Day 14: A peaceful day in Hiroshima

Trip Start Apr 08, 2010
Trip End May 06, 2010

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Flag of Japan  , Chugoku,
Thursday, April 22, 2010

Destination of the day: Hiroshima.
From Kumamoto, we took a Ltd. Express to Hakata, and then a Shinkansen Hikari Railstar to Hiroshima station.
Contrary to what was forecast, the weather was not so bad! It was not raining at all, but just a grey sky.
We walked to our hostel, K's House Hiroshima, by following the tram line. This place was much smaller than the one in Kyoto, and thus it felt more friendly and human.

After checking in, we stopped at a Udon restaurant, Nokiya, and we had there a delicious lunch. Very interesting details were given in the menu :
"Sanuki Udon is the traditional noodles of the Suzuki district, Kagawa, Shikoku, Japan. The mixture of flour, salt and water plus using leg power to stretch the mixture leads to the unique texture of Sanuki Udon.

Mr. Kusunoki, who is the owner of this shop, has studied in a noodle shop in the Sanuki district, and opened the first shop at Matoba, Hiroshima, in 2002. This shop opened in 2008. He has the dream of spreading the merit of sanuki udon in Hiroshima, which is the center of the Chugoku district, and his hometown. Everyday noodles are hand-made here by ourselves. You will surely enjoy the fresh taste! Have a good time!"

Sure we had a great time!
A must-go!

We then walked towards the main "attraction" of the city: memorial park. You can take the tram, but everything is feasible by foot.
We made a stop in a huge Yamaha shop, selling music instruments (trumpets, piano, drums, electric guitars…) in a 7-floor building. Among the products presented was the "Tenori-on", a digital device that we discovered during Emilie Simon's gig in Toulouse. It enables you to program music beats, loops, in different layers, and the design is very cool since it is basically a grid of 256 buttons which are lit by LED when pushing it with your fingers.
Anyway, O. loved it and put it on his birthday gift list ;-)

We finally reached the Peace Memorial Park (Heiwa-koen), and the first main attraction : the A-bomb dome. Today, it is the last building which remains standing from the city before the bombing. Actually, one should not think it was the only building which was not destroyed by the bomb. Several other building were still standing, but they were demolished later on, sometimes many years after 1945.
The A-bomb dome has the specificity of standing very close to where the bomb exploded, and it was decided to keep it standing as long as possible as a symbol of the tragedy, for no one to forget.

For the record, the building used to be the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall before the bombing. It was very much appreciated by the inhabitants of the city for its particular architecture. It was renamed "A-bomb Dome" after the bombing.
If this building is one of those who were not destroyed, it is for two main reasons: 1) as said previously, the bomb exploded almost just above the building (at 580m of the ground), and thus the shock wave was less strong, 2) the building was made of reinforced concrete, which is a very solid material.

For the record again, the target of the B-52's pilot who dropped the bomb was the very characteristic T-shaped bridge which stood very close to the A-bomb dome ; indeed it was very easy to spot it from the sky, and it was roughly at the center of the city. Still, the bridge has not been fully destroyed by the blast. Nowadays, it has been rebuilt, it is still a symbol of the city, and it it the pathway from the city center to the memorial park.

We then walked the the hypocenter,  which is the place where the bomb would have landed if it had not exploded at 580m of the ground. It it thus the projection of the epicenter onto the ground. The hypocenter is only 160m away from the A-bomb dome, in a small and quiet street, and it is quite unreal, when you stand in front of the sign indicating it, to realize where you are…

Afterwards, we walked to the Children's peace monument. It is a very moving place.

For the record, this monument stands in memory of all children who died as a result of the atomic bombing. It was originally inspired by the death of Sadako Sasaki who was exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb at the age of two. Ten years later, she developed leukemia that ultimately ended her life. Sadako's untimely death compelled her classmates to begin a call for the construction of a monument for children who died due to the atomic bomb. Built with contributions from more than 3200 schools in Japan and donors in nine countries, the monument was unveiled on May 5, 1958. At the top of the nine-meter monument, a bronze statue of a young girl lifts a golden crane entrusted with dreams for a peaceful future. The inscription on the stone block under the monument reads: "This is our cry. This is our prayer. For building peace in this world".

The Children's Peace monument was all the more moving than several groups of scholars were coming with their teachers to make speeches and prayers,  and deposit hundreds of colorful paper cranes in special vitrines around the monument.
Indeed, there is a old tradition in Japan saying that if you fold a thousand paper cranes, your wishes come true. Consequently, when the young Sadako discovered she was sick, she started to fold hundreds of paper cranes, hoping it might cure her. She passed away before finishing, but her classmates were so moved that they finished the foldings. Since then, many children in schools keep folding paper cranes in memory of Sadako.

We then walked to the Peace Flame, which was lit with the millennial fire of Kobo Daishi that we saw in Koya-san. The fire is supposed to be burning as long as there will be atomic weapons on the Earth.  
The Flamme is close to the Cenotaph, a monument containing the names of all known victims of the bombing.

The A-bomb Dome, the Peace Flame, the Cenotaph and the Peace Memorial Museum are all aligned in the Peace Memorial Park, and a single architect designed the museum, the flame and the cenotaph: Kenzo Tange.

We finally entered the Peace Memorial Museum, which presented all the chronology of events before, during and after the bombing. The political aspect was quite well presented, and many very interesting documents were shown, like the choice of the city to bomb, the order of bombing written by the President of the USA…
It was quite amazing to learn how Hiroshima was chosen:
1) it was decided to bomb Japan and not Germany because in case of failure, the bomb could have been understood and used by the Nazis (when it was thought that the Japanese did not have the knowledge at that time to understand the device).
2) bombing Japan was a better idea (according to the Americans) than invading it and continue the war on its soil, because they wanted to end the war as soon as possible in order to prevent the USSR to invade the country and extend its influence in the region.
3) Moreover, if the Americans could end the war with this bomb, it would justify to the American people the huge expenditure that was necessary for "Manhattan Project".
4) the city to be bombed had to be a large city (there are several of them in Japan…) with a strong military presence (17 cities were selected)
5) finally, Hiroshima appeared to be the only city in which there were (supposingly) no allied prisoners of war
6) and in which the sky was clear that day !

Anyway, the visit of the museum was very interesting and mind-nourrishing. Many scholar groups were also visiting, but they had all left when we finished.

We then made a quick stop (before it closes) at the Peace Memorial for the Victims of the Atomic Bomb, which is a new building (also designed by Tange) where you can find many archives (paper, video, electronic) on the people who died after the bombing.

To finish, we wandered for a while in the Memorial Park which was very quiet and deserted by all the scholars and tourists. The good point in Hiroshima is that you can really do everything by foot, from the city center to the Memorial back, and return.

We finally returned to K's House, had dinner there, and made a phone reservation (thanks to the nice girl at the front desk!) for dinner the next day at Naoshima…

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