Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Day 5 - Hiroshima - The A Bomb Experience (Wednesday)

Half the day was a travel day. We had reservations at 7:40AM headed to Shin-Osaka and from there to Hiroshima arriving at 12:30PM.

This was the first time we took the Shinkansen (bullet train). It is amazing how precise things are in the train stations. The train does not stop for more than a few minutes so everyone is ready to jump in or out as soon as it stops. We realized that the trains do not have any special compartment for large luggage and it was somewhat of a hassle to drag the luggage across platforms. We are seriously considering to ship some of our luggage from one city to another (maybe skipping cities) and travelling lighter since we were told that the courier service (Takyubin) is very reliable and inexpensive. We also noticed that the reservation ticket does not say from which track your train departs so you either have to ask one of the staff members or find the information in a monitor.

Upon arriving, I met with my cousin who lives in a town 3h away from Hiroshima and headed to our hotel, which was about a 100m from the station (Toyoko-Inn Hiroshimaeki Shinkasenguchi). The checkin time was only at 4PM (the hotel asks you to vacate the room between 10AM and 4PM for cleaning purposes), so we had to drop our bags at the lobby and went for a tour.

We took the tram which departs from the south side of the station. The shinkansen tracks are on the north side so you need to use an underpassage to cross from one side to another. At the tram stop, there are machines that you can you use to buy a 1-day ticket (600/300 Yen - Adult/child). Since we only anticipated going to the A-Bomb site and return we decided not to buy it (a single trip costs 150/80 Yen - Adult/Child)

My other major objective in this trip was to visit the A-Bomb museum and because we read that some of the displays were too graphic, we thought that it was not appropriate for my daughter to visit it, so my wife took her to do some window shopping nearby the Peace Memorial Park. Unfortunately it was raining so taking pictures was not an much an option that day which is almost a disaster scenario for my wife. Anyway, window shopping is a 'sport' that she enjoys as well.

The A-Bomb Museum
I got an audio tour guide for an additional 250 Yen to make sure I would not miss any detail from the exhibit but noticed that it did not add much to the explanation offered in each of the displays (text is available both in Japanese and English). It starts with the history of the city and focus on its military roots as it grew and became more important (at one point the emperor and the parliament/diet set their temporary headquarters in Hiroshima). That was probably the main reason why Hiroshima was in almost all lists of target cities prepared by the US intelligence. It also tried to explain the rationale for the bombing as there were other alternatives discussed to end the war. But in the end it seems that the threat posed by Stalin convinced the US that the bombing would be the best solution from a political strategy stand point. While the population in Hiroshima participated in many drills to prepare for air strikes, the US decided to spare Hiroshima from those strikes so that they could carefully determine the impact that the A-bomb would cause.

The exhibit shows the city in miniature scale before and after the A-bomb exploded to show the magnitude of the devastation. After that, there is a wall with copies of letters sent by the mayor of Hiroshima to foreign authorities asking that they stop nuclear development, tests and eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. On the second floor of the first building there is a display of measures taken to rebuild the city of Hiroshima throughout the years with a few buildings in miniature scale and a copy of the A-bomb dome hanging. The exhibit up to this point was informative but not shocking, so I felt like the rest of my family could have joined me. I think that visitors can choose to end the tour at this point (not sure though).

From there you go through a passage that connects to the next building where the real exhibit is located. Here you will find the objects recovered and donated to the museum, which included clothing, personal belongings and even parts of buildings. But I guess the real disturbing part of the exhibit are the photos and a small scene (with wax models) showing the horror of the survivors right after the explosion. This area also has a section dedicated to the girl who survived the bombing but years later developed leukemia and hoped that by making 1000 paper cranes (origami/tsuru) she would be cured. Eventually she lost the battle but her history goes on and there is a monument in the peace memorial park in her memory that also features origamis sent from schools in Japan and elsewhere.

This is one of those things that make you put things in perspective and also think about the big picture. After that I was amazed to look around at the city and look at its transformation. The last picture in the museum shows a plant growing back 2 months after the bombing, contradicting a prediction that said that nothing would grow back there for years.

I then rejoined my family and had a quick dinner and returned to the hotel.
A quick word about the hotel: For those looking for an affordable option, the Toyoko Inn is a very good alternative. Do not expect luxury though. The room had space for the 2 beds and that was about it (their suggestion is to store your luggage under the beds). Anyway, the free Internet, coin laundry, location and even a basic japanese breakfast (Onigiri, misoshiru and coffee) made it worthwhile.

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