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Walking with Ghosts: A glimpse of Hiroshima and Miyajima

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November 2011

Growing up in the States, I learned all about World War II and the A-bomb from a particular perspective. History exists based on how it’s written. American’s write it one way just as every other nation has their on take on the events. Going to Hiroshima was my chance to finally get a hold on the other perspective of the A-bomb first hand. Though I was as interested in what the city had become as much as what it had been.

Another time travel post, sorry. My classes are thinning out so I finally have time during my free periods to hash out the details of these experiences with a clear head. Or clearer. I’ve been having some troubles with my body acting up but that can wait till another post.

I love the way foreigners pronounce Hiroshima, when it’s done incorrectly. It always makes me giggle. I called my mom to tell her I was going on this trip and said Hiroshima the proper way (hee row shee ma – phonetic!) and she had no clue what I was talking about until I said it with an American accent. I certainly don’t expect people to know all about Japanese pronunciation. I’ve been listening to stuff in Japanese since I was 12. I think I have a little bit of a head start besides the whole living in Japan thing. It’s just interesting how these things stick after all this time.

Where was I… Ah so we headed out super early before the sun and made our way down the highways towards Hiroshima. I am proud to say I drove both ways AND only got lost once. Couldn’t have done it without my trusty navi unit – NicoNico aka my friend Nicole. There we were, driving down the big highways in a tiny little K-car with yellow plates (more powerful cars get white plates). I can’t wait to drive at 65 mph on a regular basis again. In a car that doesn’t feel like a tuna can. The driving here can be painfully slow and dangerous because of all the mountains.

When we got to the outskirts of Hiroshima, we made a turn off into the inaka in search of Nicole’s great aunt. After a little hunting in the wilds, we found the temple her family ‘owns’ up on a hill. Nicole’s grandmother had recently passed away and we brought Nicole to the temple to pay her respects to her grandmother’s sister and family. A bonus was to see the temple, of course. Her great aunt was really sweet and friendly even with us being absolute foreigners in both nationality and understanding. Anna was with us and she speaks Japanese and looks Chinese but is from Singapore. Nicole is half Okinawan and half Japanese and can understand conversational Japanese but deep down she’s full blooded American-Hawaiian to me^^. And then there’s me. An obvious foreigner and not the greatest with the language. But she welcomed us like long lost grand babies.

After sitting around talking and giving the letter and gifts to the great aunt (I think she was nearly 100 years old but didn’t look near that old), we were shown the grave site where Nicole’s ancestors were buried. It was inspiring. Then we headed back down the hill and thought we were done but there was one more thing to do… ring the evening bell. Here’s the video Nicole took. I might be a goof but I was really honored to have had that experience. The original bell had been taken during the war to melt down for weapons or whatever but after the war they got a new one. I don’t remember the whole complex story behind it, there was a lot going on to take in at one time.

We said our goodbyes as the sun set on us and made our way into Hiroshima… a slow way. Tons of traffic. The city is set in a half circle of mountains. This barrier is all that kept the fallout of the bomb from spreading to the surrounding towns. Because of that, there aren’t a ton of ways to get into the city. Hence the heavy traffic I assume. After we made it to the island part of the city with the museum, we found our huge hotel and got settled in. The service was friendly as ever in Japan and they even spoke English! Yay for big cities. Our room had 2 beds and pull out sofa. It was very clean and the front desk was helpful with our questions about where to eat and such.

We arrived in time to catch dinner somewhere so we headed out. Several of the places were closed but we found a popular Italian place across from the museum. It was surprisingly good and I laughed out loud when they handed the Japanese menu to Nicole and the English menu to me. Nicole looks Japanese so I can understand that but what was so funny was when I asked her if she wanted my English menu. The menus were all written in Italian plus one other language and I know enough Italian to order food. The funny part is when Nicole glances at the menu and goes “What ya mean? There’s English on here.” I started cracking up and made her actually read it and she starts laughing and face palms while passing me the menu. I think the waiters got a little weird-ed out by how hard we were laughing but whatever. I was a little drunk from a glass of wine and the leftovers of motion sickness pills so I went right to sleep when we got back to the hotel.

 

He had birds all over him!! Nicole just had to have a picture so to be polite, we took a sneaky tourist shot.

Since Saturday was shaping up to be a nice day, we decided to find our way to Miyajima. This island is still rather sacred and it used to be that no one was allowed to die or give birth on the island. Now it’s a tourist spot with hotels, restaurants, food vendors, a rope way to the near top of Mt. Misen and of course lots of deer. The photos might describe it better than I can. On our way there we wandered the grounds of the Peace Park.

Nicole and Anna actually made it to the top of the mountain but I was dizzy and weary from the 10 plus hour drive the day before as well as all the walking that day so I waited for them at the love temple. I already did Fuji, I didn’t need to prove anything haha.

 

Just hanging out. Totally unafraid of people.

To the rope-way!

Typical beautiful natural surroundings found in Japan. I guess it was typical for us, being from the countryside. That’s Anna on the left and Nicole on the right.

 

The rope-way! I would ride that all day around that mountain. Beautiful.

They always make it look so easy on the map…

 

The girls went on ahead without me. I was pooped. And watching people at the love temple was very entertaining.

The paddle thing was huge. Near this was the fried oyster place. They were delicious. I’ve never been one to enjoy that genre of seafood but I decided it was stupid of me not to try something that was so popular and famous there. I’m glad I did.

Then we caught the sunset on our way out. Beautiful. The deer were even being cute.

We waddled our way back to the ferry to take us to the mainland. Anna and I fell asleep on each other. The mainland train then took us all the way back around to the shopping district and we went in search of a good okonomiyaki bar. We found one. It was fantastic, highly recommended. I really don’t know if I like Osaka style better than Hiroshima, though. They were both amazing. I felt bad but I couldn’t finish mine… it was starting to burn on the grill, I had taken so long to eat it. One thing I have not acquired is the Japanese way of shoveling down food. I like to take my time.

Somewhere in this madness we found a spectacular okonomiyaki place. I’m lucky to always have such resourceful friends.

A pseudo indoor mall street thing.

The only building left standing after the bomb dropped. It’s so haunting. A constant reminder.

Nicole posing in front of the museum. Everyone cries in there. Everyone.

Saturday was quite gloomy so we decided to go to the museum. I didn’t bring my camera due to the rain. The museum… is an experience every human being should have. I can’t begin to express how impacting  it was on me and everyone around me. Certainly there are some things left out or slightly altered to betray Japan in a more favorable light (just as we do in the US). But there was also some surprising admissions of guilt. I highly recommend reading up on your WWII knowledge before walking through it (from many sides if possible) as it helps give perspective. The over sentiment was most definitely anti-war all around.

We then wandered to a nearby mall center to wander around the omiyage (souviner) places. Some very delicious stuff. I found a place that sold the hard candy balls that are nostalgic of the pre-WWII era in Hiroshima. So many flavors. I bought bags and bags of them and took them back for my teachers… and me. We ate at a kinda whatever place in the mall and then did snack night with drinks at the hotel room.

The last day out was gloomy again. The beautiful Saturday we had at Miyajima was turning out to be extremely lucky. Anna really wanted to see the castle in the center of the city… but we were tired and it was rainy and… it was time to go. So we drove by it on our way out and made our long trek back home. I drove most of the way back (I get motion sick so it’s better if I drive) but Nicole took over at some point. I was so tired.

The moral of this trip for me was to be in the moment. Don’t blink! And if it’s raining out, bring the plastic cover for the camera!

With love- M

 

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