I went to Japan!
The Australian national team was playing in the volleyball world cup there, and seeing as how I’ve never been, and may not have the chance again for a little while I decided to come along and cheer. I only attended the first week of matches which all took place in Hiroshima.
Apart from its horrific history, I didn’t know a great deal about the city. There were no other Aussie supporters coming to the first week, so I’d be on my own, and feared I’d run out of things to do. That was thankfully not the case at all. It turns out that some of the reasons why Hiroshima was targeted for the atomic bomb make it really beautiful city. Hiroshima was targeted because it was a good sized city framed by mountains on one side, and the sea on the other. That meant that that the power of the bomb could be effectively demonstrated on the city because it was big enough, but the border of the mountains could potentially focus the blast back in on the city and increase the damage. Now, it means that the city is simply in a beautiful location. I found Hiroshima to be lively, young, modern and beautiful.
But first, the tragic. One of my first stops was to the Peace museum and memorial park.
I don’t intend to discuss the political or historical decisions or what-ifs when it comes to the bombing. I will only share some of the details of the human cost. This year marked the 70th since the bomb exploded over Hiroshima.
The river Ota runs through the city of Hiroshima, and in the aftermath of the explosion, and subsequent fires, desperate citizens looking for relief jumped into the river. Soon, it was choked with corpses. Other unfortunates dying for a drink of water drank up the black rain that fell down upon the city after the explosion. This radioactive rain led to diarrhea that lasted for months and other radiation poisoning symptoms.
That is really the most upsetting and disturbing part. Some will compare fire bombings to the atomic bomb and make arguments about destruction that diminish the horror of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima. I find these arguments fairly unconvincing. The effects of the radiation on the people of Hiroshima, and the generations after who have dealt with debilitating health issues and birth defects tip the scales. At the time, knowledge about the health effects of radiation poisoning was nonexistent. Imagine the pain and fear of seeing mysterious symptoms crop up days, months and years after the bombing never knowing if they are temporary or more likely harbingers of imminent death.
In the peace park, there is a beautiful memorial to the children of Hiroshima. The memorial was erected in memory of Sadako Ssaki. Sadako was 2 years old when the bomb was dropped. She survived, and was growing up perfectly fine. 9 years later she became sick, and, like many survivors, was diagnosed with Leukemia. In the hospital, she dutifully folded paper cranes believing that, as the Japanese legend goes, if you fold 1,000 cranes your wish will be granted. Her wish was to be cured, and though she folded hundreds of cranes she died.
Her story was spread internationally to bring more awareness to the continuing struggles and hardships faced by the survivors of atomic bombings. Now, children all over the world are encouraged to fold paper cranes in her honor. A girl stands atop the memorial raising a paper crane above her.
Sadly, I don’t have any pictures, but one of the best things I visited in Hiroshima was the Museum of Contemporary Art. When I visited, they had a moving and disturbing exhibit which featured original artwork from survivors of the atomic bomb. I found the simple drawings and accompanying descriptions more emotive than some of the artifacts in the peace museum. Apparently contemporary art is on the rise in Hiroshima, and I’d highly recommend a visit.
Japan is the land of Kawaii or cuteness, and there’s cute stuff just about everywhere. Right beside the atomic dome, these barriers were set up.
Ok, on to the volleyball!
The kangaroo onesie made it to Hiroshima.
But it was still fun cheering on these guys!
I’m so proud of how PC has played for and led this team. Can’t wait to see if they make it to Rio!
Now for some other highlights…
The Hiroshima castle
I even got to try on a samurai helmet
Eating the city’s signature dish, Okonomiyaki made right in front of you.
A day trip to nearby island Miyajima.
The island is also home to a good number of overly friendly wild deer.
The island is known for its momiji manju, soft little cakes shaped like maple leaves and filled with things like red bean paste. I opted for a deep fried version filled with custard. Delish.
I also took a little jaunt out to the gorgeous Mitaki-dera temple. This temple was built in 809, and is named after the waterfalls that surround, and run through it. The temple blends so seamlessly with its natural environment, and it’s full of Buddhist statues, shrines, and a pagoda specially moved to Mitaki to comfort the souls of the atomic bomb victims. It all feels a little enchanted.
And finally a few other Japanese observations:
1) Japanese women are very fashion forward, and they especially love French fashion
2) Baseball is king there. The Hiroshima Carp are THE team of Hiroshima. I barely heard a word about the football team there. On game day, I saw tons of people wearing Carp gear, even cashiers in the department stores.
I was busy every single day of my time in Hiroshima. I even ran out of time to do everything I wanted including a trip to an island currently overrun by bunnies, but formerly a top secret testing location for poison gas during WWII. I ate so many strange and wonderful snacks. Bought tons of beautiful food, along with tons of food from my local 7/11. Gotta love those Japanese convenience stores. Japan, I’ll most certainly be back!