This morning we traveled along the southern San’yo coast on our way to Hiroshima which is about 250 miles from Kyoto. Our drive took us over roads that are quite simply engineering marvels. They were built through mountainous areas with one tunnel after the next and raised roadways multiple stories above the solid ground below. Hiro showed us two short films: an animated film based on a popular 12th century tale and a short biography of a famous sumo wrestler.
We were in Kurashiki, home to Japan’s finest denim, a piggy bank museum, and crazy-cute masking tape, in time for lunch, an ice cream cone, and free time. It was enjoyable to explore the Bikan district where traditional buildings such as merchant homes and old storehouses have been preserved. The town, known for the white walls of its residences and the willow trees lining the banks of the Kurashiki River, prospered in the 1600s and is thriving today.
We continued on to Hiroshima. On August 6, 1945, during World War II, an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb over Hiroshima, a manufacturing center with a population of about 350,000. The explosion killed a quarter of the population instantly and tens of thousands more died over time of severe burns and radiation exposure. Besides the cost in lives, the bomb essentially wiped out the city, so what we’ll see and the places we will visit are all part of a young, redesigned, and reimagined city.
Our day ended with a visit to Hiroshima Castle, originally begun in the late 1500s by the feudal lord as the dominate feature of a castle town built at the mouth of the Ota River. Also called Carp Castle, it was beautifully reconstructed after the war and now sits smack dab in the middle of a very modern city. The castle features an impressive moat and an outside balcony at the top of the keep which offers panoramic views of the city and surrounding area. Yes, we walked up the 117 steps to enjoy the view. The interior has exhibits portraying the history of Hiroshima and the castle.
Our day had a somber beginning with a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. This memorial, in the center of town, is dedicated to the city’s sad legacy as the first city in the world to suffer a nuclear attack and to the memories of the bomb’s direct and indirect victims. It is home to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum with its extensive collection of artifacts from the time of the bombing and exhibits that chronicle the history of Hiroshima before and after the war. It is the most popular of Hiroshima’s destinations for international visitors as well as school fieldtrips from all over Japan.
Before leaving the park we visited the museum and the haunting and now iconic Atomic Bomb Dome, the skeletal remains of a structure that miraculously survived the August 6 attack. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a symbol of peace. Near the Dome is a statue dedicated to all the children orphaned, killed, and severely injured on that fateful day. School children lead the effort to collect donations in remembrance of Sadako Sasaki, a girl who suffered from leukemia as a result of the bomb. She folded a thousands cranes in the hopes that this would restore her health. Sadly it did not, but it prompted the folding of countless paper cranes in her honor. Our group left a paper crane that Hiro’s husband had prepared for us.
In the mood for a pick-me-up we were all glad to head to the ferry for the short ride to the island of Miyajima. We explored the small island and visited the Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, situated over the water. First built in 593, it is most famous for its 60 ton, 51 feet tall, cinnabar (orange-red) tori gate. At high tide the tori gate and shrine buildings seem to float on the water. The timing of our visit was perfect because it aligned with a Noh performance at the shrine. We were clueless about the storyline but enjoyed seeing the costume and mask of the main actor as well as the music accompanying his slow, purposeful movements. We strolled along Omotesando Street, the main shopping area, on the hunt for lunch and any little bobble that caught our eye. We were tempted by the local specialty, a sweet pastry shaped like a Japanese maple leaf, but the mystery of what filling was inside scared us off. We had a perfect view of the shrine from the boat as we left the dock. It was beautifully framed by the mountain in the background.
Miyajima is one of the 700+ islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Dan and I talked about being the only foreigners on our overnight cruise through the Inland Sea when we lived here.
Our day ended with a beautiful farewell dinner in the hotel. We said our goodbyes to our fellow travelers (two family groups of seven each plus a couple from Miami) and to Hiroko who we all agreed had done a fabulous job!
… Just a Few More things …
A flame of peace honoring the victims of the nuclear bombing has burned in Hiroshima since 1946.
The oleander was the first thing to bloom after the atomic blast, so it is now the official flower of Hiroshima.
The crane is the Japanese symbol of longevity and happiness.
It is compulsory to attend nine years of formal education.
Most children opt to finish high school though, and 68% go on to university.
Baseball is the number one sport in Japan. The Hiroshima Carp is the home team here.