30.05.2017 - 05.06.2017 24 °C
From Kyoto we headed southwest on the Shinkansen to Hiroshima. We explored the Peace Park in the afternoon, which is a lovely, tranquil spot in the middle of the city. Prior to 08:15 on the 6th of August 1945, it was a bustling, built-up area. After the atomic bomb detonated, almost everything in the immediate vicinity was destroyed. It is hard to picture the scenes of utter devastation today, as Hiroshima seems just like any other Japanese city. There is one building, standing at the edge of the park, which has been left in ruins. It is now known as the “A-bomb dome,” and provides a striking reminder of the destruction unleashed on that fateful day. There are lots of other memorials in the park, including a Peace Bell, a Peace Flame (which will not be extinguished until all nuclear weapons have been destroyed – which may not be for some time if North Korea have their say on the matter!), a Memorial Hall, a cenotaph and the phoenix tree (a tree which somehow survived despite being very close to the blast radius). We ate a bento box pack lunch beside the Children’s Memorial, where some of the many visiting schoolchildren were holding a memorial service.
Next we visited the excellent museum, which gave an unbiased account of the events in the lead up to and aftermath of the bombing. Hiroshima was chosen as a target for a number of reasons. It was large and densely populated, it was important to the Japanese military, it was flat (with few hills meaning the blast was not contained) and there were very few POWs stationed there. For some time, the USA had avoided conventional bombing raids against Hiroshima and other potential nuclear bomb targets to ensure they could best assess the effects of the bomb, which had been noted by the city’s residents. Against the will of the scientists who had built the bomb, no advance warning was given. There are all sorts of reasons as to why the bomb was dropped, and I feel that it may have been justified, but I feel that a warning should at least have been given. It is very different seeing recorded images and photographs of the mushroom cloud from a distance, compared to the appalling devastation suffered by the people on the ground. By the end of 1945, it is estimated that 140,000 people had died because of the bomb. For years afterwards, people who had survived the initial blast had increased rates of a variety of cancers. There are still thousands of survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who receive regular health screening provided by the government. The videos of first-hand accounts from survivors are excellent. Amazingly, on display in the museum were propaganda flyers distributed in the days after the bombing, ordering the people of Hiroshima to continue the war effort. Even after the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan didn’t surrender until another atomic bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki. One of the most striking exhibits is a watch worn by someone who was killed by the blast, which stopped working and will forever be frozen at 08:15.
The next morning we got the train and ferry to Miyajima, an island not far from Hiroshima which is famous for a big torii gate a short distance out to sea. We stopped briefly to take a few snaps but soon we were on our way on the path up to Mount Misen, which normally has great views over the inland sea back to mainland Honshu. Unfortunately we were disappointed to find the visibility wasn’t great, but we enjoyed the exercise nonetheless.
Our next stop was Himeji, which is famous for having the best castle in Japan. We didn’t arrive till late afternoon, so we reasoned that it was too late in the day to go and see the castle. Instead we enjoyed another popular Japanese cultural activity – karaoke! We hired our own room for an hour of hilarity, blasting out classic song after classic song at the top of our voices. For dinner we ate in a cool little ramen restaurant called Koba And More. There were just six seats, so we were lucky the restaurant wasn’t too busy, as the noodles were excellent and we got to chat with Koba, the owner, while he prepared the food in front of us. The next morning we did go and see the castle, which is a beautiful building in a prominent position overlooking the city.
Continuing our journey back to Tokyo, we spent the next night in Nagoya, the 4th largest city in Japan. Despite its size, it turned out there wasn’t a whole lot to do there. We stayed in a place called the Hamilton Hotel Black, which amazingly offered free drinks to guests between 6-8pm. Living up to our national stereotype, we made full use of the offer. We even sampled some sake, the Japanese rice wine which we really did not enjoy!
From Nagoya we went to Odawara, our base for a daytrip to the Hakone region the following day. We were pleased to see clear views of Mount Fuji on the train on the way to Odawara, which still had a fair covering of snow near the summit. Thankfully we got to see more good views of Mount Fuji from Hakone-Machi the next day, before the cloud came across and obscured the famous peak around mid-morning. We were very lucky to be able to see Mount Fuji two days in a row, as it is covered in cloud for around two thirds of the year, and normally all summer. This pretty much summed up our good fortune with the weather in Japan, which is normally quite cloudy and wet in the summer. Apart from two days of rain back in Nagano we had clear skies and sunshine every other day! From Hakone-Machi we followed the shore of Lake Ashi to Moto-Hakone, from where we walked 11km along the famous Old Tokaido Road to Yumoto-Hakone. The Tokaido Road was used by noblemen to travel to and from the city of Edo (now Tokyo) in centuries past, and most of it is on a surface of cobblestones, separate from the modern tarmac road which is more suitable for cars!
It wasn’t far from Odawara to Shinagawa, in south Tokyo, where we spent our last night in Japan. We weren’t flying out of Haneda Airport until the middle of the night, so we walked across the Rainbow Bridge over Tokyo Bay and spent our last day in Japan in the Odaiba area, which is a manmade island where many of the events of the Olympics will take place in 2020. We enjoyed visiting the Panasonic Centre, where we got to try out some of the latest technology. We also visited a Toyota display centre, where we saw some of the new developments in the world of cars, as well as trying out some car racing simulation games. It was a great way to spend our last couple of days in Japan, with the contrast of the history, peace and tranquillity around Hakone to the innovation and modern technology on display in Tokyo.
Although Japan has a very well educated, forward-thinking society, it was interesting to see how few people speak much English. Despite this, we enjoyed our interactions with the remarkably polite Japanese people, who are much friendlier than we had expected. The efficiency of the public transport is an example of how travel should be. Every train departed on time for the duration of our trip. Since everything is so well organised it makes travel fairly straightforward even with the language barrier. It was amazing to consider that on at least one occasion we travelled the length of Ireland in just a couple of hours on the Shinkansen train!
The A-bomb dome
Ringing the peace bell
The Phoenix tree
Koko-en Garden, Himeji
The view was worth the climb!
Mount Fuji - cloud on the way
Now you see it, now you don't
They love driving cube-shaped cars in Japan!