This past weekend, all the CIEE students traveled from Tokyo to Hiroshima by shinkansen. The bullet train trip took only 4 hours, and in the luxurious surroundings of the shinkansen, it was quite the pleasurable journey! Well, actually, that's a little misleading. After the first hour, in which we passed by Mt. Fuji and I was able to snap a good photo, I feel asleep. The group had met at the shinkansen station at 7:30 AM, meaning I had woken up at 5:00 AM (oi!). The night before was spent in good company (Dom, Randi, Satomi, Greg from England, Milo) and doing good stuff (seeing the new Bond movie and eating bad Italian food) but as a result, my sleep was severely limited. The shinkansen nap was nice.
Upon arriving in Hiroshima, we immediately met two tour guides who showed us Hiroshima Castle (although we simply passed by in the bus!), the Bomb Dome (which had somehow survived the a-bomb albeit being situated but a few yards from the blast's epicenter!), a few memorials to the tragedy, and a museum. The musuem was truly haunting. From a watch stopped at 8:15 am (time of the blast) to graphic photographs of melted skin and deformed fingernails, to intimate stories of what young school kids were doing when they perished, it really made everyone sit back and think. The war was obviously a horrible event, no matter who you were. Japan did horrible things to begin the war with the United States. That being said, the fact that so many innocent people died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and other places throughout the world, on both sides) is still an awful tragedy.
The museum visit was followed by a pair of lectures. The first, by a local American historian, disturbed quite a few students, myself included. He stated, quite frankly, that the atomic bomb (disaster as it was) was a war crime, that it was "special" and, in a sense, worse than the other war crimes (Holocaust, among others)...this was too much for me to hear. I can understand having a questioning mind and looking at history from all sides, but this was simply too much. Many of the Asian CIEE students felt the same way.
The next speaker was an atomic bomb survior, an old lady (obaachan) who retold her vivid account of the events of the day. It was chilling, so I obviously can't say it was "fun" or "interesting" but...it left a mark and made everyone think.
That night, we all went to a collection of okonomiyaki restaurants. The restaurants were basically stalls in one big, 4 or 5 storied building. There are two famous variations of okonomiyaki in Japan- Hiroshima and Osaka. Having now tasted both, I have to say the Hiroshima wins hands down!
After dinner, Jade, Dom, Randi and I headed out in search of a jazz club we had heard about. Unfortunately, the map and address we were given proved faulty, and we ended up walking up and down the same street a couple of times. The good news? We found an awesome coffee and cake shop and had a great dessert! We went back to the hotel pretty soon afterwards, and Dom and I headed to the onsen. After a good chat and relaxing soak, we called it a night.
The next day was spent at Miyajima, and I have to say it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to (up there with Mont Blanc, Hoh Rain Forest, and Arches National Park). The island is home to the world famous "floating" torii. After a tour of the Itsukushima Shrine (built in the 6th Century AD!), we ascended, via cable car, to the top of the mountainous island. The view at the top was spectacular! We were able to see to the far horizon, where rounded mountain peaks covered in mist appeared as the humps of a rolling dragon (no, really!). Below, oyster farms dotted the sun-sparkled sea and fishermen scurried to and fro in their tiny boats. It felt...well, to be honest, a little bit like looking down at the world of Zelda in The Wind Waker!
Pictures can be found below: