The impact of World War II on Japan – Hiroshima and Himeji

14 Apr

Last night’s sleep was a lot better, which was a relief. I went to bed quite early and wasn’t disturbed too much. I woke at 5:45 and decided that I might as well get up as that would give me an hour to get ready.

After a quick shower, I got dressed and Stu and I went down to the second floor where the kitchen and social area are located. Yesterday, we bought some plain yogurt and some granola/muesli for breakfast, so I got some bowls and spoons out whilst Stu made us some hot drinks.

I had believed that the granola had pistachios in it, but on closer inspection, I realised that it had roasted beans in it and something that may have been dried tofu. Whatever it was, it was absolutely delicious.

At 6:45am, we met Jez and headed to the station. Kyoto is a massive station, so we needed to allow enough time to find the right platform. At 7:20am our Shinkansen bound for Hiroshima arrived. I spent some time catching up with my blog, before we arrived at 9:05am.

Signs told us that it was about a 30 minute walk to the A-bomb dome, so we decided not to catch a bus or get on a tram. The weather was lovely – warm, with not a cloud in the sky.

As soon as we arrived at the Peace Garden, we saw the dome. As the bomb detonated immediately overhead, it was one of the few buildings that was not totally destroyed in the blast.

A bomb dome

© Jeremy Hollinshead

We walked around the building until we came to Mito Kosei. He was in utero when the bomb detonated. He worked as a school teacher and now volunteers his time to tell his story. Fortunately, it is safe to live in Hiroshima, but the impact of radiation on the genetics of survivors’ descendants is not known. Mito’s blog can be read at blog.livedoor.jp/mitokosei He also asks that people watch a film called That Day – it was produced by an American couple and features an interview with Mito.

© Jeremy Hollinshead

We walked through the garden and saw the various statues and memorials that have been erected, before entering Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It is only 50 yen (about 30p) to enter, so we decided to hire head sets for 300 yen each.

The museum was a solemn and heart-breaking experience. I did not take any photos. I had not realised that a huge number of junior high school students (aged 12-15) had been killed in the blast. They were being employed in building demolition, so that if the city were bombed, the fires would not spread. Thousands of children went to work that morning and never went home. The museum also included the horrific stories of children who were affected and somehow managed to struggle home through the devastation to their parents, only to die of radiation sickness or their burns within the next couple of days. The scale of the devastation was unprecedented. My visit to this museum is something I will never forget. To give you an idea of what it’s about, here’s some information from the museum’s guide:

At 8:15am on August 6, 1945, the city of Hiroshima fell victim to the world’s first atomic bombing. the entire city was virtually levelled; thousands upon thousands of lives were lost. Many of those who managed to survive suffered irreparable physical and psychological damage and still suffer the effects today.

The Peace Memorial Museum collects and displays belongings left by the victims, photos, and other materials that convey the horror of that event’ supplemented by exhibits that describe Hiroshima before and after the bombing and others that present the current status of the nuclear age. Each of the items displayed embodies the grief, anger, or pain of real people. Having now recovered from that A-bomb calamity, Hiroshima’s deepest wish is the elimination of all nuclear weapons and the realisation of a genuinely peaceful international community.

View of the A bomb dome

©Jeremy Hollinshead

After we left the museum, we walked back through the garden and headed to the statue in memory of the children who died. Sadako Sasaki started making paper cranes when she was ill in hospital with leukaemia. It is an old superstition that making a wish on a thousand paper cranes will make a wish come true. Sasado made her thousand paper cranes and continued to make them until her death. Today, they are used to symbolise people’s wish for peace.

After we left the park, we decided to walk to Hiroshima Castle. We didn’t have long, but decided to stop for a drink and a slice of cake.

Hiroshima Castle us a modern reconstruction as, understandably, the original was destroyed in 1945. In the grounds of the castle are a eucalyptus tree and a willow tree that survived the bomb.

When we left the castle, we stopped St a Post Office for Jez to send some postcards. I noticed some beautiful 3D cards for sale, so I bought a couple. I already know who the recipients will be. I hope they like them!

At the station, we found our first supermarket – thus far, we’ve only seen convenience stores. I was delighted to find an ooki akai ringo (large red apple). I remember being blown away by the size of the apples on my last visit to Japan. We also bought some sandwiches and Stu chose a packet of lemon crisps.

It was then a dash to the platform to catch our Shinkansen to Himeji.

As soon as we left Himeji station, we were able to see Himeji Castle, which is at the end of a long street. It has only recently reopened after a six year restoration project.

Himeji © Jeremy Hollinshead

We all took lots of photos of the castle on our way in. It was the most expensive site that we have visited at 1000 yen (about £6.50), but it was worth every penny. It looks truly stunning from every direction and the interior is also interesting to see. As usual, we had to remove our shoes to go inside, which made the steep staircases feel a little dangerous, so I gripped hold of the handrails!

When we left the castle, we decided to try some local delicacies. Stuart had a melon ice cream, Jez had black sesame and I had a black sesame and soybean milk ice cream. Although I love the flavour of black sesame, Stuart’s was more unusual and refreshing.

We had a couple of hours before catching our Shinkansen back to Kyoto, so we decided to go for a meal. We found a pizza restaurant and the boys had a beer whilst I had a glass of melon soda, before heading to the station, for the hour long trip back to Kyoto.

Himeji © Jeremy Hollinshead

I just love the melon-flavoured food in Japan. I also love melon pan and hope to make some one day: japanese-cooking-class-tokyo-mari.com/recipe/2014/05/31/melon-pan-recipe-how-to-make-japanese-melon-bread/

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