May 24th and 25th: Hiroshima

This is a long one folks.

From Osaka station, it took about two and a half hours to get to my hostel in Hiroshima. It would have been a little shorter, but for my unfamiliarity with where things are and the strange pace I take on when carrying my luggage.

After finding my way out of the Hiroshima station, I found myself with two options, I could grab a local train and then get on a streetcar, or just get on a streetcar and ride for an extra 10 minutes. I opted for simplicity in a new place rather than saving a small amount of time. Also there was a guy with a Care Bear bag (thanks phone!). Maybe it was just cheap, but I like to think it is some weird cross cultural hipster thing.

Hiroshima has a fairly complex streetcar system, and each ride goes for a flat fee of about $1.90 (150 Yen), so not horrible, but lacking a system of transfers kind of drags up the price. I soon discovered the reason it took longer, the streetcars stop about twice as frequently as they should. Some, stops are quite literally, one block apart.

As for the hardware, the trolleys themselves are an interesting mix of old, and quite modern. The particular line I was on happened to be a modern two-car design reminiscent of the SLUT… er, sorry it’s not a “trolley” anymore, is is the South Lake Union Streetcar, the SLUS. Now when I say old, I mean, two of the cars currently running survived the bombing, and they’re still running today. I wish I had grabbed a picture of that model.

The older of the two post-war designs I saw running.

Unlike many other (and always older) streetcars and local trains in Japan, this didn’t have a change maker built into the payment box, it appeared that it was primarily designed figuring people would use their transit card (which sometimes allow transfers), as unlike the SLUS (as of last August anyway), there is actually a payment pad inside. Go figure. For change, the attendant would go around (presuming there was room) and make change with whomever needed it. Sort of an interesting touch of old fashion with the modern.

During the ride, I couldn’t help but notice, Hiroshima looked like a fairly lush and vibrant city. Later investigations would confirm this, and really, outside off the Peace Memorial Park (where almost all of my pictures are), you probably would have no idea that anything had happened. 67 years combined with a fairly sizable period of economic success covered up those scars shockingly well. One interesting note though, is that it is more comparable to Seattle than most other major cities in Japan.

The entire area is about twice the size of the ‘city’ area of Seattle, with just a little higher population. This actually makes it, population wise, about half as dense as Seattle… which is really weird. Osaka has a population density of about 13,000 per km2, Hiroshima has about 1,300 per km2. Just an order of magnitude in difference is all.

I managed to find my hostel even with the slightly confusing directions, unloaded my stuff, and hopped up to the roof (see it’s “funny” because the hostel is J-Hoppers and I said I hopped…) to see what the view was like.

Yeah, okay, so, not that great of a view.

The roof was once covered with artificial grass, now worn down to green plastic grids and bits just wishing they could clog the drain. Other than the kind of interesting neighboring building and the almost view of the hills above, there wasn’t really anything worth mentioning viewable.

Well, that was kind of a bust. Sun was starting to arc downward as it was nearly 5 PM now. One of the really nice things about this hostel is that it is really close to the Peace Park. Something like three blocks and a bridge. There was a small shrine on the waterfront, and since I had taken so many accidental pictures at angles, I figured it was time I took one intentionally all Dutched, if only for the hell of it.

The first intentionally angled picture during my trip.

Along the trees, just before the bridge, I saw one of the anti-littering posts, which are fairly common around Hiroshima (and many parts of Japan). If only they worked in other parts of the world.

I entered the park, about half way up (2 on the map) and according to the onsite map, the nearest point of interest was The Figure of the Merciful Goddess of Peace, so that’s where I went. Next up was the memorial to the Korean “residents.”

The Korean memorial turtle.

It is important to note, there is quite a bit of active resentment between the two cultures. And as far as I’m aware it wasn’t until a few recently that people of Korean descent could even gain Japanese citizenship, presuming they want it. Perhaps they could after the war but until recently few desired it, preferring to maintain legal ties to their ancestral culture. The few I met don’t even know Korean, one I met in Korea, only started visiting two years ago, and he wasn’t exactly young.

You may remember mentioning the Emperor Meiji a while back and how he publicly wished for peace? Yeah, that doesn’t mean he didn’t use thinly veiled threats of violence to expand Japan’s influence. Like, say, to start the annexation of the Korean peninsula (Wiki here). So yeah, I say “residents” because by the time of the war, they were conscripted and moved to Japan to support their war effort.

In at least South Korea even now for better or worse, there is pretty a strong cultural identity, which I’ve been dying to talk about, and very soon will.

“Y.T.’s grandpa, who was there for a while, told her that the Nipponese took over Vietnam during the war and treated it with the cruelty that was their trademark before we nuked them and they discovered that they were pacifists.”

—Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash

So… there’s that. I had only just recently finished listening to the audio book version of Snow Crash, so it was once again floating around in my head, and now that I’m in Korea… The entire time I was at the park, I couldn’t ignore the very deliberate wording on many of the signs, while not always absolutely perfect English, it was still quite clear.

The word “discovered” is also deliberate. I mourn the loss of life regardless, the world around. However the way Japan has edged away from accepting responsibility, how even today there has never been, and I mean, sure, at this point it would mostly just be talk, but even so, they’ve never apologized. The memorials at the park call for peace, morn the loss of life, but dance around and carefully choose words to avoid suggesting that there were, I don’t know, reasons for what happened.

I know many Koreans are still upset that Japan hasn’t even made an empty, meaningless apology, two generations after it really would have meant anything. While the United States has it’s fair share of scandals, genocides, and attempts at imperialism… we at least publicly owned up to a few of them. Hell, made empty apologies for a hand full of them too.

I’m absolutely glad that Japan is as generally peace loving as it seems, and frankly, I think the world would be better off with a few more cultures focused on peace. Still, it’s difficult to ignore the cultural denial.

Hell, there’s an entire series about it. Paranoia Agent, by one of my favorite writer directors Satoshi Kon who happened to die far, far too early. Sadly, it is only being sold by third parties at the moment, and often for something nearing $Texas. The series indicts aspects of the culture including kawaiisa, under the pretense that they is related to the general culture’s state of denial which is seen as unhealthy. [Edit 08/20/2016 – Modern readers, if you exist, may be interested in this recent article, “What is Kawaii?” written by Sarah Gottesman]

Uh… just a warning, Kun is often compared with David Lynch, so don’t expect much of his work to be straight forward. The one minute short “Good Morning” is about the most normal thing he made.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right, exploring a park about peace.

To clear things up, if there is any confusion. I still really love the country, and plan to visit again. I just think it is important to know the bad parts too.

Well, between my photo set and the virtual tour map, you can probably see everything, so I’ll just focus on the bits that really stood out. I know, way to brush over the details of a really important and meaningful… yeah I’m lazy okay. I just wrote a whole bunch of stuff I be you weren’t expecting to read, so… be happy with your 550 extra words giving a bit more context to the whole thing.

The next big thing was the Children’s Peace Monument, which is the famous paper crane one. When I first got to it, there were a few students reciting poems (I think), and then ringing the wind chime. I am however always a bit uneasy about taking pictures of school children on account of… yeah, well. Yeah. Skipping a head to the next morning though, I didn’t hesitate, there were well over a hundred out in the rain, with umbrellas, all together reciting something.

It took a while to get a picture without people. If only it weren’t crooked.

It isn’t on the map, but right near the Children’s Memorial, there is a rose garden. I guess that shot doesn’t look like much, but up close… Well there were a fair number of varieties even with the meh lighting and (nothing densely green around to use a backdrop) they didn’t look bad. Though that line that shows up on the really fast ISOs is starting to bug me.

Next up was the Flame of Peace, which was one of the weird moments for me, as I still vividly remembered seeing pictures of it, and here I was actually there, taking more slightly tilted pictures that I’ve not taken the time to fix. The view goes over the Pond of Peace, across the park and river and right at the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall which was used for administrative purposes during the war, now it is typically called the “A-Bomb Dome.”

The Flame and Pond of Peace, aligned with the Exhibition Hall.

There is of course a prayer coin box in the center, which always kind of takes me a step back and I start analyzing the whole concept of donation based prayer, not that it is anything new, or even all that different, but still, beyond the idea of prayer being strange, the direct link with money seems interesting. I wondered to myself how that link came about, a slight alteration hundreds of years ago to gain more donations, or perhaps even a self altering behavior that grew a stronger link between the two naturally? Oh sure I could look it up, but the point is I thought about it.

Don’t let the Scarrans know about this.
(Yeah, I know, a whole three people got that.)

The memorial hall was closed, along with the museum, which while not expensive, unlike the hall wasn’t free, and I was well into my “Skip things that cost money,” mode of thought, so I would only visit the hall the next morning.

I did walk under the museum (which is mostly elevated like a sky bridge) and look at the Fountain of Prayer near the street named Peace Boulevard, which may well be the only Boulevard in Japan. Just past the fountain is the statue Mother and Child in the Storm.

Though it was closed I went over to look at the Memorial Hall anyway, there was a glass clock showing the time the bomb detonated surrounded by rubble from the area. The next morning I would discover it to have a water component, making it quite a bit more dramatic. There is so much water in the park because so many initial survivors were left begging for water, but what was near was irradiated, the death of many people crying out for water, and the inability to provide it to them stuck with people.

Can’t help but love the little sprout.

Now it was time to head over to the “A-Bomb Dome.” The building is a World Heritage site and as such due to the condition and age, it has been worked on a few times (sorry about the readability) to ensure that it is stable for safety and preserved for the future. There was also work done to “restore” it, likely fixing any vandalism and plant growth that had occurred.

As to why it even remained standing, the building was fairly close to the hypocenter of Little Boy, and as such managed to avoid much of the shock wave, which by percent of damage is often the most destructive part; fire storms, if they catch, can be massively destructive too.

It kind of stands out against the skyline.

The sun was stating to head down, so I worked my way over to the clock, that the moment I saw it, I figured it was morbidly inspired by Trinity. I mean, it is a dark sphere at the top of a tower, in a park about nuclear weapons. At the heart of it, Trinity was a dark sphere at the top of a tower. What was I supposed to think?

“The sphere with a diameter of 2m representing the people of the world is supported by three 20m high steel towers representing the hands of the citizens of the Peace City Hiroshima united in deep prayer and the hope for endless peace surpassing difficulties.”

Virtual Tour Thingy

Yeah, I didn’t get that at all. The sign at the bottom isn’t much help either.

The people of the world supported by hands in prayer.

I wondered over to the Peace Bell, which sadly was locked for the night, I would revisit it the next morning to hear it ring. The bell itself has the shapes of the continents on it, and the point which is struck has the old orbital model of a lithium atom (unless it’s only half the nucleus, then it is carbon). The other advantage of revisiting was that the lilies were blooming.

I looked around the buildings nearby to see if I could find one of the few statues that survived the bombing, but I had no luck, only construction, fading light and a funny traffic cone.

For dinner I asked for a recommendation on where I should get some okonomiyaki. I went to the person at the hostel’s favorite place (website) rather than the most traditional one. What the hell, right? It was still prepared in the Hiroshima style, rather than mixing things together which is the Osaka style that spread throughout the rest of Japan.

The more difficult method involves putting down a thin layer of batter, almost like a crape,  to which the shredded cabbage is added on top. Once it is sweated the next ingredient and maybe the first of the seasonings are added, if no meat, then the noodles are added right away. After the noodles have cooked a bit, a top layer of batter is made to the side, and then put onto the pile. This is then mashed down with one spatula, while using the second one to round it off. Once this is well cooked, the final seasonings and toppings are added. If Japanese mayo is involved (made with apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar and a bit of MSG) it is added using squeeze bottles with 3 or 4 holes to lay down a grid.

This particular place then used a chef’s torch to caramelize (or something like it) the mayo and the other veggies on the top.

I was for the first time, wishing I had a second person to help me eat a meal in Japan. This was not a small amount of food. Rather than giving up, or destroying it as leftovers that I dragged around and left in unknown conditions, I simply took my time. You see, at this place they don’t just make them for the people getting delivery, no. They make them for everyone. I saw probably 20 of them made. I’m pretty sure I can replicate the process.

Again, I was stupid and didn’t think to take pictures of any of it.

The next morning I checked out , put my bags into the storage closet, and before I could run out to the park before going to Fukuoka, the guy working at the hostel from the UK recommended I visit Miyajima, saying I would have more than enough time, and the JR pass covers the ferry. That seemed like a great idea since I wasn’t in any rush to get to my last hostel in Japan, as long as I got there before 11PM I was good.

Still, I had a few things left to see, most of which I’ve already covered, but the Memorial Hall was something I really wanted to see.

The front entrance to the Hiroshima Memorial Hall.

The hall is underground, so you go down stairs, or an elevator, and then even further down. Once enter, a person greets you and provides you with an informational pamphlet in your language of choice, then points you to the spiral ramp. Each light column also had an information plaque I’m pretty sure I captured them all. I was really glad I got to see this, as the language, for the first time seemed a bit different, still careful, but the tone had shifted a bit. In the one above it mentions walking the Path of War, which they have moved away from, one even mentions conscription.

At the bottom, a new pamphlet is made available, describing many of the buildings shown in the center. The room in the center contains a panorama of Hiroshima shortly after the bomb, and is constructed of 140,000 tiles, representing the estimated number of deaths as a result of the bomb at the end of 1945, and at the center an eternal fountain.

I didn’t bring my tripod, and there was no flash allowed though another visitor took two pictures with flash, attracting the attention of the guard. I shook my head in a disappointed manner, and the guard seemed to realize it wasn’t me, but the guy fiddling with his camera.

Regardless, I did my best to capture each “section” with what I had. I say “section” because there are 12 pillars around the room, each a foot or so in front of the mural (they represent something I can’t recall), and those pillars kind of separate the otherwise continuous mural. I’m not going to link all of them, but they’re in the morning photo set.

Not great, but an functional picture showing the tiles.

The next room held the display of known victims and computers for searching the database. Once you’re near the display, next to the exit you can see a sign asking you not to take pictures of the photos and names… fat lot of good it does way over there when you take pictures walking into the room. It isn’t like you can read the names or really make out details in the portraits. I kind of feel bad, but… no point in wasting a picture?

Outside the exit, there is a water stairway, next to the human stairway, I couldn’t help but make an animation. That would have been a good time to take a video with my phone, but that’s silly. Why would I do something that makes sense? Also transcoding.

I then headed off to Miyajima, on my way back to grab my bags, I took a few pictures of things on the way like cat and owl ceramics, a blurry cat I didn’t upload, as well as a few things I had missed earlier, like the pizza delivery place and the bookshop around the corner. On the street car ride back to the main station, I even got an okay picture of the sun starting to set over one of the rivers.

Hiroshima Evening photo set.
Hiroshima Morning (and second evening) photo set.