June 25, 2015

A sobering day at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Next stop on our Japanese road trip, Hiroshima. Sadly, this is a city that needs no introduction. As I looked out the hotel window, it was hard to imagine that 70 years ago, this August, this city was nothing more than a pile of rubble.

One of the first questions that came to mind was, why Hiroshima?  After a quick google search, a few of the reasons were; there was a high concentration of troops and military factories here, it had been largely untouched by bombings thus far, and the geography made it a good target to measure  effectiveness. (You can see from this picture I took on the ferry the previous day, that Hiroshima is cradled between a mountain range and the sea, thereby creating a 'bowl' for the blast. This bowl helped to keep the blast somewhat contained from further destruction to more outlying areas.) 

We spent a sobering morning wandering the grounds of the Hiroshima Memorial Peace park, and learning about the effects of war.

The arched structure is the cenotaph, or "empty tomb", for all of those who perished in the blast.

Also, the Eternal Flame of Peace, which will be distinguished once all atomic weapons, world wide, have been destroyed.

Sadako was a young girl who developed leukemia as a result of the A-bomb blast. She had a wish that if she folded 1,000 (origami) paper cranes, she would become well. She was only able to fold 644 cranes before she was too weak to continue, but her friends and family joined in to finish her dream. She was buried with 1,300 paper cranes.

Now, paper cranes are sent from all over the world to this monument, as a sign of peace.

Each room was filled with thousands of colorful cranes.

A Japanese school group began singing the most beautiful, reverent song while we were there. I will always remember that moment and those sweet voices filling the air.

And finally, the 'A-bomb dome', as it is now known. Also, the river that so many people jumped into, in hopes of sparing their lives.

It seemed very odd to stand in front of this building and smile for the camera.

This was a shot of the before and after.

We circled the entire building and tried to take it all in. The girls had lots of questions.

This was inside the main hall.

Through the efforts of many, the building still exists almost exactly as it did that day, to serve as a reminder of war.

And Hiroshima today, is quite a vibrant city.

Tragically, many Japanese children were forced to work in labor camps and factories, for the war effort, and this was a monument to those who had lost their lives. Also, sadly, 10% of those lost in the blast were Korean prisoners, being held captive in Hiroshima. Many people had left fresh flowers and also more paper cranes.

I loved the beauty that surrounded the park. It truly was a peaceful place to be.

The museum was difficult to see, but very well presented. They did not employ the propaganda tactics that we saw in Vietnam. Everything was very straightforward, and they just presented the facts.

The 'hypo-center' of the bombing.

Seeing the children's clothing and toys was heartbreaking.

Roof tiles, and also glass, were absolutely melted from the heat of the blast.

This nice man had a bag FULL of paper cranes that had been donated, and he was so happy to give the girls a few.

After the blast, this bank was the only building left mostly standing. I asked a museum volunteer if it was possible to see the building, and she gave me directions.

This is the building today, looking almost exactly how it did that day, seventy years ago. Amazing!

The building is no longer a bank, but this plaque was posted near the building as a reminder of its past.

Wow! That was a lot to take in and process in one morning. Eva was upset by the museum, so we googled some pictures, had a good discussion about Pearl Harbor and the reasons for the war. It was especially hard because we love Japan and the Japanese people so much. "Unfortunately", we said, "sometimes war is necessary for protecting the freedoms we hold dear". 

After the peace park, we got back in the car for the drive back to Osaka, where we spent the night. Then on to Tokyo, the next morning.

We had a fun night wandering the streets of Osaka.

I just love seeing small restaurants like this. 

And once again, the truck stops in Japan are amazing! The red and green lights show you which stalls are open, and the floor is so clean, you could eat off it. Seriously!

Speaking of clean,...At the gas station, a man came running out with a damp cloth for Matt to clean the dash with. Only in Japan!

We had such a wonderful time on this road trip, and checked off a big bucket list item....Hiroshima.

June 21, 2015

Miyajima Island, Hiroshima, Japan

Our first day in Hiroshima was spent at Itsukushima Island, known as Miyajima, (or "shrine island), to the locals. It is about 30 minutes outside of downtown Hiroshima and you get there by ferry. 
We made a quick stop for gas at a full service station and this man scrubbed and scrubbed the windshield, working at all the dried-on bugs, until the window was spotless. It looked like we had just pulled off the showroom floor when he finished! I don't know how "attention to detail" becomes a cultural trait, but it sure is here. The Japanese take pride in everything they do.

Then, another nice employee came running out with these balloon yo-yo's for the girls. We were off to a great start!

We made it to the ferry terminal, for the 15 minute ride across the bay.

The Hiroshima area is a large producer of oysters, so we saw lots of wooden structures, that looked like docks, along the route.

The oysters are suspended under the docks, which apparently promotes faster growth.

Miyajima Island is made up of many hiking trails, shrines and also a few small hotels, restaurants and shops. 

Many deer also roam freely around the island. They are very tame and you can even feed them and pet them. The deer are thought to be the "messengers for the gods", and are therefore revered. 

The girls really enjoyed this, but it kind of grossed me out!

The most popular sight on the island is the famous Itsukushima Torii gate, or "floating torii". It is one of the most iconic sights in all of Japan. 

At low tide, you are able to walk right out to the gate for a close up look.

There were LOTS of coins in the sand surrounding the shrine, which gave off the most beautiful shine. The girls thought they had struck gold!

Yes, they even rake the ocean floor in Japan. I love this place!

We spent the next few hours checking out some of the hiking trails.

A quick pit stop.

We came across some beautiful shrines and gardens.

I always love the look of the wish plaques at a shrine.

There were lots of rickshaws for hire. We saw one girl, running up and down the mountain all day long. What a workout!

The five storied pagoda was beautiful.

I really loved wandering the little town, too. There were so many fun shops and cafes. Also notice the awnings overhead. Loved this!

Ella chose the karage, or fried chicken on a stick, for lunch. This is a pretty typical Japanese street food.

I tried a beef bun, for lunch. I've had many pork buns, but never a beef bun. They also had eel buns....but I stuck with the beef.

I loved the branding on the top, almost too pretty to eat.

Good choice, it was fabulous!

And as a bonus, we also saw the world's largest wooden paddle!

Matt decided to try an oyster, since this region is world famous for their oysters. They were roasting them over a fire, and had to wear a very heavy glove to open them.

Matt gave his stamp of approval.

After everyone had their fill, we hiked to the gondola for a view from the top. The forests on the island have never been felled, so they are very pristine and untouched. 

The city of Hiroshima is straight ahead, from this lookout point.

The views from every angle were just spectacular, and it was such a lovely day. We couldn't have asked for better weather.

We decided to hike down, rather than take the gondola. (And, yes, Matt wanted to save the $10 per person, also.) But we really enjoyed the hike. It was almost like walking down one huge staircase, literally! But, the surroundings were so beautiful and peaceful.

The island was really well signed, and I especially liked this one. I wonder how long it takes "if run a lot"?

As we made our way back to the ferry terminal, the tide was much higher and the torii gate was now "floating". This was a great lesson for the girls about the meaning of ocean tides.

And one last photo op to remember an amazing day!

(Also, amazing, was the double sided brochure of "comfort functions" for the hotel room toilet. Have I said I love this place?!)