Saturday, June 17, 2017

Remembering the Past in Hiroshima

The afternoon of our ninth day in Japan was dedicated to remembering the past by visiting the city of Hiroshima.

History Lesson 1: Life in a Castle Town

Our first stop was the Hiroshima Castle, nicknamed the Carp Castle. The castle stands in an area that used to be called Koi-no-ura, which means Carp (Koi) Sea Shore, hence the nickname.

Like all castles, Hiroshima Castle is surrounded by a moat. The castle tower that stands now is a reconstruction (the original was destroyed in 1945). The castle is five stories tall and is now used as a museum. The first floor is mainly about Hiroshima Castle; the second floor is about life in the castle town, including replicas of a tea house, a merchant house, and a samurai house; the third floor displays Samurai weapons and armours (the most interesting exhibit for me); the fourth floor is for exhibits about Hiroshima's history and culture; and the fifth floor serves as an observation deck. Taking of photos inside are only allowed in few select areas (like the area where you can dress up as a samurai).

Hiroshima Castle
9AM to 6PM (5PM from December to February)
Admission fee: 370 yen


View from Hiroshima Castle

Across the moat

History Lesson 2: War and Peace

If you listened to your history teacher (or even if you didn't, I am sure you have picked up this fact some time in your life), you know that Hiroshima was where the US dropped the first atomic bomb in August 6, 1945. At 8:15AM on that day, the city of Hiroshima was completely destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

Today, more than 70 years since that horrific day, Hiroshima is a bustling city that has long since risen from the ashes. But not without reminding the world of its past and the hope for world peace with its 120,000 square meter Peace Memorial Park 平和記念公園 found in the heart of the city.

Within the park is the Genbaku Dome (A-Bomb Dome), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just 160 meters from the hypocenter, the building that was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall remained standing (albeit destroyed). The ruins remain in the same condition as it was immediately after the bombing. It stands to remind us of the destruction that humankind can create and to express hope for world peace, thus it is also called the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial / Genbaku Dome (A-Bomb Dome)

Walking around the Peace Memorial Park was a time for reflection and prayer. In the park we saw the Children's Peace Monument, dedicated to all the children who died in the bombing. Thousands of paper cranes can be found around the monument as these are offered as symbols of peace.

Sadako Sasaki was two years old during the bombing. It was only nine years later that she was diagnosed of leukemia. She kept on folding paper cranes in the hopes that it would help her recover. Her death, just eight months after the diagnosis, prompted her classmates to call for support in building a monument not only for her but for all the children who have died because of the nuclear bomb. That came into fruition as the Children's Peace Monument.

Children's Peace Monument

From the Children's Peace Monument we walked towards the Peace Memorial Museum. We passed by the Flame of Peace, designed to look like hands opened towards the sky and pressed together at the wrist. It was first lit in August 1, 1964 and has continuously burned since. The fire will keep on burning until the day all the world gets rid of its nuclear weapons.

Across the Flame of Peace, before we reached the museum, we stopped by the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims. The stone chamber sheltered by the arch of the Cenotaph is inscribed with this prayer: "Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil." The stone chamber also holds the registry containing almost 300,000 names of those who died from the bombing, regardless of nationality.

Looking at the Flame of Peace and Genbaku Dome through the Cenotaph

By the time we reached the Peace Memorial Museum, it was already closed. If it had been open, I am not sure we'd have the strength to go in and look through the artifacts and personal belongings of the victims, let alone watch video testimonies of survivors.

830AM to 6PM (7PM in August / 5PM from December to February)
Admission fee: 200 yen

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

History Lesson 3: Okonomiyaki

While we were wandering around the Peace Memorial Park in a somber mood, hunger struck and my friend suggested we try okonomiyaki, a pancake (looks more like an omelette to me) made of cabbage, eggs, pork or seafood (or both), topped with sweet sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed, and fish flakes. A debate started about okonomiyaki's place of origin: I read somewhere that it originated in Osaka, my friend insisted that it originated in Hiroshima. Osaka. Hiroshima. Food is food and we were hungry so we set out to find a place that serves okonomiyaki. There is actually a cluster of okonomiyaki restaurants in an area called Okonomimura ("Okonomiyaki Village") just a 10-minute walk from where we were but we were too hungry (and too lazy) to go there. Instead we looked for one at Hon Dori (Hon Street) near Genbaku Dome.

In search of okonomiyaki at Hon Dori

We didn't venture too far and found one on the second floor of a narrow building. The name of the restaurant was in Japanese but we knew it to be an okonomiyaki restaurant thanks to the photos of okonomiyaki that adorned the signage.

1-5-15-201 Otemachi Naka-ku Hiroshima

Early afternoon hunger brought us to Uzushio

We were able to try two flavors: the regular one with just pork and egg (600 yen) and the okonomiyaki special with pork, egg, squid, prawn, and noodles (1300 yen). I don't think I could finish one order myself, not because of the taste (it was actually very flavorful) but because one order is enough for two persons. (Thank God for travel buddies!)

What's the lesson here? It doesn't really matter where it originated. Just try okonomiyaki in Hiroshima and in Osaka as these two have different styles of okonomiyaki.

Getting around Hiroshima City: We went around the city using the Hiroshima Sightseeing Loop Bus. The sightseeing bus stops by the above spots and more (Toshogu Shrine, Shukkein-en Garden, and several art museums). The Hiroshima Sightseeing Loop Bus is operated by JR, thus the JR Pass is valid for unlimited rides on the bus. Otherwise, buy a one day pass for 400 yen, or pay individual fare (200 yen per ride).

Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima (you're here!)
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Castle and Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

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