Hiroshima

When we knew that because of the way school holidays fell, our trip with Sophie was going to have us in Japan over Easter and unlikely to find convenient churches, Hiroshima seemed an appropriate place to visit on Good Friday. We wanted to go there in any case and it seemed likely to provoke reflection.

I had worked out an itinerary for today based on one I had found somewhere online. It began with a Shinkansen (bullet train) scheduled to depart Shin-Ōsaka at 8:04 am. Last night I suggested we would need to leave the hotel around 7:30 am to allow time for negotiating unfamiliar systems. That would require an earlier than usual start for Sophie but we suggested she could sleep on the train if necessary.

I was awake at 5:30 am and doubted trying to get another 30 minutes of sleep would work so I got up, showered, and dressed. By the time I had done that Majella was awake and checking her phone. She started her breakfast preparations (repeat of eggs on fried bread from last night), showered, dressed, and finished making breakfast. I poured boiling water into my cup of noodles, stirred with chopsticks and left it sit while I took the coffee cups from the room down to the lounge and returned with coffee from the espresso machine.

As we ate breakfast Majella woke Sophie to tell her breakfast was ready. She was soon up and about. We managed to be out of the hotel on target around 7:30 am.

At Shin-Ōsaka we followed signs to the Shinkansen station and waited in line at a ticket office hoping that was how we used our passes. It was and we soon had tickets for the 8:14 Hikari 493 to Hiroshima. That was 10 minutes later than my itinerary, possibly because the earlier train was booked out. We had plenty of time to move through the station, buy snacks for the trip, find our platform, and wait to board.

The Shinkansen arrived and departed on time. Much of the journey was through urban areas with trackside barriers and a few tunnels so there was not much to see. Later we passed through less densely populated areas and saw more of the hilly countryside. Sophie had brought along her book and read most of the way.

At Hiroshima station we found our way to the platform for local trains going south and boarded a train for Miyajimaguchi, a ride of almost 30 minutes. There we walked a couple of blocks, including through an underpass that must have required excavation of the entire intersection when it was built, to catch the JR ferry to Miyajima Island.

Once on the island we found coffee for Majella and me and ice cream for Sophie. Refreshed, we walked to and through the World Heritage listed shrine. Along the way we saw several deer just wandering about the area, obviously not bothered by the crowds.

The shrine is built off the shore on piers so that at full tide it appears to be floating. The tide was out a bit when we arrived so the sand was visible around the buildings but the Torii further out was still surrounded by water.

After exiting the shrine we briefly visited the adjacent temple area and then walked toward the village. It was close to noon so we decided to lunch on interesting local food as we meandered back to the ferry. 

Eriko had recommended Majella try Hiroshima Jake. We found a stall selling Miyajima Jake (marked as an Hiroshima region specialty) and surmised that might be the same thing. It was deep fried sponge cake (in batter) with a choice of filling. Majella had cheese, Sophie had chocolate, and I had custard. We enjoyed them but did not rate them as favourites. While we waited for them to cook Majella spotted another stall selling cake shapes with filling and had to try that too. It rated a little better for the lack of batter.

Further along the row of shops we found one selling food on skewers or similarly presented as a thin item about 20 cm long. Sophie had fried potato spiral in a skewer and Majella had asparagus spear wrapped in bacon and held together by a gel made of potato. I could not quite come at the squid on a stick or other offerings but I did taste Majella’s. it was OK but unlikely to become a favourite.

We got back to the ferry as it docked and were soon away. Back at Miyajimaguchi we walked to the station and soon caught a train to Yokogawa. Along the way I worked out the best way to the Hiroshima Peace Park was to catch a tram from Yokogawa. There was one about to leave as we exited the station. Getting aboard was easy. The challenge was working out how much to pay on exit and assembling the required amount in coins since we had no credit on our Icoca cards.

The tram stop was at the northern end of the park near the A-bomb Dome, the preserved remnant of a building that had been almost directly beneath the bomb when it detonated at 600 m. We walked around it, signed a petition against nuclear weapons, and spoke with an in-utero survivor before walking on to visit other parts of the park. 

We visited a memorial to school students who died while working on clearing damage and one with cases full of thousands of folded paper cranes sent from around the world. Along the way we paused for fresh orange juice for Majella and mango gelato for Sophie. Beside the cenotaph pool there was a large group of neatly uniformed school children singing with accompaniment from a piano that had survived the bombing.

We spent a bit more than an hour in the Peace Memorial Museum. The main building is being renovated and re-engineered to be more earthquake resistant but there was much to see in the part that was open. 

We worked our way through a mix of displays of artefacts from the time of the bombing, poster walls about the design and history of atomic bombs, and sophisticated touch screen assemblages of words and images related to the history of Hiroshima. Sophie had revealed earlier in the day that she knew nothing of Hiroshima and what had happened there. She explored the multimedia and other exhibits with interest and must have come away much better informed.

I found a route back to Hiroshima station by bus and we walked the hundred metres or so to the stop, waited a few minutes, and were reasonably quickly at the station. Finding the Shinkansen was another matter and we must have followed signs for several hundred metres through tunnels and railway buildings before we arrived there. 

Unlike Shin-Osaka this morning, there was no ticket office, just machines. We approached the attended gate with our passes and were let through with less than five minutes to catch the first available train. We made it to the unreserved coaches and found seats just in time. It was a bit earlier than my plan so we were back in our hotel room by 6:00 pm after buying some things for breakfast at the corner store.

Dinner tonight was to be with Kanako, who stayed with us on a similar program to Eriko a year later. She found Majella on Facebook and has been in contact so, when Majella told her we were coming to Osaka, she wanted to catch up. Our itinerary left just tonight for that and they arranged to meet around 7:00 pm after Kanako finished work. There was some miscommunication about time and place bit we did eventually find Kanako near the East Gate of Shin-Osaka station.

Kanako suggested we eat in the station complex and led us back into areas that we had not discovered on our trips through the station. There are a couple of floors of shops and restaurants which presented a difficult choice. After a couple of false starts where we could have been seated in a smoking area or the food did not appear interesting enough we eventually found somewhere to eat.

Majella had another of her “I’ll have what she’s having” moments when she saw the couple at the next table cooking in a bowl over a flame. Kanako went for something similar, Sophie had pork with rice and salad, and I had beef curry with rice. We all managed with chopstick and pronounced the food very good. Conversation ranged across what we and Kanako had been doing in the years since she stayed with us. We finished dinner and were home before 10:00 pm. Tomorrow we go to Nara with Eriko.

As we expected, Hiroshima did provoke reflection about the awful thing that happened there on August 6, 1945, the second bomb at Nagasaki, and other atrocities that have been perpetrated before and since. Majella thought that she was not as affected as she had been in Berlin. Perhaps having been there and to Poland has had some effect. I found myself thinking about when, on my first visit to the USA in 1998, I was in the section of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum that houses the Enola Gay, the aircraft that dropped the bomb. The display presents a US view with unsurprisingly positive comment about the aircrew. As I was there a group of Japanese visitors to the museum walked through and I wondered what they thought about it. Despite the sadness, Hiroshima also presents a story of resilience and determination to build a better future for all humankind.

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