. And since I need some cash, I make a pit stop! As I’m getting my money from the ATM, I think, “What’s with this picture? An American half way around the world – in a place he never heard of a few weeks ago – getting Yen while his bank account gets debited in dollars – this after sticking a plastic card in a slot and making a few strokes on a key board.” Ah – such is life in the fast lane! We then go back to our hotel, check out, and head for the train station to board the night train to Tokyo.

Thus concludes our trip to Hiroshima.