November 14, 2012

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

To follow-up a day of natural beauty, I decided to head West to experience some man-made beauty at Peace Park in Hiroshima. I've been told by many travelers that despite the devastation caused by the first atomic bomb, the city has since been rebuilt and dedicated towards promoting peace and nuclear disarmament. A beautiful contrast.
Hard to believe this is where the bomb was dropped
Before World War II, the area where the park is now located was a busy downtown commercial and residential area. I learned that Hiroshima was chosen over a few other locations due to the lack of allied prisoner of war camps. This area in particular was chosen because the river that cuts through the city, making it an easy target from the air.

A second after the explosion, the downtown area was leveled, save a few buildings. It was decided not to rebuild, but rather to turn the area below the hypocenter into the Hiroshima Peace Memorial park in order to recognize the first nuclear attack in human history as well as pay tribute to those who directly or indirectly lost their lives as a result.
The Atomic Bomb dome was directly below the hypocenter, and because the explosion came from all directions, this building remained standing.

Heavy stuff, and as an American, it came with a lot of guilt. And while I had just as much to do with the decision to drop the bomb as I did the decision to kill Christ, it was still hard to escape that the country which I call home is responsible for the only two nuclear attacks in the history of the world.

But I wasn't made to feel guilty. In fact, I was a bit of celebrity! It became apparent only a minute after arriving at the park that this was a major
destination for elementary school field trips. Schools of identically dressed munchkins, all in matching colored hats, travelled through the park and smiled and waved at me whenever I passed. The older kids were permitted to travel in groups of 4 or 5 and every minute or two, I'd be spotted by one of these groups and hunted down:

"Excuse me, we are from ____ can we ask you some questions?" one would read off a clipboard.
"Sure!" I eagerly replied
One by one they'd go around "Hi, my name is ____, nice to meet you" and then shake my hand.
"Hajimemashite" I'd reply to their amazement.
After they had all introduced themselves to me, they'd ask me where I was from and then try to find it on a map. One group cheated and had me draw an X over Los Angeles. "WOW! AUSTRALIA" some chubster exclaimed. It was apparent cheating was getting him nowhere.

"Can you please write us a message of peace?"
They look cute, but when they're chasing you down, it's a little creepy.
They all then asked if I could write a message of peace. Each time I wrote, I found my words came out sounding rather terrifying: Be as friendly as you were today for the rest of your life. For the rest of your life?!?! Count your days, kids, 'cuz they're numbered.

Was chased down by at least a dozen groups
It's really beautiful what they have done with this space. The museum does an amazing job of explaining and showing how destructive the bomb was, and while we can never comprehend what it would be like to live through that experience, the exhibit did a nice job of offering some perspective without being depressing. Well, it's all depressing, but given the subject matter I felt more informed than I did beat over the head with a "fuck you for killing 200,000 of our family members with one bomb" message.

I walked through downtown Hiroshima and gathered that, despite its unique history, the city feels like any other Japanese city: pachinko parlors, karaoke bars, malls, malls, some more malls, and lots of street food. And malls. I had seen enough of this sort of landscape so I hopped on the streetcar and made my way towards Miyajima, which is an island accessible by ferry from Hiroshima.

A long streetcar ride saw the sun go down
Hiroshima from Miyajima
The island is technically called Itsukushima, and by technically, I mean that's what it's called. End of story. BUT one of the most famous views in all of Japan is of the "floating" torii gate that acts as a gateway to the island. So people refer to it as "Miyajima", which translates to "shrine-island." Not as scary as "skull-island" but there were some frightening creatures on the island... see blow:

Famous Torii Gate
Ferries and Hiroshima
Slow shutter Hiroshima

Don't let the picture fool you, the deer that inhabit the island are very friendly. Not Nara Deer friendly, but they've clearly gotten used to the tourists and will hassle you for food if you're not too careful.

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