Our Japan Trip

June 29, 2008

A Day to Remember (written on June 27)

Filed under: Japan Trip — Andy Mayer @ 7:15 am

We spent the day today in Hiroshima, and now I write to you from the lobby of our hotel in Kyoto, after about a two hour train ride back in the direction of Tokyo. My sister has booked us a Hotel Nishimaya, which is a ryokan – a traditional Japanese inn. We’ve got a family room, if you are looking at the site.

As noted yesterday, we spent today on a tour in Hiroshima. I will come clean and admit that I finally made a pit stop at a Starbucks. I’m normally a grande or venti-a-day guy, but I hadn’t had a Starbucks in over a week. The stuff hit me like an 18-wheeler, but, once it got into my system, it was the fix I needed. I’m never going a week without Starbucks again. (They should pay me for this.)

Our first stop for the day was at Miyajima. Miyajima is an island shrine, accessible only by boat from Hiroshima. The legend has it that sometime in the 12th century, I think, the grandmother of a young emperor, in an attempt to save him from a coup, grabbed him and fled underwater to an “underwater kingdom.” Not finding the kingdom, she and the emperor drowned. Her body washed up on the beach where the shrine now is, but the emperor’s body was never found. The island, in reality, is part shrine and part tourist mecca. After we saw the shrine and took the requisite pictures, we were given an hour free time to find lunch and peruse a two-block row of souvenir shops. I will admit that we had a fabulous lunch of fried and grilled oysters, but it was still clearly a tourist haven. Perhaps the neatest (or oddest) thing on the island is the free roaming deer. They are everywhere and will walk right up to you and sniff your pockets for food. They warned us that the deer would eat anything that is dropped, and they were right. I saw two island maps being chewed on by two deer.

The remainder of the day was spent at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum. I’m really not sure how to put those few hours into words. When you are on site of one of only two atomic bomb explosions and see the devastation for yourself, it’s mind numbing. No pictures from there out of respect for the victims.

I have been to two concentration camps in Poland: Auschwitz and Birkenau. I have also been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. twice. I have said repeatedly that each time in the museum, the way it is laid out, impacted me more than the camps themselves. If you have been to the Holocaust Museum in DC, you know that you are emotionally and mentally drained after leaving. My feeling then is the only feeling to which I can compare my feelings today.

Like the Holocaust Museum, the Peace Memorial Museum pulls no punches. It shows Hiroshima before the blast and after. It shows graphic pictures of the devastation to property and the devastation to people, with no punches pulled. There is picture after picture of full-body burns, missing eyes, glass shards embedded in walls, furniture, and people. There is case after case of remnants from 11, 12 and 13-year old students that died: their lunchboxes, clothes, bicycles, notebooks, etc. They show you shadows made by people who were instantly vaporized. They explain the impact of radiation graphically, including pictures that belong in medical textbooks. They also explain the history of nuclear weapons from earliest creation through the Cold War and present day. They point out that, despite treaties, there are still many, many nuclear weapons in existence – most way more powerful than the bombs that hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I would challenge anyone to walk through the museum and not come away thinking we need to get rid of all nuclear weapons.

As if the museum wasn’t impactful enough, the walk we took through the park to get to the museum was as well. We started near the bomb’s epicenter at the remnants of a building now called the “Atomic Dome,” which was one of the few buildings to survive the blast. We walked past a children’s monument, where millions of origami cranes are in cases as testament to the sacrifices made by children, both during the blast and years later due to cancer and other diseases. There is an eternal flame that will stay lit until all nuclear weapons are abolished, and a memorial that encases the names of all those that perished.

The day was made even more meaningful by our guide. Her husband, who is 80-years-old, was ill and home during the blast. He was 17 at the time and, had he not been ill, would most likely have perished. Her father-in-law hasn’t been seen since the blast – no body, no nothing. Her brother-in-law lived a short time after the blast. He was 13. At the time of the blast, she lived on an island 10km south of Hiroshima and wasn’t impacted.

My apologies for going on so long. I wanted to get this out before too long, so that I could express to you the reaction that I had. I’m not sure what my 10-year old thinks. I know my almost 13-year-old didn’t know much about the arms race and did learn quite a bit. But, since he’s almost 13, he can’t admit that to his dad.

Tomorrow, we’re touring temples in Kyoto. Have a good weekend.

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