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Silver Week trip to 広島

2009 September 23

Jennifer and I left Tonbara around 7:30 AM, and we arrived in Hiroshima around 9:30. Of course, it’s hard to tell what counts as arriving in Hiroshima. The city is enormous, sprawled out across a vast area of hills and flatland at the bottom of the main Japanese island. Our tiny Lonely Planet guide map didn’t correspond with what we saw until we’d already been driving in “Central Hiroshima” for a good half-hour. Once we got in, though, it was pretty easy to navigate to the train station. Figuring out how to buy my bus ticket home was a little harder, but once we got that (and a little browsing of the Asse department store next to the station) out of the way, we headed for our first destination: Hiroshima Castle.

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Just within the Hiroshima Castle complex is this beautiful shrine, so we stopped and bought a little wooden plaque on which to write our wishes. Jennifer wrote that we hoped for a good trip in Hiroshima, and I wrote that we hoped to inspire our students to love learning English! We hung it on a rack at the shrine, where hopefully the gods will read it and bless our various ventures. I also purchased a little paper fortune – they’re in very complex Japanese, so I couldn’t read all of it, but it did say something about me needing to find a doctor… I tied it to another rack at the shrine, so hopefully the good things will come true and the bad things won’t.

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On our way out of the shrine, we ran into these gorgeous little kids! Mom was very happy to be asked for a picture, and the little girl posed happily, but the little boy was not ready to stand still. I’m not sure what the occasion was, but I’m quite jealous of any little girl that gets to look so pretty.

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Hiroshima Castle is not the original, of course. The entire castle complex was destroyed in the atomic bomb blast; luckily enough documentation and relics remained that the castle itself could be rebuilt. It was originally founded by a warlord named Toyotomi, but due to its position in the lowlands it changed hands several times.

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There was a dress-up station on the second floor of the castle where you could try on traditional outfits of the time, including armor and helmets for samurai warriors. The armor was very popular among the Japanese tourists, but they were less willing to embarrass themselves by trying on the costumes, so Jennifer stepped up and became a samurai vassal! A nice old lady helped her put on the hakama (pants). We met another JET from Gunma-ken at this station and helped him try on the outfit as well.

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Upper floors of the castle contain salvaged relics and replica rooms that might have been in the original castle. These are photographable, but you’re not allowed to enter them. That large stair-like structure is ancient Japan’s unique approach to storage shelves.

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You can see the whole city from the top of the castle.

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The stamp is a souvenir from the top floor of the castle. The Hello Kitty I bought at a small shop by the shrine outside the castle; it’s not officially Carp Castle Kitty, but now that I’m officially collecting Gotochi Kitty, I had to pick one to represent the castle visit. More official souvenirs were also chosen for certain people.

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Next, we headed toward the Peace Park and drove around a while looking for parking. It was quite crowded due to the holiday, but we finally found a place – a vertical garage that had Jennifer pull her car onto a platform so they could jack it up into the building! It was very cheap, though, and close to the eastern river border of the Peace Park island. From there we walked toward the park, passing a hotel that has secreted behind a high wall the graves of most of those who died in the bomb blast. Families that were wiped out are distinguished by the weeds growing on their graves, since there is no one to tend them.

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This plaque marks the official hypocenter of the bomb blast. The building next to it is now a doctor’s office, oddly enough. Paper cranes and other origami gifts have been left here in honor of the victims and in hopes of a more peaceful world in the future. Bottles of water are also a common sight at graves and memorials of bomb victims, since most of them died crying out for water, dehydrated by the radiation.

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Just outside the Peace Park is a building now called the A-Bomb Domb, or 原爆ドーム (Genbaku Dômu). It was a bank before the war; during the cleanup of the city, local government chose to preserve the ruins of this building as a reminder of the destruction.

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It was comforting to see all the birds congregated on the A-Bomb Dome. Even if the horror is still preserved, the city has moved on.

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This structure is the Sadako Children’s Memorial. The girl on top is the famous Sadako, who tried to fold a thousand paper cranes to save herself as she died from leukemia after the war. She holds aloft a skeleton origami crane, which is now Hiroshima’s symbol of peace and the end of war and atomic weapons.

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Around the memorial are boxes full of paper cranes sent from around Japan and around the world, expressing wishes of world peace in the future. Inside Sadako’s memorial is a bell, hung with a giant metal crane as you can see. Visitors to the park ring the bell to express their commitment to peace; all those hearing the bell are reminded of the need for peace as well.

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We didn’t make it to the Peace Memorial Museum, as the line was way too long, but during a brief stop at the park rest house I picked up this Hello Kitty. Hiroshima Peace Park souvenirs range from peace sign or “NF” (nuke free) buttons to charms with origami cranes as symbols of peace.
We took a brief detour for lunch and to meet up with another Shimane JET who was in town. Then together we took a boat from the Peace Park out to Miyajima, a small island off the coast of Hiroshima.

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Miyajima is covered in deer, which in the Shinto tradition are messengers from heaven. Deer are sacred, especially when found by shrines and other holy sites, so human visitors are very careful not to disturb them. Unfortunately, this means deer are very pushy with humans. This one was just leaving after having shoved her face at mine with hopes of getting a treat (or a piece of paper) to munch on.

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The main attraction on Miyajima is Itsukushima Shrine and its giant O-torii. The torii gate keeps evil spirits from entering a shrine area; Itsukushima Shrine is dedicated to three goddesses and is so huge that it extends into the sea, so the main torii was built in the water in front of it. The day we visited was particularly low tide, so you can see the base of the structure, but normally it looks like this:
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The shrine is really huge, so my pictures of it are broken up, but this one with the five-story pagoda in the background is particularly nice. Again, all the wet ground is normally totally submerged.

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Japan is very waffly about religion: some people are Shinto, and some people are Buddhist, but most people are some combination thereof. On Miyajima the two seem to exist quite harmoniously. Daiganji Temple is right next to Itsukushima Shrine and apparently used to be in charge of the repair and construction of its neighbor.

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The main attraction at Daiganji Temple seemed to be this ferocious statue, but a few feet away was this peaceful little shrine:

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After visiting Daiganji, we took a short hike up to a two-story pagoda, but unfortunately my cell phone battery was low and I couldn’t take any more pictures. By the time we got down, most of the attractions were closing. We walked back along the main shopping street, ate dinner at a noodle shop, and picked up a few souvenirs. Plus, we accidentally stumbled across the world’s largest rice paddle! No wonder all the Miyajima souvenirs have paddles…

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We took a ferry back from Miyajima, at which point we had a hilarious mad dash to get to Jennifer’s car and then get me to the station in time for my train. Luckily everything worked out, and I got back safely in time for the next day’s trip! There’s still a lot I want to see in Hiroshima/Miyajima though, and there’s definitely a lot of shopping I want to do – being a major city with a lot of foreign tourism, it’s probably my best shot at finding clothes in my size. I know I’ll be headed back there soon!
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Terri permalink
    2009 September 24 10:08 am

    Why are all the photos “unavailable”. Please reload them so we can see what you are writing about!! Sounds like lots of fun.

    • 2009 September 24 8:43 pm

      Oh, Flickr is such a pain… Thanks for alerting me; I’m working on fixing it.

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