Saturday, June 17, 2006

Josh goes to the big city (just click on any picture to make it bigger)

Hello all,

I finally went to the out on my own. Today, I went all the way to Hiroshima. Many people, like me, probably thought that Hiroshima University is in Hiroshima itself; actually it is in Higashihiroshima which is about 40 miles to the east of Hiroshima. And without a car or any other means of transportation, it was time to take a little trip on the bus. Besides the fact that I have used the public bus system very little even in the US, most bus drivers know little to no English, so I thought that just the trip to get to Hiroshima would be very interesting. Well, there was trouble from the very beginning.

I had a list of stops and times from Dr. Yamamoto. I picked the one that I was told wo
uld be right in front of the dorm complex because it should have been the closest, but then I couldn’t find it. When I finally did find it, I realized that I didn’t know which side of the street I should be on(there were two stops right across the busy street from the other). None of the Japanese symbols looked like the ones for the stop that I was supposed to be at, so I decided to cross the street, and hope that there aren’t any jaywalking laws in Japan aren’t enforced like in the US. I finally got to the stop after being stuck in on the median for a bit due to traffic, and then, by pointing at the paper and hand gestures that was indeed at the right spot to go to Hiroshima. After a very quiet bus ride (I think talking on the bus must be against the law because I didn’t there a word spoken for the entire 50 minutes) it was time to get off and pay. I had been told by an American that the bus ride for this trip was exactly 1000 so though I would just give the diver a 1000 yen bill, but I thought wrong again. I first had to get change and then put the coins on a little conveyer belt, and the bus diver managed to get out that the fair was only 800 .

I was now off the bus and on the third floor of the Sago department store, and let me tell you, when they make a d
epartment store in Japan, they really make a store. The size of each floor is only a bit larger than in the US. The difference is that there were ten floors. I knew that there was an English book store in some part of the store, I just couldn’t remember exactly were it was, but after wandering around the closest three floors, and having little luck, I gave up on finding it.

I decided that I would first go the castle, and save the best, the peace park, for last. I was soon reminded of the safety of Japan when I walked outside and saw two kids that were probably seven or eight riding there bikes down the street of downtown Hiroshima (pop. 1.1 million). I passed the art museum, which would be for the trip back and ventured into the underground walkway. It seems that instead of having the pedestrians cross the street, at busy intersections they just make a tunnel to walk below the street. I came out on the other side right outside the castle walls. I read the little plaque telling about the castle and walked decided to explore the surrounding neighborhood. I found what I thought was a huge temple and took a few pictures before heading back to the castle to look inside. There was a little man inside, and like many other places, I had to take off my shoes before looking around inside. On the plaque it said that 10,000 soldiers were stationed at the castle at one time, and while I was looking though these two small building, I couldn’t figure out how 10,000 could fight from this small place let alone life there.

After leaving I decided to look around on the other side and see if I could get closer to the temple I had seen earlier from far off. While walking around the mote that protected the castle, I saw that many coy live in the mote along with many turtles. I finally got back to the base of the “temple” and read the sign that said “Hiroshima Castle” and then felt very silly. I had been looking around the outer walls and fortifications before and “huge temple” was actually the castle. After walking around the huge interior and the five levels, I could see how 10,000 soldiers lived there. I was not allowed to take any pictures of the inside museum part of the castle that told about the construction of the castle and the history of the castle and the samurai that had once lived there. The construction and engineering was quite fascinating. The castle, against the advice of many, was built on a silt island between two rivers. This made for a great defense but an interesting engineering challenge which was overcome over four hundred years ago. And in the four hundred years that followed, the only thing that could destroy the castle was an atomic bomb.

Next, I went to the Hiroshima Museum of Art. I know very little about art, but I had even heard of the very famous painters in this surprisingly large collection. I really liked the painting of Millet, Pissarro, Monet, and other Impressionism painters. I even the picture
s they had from Renoir, Seurat, Cézanne, and van Gogh were very nice, but I still have trouble appreciating Picasso. One of the galleries in the main building and the entire second building was for Picasso and a few other abstract artists. I stood and stared at the pictures for a long time like the rest of the people trying to figure out what was so special about them, but I couldn’t figure it out. If there are any art lovers out there that can explain their appreciation for abstract paintings, please help me out here.

After wandering around the museum for a couple of hours, I decided it was time to find the peace park. After getting lost for a bit, the A-bomb dome came into view. This building was formerly the Hiroshima Prefectural Industry Promotion Hall, and was almost right below the place where the atomic bomb went off. Due to the fact that the bomb produces waves of destruction, the ruins of this building were left standing, unlike many of the surrounding neighborhoods. The building has been left exactly as it was after the bomb went off. It is right across the river from the peace park and the bridge in the shape of a “T” that the used as the guide for the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb.

After walking across the bridge I walked into the peace park and to the place there paper cranes are collected. I remember in elementary school reading the book of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. It told the story of a girl who was suffering an illness caused by the radiation of the bomb. She was told that if she could make 1,000 paper cranes, she would be healed of her illness. She spent every day making cranes, but died just short of the 1,000th crane. Now people from all over Japan and all over the world bring cranes in memory of her and the others that died either directly, or from the side affects of the bomb.

I then made my way to the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. It is a round building that is completely under ground. From the front doors, visitors immediately after receiving a guide enter into the main hall. A ramp leads around the main hall, and along the ramp, there are different facts about the Hiroshima before the bomb, facts about the destruction, and facts about the city since. In the center is the Hall of Remembrance. The upper portion of the walls is a 360o view of the city from the hypocenter. The picture is made of 140,000 tiles which is the estimated total number of victims that had died by the end of 1945. On the lower portion of the walls are the names of the neighborhood in 1945. The lower the name is on the wall, the closer to the hypocenter. As I left, I entered a room that just has monitors with a constantly changing list of names of victims that died along with their photos. After going up the escalators back to the top floor, there is a library where there are the tesimonies of the survivors along with their pictures and other photographs in their collection.

After leaving the Memorial Hall, I walled throught the rest of the Peace Park. One thing that surprised me, was the large number of tourists that were speaking English, which was a change from university where even the people that are from the US mostly speak Japanese in regular conversation. Another surprise were all the groups of older Japanese people that were visiting the Peace Park. I wanted to save the best for last and visit the atomic bomb museum last. Unfortunately, I had waited too long and just missed the time that they shut the doors. I guess I will just have to go back sometime before I leave.

Since I had missed that, and still had a bit of time before I wanted to head back to the bus station, I walked to the Shirakami-sha Shrine, which turned out to be a small empty building that looked very out of place next to the rest of the high rises that surrounded it. The only activity at all was a small Japanese woman that walked up as I was reading a plaque in from. She only paused for a moment an made a slight bow and then hurried off as fast as she had come. I learned from the plaque that was outside the shire was built on the place on the reefs where the signal fires used to be lit to keep ships from running aground on the reef.

I soon realized there was very little to see here so I decided that I would just wander around the city. It didn’t actually cross my mind at first that maybe I shouldn’t just wander around in a big city, where I didn’t know my way around, and I could talk to anybody and ask for help in the event I did get lost. That thought only entered my mind when I started walking around a huge mall, and came out I realized that I had come out the wrong way and I was just a little lost. After wandering around a little more, I found the a place that I never expected, a Subway restaurant. I walked in and got my 15 cm. turkey breast sandwich just like always, and amazingly it tasted exactly like the ones it get back at home. It was the perfect end to a great day.

I then just had to get back to the bus station before I got stuck in Hiroshima for the night. I wandered in the general direction where I thought that the Sago department store and after a bit, things started to look more and more familiar. I made it back to the third floor and the fear hit me again. With 15-20 different gates at the station, it happened to be the one place where everybody was rushing around, and I didn’t see anybody around that could help me. I finally found something at one of the gates that said Hiroshima International University, and the first person I tried to talk to spoke English pretty well. He told me that this was in fact the place to get on the bus to go to Higashihiroshima. He told me that was the bus that he was talking and he would tell me when to get on(it turned out that there were many routes that used that gate, and a different bus would pull up every five minutes, and only per hour would take me back). For some reason the bus did not stop at the place at the top of the hill where I got on, but I got off at the university and was happy enough just to be back somewhere familiar. I know that I went on forever and that is probably enough for you and for me.

Till next time



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