Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Road to Hiroshima

See the pics, click here.

I have had quite a memorable past few days. This month, Japan Railways offered a special deal where you could travel any 5 seperate days on their local train network for 8ooo yen (about $80 Canadian). Natsumi had bought a 5-day pass and still had 2 days left, so because I am on spring vacation I decided to take a trip of my own. I was thinking about where I would like to go in Japan, and only one place kept calling out to me: Hiroshima. It is one place that I just HAD to go to before I leave Japan. After a bit of searching for train schedules, I decided to take my trip from Saturday, March 31st until Monday, April 2nd. If I was to use the Shinkansen (bullet train), the trip would only take about 6 hours. It would, however, cost me about $200 Canadian each way. Using the local trains takes about 15 hours to get to Hiroshima fro Tokyo, but because of the deal, it only cost me about $15 each way. So, bright and early Saturday morning I caught the 5:02 am train from Kasukabe station. From there I had to head into Tokyo, catch a connection heading out towards Nagoya, then on to Kyoto, Osaka, Himeji, and finally Hiroshima. The distance from Tokyo to Hiroshima is roughly 1000km, so I knew it was going to be a LONG haul. Here was the schedule I followed (or tried to...)

Kasukabe --> Shinagawa (80 mins)
Shinagawa --> Atami (100mins)
Atami --> Hamamatsu (145 mins)
Hamamatsu --> Toyohashi (32 mins)
Toyohashi --> Ogaki (82 mins)
Ogaki --> Maibara (35 mins)
Maibara --> Himeji (145 mins) ***passing through Kyoto and Osaka***
Himeji --> Aioi (19 mins)
Aioi --> Okayama (63 mins)
Okayama --> Hiroshima (163 mins)

Phew! I had left Kasukabe at 5:02 am, and after all the train connections, delays, etc, I arrived in Hiroshima at about 11:15 pm. That meant the trip had taken about 18 hours! I was pretty beat, so I headed straight over to my hostel, named J-Hoppers, and crashed. I had booked a dormitory-style room at the hostel, so when I arrived, I was the last person to come into the room. I spread out my futon, and passed out.

The next morning, I was also the first one up. I got up at about 6:00 am, had some breakfast and started out. The first place I wanted to go was actually out of Hiroshima. I was bound for Miyajima island, with its famous "Floating Tori gate" and temples. Miyajima island is said to be one of the three best views in Japan, so I figured I had better check it out. Hiroshima city still uses streetcars in some areas, so I caught one of those to the station and took the 20-minute train ride to Miyajima. You access the island by ferry, and it brings you close to the Floating Tori so you can take pictures.
Once on the island, you can stroll about, pet the many tame deer that roam around, and check out the sights. I headed straight for the temples on the waterfront. There, rituals were being performed by monks, and it was a surreal feeling. I explored Miyajima temple itself, got some great views and pictures of the Floating Tori, and had a bite to eat. By that time (about 9:00 am) the area was getting packed with Japanese tourists, so I decided to head back towards the city center. Despite the gray weather, Miyajima was still a very beautiful experience.
Once I got back to the city center I headed for the place that every person comes to Hiroshima to see: the Peace Park and the Atomic Bomb dome. I had no idea what to expect before I arrived in Hiroshima. Of course, I didn't expect it to still be in a state of devastation because of the bomb - it's been 60 years after all - but I was curious as to what the vibe would be around the area. The first place I went was the Atomic Bomb (Genbaku) Dome. This is the preserved ruins of a building whose walls and metal skeleton had survived the bomb. It survived because the bomb exploded directly above it and spared to from some of the shock waves. It is now a world heritage sight, and for obvious reasons.
It was very moving to see something like that, and to be able to have something concrete to focus all of your emotions/concerns/fears about nuclear weapons. Personally, nuclear weapons to me are the single greatest threat to our survival, and therefore the biggest fear in my life, so to be in that place was incredibly moving for me.

Just across the river from there is the Hiroshima Peace Park. The is the park that houses all of the A-bomb memorials, cenotaphs, museums, etc. That day, it was extra beautiful because it was Hanami (Cherry blosson) time. The park is blanketed with cherry trees, all in bloom with beautiful white blossoms, so the message of "peace" was driven home with the force of a sledgehammer. I took my time to see all of the various memorials, many of which were just breathtaking. I also visited the Peace museum, which is set up as a full documentation of the buildup to the bomb being dropped, the aftermath, and the history since. I didn't notice the pro-Japan bias that I have seen in other museums here, and it was an incredible walk though the museum. They had scale models of Hiroshima before and after the bomb, thousands of artifacts with bomb/radiation damage, and even graphic mannequin-like representations of what people looked like minutes after the explosion. Very moving, and there was not a dry eye in the place. I also a place called the Memoral Hall for A-bomb victims, which is an underground exhibit that represents the center of Hiroshima and how the bomb radiated out from there. In the center of the room, there is a fountain that looks like a clock stopped at 8:15 am (the exact time the bomb hit) and a 360 degree panoramic image of Hiroshima with benches for sitting and reflecting silently about the tragedy. A moving place.
After leaving the peace park, I ventured over to Hiroshima castle. While it is very inpressive from the outside, going into the castle was a bit of a letdown. The interior had been rmodeled so much that it felt like being in a new house, not a centuries-old castle. It did have some impressive features though, like a huge moat, a protective rock wall, and vents in the building meant for pouring boiling oil on intruders. Still a neat stop.
Later, I headed to a local Izakaya (snack-type restaurant which serves alcohol) for some Yakitori and beer. I was just sitting quietly reading my book and having a beer, when all of a sudden an older Japanese couple sitting nearby bought me a beer. I started talking with them, and they turned out to be really fun and interesting people. After about an hour of chatting, I said I had to go. To my surprise, they paid my entire bill for me! I was humbled, as this does not happen to me very often (if ever) in Tokyo. A neat couple.
Afterwards, I headed back to the hostel to relax and try to get some sleep for the return trip the following day. This was cut short though, as I met some really interesting people at the hostel. I ended up going out for Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancake) and beer with them. The group was diverse: 1 guy from Ireland, 1 from the UK, 1 from Israel, 1 girl from Germany, a girl and her mother from Scotland, an American from Ohio, and me.

It was neat for me too, as I was the only one of the group who actually lived in Japan, the others were all just travelling here. They quizzed me for hours on various aspects of Japan and the culture, and I was glad to share my experiences with them. It was a nice reminder for me about all of the things that I have learned here in Japan that I now take for granted. Some days it seems like I really haven't progressed very much as far as really understanding Japan, the culture, and even the language. But the evening spent sharing tales with that group really gave me a good feeling inside.

The next morning at 5:30 am, I was up and catching the train home again. Aside from some minor route mistakes on the way home, I made it back safe and sound at about midnight. A short trip, but one that I equate as being as important as climbing Mount Fuji. Not only becasuse Hiroshima is an important place to visit, but also beacuse I conquered the complex cross-country Japan Rail system by myself. Chalk up another life experience for me! I am proud of myself. I likely will never do such a trip again, but if you are ever given the opportunity to do the same then try it. It is long, gruelling, frustrating, but you feel very proud and happy when you get to the finish line!

1 comment:

THE PEACEMAKERS JAPAN said...

Nori,here.I watched pics although I could not read all the journal.You seems went to Itsukushima shrine,it means a lot.Maybe you got more spiritual back up I think. Also about Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki,I used to eat that many times a while.By the way I`m very sorry I let you pay the taxi paymant.These days I almost brought back the feeling of fingering on fletboad. often go to Abbeyroad and talking about some plan with Master Eguchi.See you soon.Nori wrote