After a rainy Tokyo start (and a rainy night all through the bus ride down) I was expecting more of the same in Hiroshima, but when I got off the bus I found a late fall day that couldn’t be more perfect- just a bit chilly with blue skies and colorful foliage anywhere you looked.
After a morning coffee and cleanup, I started walking to the place that most folks will likely associate with Hiroshima- Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, near the epicenter of the August 6th, 1945 detonation of the first deployed atom bomb. The most intact building, and now biggest symbol of the park is the A-Bomb Dome, the skeletal remains of the Czech-designed Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall. This dilapidated, haunted-looking structure situated right in the middle of a busy commercial area and next to a beautiful park and river is almost eerie, and feels very much like a holy place- a temple maybe, or a cathedral dedicated to the worst humanity has to offer.
The nearby Memorial Park, with its varied statuary, bells, and monuments, is a more peaceful-feeling place, although the presence of the Atom Bomb Memorial Mound, final repository of the ashes of 70,000 unidentified or family-less bomb victims belies its serene environment. Likewise, the Peace Memorial Museum really drives home the devastation and fallout (really poor pun unintended) of that day, with scores of contemporary photographs and accounts and macabre and deeply sad artifacts like the blackened fingernails and skin of a young boy whose Mom kept to show her husband, who never returned from the war. There’s also some inspiration and hope to be found there. I was especially touched by the fact that the Mayor of Hiroshima to this day sends an official letter of protest to every nuclear bomb test worldwide. This dogged focus on peace is one I hope more people adapt.
Other nearby monuments include Honkawa Elementary School, one of the few buildings left standing after the bombing (of which a small side building is still standing today) and a small, nondescript plaque marking the exact epicenter of where the bomb exploded, 600-odd meters above in the sky.
I decided to try go for something different after this, and took a ferry out to Miyajima, billed as one of Japan’s three most scenic spots. You may recognize the iconic O-torii Gate of the 12th century Itsukushima Shrine from many a Japanese travel brochure. Besides this raised, brightly-colored temple and gate, this picturesque, fall foliage-rich island has plenty of other centuries-old pagodas, shrines, and temples to visit, my favorite of which is the hillside DashoinTemple.
Besides it’s vantage point and classical Japanese architecture, this temple also gave me an interesting incident when I shed my shoes and followed a couple of Japanese folks down some stairs below the main temple and found myself in a pitch black hallway I could only navigate by feeling on both sides with my hands and ducking to what I hoped was a low enough stoop. Halfway through the tunnel I came upon the main attraction, a series of different golden Buddha portraits gleaming in the darkness. It was an unexpected, but pretty cool part of my day.
Lunch was the southern bar food delicacy okonomiyaki, an awesome, hard to describe griddle-fried treat consisting of layers of dough, cabbage, green onions, pork slices, noodles, teriyaki-type sauce, and cheese, topped by a big fried egg. Served with a surprisingly delicious, hoppy island-brewed beer, it was a great way to recharge the batteries.
After returning by ferry, I walked over to Shukkeien, a small but gorgeous traditional Japanese garden. It is situated around a small pond full of massive tourist-fed carp, dotted with small pagodas, stone formations, and criss-crossed by little wooden and stone bridges.
From there I headed to the rebuilt Hiroshima Castle, originally from the 1590s but destroyed in the A-bomb blast. The main rebuilt portion is the former tower keep, which now houses a museum full of shogun-era clothing, armor, and weaponry. The katanas in particular were incredible, looking a sharp as they must have been when they were brand-new. At the top you can step outside for a panoramic view of the city. With the sun setting over the green forested hills spotted with brilliant fall colors, it was a fine sight indeed.
After that I had to kill time until my night bus for Osaka left. The bulk of that was spent in a coffee shop typing this and catching up on internet tasks, but I made sure to hunt down a good dinner first. What I ended up having I was already familiar with from Korea, but I wanted to try the Japanese original to compare. Breaded, fried pork cutlet, or dongase, is very popular in Korea, and seems to be even more so in Japan, where it goes by the name of tongkatsu. The place I was at served up a whole meal consisting of that, tempura fried shrimp, a cheese-filled chicken cutlet, and sides including ever-present miso soup, pickled vegetables, and a savory custard with mushrooms and shrimp. It was an excellent meal all told, although honestly not all that different in taste from the Korean version (as opposed to ramen, which is muuch better in Japan).