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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chūgoku Trip: Day 3 4月20日

Days 1 and 2

Hiroshima 広島. It's a vibrant city with a population of 1.2 million people, but the name evokes a single disastrous morning in early August of 1945. Perhaps it was fitting that in a city so linked with tragedy that the day should start out gray and rainy. Leaving my hotel shortly after 8 on Friday morning, I walked along the modern streets and through the Hondōri 本通り covered shopping arcade (just stirring to life as I was passing through). And then I saw it - the symbol of the threat of nuclear holocaust, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The former Industrial Promotion Hall, now better known as the A-bomb Dome 原爆ドーム:



The building's shell somehow managed to remain standing despite being close to the hypocenter of the atomic bomb blast. It now serves as a silent witness to what happened on August 6, 1945 and though this was the second time for me to see the structure, it hadn't lost its emotional impact. 

The A-bomb Dome sits across the Motoyasu-gawa River 元安川 from the Peace Memorial Park 平和記念公園. There's the Children's Peace Monument, dedicated to Sasaki Sadako 佐々木貞子, who died from leukemia at the age of 12 after being exposed to radiation in the bombing:


The Flame of Peace will be extinguished once the last nuclear weapon has been destroyed. Behind it is the Memorial Cenotaph and the Peace Memorial Museum:


The Memorial Cenotaph was designed by Kenzō Tange 丹下健三. Below the arch is a coffin-like box containing the names of all the A-bomb victims. The arch is aligned with the museum, the flame and the A-bomb Dome. This is the place where the annual memorial service is held every August 6:


One other interesting spot in the park is the Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the Bomb. About 10% of all the A-bomb victims were Koreans, many of them forced laborers:


After touring the park, I went over to the Peace Memorial Museum 平和祈念資料館. Back in 1990 during my first visit to Hiroshima, there was only one building, and I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of context given to the displays. It was as if just one day, for no apparent reason, this terrible bomb fell out of the sky, eventually killing 140,000 innocent people. Since my last visit, however, a new building has been constructed which does an excellent job of placing the tragedy in a broader perspective. Hiroshima's history as a military city from the Meiji period 明治時代 onward is explained in detail, including right up to August 6, 1945. 

There are also displays on the decision made by the American government to drop the bomb. Apparently, the original plan was to demonstrate the power of the atomic bomb on the Japanese fleet based at the Pacific island of Truk. However, officials wanted to see what the bomb could do to an urban area, and Hiroshima was chosen as one of the unlucky test candidates. From the documents displayed in the museum, at least, it appeared little if any consideration was given to the effects the bomb would have on men, women and children.

Both the newer and older parts of the museum are fascinating, in a very horrifying sense of the term. There are photographs of the damage (the second picture was one of the few taken in the city itself on the day of the bombing):



There are also personal effects like watches frozen in time at 8:15am, the moment when the bomb detonated:


A great many of the victims were students, who were outside involved in demolition work (they were helping to create fire breaks as many buildings in Japan at that time were made of wood and therefore susceptible to fire in air raids) when the bomb was dropped. In some cases, their bodies were never found, and all that remained were pieces of clothing or schoolbags. Others managed to make it to their homes, only to die there, and their families later donated some of their belongings they had with them when they died to the museum. The hardest for me was the tricycle belonging to a boy of almost four. He was riding it outside when the bomb exploded, and his bereaved father buried his son along with the trike in the family's backyard. 

Back in my younger, more right-wing days, I followed the party line - the atomic bomb was terrible, but it shortened the war and saved more lives in the long run. While it's easy to judge others in hindsight (and therefore feel morally superior by doing so), the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 長崎 were done more as a test of the new weapon's capabilities than as a militarily expedient strategic option (the Japanese were on the verge of starvation, and the Soviet Union was getting ready to invade Manchuria). To its credit, the Peace Memorial Museum refuses to pass any moral judgements, but its obvious from the displays that the people of Hiroshima paid a terrible price for the sins of others. As the saying goes, "No more Hiroshimas". 

The view from the corridor linking the older west building with the newer east building of the museum:


One final look at the A-bomb Dome before leaving the park:


The name "Hiroshima" may be synonymous with "nuclear holocaust", but the city has done a remarkable job in rebuilding itself from the ashes of the bombing. Here's the Hondōri arcade as lunchtime approached:


Speaking of food, Hiroshima is noted for its okonomiyaki お好み焼き, and the most popular place to have some is at Okonomi-mura お好み村, with 28 okonomiyaki restaurants packed into three floors. So I naturally chose a place outside, at street level, instead:




Fortified on the savory pancake (the beer didn't hurt, either), I rode the streetcar to the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum 広島県立美術館. Unfortunately, photography wasn't allowed inside, but the collection was pretty good, with pride of place going to Salvador Dali's surrealistic Dreams of Venus:


Behind the museum was the attractive Shukkei-en stroll garden 縮景園. Originally laid out in 1619, the garden was destroyed in the atomic bombing, and in fact the bones of some victims are interred there. The present Shukkei-en is a well-done reconstruction. This couple was having some wedding photographs taken on the grounds:


Some more photos, including a panoramic shot:







Shukkei-en served as a necessary dose of beauty after a morning related to atomic destruction. I did a little more walking around the central part of Hiroshima before returning to my hotel. This is the view from the 9th floor of the Parco department store パルコ:


The weather had improved greatly since the morning, so I decided to try again to see a baseball game. This time the Carp were playing the Chūnichi Dragons 中日ドラゴンズ, and it was no problem at all getting a ticket for the game. My dinner consisted of a hot dog, plus a Jun Hirose 廣瀬純 bentō 弁当:


There was still some time before the 6pm start of the game, so I took a walk around Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium .Just three years old, Mazda Stadium is a great improvement on the older Japanese ballparks. For one thing, it has real grass and not artificial turf, and the infield isn't all-dirt like at many older stadiums in Japan. It's also possible to walk the concourse around the entire stadium:



Looking outside, you could watch the bullet trains 新幹線 passing by:


My seat was along the third-base line:



The game turned out to be a pitchers' duel, with the starter for the Carp being Bryan Bullington, the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft and a former top prospect with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Unfortunately for the home team's fans, the Dragons won this one 2-0:


It wasn't a cheap night out: the ticket was ¥3000 ($37); the hot dog, bentō and a couple of beers came to ¥2800 ($34); and the two souvenirs I purchased (a teddy bear for Amber and a cap for myself) set me back ¥4400 ($54). In other words, seeing a baseball game in Japan is just as expensive as seeing an MLB contest in the States! But it was a good game, and I had a good time, so I was glad I was able to go.

Like virtually all large Japanese urban areas, Hiroshima has thousands of places to eat and drink after dark. I took a walk through one entertainment district, Nagarekawa 流川, before retiring for the evening:




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