Monday, September 26, 2005

In a word, Hiroshima

As predicted I traveled to Hiroshima and had a very active weekend in the city.

I finally saw the gap between Kyushu and Honshu. I am fairly sure that the path is an underwater tunnel if traveling by Shinkansen, as by Bus you traverse the channel via a suspension bridge of prodigious size.

Hiroshima sprawls around the base of several hills that break up the overall layout of the city. It has a nicely functional and easy to use tram system that also has the benefit of being relatively cheap.

Many of the same comparisons that I drew when describing my trip to Nagasaki are sufficient to describe Hiroshima. The same serenity exists, backlit by the appalling reality of what took place there.

Friday afternoon was the time of our arrival. We found our hotel, a small, cleanish place just next to the peace park. The owner had a tank with a small turtle and crab combo, another with a fish, and another with a very large beetle. We slept two or three to a room, depending on who needed somewhere to sleep.

Friday afternoon and the early evening were taken up by the obvious tours of the nuclear sites and museums. Hiroshima Peace Park seems to be twice the size of the Nagasaki peace park due to the geographic layout of the city and as it also incorporates the cities museum on the subject. The Peace Park itself takes up the majority of the delta island in the centre of the city. The large bridge intersection at the top of the island being the bombardiers target. The resulting devastation sweeping a large area of this delta clean, and the river banks providing natural borderlines for the park.

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Grim reminders preserved in the museum. The original orders and process of the U.S. military’s decision to subject Hiroshima to atomic bombing enlarged, the relevant passage highlighted in blood red. Keloid scars preserved in acrylic resin. Enlarged photo’s of children disfigured with burns that would prove fatal within a day. Japanese paintings in the classical style depicting the suffering of the day. A toddlers tricycle, hideously melted and deformed, bears testament to the damage inflicted on its riders young body. A litany of horrors in hall after hall.

Emergence from the museum into evening sunlight feels like a slice of Eden compared to the cocoon of remembered hell incorporated into the carapace of the museum. I film some young buskers sitting under one of the main bridges, using its architecture as an amplifier. People exchange cameras and snap photos. I ring the peace bell.

The Atomic Bomb dome, forever preserved and reinforced to allow it to look exactly as it has done since the day the light of a thousand suns exploded into existence 600 metres above and just slightly to the left of it, broods behind its fences. A sarcophagus, trapped within its bars and presenting incontrovertible evidence for all to see.

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We stay out that evening until about 4:30 in the morning, exploring Hiroshima’s nightlife and running into Dave Ashby of all people.

Electronic dartboards are fun.

We travel as a group out to Miyajima Island, of the coast of the mainland and accessible via a ten minute ferry ride. Miyajima is an idyllic coastal island. It really is every bit as nice as this photo makes out

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Tame deer roam over the streets of the Island. You have to be careful if you have paper packages as they go for paper and t-shirts, but it’s very nice as you get to play with bambi.

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High mountains run over its back and its mainland facing coast is home to a very large and rather famous series of temples. The temples are themselves built on piers that just out over the beach. Puffer fish swoop around under the floorboards, providing game for the Herons. An infinitely old pagoda looms over the surrounds.

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Miyajima Island is home to this exceptionally famous piece of Japanese scenery.
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The famous floating Tori of Miyajima Island was built around 600 A.D. and is one of the top three most photographed landmarks in all of Japan. If you queue up for a little while, you can even get your picture taken like this.

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That is probably one of my most classic, “I’ve been there photo’s”, so I hope you appreciated the chance to gaze in awe and wonder upon my remarkable visage once again. I’ll give you a few minutes to regain your composure after being subjected to my fabulous appearance.

The morning, and yes, it was the morning for despite staying out until 4:30 am we had left the hotel again by 9:30, wore on and we decided to enhance our understanding of Miyajima by taking one of the famous climbing tracks up into the hills. Not one of us fully understood the scale of this Endeavour as we set out on our trek with four hours sleep, having breakfasted on McDonalds, little or no water and our food supplies consisting of four Oreo cookies and one third of a bag of honey covered nuts for five people. Connor was wearing Jeans. Jon, Jayne and Sarah were all in sand shoes. We went up into the hills and the pace was really nice and easy going. Enormous spider webs littered the path, providing amateur entomologists with plenty of eye candy. Very nice.

We had been moving upwards steadily for around half to three quarters of an hour when we arrived at a steep incline, steps carved into the rock in places. We ran into someone and inquired how far to the top, thinking it maybe only a few more minutes.

“Oh it’s at least another hour”

Straight up. Remember those sheer Asian style mountains I described this time last week? Impossibly steep looking? Yeah. To put it in context for those in the know, this was like scaling up into the Rimutaka ranges from sea level, yet only covering a distance of two kilometers total.

We push onwards and upwards, climbing higher and higher above Hiroshima as the afternoon wears on. We pass wild deer grazing on the mountainside, me and Connor both think we catch glimpses of monkeys back in the undergrowth fleeing from our path. Mt. Misen, as it turns out we were scaling, has a final height of around 520 metres above sea level.

Eventually we break out of the forest onto the mountains ridge line. The view of the islands is worth every step. We make our way out onto the edge and are able to catch a full view of Hiroshima below us. This spot is a sub-summit of the mountain range. Just slightly to the left and out of frame is the summit of the mountain, another 100 metres down into a ravine and then another 130 metres up again.

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We keep on going, determined to get to the summit. Scenic temples dot the landscape. Eventually we reach the summit observation platform. It gets cold at this point, the wind picks up. We catch the ropeway car down an improbably steep incline, dine in Miyajima and head back to the hotel, sleep and then venture out into the nightlife of Hiroshima again. A more risqué area tonight, finding clubs through the forests of hostess bars. Girls in dresses hand out flyers as Yakuza pimps with earpieces and microphones find prospective clients and direct their girls. The next day we make a journey to the mall and eventually make it back to little old Kashima by about 7ish. Great weekend and to cap it off for now here’s a photo taken from the summit of Mt. Misen looking down at one of the small towns near Hiroshima.

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