Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Fortnight in Japan - Day 9 in Hiroshima

May 10 - After breakfast at the hotel, we started out for the train station to make our train reservations. About halfway there, I felt for the camera (which I had been keeping on the strap to my shoulder bag). To my horror, there was no familiar chunk of metal, no strap hanging out of the zipper pocket; the bag was empty. Panicking a little (so many pictures on there! So many left to take!) I gaped at Brian and blubbered unintelligibly. I quickly unstrapped my pack and left him on the sidewalk, running the route back to the hotel and scanning the sidewalk for any sign of the camera. I was also a bit worried about missing the train (not really a huge deal, since we were now on the railpass and could catch any one but you know, when it rains...). At the hotel, I searched the breakfast area (no luck), and then I got the key for the room we'd checked out of. After a few seconds of frenzied searching, I flipped the sheets onto the bed and found it, our beloved camera, lying on the ground. Phew. Sprinting back to Brian, we resumed the trip to the train station and made it in plenty of time. Can you imagine, having to finish the trip with disposable cameras?! (Or more likely, we would have wasted some time buying a new digital camera, but still.)

On the platform at the train station, finally, sweaty and gross. Yuk. At least Operation: Camera Recovery was successful.

After about 2 hours on the shinkansen, we arrived at Hiroshima Station and dropped our bags off at our hotel, which was only a few minutes away. Though the area around the station was nothing special, I loved how convenient it was. Since most visitors to the city go for the sites related to the atomic bomb clustered in Peace Park, there is a convenient streetcar that runs from the train station to the park. We rode the streetcar to the end, and alit right outside of the A-bomb dome. This is one of the buildings that wasn't completely demolished when the bomb exploded (at 8:15am, Aug 6, 1945. Yes, I have that memorized - by the end of the day, we had heard or read the time/date a million times!) It was pretty moving, since they preserved all the debris and twisted metal of the building.

The ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, the A-Bomb dome

View along the Motoyasu river. The A-bomb dome now resides alongside a beautifully rebuilt city.

We walked around the monuments in the park, and spent a long time at the Peace Memorial Museum. Here are some of the sights.

The Memorial Cenotaph, under which lies a stone coffin that holds the names of all victims of the bomb. In the background you can see the A-bomb dome, and between the two is the Peace flame, which will be put out when all nuclear weapons are gone (unfortunately, this won't be for a long time ).

The Children's Memorial, erected by Japanese elementary school children. On top is an image of Sadako Sasaki, the little girl behind the story of the 1000 origami cranes. She was dying of leukemia after the bomb, but thought that if she could fold 1000 cranes before her death, she would be granted one wish. There are conflicting reports about whether she actually finished them, but nevertheless she died and became yet another child victim of the bomb.

Near the Children's Memorial are a few small rooms where cranes from people all over the world are displayed. There must be a million of them, it is quite touching.

Some of the cranes folded by Sadako, in the Peace Museum

The Gates of Peace, a series of ten 9ft high gates that are inscribed in49 languages. 18 alphabets are used, but they all spell the same word: Peace.

The museum is highly recommended - there is a lot of information about what brought about the bomb, what residents of Hiroshima were doing when it went off, and what happened after. There are lots of haunting images and artifacts, like watches that stopped at exactly 8:15, and remnants of children's clothing collected by their grieving parents. We watched a couple of movies about survivors in English, and there is an area where you can watch videos of survivor interviews. One thing I found quite poignant was a wall of copies of letters sent by Hiroshima mayors to every city where nuclear weapons tests have been conducted. There are far too many of these up there (there have been over 2000 tests conducted since 1945 - most recently, N. Korea conducted tests just a couple of weeks ago.) Not knowing much about it, I was surprised to learn that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty basically prevented countries from starting up nuclear weapons programs (good) but allowed those that already had them at the time to keep them (stupid, stupid). Obviously an overly-simplistic summary, but that's the gist. Kind of ridiculous.

Though we think of Japan as one of the bad guys in World War II (and certainly my [Chinese] relatives have some strong opinions), in truth, atrocities are committed on all sides in times of war. Regardless of whose side you're on, seeing the consequences of such an act of total devastation, the effects of which are still felt today, was incredibly moving. Especially since so many who were affected were civilians, innocent children. There were many stories of kids who were helping to build firelanes that day, and were terribly injured in the blast, but somehow dragged themselves back to their houses. How awful for their parents. Or to have to go out and search the streets for your child/brother/mother, and find a part of them strewn among the rubble and ash and fire. Or to think that your child survived unscathed, only to have them develop purple spots on their skin and die slowly from "A-bomb disease" within a year. Tragic.

We left the museum somber and starving, and decided to go on a hunt for the real-deal okonomiyaki. There is a building called Okonomi-mura which has several floors entirely devoted to this dish. Literally, when you get off the elevator on any of its floors, you are greeted by 5 or 6 identical stalls with a cook tending a hot griddle. We picked one and sat down. There was a baseball game on that day, so many of the chefs were glued to small TVs in their stalls. The local team is called the Hiroshima Carp - how cute is that?!

The menu was the basic pancake, with optional additions of thick or thin noodles, cheese, squid, or shrimp. I had one with noodles and cheese, and Brian had one with squid.

Our chef expertlytends to our mounds of cabbage and pork

The chef ladles out some batter and smooths it into a crepe, cooks some cabbage, pork and the add-ins, piles that on the crepe and tops it all with a thin disk of scrambled egg. He paints the egg with some of the ubiquitous dark, tangy sauce, sprinkles it with flakes of seaweed, drops a small pile of pink gari (picked ginger) on top, and shovels it over to you. We were given small metal spatulas to eat with, straight off of the hot griddle. Pretty tasty, and very filling. Different from the one we had in Kyoto, where all the ingredients were mixed with the batter, and pan fried together.

Part stirfry, part pancake, part pizza. All delicious.

In the plaza right outside of Okonomi-mura, we stopped to watch a dance 'show'. I hesitate to even call it a show, because it consisted of a handful of guys and girls dressed in sock-hop type outfits dancing to music from the same era, but in no organized fashion. We kept waiting for a routine or something (hey, their outfits matched, we figured their moves would too), but nope. It was just a bunch of people twisting around randomly. A couple of the guys really liked taking their shirts off. Apparently no one else was entertained either, because there was no clapping when the music finished. (Not very) Interesting.

Random dancing. I forget what the names on their jackets were... "Cool Kidz" or something like that.

After that we walked through some of the shopping area around there, and headed back to Peace Park to finish up some of the monuments in the North end of the park that we had missed earlier. As night fell, we took the streetcar back to the train station. There we had dinner at a restaurant that had really tasty Tsukemen, a noodle dish native to Hiroshima where the noodles and other toppings come separately from the broth/sauce. We had one with cold sauce (probably mostly soy sauce, but with a sweet, oniony base) and one with warm miso sauce. You could specify the amount of spice (on a scale from 1 to over 20) - we went with level 2, the recommended 'starter' heat. Because of the potential splash-and-spray that could come with dipping and slurping, there were paper bibs on the table and we were implored to don them when the food came. It was all very delicious and refreshing, and I wish we had eaten there again! I later looked up the restaurant, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it is a branch of Bakudanya, the restaurant that is thought to have invented this style of Tsukemen. Yay culinary serendipity!

All bibbed up and ready to go. Actually, these bibs were more like aprons - with a tie at the waist, too!

Mmmmm, cold refreshing and actually pretty healthy. The eggs in Japan were always this vibrant orange color, and seemed tastier than eggs at home

And off we went back to the hotel to bed...but first, more evidence of the cuteness that is Japan:

You might guess that this is the storefront of a comic
shop, or toy store... nope, it's a real estate office!

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