Of all the places we visited with my parents-in-law, Hiroshima was probably my favourite experience. Not in a happy theme park sort of way, but more in an important cultural, social, political and historical awareness sort of way. This was complemented by the beauty of Hiroshima City and its neighbouring Miyajima, the awesomeness of some of the people we met, and the deliciousness of the food we ate.
Visiting Hiroshima was nothing short of surreal. I’ve been to war museums in the past, I’ve seen the photos and the videos and the displays, but they are nothing in comparison to walking around preserved ruins, seeing the shadows on gravestones that still remain from the blast, and standing on the bridge that was the pilots’ target X.
Our first stop in Hiroshima was Peace Memorial Park. Before the atomic bombing at the close of World War II, this area was the bustling commercial and social center of Hiroshima City, and it was all but flattened in the blast, along with almost everything else in a two kilometer radius. Now, the area has been preserved as a park in commemoration of the dropping of the atomic bomb.
The A-Bomb Dome was our first glimpse of Peace Memorial Park. This dome, which was an industrial government center before the bombing, was one of the few buildings to survive in the area, likely because of its location, almost directly underneath the explosion. Now the dome remains preserved as a reminder, and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Whilst we were looking at the dome, a Japanese lady with really good English offered to tour us around a bit. She was a volunteer tour guide, working under a man who was a in-utero survivor of the bombing, meaning he was in his mother’s womb when she was exposed to the radiation from the bomb. Many such children didn’t make it, or had severe physical and mental impairments to contend with upon their birth. He had come out mostly intact, but not without some challenges.
Our guide took us to the hypocenter, the point calculated to be directly underneath the center of the bomb’s explosion. Researchers were able to determine the exact point by examining how the shadows from the blast all pointed outward from there. She also showed us many pictures and diagrams, and described various aspects of the bombing and subsequent American occupation. One thing that stuck out to me were the testimonies of survivors affected by the radiation. According to our guide’s information, many radiation survivors had been monitored by the Americans for years in the aftermath of the bombing, basically until the American occupation ended. They were observed for the long-term effects of radiation, but were offered no treatment, because this would interfere with the observation. They were also not allowed to talk publicly about the observation process they were undergoing, and so it was not until the American occupation ended in the 1950s that their stories began to surface. Stories like this illustrated, in a sense, the other side of history.
At the end of our tour, the guide gave me a paper crane she had made herself. She had been great, and what struck me about her is that, as she recalled the sometimes gruesome details of the bombing and the aftermath, she spoke with grace and not a hint of resentment. She simply wanted people to hear the story of Hiroshima and its people, as did the tour group leader I mentioned. Their efforts were a small part of the larger effort of Hiroshima City to bring awareness to nuclear weapons proliferation issues, as I’ll mention again below.
After our tour, we explored more of the park, and the museum, on our own. Here are some more pictures of Peace Memorial Park:
In the Peace Memorial Museum now, the above photo shows a wall of letters sent by the City of Hiroshima to country leaders around the world, to protest the continued development of nuclear weapons, and nuclear testing. Since WWII, the City of Hiroshima has been a very active voice against nuclear proliferation, and for very good reason. You can read the letters for yourself on the City of Hiroshima’s website, if you’re interested. The most recent one is written to none other than Mr. Obama himself.
Leaving Peace Memorial Park, we visited the nearby Hiroshima Castle. The castle was destroyed in the bombing, and has since been reconstructed, but we were able to see the foundations of parts of the old castle grounds as well. There were also a few “survivor trees” on the castle grounds – trees that were relocated there from the area surrounding the A-Bomb Dome, that miraculously survived the blast.
After the sun set, we returned to Peace Memorial Park to see what it looked like at night. When we arrived, we saw the dome was illuminated with eerie green lighting, which made it seem that much more surreal.
I took this photo while standing on the “T” bridge, which was what the American pilots used as their target for dropping the bomb, as it was central, and an easily seen landmark from the sky. Standing on the X that marked the spot was a pretty strange feeling.
After our second trip to Peace Memorial Park, we decided to seek what culinary awesomeness Hiroshima had to offer. On the previous night, after we stumbled off the stale-beer-stinky-salaryman smelling train, we found an awesome hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant. The Korean couple that owned it were themselves one of the highlights of our time in Hiroshima. We talked about all kinds of things, in a mix of Korean-English-Japanese, from experiences as expats living in Japan, to favourite places to travel, to… where babies come from: upon learning my husband’s parents had only one child, they exclaimed “only one sex!” They then gestured at themselves, and said, “two sex!” (It had previously been established in conversation that they had two children). They then turned to my husband and I, and said disapprovingly, “no sex.” Interesting logic, there.
Anyways, for our second meal on the town, we went in search of Hiroshima’s specialty: Okonomiyaki! Literally, “what you like fried,” okonomiyaki is usually made with a savoury egg-doughy batter, and whatever you want inside, meat or seafood or vegetables or all of the above. Hiroshima okonomiyaki is especially awesome because they put noodles in it, and even cheese if you like! Which I do. It was delicious! Check it out:
The next day, we hopped on a ferry and headed for Miyajima, which literally translates as “Shrine Island.” The island is most famous for its giant torii (gate), which at high tide appears to be floating in the water! It also has a ropeway that brings you up near the top of Mt. Misen, which on a clear day would provide a nice view of Hiroshima and the bay. Unfortunately, when we were there, it was neither high tide nor clear, but it was enjoyable nonetheless!
After we made our way down Mt. Misen, we headed for the ferry and then the train to begin our long trek home. My in-laws had managed to survive the days between Nara and Hiroshima by themselves, and were off on another adventure for a couple more days. They would return with time for one last adventure with us on their last weekend in Japan before returning to Canada.
Stay tuned for the last installment of “The Parental Visitation,” coming soon to an internet near you!