Falling In Love With The Under-Rated City Of Japan
Hiroshima comes the least when you seek advice on the best place to travel in Japan on youtube and any other social media. Most travellers, vloggers, bloggers are very keen to showcase Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka as their top destinations when travelling to Japan. But some times in the mid-April 2019, I arrived for the first time in the city. Soon I walked out of the station, I fell in love with the city.
Hiroshima is probably the most accessible city to navigate compared to any other Japanese cities. With 2.089 million population per June 2019 (Source: Wikipedia), it’s just easy to guess that the city is not even in the top ten highest Japan inhabited cities, such as Tokyo skyrockets to 13.9 million (2019), followed by Yokohama, and Osaka as the third largest.
Unlike Tokyo, that makes your heart pound hard, and your pulse pumps to the fast rhythm of the megapolitan, Hiroshima is a brother who wraps his arm around you to take for a walk. Lying in the southwestern of Honshu island, Hiroshima these days is a laid-back city decorated with tree-lined boulevards, quiet cornered parks, and hassle-free shopping malls. To me, at least Hiroshima has always been the city with a reluctant charm.
When you walk out of the station, tramps or streetcars are the easiest way to travel around the inner city. The retro light rail covers the trip from Hiroshima station all the way down to the Peace Memorial Park.
Getting off the tramp at Genbaku Dome stop and walking towards the skeletal dome, it’s hard for one to imagine that here in the Genbaku Dome Hiroshima, once lied the tragedy of humanity that the world had ever witnessed.
After 74 years of the disaster, I was standing right in front of the ruins and the skeletal dome. One morning on 6 August 1945, the skeletal dome once housed the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. For those wondering why the entire building wasn’t wiped off flat to the ground by the atomic explosion, this is a little note for you:
The explosion occurred at 600 metres height. It is precisely 160 metres to the southeast of the then now Atomic Bomb Dome. At the time of detonation, it generated a massive blast with 35 tons of pressure per square metre. The explosion created a significant blow with a speed of 440 metres per second. Due to the overhead directional blast, the outer walls and steel-frame dome escaped complete destruction. It is the remains that we see today.
The skeletal dome standing still before my eyes was a clear reminder of our loss and pains, victory and defeat, blood and tears, and most of all, our hopes. I have read many histories of the 2nd World War books. I have studied and seen films about Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. I have met and listened to the stories from the war witnesses. One of them was my grandmother. Eventually, I made my way to the Genbaku Dome, the home of 47.2 ha Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The park complex consists of the Atomic Bomb Dome, the Cenotaph for Atomic Bomb Victims and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
The museum is probably the most compelling museum I have ever visited though it is not for those of the fainted hearts. I braved myself to jump in the long queue for the museum. It took me through a visual journey minutes before the A-bomb, the moment it dropped and the aftermath of the explosion. Walking through the visual displays, photographies, the artifacts from the casualties, only haunted me with more questions of humanity. The experience was daunting yet moving. The message of hope, peace, and friendship in the form of colourful origami cranes was after all heart-warming.
I made the origami crane one myself with the help of a thirteen years old boy. From the rooftop of Orizuru tower (only a minute walk to the east of the A-bomb Dome), I was standing on the glass floor, looking down millions of colourful crates from previous visitors. A Japanese artist has come up with an art installation project to build a glass wall tower filled with origami cranes. How far have we become since the tragedy? How far have we learned from the ugliest face of war? I let the crane fall off my hand, joining a million others, as a wish for the world peace.
When the night falls, it’s vibrant, and many eating and drinking spots have got their loyal customers patiently queuing to get a seat. Okonomimura is a multi-level eating place. Their specialty is a delicious multi-layered pancake Okonomiyaki (Hiroshimayaki if you like), being cooked in front of you not only to impress you but they also taste damn tasty. Heading to Okonomimura earlier before dinner time is always advisable. You never who will sit next to you and toss your glass beer with.
Miyajima island is yet another charm when you visit Hiroshima. The island can be reached by ferry from the main island by train to Miyajimaguchi Station (JR Sanyo Line). It is an only 2-minute walk to the wharf, and catch a ferry bound for the island.
The sun was about to leave the horizon as tourists patiently made a long queue to board the ferry to Miyajima island. The water was calm and dark. Mists blanketed the water surface. Before leaving the hotel early morning, I wondered if I would be the only person on the island. Soon when I got off the train at Miyajimaguchi station, there were hundreds of tourists heading to the ferry wharf.
Miyajima is the island where gods and people live together. This is the home of Itsukushima shrine, known to the world as the floating shrine. There are myths blended with historical facts when it comes to the construction of the shrine itself. The great torii has inevitably become the symbol of the island. In Japanese tradition, the great Torii resembles a portal between the spirits and the human worlds. In other words, the parallel universe indeed exists, at least in the Japanese traditional understanding of realms. Shinto, as the native religion of the nation, is assimilated with Buddhism imported from China in the sixth century.
Patches of dark clouds dotted over the island. The moon had been long gone, leaving the low tide to reveal the six pillars of the great torii standing still on the ground, unmoved and undisturbed. I was walking on the muddy dark sand under the great torii. Here I was in Miyajima. The island where gods and people live together, walking through the 16.6-metre high torii.
I saw Itsukushima shrine in the distance. Mount Misen in the background was covered by a carpet of trees. Ahead of me, the sun gently shone down on Itsukushima shrine. It was red and gold, the colour of love.