For World Peace and to eliminate Nuclear Weapons
Trip Start Aug 27, 2011
99Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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There is an option to take really fast trains in Japan, instead, I opt for a very slow bus. Similar to Fukuoka, my host in Hiromshima is unable to meet me till the evening, so another afternoon to kill in a quite wonderful city.
The bus station is very close to the Hiroshima Memorial park. My first observation is the very large and mostly destroyed building, the A-bomb dome. This is where the atomic bomb landed, causing devastation unimaginable to our naked eyes. The park is quiet and peaceful, next to a small river and surrounding the park is lucious green trees and blossoming flowers. There are over 60 separate memorials in the park, a truly reflective experience and I thank Kim for insisting I visit. I can't help but think about a button that was pressed to release the bomb. Could you have pressed that button? Could I? I very much doubt it, I'd spill coffee over the instruments and insist we fly back. But, sadly, there was nothing that anyone could do to change the mind of Truman and his team. He even dropped another one!
The city has a blinding energy, a rampant pace about day to day life and I find it difficult to imagine the horror that would have fell on the city, minutes, hours and days after the explosion. The park is dedicated to peace, now and forever. One does wonder, with all the money spent on the military, guns, bullets, helicopters etc, could CEOs and leaders allow a world to live in peace?
Luckily for me, the park also has an information and rest house, so I was able to park my butt, drop the bags and play on the old wifi. Nearer the time to meet Yasumasa, I walked the 30 minute walk from the park to the JR train station. Along the walk, I encountered a better view of downtown Hiroshima, a bustling market place, fancy electronic shops, maybe the odd Yakuza and I walked over a cool bridge on the Kyobashi-gawa River.
Yasumasa found me at the train station. He lives in central Hiroshima buit drove in his BMW to come pick me up. He's 30 and an engineer for Mazda, apparently the Mazda is with his mum. He must be pretty good at his job as his company are sending him to Toronto for three months in January and the another three months in Dallas. He was particularly excited about my request with all the time I have spent in the USA and he could also practice English. His apartment was small, similar in shape to Yu-Chings in Fukuoka, maybe a little bigger, or maybe he had less stuff. The guy made a Japanese curry the night before and had plenty left over for me. I'm sure I never specify curry to anyone, but what a treat. He even nipped out to buy us a can of beer each so we could toast (Kampai) to my trip and his upcoming trip. The curry was delicious, similar to maybe a Chinese curry but darker in colour, he insisted I have seconds, I wasn't going to argue.
Yasumasa even offered me his bed for the two nights as he slept on the floor.
My only full day in Hiroshima started very early. I grabbed a tram to Miyajima-Guchi to the board a ferry to the Island of Miyajima. The tram took about 80 minutes and the boat ride about ten. Near to the port, loads of little kids boarded the tram, each group of children had the same colour caps on and were very cute. One kept trying to touch my beard but the teacher kept pulling her arm away. The island of Miyajima holds the Miyajima Itsukushima Shine. A true marvel of shinden-zukuri architecture and was built in the Heian period. When the tide comes in (as on my visit), the red shrine pavilions connected by corridors seem to be floating in the sea. The island also boasts the magnificent water shrine of Ohtorii.
The boat docked at Miyajima pier and it was only a short walk to see the shrines. A very noticeable feature of the island is the many deer that walk around as if they own the place. Some were waiting outside the dock, some were looking in shop windows, others were looking at the delicious map in your hand, hoping you would drop it!
My first vantage point of Ohtorii was quite magnificent. Again, with good karma comes perfect weather and I was hoping for the tide to be in as I think it makes a better picture. Well, better than hundreds of people walking along the sand and standing next to Ohtorii. Another recommendation from Bev and Kim, so thanks again!
I spent some time enjoying the shrine and reflecting, as I normally do, on life, my trip and family and friends. I spent the next few hours exploring Itsukushima shrine, the Five Storied Pagoda, Daiganji temple and watching the little Japanese children line up for the aquarium!
I also thought I found a cheap coffee shop. It read Y50 for a coffee, so I jumped right in there. I still hadn't quite figured out where to go in the Phillipines so time to read up and make some decisions. Turns out the coffee was 450, the 4 was written like a Y. Hmmm! Anyway, it was a tasty coffee, woke me up for my long day ahead and it was interesting to watch the family who run the shop. On leaving the coffee shop, the deer that was waiting outside a shop, was still waiting there. I don't know whether he had a complaint, or was waiting for the Christmas sale?
My day was going to be long as Yasumasa had an appointment to drink with his boss! Therefore he would be out late and wihtout a spare key, that meant I wuold be out very late!
It took a couple of hours to make my way back to the Memorial park and I had a slower look around the park, read more about the devastation caused and found myself in a very peaceful yet somber mood. I skipped lunch seeing as Yasumasa made me some hot rice with a raw egg thrown on top. Japan is very expensive, so a bag of crisps or a cheap chocolate bar was all I needed.
I spent the afternoon at Hiroshima castle (free to enter the grounds) and Shukkeien gardens. I spent time wandering around the city but kept making my way back to the A-bomb dome. I was very drawn to the park. As Kim recommended Hiroshima to me, I would recommend the city to anyone who reads my blog.
I arranged to meet a couchsurfer for dinner in the evening. Estelle is from Montreal Canada and is teaching English in Japan. She is also a documentary maker and after the disaster at Fukishima, has spent many weekends out in the area and is spending the next two years making a documentary about the fisherman in the area. A fleet of 100 fishing boats was reduced to 2 but spirits are still high and the people are very happy. She asked to meet outside the fountain of Prayer in Hiroshima Memorial Park. I got there early and what a place to wait. The park is lit up wonderfully in the evening and from my location next to the fountain, I could see the Cenotaph for the A-bomb victims, Pond of Peace, Flame of Peace and the A-bomb dome, all in a perfect line.
When Estelle arrived on her bicycle, I thanked her for a great place to meet. We walked to a Okonomi-yaki restaurant, Hiroshima style. It is what Hiromshima is famous for food wise. A kind of Japanese pizza-pancake with lots of ingredients. Thoroughly delicious, but you eat the thing with a shovel! Well, a mini shovel! I couldn't get the thing in my mouth, so struggled to eat with grace! So, Estelle asked me if I felt the earthquake this morning? What earthquake? Apparently at 450am, Hiroshima shook for a few seconds, the 2nd earthquake of the week. Clearly, as in 1987, I slept through the whole thing.
After dinner, we did something strange and also fun! At the top of a Mafia run arcade are passport style photo booths, although there is a twist. You jump in with a friend, it takes 6 shots with silly expressions and then you have about 5 minutes to add extras onto the pictures. Kind of like an on the spot photo shop, these booths are famous for enlarging the size of your eyes, as lots of Japanese girls want to look like Western girls. I can only wonder why they would want to. So, sadly, I cannot yet find a scanner to upload the pictures of Estelle and I, but it will be worth the wait. We spent the next few hours in a cool cafe, where they take your shoes and you can lounge on sofa style floors, with pillows and cushions all around. I had a random cocktail and Estelle had a juice as she's in training for the Tokyo marathon.
I had agreed with my host, Yasumasa, that I would call him at 11pm to see how drunk he was. With a bit of help from Estelle, he found me and seeing as his boss went home, invited me out to meet his friends. Estelle and Yasumasa also recognised each other from a couchsurfing party a while back. I ask Yasumasa about the earthquake, he also didn't know about it until he got to work and everyone was talking about it! We had a good old laugh that we both must be deep sleepers or were really tired! So, did I experience an earthquake? My body was there, but I guess my conscience was not.
Yasumasa and his two friends were at a French restaurant drinking red wine, I had a beer. A male cheeky male friend was very talkative and spoke good English. Yasumasas' English was much better after the alcohol he consumed. There was another friend, a petite Japanese girl, but as soon as I arrived she became very shy, she couldn't even look at me let alone talk to me. Her boyfriend kept teasing her and she still wouldn't talk. Apparently before I had arrived, she had been talking non stop. I figure, just shy about talking English. Through translation she asked my age and what kind of girls I like. She soon fell asleep and I'm not sure how much they drank but everyone looked sleepy. For three people, they spent over 220 quid! Wow!
We got back around 2am and my long day of 18 hours was over!
Yasumasa dropped me off at the Hiroshima bus depot near the JR station just in time. It was around 7 hours drive to Kyoto.
I'm loving Japan. The people are so graceful and generous. The food is delicious. I wonder why it has taken me so long to come out here?
Next stop, Kyoto.