Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A somber reminder of a simple message

Those shinkansen trains are fast, such a comfortable ride too. Sorry for the updates being off schedule and what not but this is something of a vacation.

Hiroshima is a beautiful city of over one million people. I think they had a subway system of which I’m familiar with now, but they also have something I’ve never seen before. The directions to our hotel, or more accurately our ryokan (Japanese style Inn) involved the use of these lovely street trolleys. They were intimidating at first but oh so cool when you got on. It followed street lights and traffic like other vehicles and did a nice little cruise around the town at street level; very convenient for the friendly locals to point out places of interest as you coasted by.

After leaving our bags at the inn, it was a quick 2-minute walk to the peace park; practically under the hypocenter of the atomic bomb dropped 63 years ago by the Enola Gay. We saw the sakura starting to blossom, but there were still people out picnicking under them. Apparently the season here is much earlier than in Tokyo, as they were in full bloom the day before (almost 600km away). Near the northern most part of the park we saw the famous A-Bomb dome as it is now known. Once an Industrial Promotion Hall has become a desolate reminder of humanity at its worst. Most of the building was blown away, leaving the imposing ruins seen today.

Among other things in the park we saw the Children’s Peace Monument where Sadako Sasaki tried to fold 1000 cranes, wishing it would help cure her of her leukemia; she died when she was 10 and her classmates and the country have been folding cranes in her honor every since. Behind her statue were cases full, absolutely packed with paper cranes. Most were tied on strings, but some were glued to a backdrop making colorful mosaics, praying for a peaceful world. Nearby was the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound where tens of thousands of the victims were cremated en masse. Near that area was a monument to the Korean victims, as 1 in 10 of the victims were Korean slaves from the Japanese occupation. There were many more peace items around the park from a peace bell (when you hit it, you strike an atom) to various other statues dedicated to either the Red Cross for helping survivors or certain people who began distinct peace movements.

There was a lot to take in, but we wanted to see the museum before it closed as the theme for most of this trip became trying to beat the seemingly universal “closed at 5” scenario. I have been told from countless people this was one of the best museums they have ever been to and I don’t think they are far from the mark. Inside was a plethora of interesting information and we took our time soaking it in. There were videos, diagrams, and explanations from what an atom is, to what radiation does among countless other things. I spent a lot of time just looking at the pictures and models of before and after the explosion and was sickened by the shadows human bodies left on buildings as they were killed from the intense heat.

There was simply too much to be shared here, absolutely amazing. It proved a bit much for my mom, as she had to leave a bit early with tears in the eyes. When I came out of the museum I noticed mom made 3 new friends again while she was waiting for me; a father and his two sons in his family business. Two of them were electronic engineers like me while the other was a lawyer and they were in town on business. We got some advice on where to go and heard other stories about the disaster like how the river was filled with bodies as they looked for a drink, dehydrated from the intense burns covering their bodies; many accounts related it to a death march. Not many pictures exist right after the disaster as the surviving photographers were too shaken by the carnage to snap photos, and artistic pictures made from survivors are of somewhat crude child-like detail, which inadvertently makes the horror more profound.

So anyways we were treated to a special Hiroshima treat by our new friends. It was similar to Teppenyaki in Regina but had a different name. The chefs cooked right in front of you still and it was really tasty. After the meal, mom and I went back to the park to get some night photos of the park as the points of interest were illuminated. Oddly enough the city’s baseball stadium was build kind of close to the dome so it was a little distracting with the cheers and excitement while walking through such an ominous place. Since then we’ve kept an eye out at attending a baseball game, but no luck so far.

The ryoken was a very nice place, rather comparable to my house, but still a great setting to experience Japanese style accommodations; the price certainly was right! Instead of rushing off right away in the morning we returned to the park, but this time in went to a new museum that opened 5 or 6 years ago. This one was built underground and housed accounts from the hibakusha (Atomic Bomb Survivors). Far underground they built a large room. In this room was a panoramic view from the hypocenter where the bomb exploded, and the view was build with 200,000 tiles; one for each person that died from the bomb in 1945.

In the middle of the room was a pedestal clock stuck on the time 8:15. Many clocks were stuck on that time, as that was when the bomb exploded. On that pedestal was an ever-flowing water fountain for the people who died begging for water. Off from that were many televisions always cycling through the many faces and names of the victims, and near this was a library where thousands of hibakusha would tell the story of that fateful day through their eyes. The accounts were long and heart wrenching so we watched one or two each.

I’m sure that’s enough doom and gloom for now, but I could go on for a long time of all the things we saw in Hiroshima. When we were done we headed out to catch our train to our next big destination, Osaka. This large city prides itself in being the “off-cousin” from the rest of Japan. People are really friendly and everyone is a comedian. It was late when we arrived so we really just checked in then strolled around Dotonbori during the night. This is the lively night district according to my book and the sides of the skyscrapers surrounding the lake were covered in large, bright signs. Coasting down the rivers were people in slow moving tour boats or something and it was cute to see them slowly approach, then explode with smiles and cheers when they were close enough to wave to people watching them from the bank 1 meter away.

Like most of the cities we never had much planned, but the book suggested seeing the castle as it is pretty during the spring with the sakura. Well the sakura was pretty alright and the castle looked impressive enough from the outside, but as I heard in the form of warnings from other JETs it’s not a lot of fun. The place has been rebuilt 3 times and is mostly concrete now. The insides are more fancy museum than castle and the majority of the information was about a long list of different rulers, generals, and other stuff that made our eyes glaze over quickly. We still enjoyed the beautiful view of the city from the highest floor though.

Some other things the book suggested were some museums, ranging from human rights to history. One on old Japanese farmhouses in particular caught our interest so we headed out. These exhibits were imported from various places in Japan and were a real treat to see, from the dirt floor kitchens to a house built a couple meters off the ground to keep rodents out among other clever motives. It was really cheap to get in and many of the people there were content to nap on the benches under the cherry blossoms on that lazy, warm spring day. We saw many artists making paintings of the old houses and various other things. In one house children were learning how to make flour out of soybeans with big heavy rock grinders, while in another house they were learning how to make household items like coasters.

That was most of our trip to Osaka I guess, we were pretty tired from pushing ourselves so hard at this point; we spent more time sleeping in Hiroshima that one night than 2 nights in Tokyo. Like they say, after a vacation you need a holiday.

We went to Kyoto the next day, it being a Monday now. The stupid book didn’t give much advice past “plan as many days here as possible” and “among New York, Paris and London, everyone should see Kyoto before they die.” I closed the book soon after that; it did a good enough job of making me regret my last 8 months stuck in my little town in Nagano. It was raining the only day we were there so most of the places it had suggested were unavailable now anyways with everything being outdoors and since my sister Melissa is coming to this city we didn’t want to do too much that mom would have to do twice.

We borrowed some umbrellas from our ryokan (Japanese style inn), this one felt like a family’s home with the pets and little girl running around. We had no real destination again but seem to find cooler things when we wander anyways and Kyoto is a great city for roaming as you find so many treats down side roads. We happened upon one of the larger temples (among the 2000 strewn about the city) and walked for hours through many red toris set up, it was amazing to see.

It was really relaxing and I love soft rainy weather in Japan. The air was fresh and it wasn’t crowded. We wandered for hours even when we left the place, finding neat things here and there until we needed to get indoors and somewhere dry for a while. I saw a random department store on my map and vaguely tried to go there, but we ended up in a different store that was large and impressive anyways. There were 14 floors or so and each one amazed my mom. One was for cosmetics, one for woman’s bags, etc. This place was somewhat standard to me at this point, but on the roof we found a helicopter pad, which we both found really cool. People watching is always fun, mom was getting help for some items and was often distracted by how pretty this one girl was. Soon enough the questions steered away from the product to “are you married? No? Neither is my son! He's right there...” and other heavily suggestive comments pointed in my direction. No pressure there at all… thanks.

We bought a cake when we were there as a present for the ryokan family. Mom was half hoping we would all eat some cake together, but when we left they gave her coasters as a present instead. Mom still wonders how that cake would have tasted… but the family loves us now. When we walked away for our train station, they were still standing outside their house, waving goodbye to us with both hands until we were out of sight, a little over a block away.

Well now it was Tuesday and we were in the last city of our trip, Nagoya. Apparently it’s the 4th largest city in Japan and it is a rather nice place. After mom shopped for a bit, I talked her into going to the aquarium, apparently one of the biggest ones in Japan. For 2400 yen (about $22) we had all day passes for the aquarium and some neighboring attractions, which included a 7-story observation tower and other museums.

We did the tower first as the weather was good. I always enjoy a good view like that high up. Mom watched a group of suits formally entered a business boat before taking off for the ocean and fraternized with the glorious lifestyle they were living. Next we went to an Antarctic museum aboard the Japanese ice breaking ship The Fuji. I guess Japan made their first Antarctic trip with the ship we were touring through and it was pretty neat seeing the place; I’m sure my sisters in the Navy would have liked it anyways.

The last museum we went to was something of a maritime one, where it showed the history of Nagoya’s port among other cool exhibits like large model ships that were used in the past and today, and how the port has changed the last 60 years from construction. It boggles my mind how they expand out onto the ocean like that and install massive factories on what used to be coastal reefs and meters of ocean water.

We went to the biggest attraction, the aquarium last. We were treated to a spectacular dolphin show, where tricks and underwater video were shown, then re-shown in slow motion on a massive screen in the background. The dolphins did cool tricks and were even trained to bow to the audience; vive le Japan! The show was so good we could hardly believe a half hour zipped by when it ended and we were left starved for more.

This building was really cool, just the atmosphere and the monstrous tanks. In the second building of the aquarium there was an Imax screen (after we watched penguins swim around). The first show we saw was just an anime that we couldn’t care less for, but the next one was “Ocean Oasis”. Sure we didn’t know what was being said, but it was still an impressive show of various nature shots and wildlife blown up on the monstrous screen.

Alas the place closed at 5:30 and we had some delicious sushi train for supper to close off this great vacation. Today, (Wednesday) we are on the train headed for my hometown and I braved motionsickness on this heavily rocking train coasting through the mountains to write this. If I had to do the vacation over again, we would visit fewer cities, as a lot of time and money was spent on just getting from point A to point B. I guess I was feeling pretty ambitious, having been cooped up in my little town all winter. Now mom begins her rural Japan adventure :)

“Kiss a nonsmoker, taste the difference” – Neal Murugan



Unknown said...

Dude, loving you sacrificing the motion sickness to keep up on the blog. Nice to have some interesting material to go through while I procrastinate studying for finals :P Take care bro!

Tnoy said...

Ya that train ride was a trial. I don't get sick often but it was pretty bad that day.

Sorry to hear about finals! I suppose it is that time of year, school is just starting for me