Monday, October 11, 2010

Hiroshima (広島), a Modern Reminder of the Cruel Past

The A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima

This Thursday to Saturday, Oct 7 - 9, the AKP people organized a field trip along the southern coast of Honshu Island. We visited Bizen, a city known for its traditional pottery (what is NOT traditional in Japan these days?), Kurashiki, a city known for its traditional houses (again, right?), the city of Hiroshima, known for the atomic bombing 65 years ago, and Miyajima Island, with its Torii. I'll start from the beginning.

We left Kyoto at 8.30 in the morning on Thursday. Not by Shinkansen as the previous AKP groups used to, but by bus, because it is much cheaper and the AKP is apparently running out of money due to the historically strong yen and a weak dollar. The bus ride did have its spells, though. Mainly, because Japan is a mountainous country, we spent a good half of the trip driving through tunnels, and watching beautiful mountainous scenery while outside of the tunnels. Actually, according to Kent, Japan has the longest tunnel network of all the countries in the world (excluding Kazakhstan of course); a fact that I only came to believe after Saturday. Anyway, after three or so hours on the highway, we arrived in Bizen, known for its traditional pottery. No offense, but they were still just mugs, cups, bowls, jars, vases, chopstick holders, incense holders, candle holders, napkin holders, etc, and though pretty, they definitely deserve no special attention in this blog. The AKP people seemed to think the same as they scheduled our visit to less than an hour.

We continued west to Kurashiki, a city with a beautiful historical center full of museums and traditional shops. It is especially well known for the local delicacy called Kibidango, a sweet cake made from a powder of millet and rice. Rather than spending the beautiful sunny day in a museum, I walked along the city's Kibidango shops and enjoyed this great delicacy in its various forms. We spent the night at a hotel near the Inland Sea, which had an Ofuro (hot tub) with the view of the 13.1 km long Great Seto Bridge (Seto-Ohashi), connecting the Islands of Honshu and Shikoku through a series of smaller islands.

Early the next morning we continued on to Hiroshima, the supposed highlight of the whole trip. Hiroshima today is known for two things. First is the atomic bombing of Aug 6, 1945, and second is Okonomiyaki, a delicious pancake-like meal. I will start with the atomic bomb. As you may well imagine, the explosion released by the fission of approximately 1kg of Uranium 235 transformed Hiroshima from a booming military outpost into radioactive hell within mere seconds. Sixty thousand people died on the spot, with over a hundred thousand following them within the next year, and even more dying untimely due to leukemia and such caused by radiation poisoning. I could go on talking about the reasoning behind and morality of throwing the Little Boy on Hiroshima and the Fat Man on Nagasaki, but because enough has been said by others, I would rather talk about the city itself. Obviously, because sixty-five years ago Hiroshima was virtually erased from Earth's surface, there are no buildings older than that. That doesn't mean, however, that the new city was not built according to the old plans. In fact, it has the same narrow streets and cool houses with funky Asian roofs, the old castle was rebuilt to its old image, and the old bridges look the same as they did before that one horrible August morning. The only building which was not rebuilt is the Atomic Bomb Dome, today a peace monument and the main symbol of Hiroshima. The Dome, built in 1915 by the Czech architect Jan Letzel, was the only building close to the hypocenter of the atomic explosion which did not entirely collapse. Now it serves as a grim memory of what happened and is only maintained to look exactly the same way it did after the explosion. It indeed carries a strong message: as you watch Hiroshima's panorama of new, tall, glass-metal buildings, the view of this dreary ruin in the back is sure to give you goose bumps. Because it was raining all day long, I also went to the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Museum, which was interesting though I didn't learn anything new. We also got a lecture by an atomic bomb survivor (Hibakusha). It was a woman in her late seventies with some serious scars on her body as well as her soul, and her story was truly sad. But enough of that. The second thing that Hiroshima is famous for is Okonomiyaki, a grilled pancake (yaki) with anything you like inside (okonomi). What makes Hiroshima Okonomiyaki special is that they add buckwheat noodles (soba) inside it, and make it on a huge bar-like oven right in front of you. The one I got was so huge and thick that I was barely able to eat it, and cost only some ¥800, or $10.
Okonomiyaki in the process of being made.

That same rainy evening we took the ferry to the Miyajima Island, just off the coast of Hiroshima. The Island is famous for its Torii (Shinto gate), which stands partly in the sea and is accessible by foot during low tide and by boat during high tide. It is also famous for the local sweet called Momiji Manju, a maple leaf-shaped pastry with sweet filling. Most interestingly, though, there are numerous deer everywhere, roaming the island freely and begging tourists for food. Because they are supposed to be manifestations of some sort of Kami (Shinto god), they are not to be killed. In other words, if I were a deer, I would live in Miyajima, the deer paradise. Despite having little time and despite (or perhaps because of) the fame of Miyajima’s Torii, the Momiji Manju factories and such, me and a couple of my friends decided to hike the highest peak on the island, Mt. Misen, instead. Sadly it was raining, and so we didn't get much view from the top of this 535m tall mountain. However, there was a restaurant on top of the mountain (it's Japan, remember?), and the above-mentioned deer were roaming inside!!! the restaurant as if it were theirs. Many a Czech restaurant would pay loads of money to have delicious Goulash meat coming right through their doorstep, I reckon. But again, these deer are gods, right, and therefore cannot be killed. We hiked down, ate some Momiji Manju, and embarked on the 7 hour journey back to Kyoto. It was a worthy trip, not to mention free.
The Torii in Miyajima, with a couple of newlyweds. Notice the two deer.

On another note, I’m sorry for making this entry so long. I know I promised to keep them shorter because otherwise no one bothers to read them. I just couldn't help it, sorry. Oh yes, please comment! I love comments, they’re great! They make this blog much more interesting. They make me want to write more. So please, comment! :)


  1. OK, long but so interesting I almost forgot to go to the school. I appreciate it!
    What a nice coincidence... the dome was built by Czech architect Jan Letzel.. :-)

  2. Must have been incredibly moving to stand there where that devastation took place. Thank you for sharing all the information. :)