A Hiroshima pilgrimage

We were awake early on Monday morning and quickly packed for the next leg of our Japanese adventure, saying goodbye to our little Osaka AirBnB studio flat. We were bound for Hiroshima, so had to take a train to Osaka, then change and catch another for Shin-Osaka before we could catch our Shinkansen bullet-train to Hiroshima. As we’ve come to expect, everything happened precisely on time and we were quickly and efficiently on our way.

I had managed to get us a deal for £80 a night at a hotel right at Hiroshima station. The Hotel Granvia is one of a chain of station hotels in Japan. The place is clean, modern, and pleasant to spend time in, much like Japanese trains and stations. The other advantage of staying here was the fact that we had to tote the bags only a very short distance after arriving. This meant we were at the hotel by noon. With the official check-in time being 2:00pm, we checked our bags, picked up a map of the city, and headed out.

We were both born at the tail end of the 1950s and, growing up in the 60s and 70s, Hiroshima was a name with which we were all too familiar. We grew up with a kind of nuclear anxiety, too young to comprehend the events of the Cuban missile crisis but keenly aware of a general consciousness that the world could end at any moment in a nuclear holocaust. Hiroshima was, and still is, one of only two cities ever to have been struck by a nuclear weapon. It represented that potential for devastation in our minds. So, when we actually arrived here, our first destination was somewhat pre-ordained.

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If you’ve ever seen a picture of Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped, you’ll have seen the single building, ruined but still standing, in a landscape otherwise almost completely levelled. That ruin stood untouched until the start of reconstruction in Hiroshima. There was a great deal of controversy around what should be done with it. Many survivors would have preferred not to be reminded of that day, while others felt that there should be some monument to the events of 6th August, 1945. In the end, the decision was reached to preserve the ruin as a reminder to the world. Alongside it, a Peace Park has been constructed which contains various monuments and exhibitions.

The Peace Flame was lit in August 1964, the monument itself having been designed by Kenzo Tango – the same man who designed St. Mary’s Cathedral in Tokyo. Also in the park is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Hall. The hall includes a diorama view of the city taken by US military personnel a few days after the bomb had struck. The image is composed of a mosaic of 140,000 tiles – the number of people estimated to have died in the attack. Incredibly, this figure is provided with a margin of error of plus or minus 10,000. There is also a video presentation where the recollections of survivors and the bereaved can be heard. They talked about the loss of 544 first and second year students from the Hiroshima Municipal Girls’ High School. There’s a monument to the students killed in the attack and the inscription on it of Einstein’s famous formula that defines the energy released in a nuclear reaction.

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The visit to Hiroshima was something of a pilgrimage for us, and this was a sobering experience.

We travelled to and from the Peace Park by tram. Yet again, our Tokyo-bought Pasmo travel cards operated seamlessly on the tap and go readers on the cars. The train station was the central terminus for all routes, so our hotel was perfectly situated for us to see more of Hiroshima. After taking a few moments with our thoughts, we headed out for dinner. We had picked a burger and craft beer place called Kemby’s and I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, when we got there it was closed which forced me to learn yet another fact about Japanese culture.

There is a national holiday on the second Monday in January called “Coming of Age Day”. It is intended to celebrate Japanese youth reaching the age of majority – currently 20 but dropping to 18 in 2022. We ate in a small Japanese restaurant then walked back to the hotel. Our walk home coincided with a lot of the Coming of Age Day celebrants departing whatever festivities they had been participating in. Imagine, if you will, the scene if the whole of the UK held Sixth Form leaving balls on the same day. That appears to be the general vibe, particularly among the lads. The girls seemed altogether more sober, literally and figuratively.

It was an interesting day in Hiroshima, a city whose name is stamped indelibly on history but which, 70 years after that defining moment, goes about its business like any other world city. It’s a testament to their powers of recovery that this is the case. I’m glad we came here. 

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