As part of the preparations for our wedding in 2009, Mr. H and I folded 200 paper cranes, which we wanted to use to decorate the tables at the wedding reception. It was nowhere near the 1,000 you are supposed to make to guarantee your future happiness, but it was about our limit! We were travelling to Japan the next day, and managed to save half a dozen of the cranes from the wedding reception. Our plan was to take them with us to Hiroshima and leave them at the Peace Memorial Park children’s monument.
Our inspiration was Sasaki Sadako (佐々木禎子), the girl who died from the radiation caused by the A-Bomb dropped on Hiroshima by the US during the Second World War. Sasaki-chan believed that if she folded 1,000 paper cranes, she would be cured from the effects of the radiation. Sadly, she wasn’t, and a Children’s Peace Monument in her honour, and in honour of the other children of Hiroshima who died from radiation poisoning, stands in the Peace Memorial Park.
We took our trip to Hiroshima from Kyoto – another of our ambitious day trips! The amazing thing about Japan is that, despite its size and spread, there are quite a lot of places that you can visit in a day because the shinkansen (新幹線/しんかんせん) travel at such high speeds. The journey from Kyoto took around 2 hours.
It was a scorchingly hot day, with temperatures of around 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit), and the city looked amazing in the sunshine. As we emerged from the station, we saw an old style tram running on the Hiroshima Electric Railway. Like the mad English fools we are, we decided that we would walk from the station to the reconstructed castle, following the Promenade of Peace (平和の道/へいわのみち).
I was glad to have my huge straw hat with me, and to be wearing my sundress, as the heat was incredible. We walked bravely on, passing shinto shrines dedicated to Inari and crossing one of the six rivers that flow through Hiroshima, and reached our destination reasonably quickly. We sat in the shade of some trees and admired the view of the castle walls before taking advantage of a vending machine in front of the castle entrance to buy some melon cream soda to quench our thirst.
We wandered around the castle grounds, enjoying the gardens and the carp and turtles swimming in the moat. The castle is sometimes referred to as Carp Castle because there are so many fish in the moat. They have an interestingly Pavlovian reaction to people standing at the edge of the water – clearly they have grown used to being fed by visitors to the castle, because they swarm to the moat edge and hold their mouths to the surface of the water! Who knew that fish could develop such conditioning? Also along the moat, close to the entrance gate, was a eucalyptus tree that had managed to survive the effects of the A-Bomb blast and was still thriving.
Further into the grounds, we found a Buddhist temple where a wedding was taking place. The bride and groom were in traditional dress. The bride’s robes looked incredibly heavy, and I imagine that she was glad to be inside the cool shade of the temple for the ceremony. Around the corner, the castle loomed over the trees. Because we wanted to go to see the A-Bomb dome and visit the Peace Memorial Park, we didn’t go into the castle. Instead, we wandered around the remains of an Army HQ building that had been set up in the castle grounds during the Second World War, but which had been completely obliterated in the heat from the A-Bomb. Nearby, a group of women were having a picnic and singing Japanese folk songs. It was a beautiful sound.
After leaving the castle grounds, we continued along the Promenade of Peace to the A-Bomb dome. This is an eerie sight – all twisted, buckled metal, broken brick and shattered concrete – but it’s also strangely beautiful.
People were wandering around the fenced off building, gazing up at it and thinking about what it represented. Apart from the noise of traffic from the nearby road and birds in the trees around the dome, everything was silent. The sight of the building made me think about the effects of war – I am a pacifist by nature, believing that dialogue is a better resolution for conflict than force. Seeing what happened in Hiroshima confirmed that belief.
From the A-Bomb Dome, we walked down through the Peace Memorial Park. There is a museum at the bottom of the park, but half way along we called into the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. Outside the building is a sculpture in the shape of a clock, stopped at the time that the A-Bomb was dropped. You descend into the Hall, and pass along a darkened curving corridor before entering a central hall which contains a mosaic built from 140,000 tiles, one for each person it is estimated was killed by the bomb or its after effects. The mosaic is a panorama of the city, showing it in the immediate aftermath of the bomb. You leave the hall and enter a visitor centre and research area, where you can listen to oral testimonies by survivors of the bomb and look at artefacts and archives that were salvaged at the time. It was a moving experience, hearing and seeing these memories of such a terrible event.
Our final stop before finding some food was the Children’s Peace Monument, to drop off our paper cranes. There were lots of people taking photographs, and some of them were also leaving cranes behind. The perspex-glazed boxes containing the cranes were almost all full, packed to the seams with strings of paper cranes, and plaques made up of cranes spelling out PEACE. We found a box that wasn’t too full and left our cranes, with a label explaining who we were and why we had made the cranes.
Our final destination was an amazing Tex-Mex restaurant that we had read about on Happy Cow, called Otis! – with an exclamation mark. It was well worth the walk from the Peace Memorial Park. The food was superb, and the surroundings were very cool. Otis! is also a music venue, and the walls and tables are covered in graffiti from visitors and musicians. We ate well, then made our way back towards the station. As we crossed a bridge over another of the rivers flowing through the city, we spotted a crazy shrine built at the edge of the bridge, with a near-tunnel of torii running up the steps to the entrance.
I really enjoyed our day trip to Hiroshima. I found the city to be a relaxed and laid back place, with an almost surfer-vibe to it. It would have been good to spend a couple of days there, to experience the nightlife and explore other places along the coast. Miyajima (宮島) is a ferry ride across the bay from Hiroshima, but we didn’t have enough time to visit. Maybe on a future trip we’ll concentrate on the west of Honshu, and make Hiroshima our base.