My French friends were going to Korea, and Ayame was going to America for a three-week homestay in San Francisco. There weren't really any other people I felt like traveling with. But I should do SOMETHING, right? I thought. You're in Japan, after all.
I talked with my host mom about it over dinner. She suggested I travel alone. I admitted that the idea had occurred to me, but I had quickly dismissed it. After all, I couldn't travel alone in a foreign country, right? I would get lost or I'd be scared or, no. Before thinking too much about it, I ignored the possibility completely.
But over the next few days, the idea kept floating back into my head. Travel alone...would need specific plans...no time to look anything up...how to get from place to place...where would I even go? I had been thinking about taking a trip to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for historical purposes obviously, but it was kind of far, and probably expensive to travel there...
Something else happened in the next few days, but it's hard to pinpoint what. It's like Japanese and I had a breakthrough together. I was suddenly carrying a lot more confidence when I spoke, when I studied. I bought two Japanese novels and started reading one (I'm halfway through it now, it's a cute love story). My jaw dropped when I was told the audience for those books was high schoolers and older. And to be able to understand them...Well, by this point, my confidence was soaring. I felt like I could do anything.
Maybe I should just look. I looked up bus tickets to Hiroshima and found that, oddly enough, there was a discount on overnight bus tickets to Hiroshima from Nagoya. They cost half of what they usually do, the deadline being just after my spring break. Nagasaki was a little farther, but I figured I could plan a trip around going to Hiroshima...
And so I did. This is how it played out.
8 PM, on my way to the station to catch my night bus to Hiroshima.
Going to the station, turns out cameras don't work at night.
Arrived at Hiroshima station at 5 AM, those tickets were half off for a reason, it seems. Feel like death after no sleep, sit at a McDonalds drinking coffee until the rest of the city wakes up.
Time to start my journey!
Heading to the Peace Memorial Museum.
A statue of a woman carrying her kids in front of the Peace Memorial Museum.
The view of Peace Memorial Park, behind the museum.
It's called "Peace Memorial Museum," and I figured the topic would be all about the A-bomb that slammed Hiroshima 67 years ago and ended World War II. It was, but there was so much more to the museum than just that.
The beginning was the history of Hiroshima. What the city did before the war started, how it played out during the war. After Commodore Perry re-opened Japan (it had been a closed country; no one coming in, no one going out, for over three centuries), Hiroshima developed technologically, built a convenient street-car (tram) system, and also became a center for Japan's Imperial army. This was one of the main reasons why Hiroshima was targeted by America when it was decided to end the war.
It wasn't an easy decision on America's part to use an A-bomb for the first time in history. As America raced the Russians to make bigger and better bombs, it came to Roosevelt's attention that they could actually do something with what they developed.
After Hitler committed suicide in April 1945, America tried negotiating with Japan. There were a lot of things they wanted to lay down; they wanted to restructure Japan completely, remove Japan's fighting forces, bring the Emperor down from status of "God" to a normal human being. When trying to make arrangements with Japan, America didn't tell them that if they didn't agree to their terms, they would drop the bomb.
Japan didn't agree. America dropped an A-bomb on Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945, and the "Fat Man" on Nagasaki three days later.
The result was a leveled out city and the deaths of upwards to 166,000 citizens, most of whom were civilians that had nothing to do with the war. Roughly 60% dead from flash or flame burns, 30% dead from falling debris, the remaining 10% dead from radiation or other causes.
Inside the museum, as I read through these facts, an American among the Japanese, silently moving from one exhibit to another, I realized that, while the museum was dedicated to that terrible day in history, there was another common theme: Ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
It seems that many organizations in Japan have been begging countries around the world to get rid of their nuclear weapons. Globally there are 23000 nuclear warheads. 13000 in Russia, 9400 in America, and others scattered between North Korea, China, France, etc. Enough to destroy the entire world many, many times. There was an entire floor dedicated to sending letters to Obama to ask him to stop the nuclear tests, pleas that the damage that had been done to Hiroshima over 60 years ago was enough for the world to see that we shouldn't repeat the past. Organizations dedicated to the destruction of every last nuclear weapon, organizations that have members from over 200 countries in the world all asking the same thing. Statues and pictures of citizens around the world begging for an era of peace.
Later, there would be models and pictures of humans with their skin melting off their arms, their faces sagging, their hair burned to a crisp, fire destroying the buildings behind them. Pictures of victims in hospital beds, their bodies charred and black beyond recognition, boils covering every inch of their skin before they breathe their last breath and then die, not knowing how the rest of their family fared.
166,000 citizens dead.
And then there was Sadako's story.
Sadako was two years old when the A-bomb hit her hometown. She seemed to be fine afterwards; she had been far enough away from the center of the bomb that she did not suffer any burns.
Ten years later, the radiation from the bomb kicked in, and Sadako developed Leukemia. Only twelve, she was put in the hospital and tried to fight her sickness. Remembering an old tale in Japan that, if one folds a thousand paper cranes, one's wish will be granted, Sadako set herself to work. She started folding hundreds of origami paper cranes, with one wish: to be healthy again. She folded over six hundred before she eventually succumbed to the leukemia and died.
Her classmates, moved and pained by Sadako's death, finished the remaining paper cranes and demanded that a memorial be built in honor of Sadako and to remember the thousands of children that died from the exposure to the A-bomb. they succeeded, and now this monument stands in the Peace Memorial Park:
Surrounded by it is glass cases of hundreds, maybe thousands of paper cranes, made from children and adults around the world, to remember those that were unfairly lost.
A note written in another language, but with such a clear message.
To say the least, it was very, very moving.
There were many other monuments throughout the park, a bell, a clock tower, many statues and shrines dedicated to those lost.
The following is a picture of the T-bridge, or Aioi bridge, which I had unknowingly crossed from the Memorial Park to get to the next "attraction," the A-bomb dome. This bridge was the target for the A-bomb on that day. It was rebuilt alongside more memorials.
This is the A-bomb dome, or what's left of a building once called, "Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall," though it hasn't been known by that name since the A-bomb fell. Its remains were kept as a memorial to those killed on August 6th, 1945.
After thoroughly depressing myself until I felt heavy enough that I couldn't even walk, I decided to take a trip to Hiroshima castle. Here's the gates and a bit of the garden inside:
And the castle itself. It was rebuilt after the bomb. The Imperial meeting place where war strategies frequently took place, however, was left in ruins, with only the stone foundation of the building left behind, along with any trace of Japan's army.
A few exhibits inside the castle:
And the view from the top:
Finally, I decided to visit Shukkei-en garden, where its beauty and grandness allowed me to feel a little lighter about the things I had learned and seen that day.
Pretty sure that's bamboo.
So, in the end, Hiroshima and its gardens are beautiful and the trams are easy to navigate. I went to my hotel and conked out by eight PM after watching some really funny TV shows.
Nice, right? Hotel was 50% off too, some other random deal I got my hands on.
Next morning I was up at seven and out of the hotel by eight. Got some pastries and tea
And headed out on tram to Miyajima! After an hour on the tram, I hopped on the next Ferry to the island of Itsukushima.
Once I arrived, I explored the shops a bit before hitting the main attractions. Miyajima was discovered by Buddhist monks who were seeking enlightenment over 1200 years ago. Judging by the way I felt, trying to absorb all the nature and energy of the island, I'd say they found it. It's packed with temples and shrines and gates (the orange gate in the water, which you will see more pictures of, is one of Japan's most beautiful attractions) and trees and halls and history, much like the entire country.
I think that's a Japanese style inn. I'd like to stay in one once before I leave Japan.
Deer were walking around like they owned the place.
The famous otorii, gate on the water.
Asked some Japanese girls to take my picture with the gate. No, it didn't occur to me to stand next to it in the picture. Beautiful place, regardless.
Some Kayakers made it underneath the gate.
I wandered through Itsukushima shrine, which also sits on the water. I was there long enough though that the tide pulled out by the time I was done touring the place, which makes for interesting pictures later.
The tide has pulled out now, but this old-fashioned bridge is still breathtaking.
Like I said, the island is packed with shrines so I don't remember the names of all of them, but...
This is a piece of a tree that was over a thousand years old. I touched it. Felt old.
The "1000 mat pavilion"
Basically Miyajima was all about light sight-seeing. I wandered the island for a bit while occasionally munching on something called Momiji Manju, which are cakes in the shape of maple leaves with red-bean paste inside. Actually, the inside of the cake varies, and has a ton of different flavors; chocolate, cream, lemon, etc etc. I ate like six, and they were all really delicious.
A rabbit hair tie I bought on the island.
Literally hundreds and hundreds of Buddhas lining a path up to a temple.
Forest on the way to the rope lift to go to Mt. Misen, the island's mountain.
I found a tea place nestled away off a path, got another cake and some green tea. Above was the view. I never wanted to leave. If you look carefully in that picture, you can see people walking around the orange gate, where the tide pulled out, leaving the ground to walk on.
Pressed on, wanting to get to that rope lift so I could get to Mt. Misen summit for more temples and views.
Once I found the ropeway, I rode it up the mountain to see more spectacular views of the ocean and smaller islands in southern Japan.
It was pretty much beautiful.
I have more pictures on Facebook of temples and views, but from there on I basically climbed the rest of the way up the mountain to the summit. It took about thirty minutes, not too bad. Saw more temples - one where the same flame has allegedly been kept alive for over 1200 years, another where it aids in easy childbirth. They were spectacular and beautiful as always.
Eventually, I left the island, returned to Hiroshima, and waited patiently for my midnight bus to show up. I passed the time by sitting in cafes, got a really delicious cherry latte (the cherry blossoms will be blooming soon, so "cherry" is the theme in a lot of restaurants and cafes lately) and read books on my Kindle. Then I got very little sleep on the eight-hour bus ride back to Nagoya.
It was, to sum it up, an amazing experience that I wouldn't mind repeating again - maybe different places, but yeah. I didn't have a single problem or issue on my trip, and knowing that I'm capable of traveling Japan alone fills me with maybe too much confidence. But I'm also really excited about where I am right now, and I try to take advantage of every minute of free time (which is why you haven't seen any blog posts as of late).
I have nine weeks left in Japan. I'm going to make the most of it.