April 26, 2008

Hiroshima - Peace Park and Seeing The City

This is the first post on our three-day trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima. We spent one and a half days in each place. This was the first of our two planned Golden Week Trips. As you will see if you keep reading, both Hiroshima and Miyajima were incredible places to visit.

On Saturday morning we took the Shinkansen out to Hiroshima. By Shinkansen, Hiroshima is only a bit more than an hour away from Shin Kobe station. It was Jacob and Lauren's (and Ilena's) first ride on the bullet train. As we were pulling out we had this great cross-cultural greeting exchange - Lauren waved to the conductor, he bowed back, and in return she wai'ed back.

After arriving at Hiroshima Station, taking a short trolley ride to our hotel, and dropping our bags, we made our first terrific find. While walking, we happened upon a sign outside a bank that said that the bank housed a collection of origami cranes that had been sent to Hiroshima by children and school classes all over the world over the past years. (these paper cranes are a symbol of peace, and the tradition of origami cranes has its routes in a famous and heart-wrenching story about a young girl named Sadako Sasaki who died as a result of the A-bomb ) We decided to check it out. Good call. This free exhibit, manned by two security guards on the third floor of the Bank of Japan, was one of the most touching things we had ever seen:

We then strolled up to the Hondori Mall, where we lunched on famous Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki (which, we must say is far better than the Osaka-style - the difference is that it is made with soba noodes, more cabbage, and is carefully layered.) It may look a little strange to the uninitiated, but trust us - its awesome.

On our way to the Peace Park (Heiwa Koen), we saw some interesting stores, some of which specialized in traditional Japanese anime characters, like these:

The Peace Park is the center of Hiroshima. As we arrived, an elderly Japanese man was playing some eerie music and the weather was overcast. It definitely felt a little strange. But that feeling soon changed. And not only because the sun came out. The Peace Park is beautifully arranged in both concept and design. It includes the Children's Peace Monument, the Peace Flame, a saddle-shaped Memorial Cenotaph and the Peace Museum itself, all of which which line up and frame the A-Bomb Dome, which sits across the river from the park.

We had seen pictures of the A-Bomb Dome before and never really "got it." It's different when you are there. This was basically the only building left standing after the Bomb was dropped on at 8:15 AM on August 6, 1945.

The Museum itself was excellently done, and addressed all aspects of the bombing - the politics, the history, the science, and the deep human tragedy. It includes exhibits that try to explain why the bomb was dropped and why Hiroshima was the target. There are a side-by-side model city-scapes that show Hiroshima before the bomb and Hiroshima after the bomb. The effect of these before and after shots are just devastating. There are also some graphic sections that have pictures, artifacts, and accounts of the bombing. We took turns in the Museum, because we didn't want to take the kids in. (Afterwards, we both agreed that we could have. Being there, in the Peace Park, we certainly fielded many questions about war and peace and bombs. Which is a tricky thing to do with these little guys. They certainly asked piercingly intelligent questions, which we did our best to answer.) Here are some shots from inside the Museum:

The most striking and beautiful part of all of this is that a place that endured such a tragedy has turned it around into rallying call for peace.

The remainder of our day in Hiroshima after the Peace Park was a hodge-podge of neat little experiences. It is a compact city, and it is easy to get around either on foot or by street car trolley. Outside of the Children's Museum, we found a train for the kids to climb on:

We walked by the Hiroshima Carp Baseball Stadium (the "C" for Carp baseball caps look like the Cincinnati Reds). We walked by, but took a pass on the Hiroshima Art Museum. (Somehow its impressive collection of French Impressionist Art, albeit interesting, didn't seem like a "must see" here).

More our speed, in a nearby skate-park area, we watched some teens doing rad tricks on bikes and with balls. Jacob was spellbound. (So were we!)

We also happened upon a practice session for girls dance competition, as well as a huge karate tournament at the Prefectural Gymnasium. We were the only non-Japanese people in the gym. And it was great! (It was the random finds like this that really made our day!).

After a much-needed ice cream break on the grounds of Hiroshima Castle, we decided to forgo a trek all the way up to the Castle itself.

Instead we poked around the grounds and some of the outer building a bit, and then followed some loud cheering noises to a nearby girls High School tennis tournament. (As with the baseball games here in Japan, the tennis matches also included coordinated and choreographed cheering by one side or the other depending on which side scored a point). In this hotbed of teenage Japanese girls, Jacob, and especially Lauren, were mobbed at all sides by girls screaming Kawaii Kawaii (calling Lauren kawaii (cute) seems to be a biological imperative here; and the teenage girls are simply an unstoppable force). They are very sweet, but its also a bit overwhelming at times. Here is a shot of our new best friends from the tennis tourney:

Back at the hotel for a rest, the kids tried on the Comfort Hotel robes and the grown-ups snacked on our first 7-11 sushi (not bad). We then headed back out to the Handori area for dinner and found an absolutely stellar Tempura restaurant called Tempura Tenko. This was our first true tempura meal here in Japan, and it did not disappoint. The staff, who spoke English very well helped us choose our meals and politely explained which dishes should be dipped in salt, which in curry, and which in tempura sauce. We dined on a truly dazzling array of seafood and vegetables, and it was all so light and fresh and delicious. It is going to be hard to eat what we've previously been calling tempura ever again.

After dinner we were all in good spirits, as we held hands and walked back down Rijo Dori to our hotel. Since we were all in one room, we crashed early with the kids. After today's terrific, but whirlwind tour, that was definitely a good thing.


Lisa said...

Wow, you guys are really doing it up and i'm loving reading about it. You're getting it all in...reminds me when i was in spain. I can't wait to experience Japan with you all!
Enjoy the rest of golden week!

jackaw said...

How do the Japanese deal with you as Americans -- specifically in Hiroshima? Does anyone mention any of the surrounding details? You know:Pearl Harbor? The war in Europe? The occupation? I remember staying in a family's home in Vienna in 1986 for a few weeks and the husband was quick to engage me in conversation about how they and all their friends were anti German and pro American. I didn't really discuss it. Japan is obviously different and obviously much more scarred -- by us. Difficult. Hard to think about.

Anyway. Be well. Talk soon. Love~!

The Kasdan Family said...

We thought it would feel weird as an American, but we really didn't. There are so many tourists there and the vibe is so focused on peace that it wasn't as strange as we expected.

The Museum discussed WWII in addressing why the U.S. decided to drop the bomb. They focused on political reasons and the expense of developing the bomb; Pearl Harbor was not mentioned.