Hiroshima: Peace Museum & Miyajima

14:20

The last time I was in Japan in 2013, I told myself that I would make a trip to Hiroshima the next time I went back.


I wanted to go to Hiroshima for these particular reasons - 

A) to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to pay my respects to those who lost their lives due to the nuclear war, 

B) To visit Miyajima, which is apparently one of the most scenic spots in Japan, and 

C) to eat Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki

In one day in April, I managed to do all three after setting off in the morning from Shin-Osaka station in a bullet train. I had gotten the 2-week Japan Rail Pass, after all. To not utilise it to its maximum value will be a waste of money (RM1500, to be exact - those bullet trains don't come cheap!).

I arrived in Hiroshima around noon, and proceeded to make my way to the museum with the help of my trusty smartphone. 

The smartphone said to get on the #1 Hiroden tram, and I, in my confusion, still managed to board the wrong Hiroden tram from Hiroshima Station. The tram I got on stopped at the #2 stop, which was near enough the #1 stop for me to get confused. 

Luckily, I realised my mistake and got off at a station that was within walking distance to the museum. It took me about twenty minutes to walk there, whereas if I got on the right tram in the first place I would have arrived right in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome. 

Oh well. It was not like I was in any hurry, though I suspect any travel mates would have teased me to death about it. 


The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is located inside the Peace Memorial Park. The Atomic Bomb Dome is located at one end, and the Peace Memorial Museum is located at the other end. The above picture is the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims. Behind this Cenotaph is the Pond of Peace, and behind the pond is where the Flame of Peace is located.

The park holds an air of quiet contemplation and reflection, occasionally interrupted by the loud chattering of tourists. The most off-putting display of tourist behaviour here, I feel, are the people who are taking selfies with a selfie stick. Right at the moment I am taking this picture, another guy is standing right next to me holding a selfie stick taking pictures of himself at the Cenotaph.

While I have nothing against selfie sticks, using such an object which was created for blatant narcissism in a park dedicated to the memory of nuclear war victims seems inappropriate. Then again, what do people nowadays know of propriety and decorum? I recall the moment the Sydney siege happened at Lindt cafe, and people were hanging around and taking selfies outside going "OMG A SIEGE IS  HAPPENING NOW RIGHT BEHIND ME IN THIS PICTURE ASDFGHJKL".

I weep for humanity.

But I digress.

I walked around the park in areas away from the hordes of noisy tourists and school students. The spring wind quietly breezed through, and it is hard for me to dig into the depths of my imagination and remember that this beautiful place sprung out of an area of terror and fear 70 years ago.

I decided it was time to confront humanity's past, and went inside the museum. I was charge ¥50 for entry, a surprising amount to me considering that I have seen flower exhibitions in Japan charging ¥700 for entry. The guard at the museum cautioned me against using flash in the museum, but he had nothing to worry about.

After taking one discreet picture after going through the entrance, my camera remained firmly around my neck and against my chest as I walked through the museum.


This is aforementioned discreet picture, a model display of where the bomb hit, and the immediate destruction that levelled through the city afterwards from the blast.

I spent around half an hour to forty-five minutes in the museum. I was faced with a wall replica of what it would looked like immediately after the blast - dark, with angry red embers and crumbling walls and shattered glass. Two figurines were 'making' their way through the dark burning 'building', their face encrusted with black soot and injuries.

That was the least confronting image I saw in the museum.

There was a stone slab with slight human-shaped white specks on them. The description alerted me to the fact that someone was sitting right in front of this bank building waiting for the bank to open - perhaps a worker or a bank customer - when the blast happened and he/ she was blown to smithereens. No one ever knew who this person was, because nothing was left except for the sobering specks on the wall.

That was the first time tears sprang to my eyes. They made on-off appearances in my eyes, and I could hear sniffing around me.

The area that probably set off the tears the most was the area with relics that belonged to the victims, donated by their family members. A dented and damaged lunch box, the uneaten lunch becoming black charcoal within. School uniforms belonging to junior high school students, who were sent into the city to do works on the buildings. There were bags, cases, notebooks, and so on. There was even a tricycle which belonged to a three year old.

All these mementos were accompanied by short and concise paragraphs depicting where they came from. The little stories end harrowingly, such as mothers and fathers going into the city to find their children, but only finding items, or only a limb or some bones to bury.

In there, I couldn't help but feel slightly ill, thinking about a multitude of things at once.

I thought of how humans were so fragile, that the things we make can survive a blast much more than a human can.

I thought of the poor civilians who were caught up in war, their lives ended too quickly just so the USA can make a statement,and also test out their nuclear weapons.

I thought of how cruel humans can be to each other, something that is still ongoing in this day and age i.e. the ISIS situation, or even things closer to home.

I wondered, and I still wonder, if achieving peace is but a dream, because humans are all inherently violent.

When I walked out, feeling depressed and sobered all at once, I slowly walked over to the Atomic Bomb Dome. I passed by the Children's Memorial, the Peace Bell, and so on, but my thoughts were already pre-occupied with what I just saw and read in the museum. The bomb did not just injure people in the immediate vicinity. The nuclear fallout also affected health, with children and adults developing health problems like cancer.





This is the Atomic Bomb Dome, which used to be the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. After the bomb, most of its framework was surprisingly left standing. It was left this way to show how Hiroshima looked like after the bomb. Some in-utero survivors were standing near this building, explaining how their families coped in the bomb blast.

70 years have passed since then. It was speculated that Hiroshima will never be able to recover within the next 100 years, but look at it now. It is a quiet city, but underneath the quietness is an amazing progress that speaks volumes for how the Japanese can recover from tragedy.

Though it left me feeling disconsolate, I am glad that I went to the Peace Museum.

The museum reminds us to be grateful for the relative peace we have, especially for those of us who live in first-world countries. It reminds us to strive for negotiations and solutions that does not require violence. Most of all, it asks us to pay our respects to the innocents who have died for a cause they could hardly grasp the meaning of, and to be grateful to live a life that they never had to chance to for crummy reasons of 'being in the wrong place at the wrong time'.

I urge people reading this to go, and make your contributions towards the city which strives for international peace.

***

After the museum, I made my way to Itsukushima, more popularly known as Miyajima. It is the island of the gods. It is famous for being the place that hosts the torii gates that seem to float on the ocean when the tide rises.

It is fairly far from the Peace Memorial Museum. When I arrived at Miyajimaguchi Station, I was sauntering down the pier to get to the JR Ferry, when this guy started waving at me and saying I was the last passenger.

Me: "What?"

I started running down the pier anyway, and as soon as I got onto the ferry, they started letting up the side of the ferry. Apparently I had just made it in time to catch a ferry about to set off. Otherwise I would have to wait another 20 minutes for the next one.

Yay, go me!


I enjoyed the short 10 minute ferry ride, hanging outside and waiting to catch closer glimpses of the torii gates. I snapped a lot of pictures, despite my hand shivering in the cold spring evening, with almost nary a trace of sun. My trip to Japan this time was pretty gloomy, though thankfully the rain only attacked on one or two days.

I am glad I reserved Miyajima for after the Peace Museum. As soon as I got onto the island, the tranquility of the island washed over me, quietness permeating the air. This island is home to a gorgeous shrine (Itsukushima Shrine) and deers. As though it knows its reputation as island of the gods, it was gorgeously still in the way I imagine heaven would be like. No car honks, no shouting, and no loud talkers. Just the sound of the sea, and occasionally being greeted by deers.


The view of Hiroshima from Miyajima.


Deers, incidentally, are considered messengers to the gods in Japan.

The architecture of the buildings in Miyajima was fairly old-fashioned, but I did not have time to admire them as I walked quickly towards the shrine. I was afraid of not getting in, as I assumed it closed at 5PM. I need not have worried, for that day it closed at 6PM.



The architecture is built on raised wooden stilts, which I assume means high tide must be really, well, high.

Of course, while the shrine is lovely to behold aesthetically and spiritually, the highlight of this shrine is the torii gates built on the sea.


I have been told that the view is lovely over sunset, but clearly that is not going to happen here. This place is also apparently gorgeous to behold at night, which made me determined to come back to Miyajima again and stay a night or two to soak in the peaceful ambiance.

I stayed there for about half an hour, just looking out at the sea. Many people were like me, sitting around and taking pictures idly of these gates.


This picture evokes Ghibli-ish scenes in my mind. I am quite proud of this picture, actually.

While the town section of Miyajima had all but shut down as evening approached, a few restaurants were open. With time to kill before my bullet train back to Himeji Station, I decided to eat my Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki at a restaurant in Miyajima instead.

The thing I love most about Japan is that you don't get weird looks if you are eating by yourself, which is precisely what I had been doing as a solo traveller so far.


I love how even putting mayonnaise on food must look like a work of art. I must say that I am a Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki convert after having this. The combination of egg, noodles, fish flakes, cabbage, and bacon before being drizzled over with  sauce, onion rings and mayonnaise is perfection on a steaming hot plate.

As I left for the ferry, I noticed a whole bunch of backpackers arriving my way to stay on Miyajima for a night. I was quietly envious - I had wanted to stay in a ryokan in Miyajima, but the price tag put me off. I am after all, still living the life I had as an 18-year old (now complete with extra bills!), a fact which makes me sad whenever I think too much about it, so I will not think about it.

Someday I will definitely return to stay on that ryokan with private onsen bath I dream of. I imagine to see the torii gates as the sun rises would be a lovely sight to burn into my retinas as well.

Ah well. Someday.

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