Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hiroshima - Ground Zero

We initially planned on spending two nights in Hiroshima, so that we would have a full day to enjoy the sights. However, on the train down to Hiroshima from Osaka, I happened to glance at our rail pass and realised that it expired the next day! So we unfortunately had to cut down our trip to just one night so that we could get back to Tokyo without having to pay for the Shinkansen, since it normally costs about $300.


The first thing that we noticed about Hiroshima is that it is very new compared to the other cities. I didn't see any winding narrow lanes or old dilapidated buildings. The reason behind this is of course that the entire city was reduced to rubble in 1945.


The layout of the city and the handy tram service made it very easy for us to reach our accommodation (Hiroshima Central Hotel). The Hotel was fairly cheap and had the best ammenities so far (free buffet breakfast, kettle, trouser press, bar fridge, adult movies etc). It desperately needs a renovation but it did the job for one night.


That afternoon was a write-off as we crashed as soon as we got to the room, but we had only really come to see two things (the museum and the Peace Memorial Park) so that was fine.


The next day we went to see the sights, and on the way to the park we saw the A-Bomb Dome, which was originally the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, and is the only building left standing from the bomb. At the museum we saw an aerial photo of the city after the bomb and pretty much everything within a one-mile radius was obliterated, so I am gob-smacked that it managed to survive. Although they said that one of the reasons might be that the bomb exploded only 150m away and 600m in the air, so the impact came from nearly directly above rather than across, or something along those lines. Anyway, it is a sobering site as you enter the park and apparently a fund has been set up to preserve the building in perpetuity, and you can see the frames and struts inside the building holding it up.


The actual park is extremely beautiful, especially with the cherry blossoms in full bloom. There are a few poignant memorials: one to the Koreans who were brought to Hiroshima by force and used as slave-labour for the war-effort, one for the children who died (which was erected when a girl died after contracting leukaemia from the nuclear fall-out), and one which houses the names of all known people who died in the blast.

Michael was shocked by the fact that if it was not for the preservation of the A-Bomb Dome, along with all of the other memorials to the victims of the A-Bomb, you would not even know that the city had been completely destroyed 65 years ago. It looks and operates just like any other modern day city.


When we got to the museum we got the audio guide, but it wasn't necessary since all of the exhibits had English captions anyway. However it was still useful since it summarised some of the exhibits, as it was so busy that sometimes you couldn't even get close enough to read all of the information. The museum was extremely comprehensive, covering everything you could possibly want to know about atomic bombs, the history of the city, use of nuclear weapons around the world, Japan's involvement in WWII, the reason for Hiroshima being chosen as a target, graphic details on the medical impact of the bomb and how the city was rebuilt. We learnt heaps of interesting details, like the fact that 3 days after the bomb the Japanese had the electricity and even the trams back up and running.


After the museum we walked back through the park and headed to the train station to get a train to Tokyo. Unfortunately, all of the trains for that day were fully booked, except for the smoking cars. We had to say yes, so for 2 hours I had to sit next to a guy that I'm sure smoked an entire packet of cigarettes before we got to Osaka. There we transferred to a different train (smoking car again), but Michael figured out that there were some cars with unreserved seating which were non-smoking, so we went on there instead. After all of the second-hand smoke we have inhaled so far on the trip I would not be surprised if we both end up with lung cancer. It really makes me appreciate Perth, we are so lucky to have clean air in our restaurants, bars, hotels and trains!

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