• Day44

    Exploring Hiroshima

    October 10, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Up bright and early this morning as we had a lot of stuff to see! First stop was a train ride about 30 minutes down the coast to a ferry wharf, then a ferry across to Itsukushima Island. This island is the location of the famous floating shrine, where an iconic red shinto gateway (⛩) seems to just float in the water. It's not floating, of course, but placed in very shallow water. Unfortunately we couldn't actually see it, as it was covered in scaffolding to clean it before the Tokyo olympics next year! Ah well.

    There's still a whole shrine to see here as well, which we spent a bit of time exploring as it was quite nice. Like the gateway, it's constructed pier-style out over the water so at high tide it looks to be floating. Although we'd missed high tide by an hour or so, it was just sticking up out of mud flats which was a bit funny. The idea is that the island itself is sacred, so the shrine and gateway were constructed out over the water so mortals didn't have to set foot on the island during their pilgrimages. I don't know how that works now, since they have shops and hotels everywhere, and even a cable-car up to the top of the island. A sacred cash cow perhaps.

    We'd started early partly for the tide but also for the crowds, and as we got the ferry and train back to Hiroshima, the crowds heading the other direction were pretty heavy! Grabbed a quick 7-11 lunch in downtown Hiroshima ahead of our next stop: the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. This is the famous domed building that survived being essentially at ground zero of the atomic blast - the bomb went off about 150 metres south-east and 600 metres above the building. It was aimed at the bridge next to the domed building (then known as the Industrial Exposition Hall) and missed by a few hundred metres, but when your bomb obliterates an entire city it doesn't really matter that much.

    70,000 people died instantly, and another 70,000 died over the next 12 months from burns, radiation, injuries and other diseases. Pretty horrible stuff. The building itself survived because the bomb was essentially straight overhead and the pillars were strong enough to withstand a downward blast. It's preserved these days as a memorial for those who died, and is the centrepiece of the Hiroshima Peace Park, which we spent some time exploring. The building itself is also a World Heritage Site - one of the rare ones that focuses on war which UNESCO has typically shied away from.

    We spent a couple of hours in the nearby peace museum as well which again was heavy going. Lots of brutal exhibits - stories, photographs, clothing and personal items from people killed and the like. But I had a slight reaction to it as well, because it slowly dawned on me that it focused entirely on the "what", and didn't even mention the "why". Unlike German museums which are quite open about the fact Germany was essentially destroyed because of the crimes of Hitler, the Third Reich and the Nazis, it almost seemed to treat the bombing as an act of god, like an earthquake or hurricane that just sort of happened. At one point it even glossed over some of the soldiers killed were Korean conscripts - not mentioning that they were only there because Japan occupied Korea and had conscripted these poor guys to fight for Japan!

    Don't get me wrong, was it a horrible thing? Definitely. Was it a war crime? Absolutely. But definitely some food for thought. It's also worth noting that Japan has never actually apologised or even expressed remorse for what happened during the war - not for their aggression, forced labour, comfort women, POWs, nothing. No small wonder that other Asian countries aren't particularly fond of the Japanese. And you'll probably be surprised to find that under Japan's constitutional monarchy, their current emperor is literally the grandson of Hirohito, the wartime emperor. So yeah. Make of that what you will.

    Wandered back to our hotel via a few cool shopping streets which were interesting to check out. Japanese shops tend to be quite intense with a lot of noise, light and writing, so quite a fascinating cultural experience. We also saw a pet shop that had a litter of dachshund puppies which was cute but also a bit sad. Dachshunds are a very popular breed in Japan and we've seen a lot of them already which is cool.

    Back to the hostel where we decided to stay in for the evening instead of heading out.
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