Hiroshima and the weight of history

JOINING HIROSHIMA

Wednesday, December 2, I leave Kochi by bus at 10:20am. The trip to Matsuyama on the northwest coast of Shikoku is quiet. The bus drops me off at Matsuyama station at 1.45pm. I swallow my lunch in two spoonfuls and then I take another bus that brings me to the ferry terminal. I have barely five minutes to buy my ticket and rush to get on board and I’m gone. It has been at least a decade since I boarded a ferry. The view of the coastline that goes away filled me with joy, without my knowing why. The crossing is peaceful, the ferry sails between the different islands that dot the course.

The view from the Ferry - Between Shikoku and Hiroshima - © Claire Blumenfeld

I arrive in Hiroshima around 4pm. It’s raining and it’s almost dark. I take the tram to join my guesthouse, a forty minutes from the ferry terminal. It is under a torrential rain that I arrive at destination. The entrance to my accommodation is located in a tiny alley (do not miss it!). First time I spend the night in dormitories since my arrival in Japan. I dread a little but it is going very well. The guesthouse is tiny but very nice. I share the female dormitory with Jenny, a young Taiwanese who works in Japan and who has been in the guesthouse for 1 year! Three young men are also present: a Norwegian, a Brazilian and a Taiwanese. The evening is very convivial. We discuss our travels and our impressions of Japan.

HIROSHIMA AND THE ATOMIC BOMB

Wake up with the sun which unfortunately will not last. I head for the Genbaku Dome or Dome of the Atomic Bomb, symbol of the destruction of Hiroshima during the Second World War. On August 6, 1945, the atomic bomb exploded almost just above the building. Although largely destroyed, the building was one of the few buildings at the epicenter of the explosion to remain standing. Its appearance today is the same as that just after the explosion.

Genbaku Dome (Atomic Bomb Dome) - Hiroshima - © Claire Blumenfeld

The sight of the building instantly brings tears to my eyes. Contemplating with my own eyes, the remains of horror that I have seen so many times in photo or animation do something extremely strong to me. A little disgusted I watch tourists succeed to take a picture of themselves with the Dome in the background.

I then tour the Peace Memorial Park with commemorative monuments. These include the Children’s Monument for Peace inspired by the unhappy story of little Sasaki Sadako. At the age of 11, Sasaki developed leukemia as a result of atomic radiation. She then decided to make 1000 folded paper cranes meaning that she would heal if she achieved her goal. (The crane is a symbol of longevity and happiness in Japan). But she died before she could do it. His classmates finished the missing cranes to pay homage to her. Since then, crane folding has become very popular in Japan.

I also visit the National Peace Memorial for the victims of the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb. An underground hall invites the visitor to meditation with a 360 ° reproduction of the Hiroshima view just after the impact. In the adjoining rooms are kept testimonials and videos broadcasting the names and photographs of the missing. The video lasts 4 hours! The vision of names that scroll without interruption is untenable. I go out to visit the Peace Memorial Museum next door. The visit is also very painful. The atmosphere is heavy in the museum. Very few people speak and we hear a lot of sniffles. Some of the objects and images presented are absolutely shocking.

I leave the museum my heart in pieces. A short walk in the open Hiroshima makes me feel good. Despite the horror that occurred here 70 years ago, there are few traces left. The entirety city has been rebuilt and only the memorial park and the Genbaku Dome bear witness to the events. Walking in the busy streets, it is a bit difficult to tell that all this really happened.

Hiroshima - © Claire Blumenfeld

The sun plays hide-and-seek with the clouds and it’s cold (much colder than at Kochi, the difference in latitude is obvious). I buy my lunch that I will eat in the Hiroshima-jô gardens, Hiroshima Castle. A beautiful sanctuary is located within the castle grounds.

The door of Hiroshima Castle - © Claire Blumenfeld

Shrine - Hiroshima Castle - © Claire Blumenfeld

Nicknamed the “Castle of the Carp”, the Hiroshima Castle presents an architecture different from the other castles that I saw since it is a “castle of the plains” (it is not located in height). Built in 1589, the castle and its surrounding buildings were almost completely destroyed during the Meiji Restoration. The remaining remains were razed by the bomb in 1945. The castle was completely rebuilt in 1958.

The outside of the castle is beautiful, all in wood. By cons the interior is all concrete, what a pity. Fortunately, there are exposed masks and armor worn by samurai and warriors as well as different types of swords. The top floor has a nice view of Hiroshima but it’s too cold for me to linger.

Sounds of Hiroshima – In the gardens of the castle

 

Back at the hostel, I spend a very pleasant evening in the company of Jenny and Doris, young Chinese arrived today at the guesthouse. We discuss our differences and our beliefs. Jenny tells me that she strongly believes in the existence of ghosts, including a pretty scary Taiwanese ghost. She finds it particularly surprising that we Europeans, despite all our legends, do not believe in the existence of spirits or ghosts. I tell him that I am interested in Shintoism (belief in a multitude of deities) and animism (belief in a soul, life force animating all living beings (humans, trees, animals …), objects and the natural elements), which are two beliefs particularly implanted in Japan. This discussion of cultural differences is very interesting.

Tomorrow I leave for Miyajima, a small island in Hiroshima Bay considered to be one of the three most beautiful sites in Japan.

4 comments

  1. Je reprends un peu ma lecture de ton blog, toujours avec beaucoup d’intérêt.
    Hiroshima a été pour moi aussi une étape importante dans ma première visite du Japon. Ce lieu est un symbole de ce que l’humanité peu faire de pire.
    Au début je n’avais pas prévu de visité le musée. Mais étant là-bas, je l’ai fait. Je ne connaissait pas le sous-sol. Mais déjà le reste est poignant !
    A mon sens, on ne peut aller au Japon sans aller à Hiroshima.
    Merci pour ce récit.

    1. Merci Laurent ! Hiroshima était aussi pour moi une visite obligée. Le sous-sol ne se trouve pas dans le musée mais dans le Mémorial national de la paix pour les victimes de la bombe atomique d’Hiroshima, un petit bâtiment dans le parc. La visite de la salle souterraine et des témoignages est extrêmement poignante.

      1. D’accord. Je comprends mieux que je ne l’ai pas vu. C’est le monument où il y a une flamme qui brûlera tant qu’il y aura des armes nucléaires sur terre ?

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