Monday, June 7, 2010

Hiroshima Again, and Osaka Adventures

The drive was long, the rain was torrential, and the highway was terribly expensive (over $130 for one way), but to experience this amazing place again made it all worthwhile. It was also Ann’s first trip there. I suppose it falls into one of my “must see places before you die” should I be pressed to make a list, as its message of peace is unmistakable.

My time is running out; it looks like I might be back in Canada around July 29th when my Visa expires, and so is Ann, as she leaves this Sunday the 13th. They say to make a list of things you want to do before you leave, as it helps with closure, and I definitely didn’t mind going back to Hiroshima.

Our first day wasn’t very eventful, as we were tired from the drive, and it was still pouring outside. We got supper at a sushi conveyor restaurant, marveled at its freshness, and went to sleep. It’s funny that Ann still prefers the restaurant in Ina even after eating fresh(er) sushi, but I can’t blame her as it’s still my favourite place to go too.

We started the next day, May 24th, by riding the streetcar to the peace park. While amazing, and touting a flat fare they aren’t the fastest in the world, stopping every one or two blocks. I suppose it makes sense and I still love them anyways. It stopped just outside the “genbaku dome” (nuclear bomb dome), as its station’s name advertised.

We took our time exploring the area, and we even saw some stuff that I missed with my mom, like a little Buddha statue still standing near ground zero of the blast, and the shadow burnt in on itself. At ground zero itself however, there is little more than a parking garage present now.

We knew weather would be an issue, so we toured the park while it was still dry, seeing the mound where tens of thousands of bodies were cremated, various statues, and the plentiful paper crane displays among other things. Later we moved inside the museum, where they had various free exhibits open. One exhibit was various children’s drawings, of the horrors they witnessed; perhaps more disturbing, but not as graphic as a real photo.

The next exhibit was from a famous photographer as he captured the decades proceeding, as the city that “wouldn’t support life for 75 years” grew from the ashes of catastrophe. After all this, we stopped for a break for lunch before tackling the main museum itself. I was relieved they had a Thai audio tour set for Ann, as it would have been painful to try and describe things like ‘atoms’ and ‘army division’ to her.

Like the last time I went, it was an amazing and moving experience to be there. The only complaint I would have is the hundred of elementary school students coming in wave after wave, screaming and flashing their cameras at everything as kids do. I’m not sure it’s such a good idea to have kids that young in a place like that in the first place, as if they truly understood the information around them, it would give them nightmares. Apparently one of my schools is doing a trip to Hiroshima and not Okinawa this year due to budget concerns. Well, they’re both beautiful.

We both left the museum feeling a little sad, and visited the other huge memorial underground, with the ever-flowing fountain pouring in tribute to the thousands that died begging for a drink. I think we both had seen enough, and hurried back to our hotel before 5:00, as we heard there would be a baseball game playing.

Unfortunately around this time was when my camera died for good. It had caused me problems ever since I bought it last September for my trip to Thailand, but now it wouldn’t work at all. I grudgingly resigned myself to having to spend a lot of money replacing it, but found out it’s still under warranty; I picked it up today after school.

I did manage to squeeze out 2 last pictures at the baseball game, so atleast I can show that. Everything else I'll give thanks to Richard. At the game, our tickets were even cheaper this time at $16, and it was an wonderful again. There were nachos, hot dogs, Philly cheese steaks and other goodies. Ann asked me where my diet was, and I told her it was in Ina. I can cheat one day a week I think, and this outing was too rare and special for me to hold back.

The game wasn’t crazy exciting as it was in Yokohama, but atleast this time our team, the Hiroshima Carp won. During the game, we could see the Shinkansen rolling in the background (the bullet train). Ann seems to love it, and gets excited every time a train rolls by. I can’t blame her either, I still think they’re cool. It’s not like we have them around my 700-kilometer radius in Canada. (A shame really)

What were really neat at the game was the little patio balconies set up. There, people picnicked with their families while eating supper and watching the game. Of course, there were many lunch boxes with rice and other Japanese food, still a novelty for me at huge sporting events; I miss the big greasy cheese burgers you can get at Taylor Field.

On Tuesday we had to go back, but I wanted one last tour around what was quickly becoming my favourite city in Japan. It’s so clean, beautiful and new. It has grass. It has expansive areas where you can find peace without being in a swarm of people. It has wider roads, and uses more blocks than strange winding roads. I love the streetcars. I love the new and affordable baseball stadium. I just love Hiroshima.

Ann didn’t want to see Majima island anymore than I did. Some consider it a symbol of Japan; a red Tori in some water. We figured just seeing a picture of it was enough, so we went up to see the castle. It again was a beautiful area and walk, and had some grotesque trees that survived the bomb. To the museums credit, it doesn’t talk about the war too much, as to not get angry at either side, and instead gives you information about the bomb and how disastrous it is.

That being said, the castle grounds is near ground zero, and housed one of the 6 main war battalions for Japan. The castle was naturally destroyed, but rebuilt into an interesting museum. We enjoyed it, even if it felt like being in a museum and not a castle like the one in Osaka. Strangely enough, it boasted the castle as a symbol of Hiroshima, and something everyone thinks about when they think of the city. I can argue with that, given I’ve never heard of it before, but oh well. I mean, it wasn’t even mentioned in the tourist pamphlets we had; we only knew about it because it was in the corner of maps covering the peace park.

We headed home, but hurried because we saw the storm moving in. 10 minutes into the 6-hour drive Ann needed the bathroom so I gave her a hard time. She said “Tony, I’m a woman, I need the bathroom” or something. She’s cute ^_^ Drive as we might, the storm caught up with us, and during the last hour we were stuck in scary downpours again, with very poor visibility. We got home ok though, and went for sushi again.

I think it was a good week, I hardly recall, but I know we made time for Brett and Kaoru to come visit on Thursday. That weekend we were looking forward to USJ, Universal Studios Japan. It’s a huge theme park in Osaka, and Brett having known this, wore his Jaws shirt. Ann cooked up some amazing food, and Rich and Kaoru’s friend came to join us as well. The girls talked about dresses or something, I don’t know, while the men talked about things like awesome stuff.

While we were gung-ho about video games earlier, we were simply enjoying each other’s company too much to turn the system on. Brett felt a little sad because of this, but I just said, “We need to hang out more.” We were catching up the whole time and it was great. Once you see each other enough though, then you can just hang out, much like with Richard because we see him 2 or 3 times a week. When he comes over, it’s not uncommon to just turn on a funny show or something, just watch it, and not feel rude for not really talking.

Regardless it was a lot of fun and great seeing them again. On Friday after work, Richard, Thi and Mervin hopped in my car and we all drove to Osaka for some USJ. Mervin found us an amazing hotel that was $130 for two people for two nights; I don’t think I’ve ever seen it cheaper anywhere else in Japan, not to mention it was connected to the amusement park. Apparently it was so cheap because he booked online, and people that were booking at the lobber were paying much, much more than that.

Even though the room smelt like smoke when we first entered, it was well worth it for that price; we just opened the windows. Speaking of smoking, there is a ridiculous add campaign on now for smokes in Japan. It features a computer generated body builder smoker, as if it were healthy or something. I look forward to the legally smoke-free venues back home.

So anyways in the morning, May 29th, we met up with our friend Noriko in the lobby, who took a day off and woke up early, to leave from Kyoto to meet us. It worked out great as many rides are designed for 2 people, so now we were a group of 6. Noriko had been to USJ one time before, but she had only been on one ride. For that ride, she waited over 3 hours. Luckily for us, we would be a million times luckier than that.

Not only did we enjoy a beautiful day, but also we rode all the rides and saw all the shows we wanted. We started with a 3D Spiderman ride that was amazing. The effects were all well done, though I was a bit sad I didn’t recognize half the villains he was fighting.

We saw Terminator 2 ‘sequel’ that mixed it up with live actors. We saw peter pan ‘flying’ around high on the air being suspended by wires, we saw huge explosions and fights in a water world show, while getting splashed.

The shows were so good, and the rides were amazing as well. I was scared earlier on of the big roller coaster snaking through the park, but I knew if I could tough it out, nothing would scare me after that. Hell, I think I survived scarier, with “Journey to the center of the Earth” and “Tower of Terror” at Disney Sea. I came to realize however, I am mostly good at mentally blocking out the first big scare. After choking back the horror of the first drop, I am filled with immediate relief of ‘the worst is over’.

This ride let you put on music to listen to while flying around all crazy like. Despite that, everyone around me could hear a loud “OH F@&K!!!!” as we dropped for the second time and I had no mental barriers in place. Needless to say, I completely lost it. I have few memories beyond my screams, my girl screams, my screams of “WHY?!?!”, and trying to somehow escape my living nightmare. I just know my only respites came briefly while spinning in circles, pressing my face back into my skull. I can easily handle that over the many drops.

Somehow, it was over. I could hardly hear the laughs or see the smiles of my friends as I staggered to the nearest solid ground. My legs were heavy, my arms were numb, my throat parched from screaming, and I was dizzy. I don’t think I have ever had that much adrenaline shooting through my body at the same time before. For some reason I weakly said to Ann: “let’s go again”.

Perhaps luckily, we didn’t have a chance to go again, but atleast I felt I knew what to expect. I was so tired I couldn’t get scared for Jurassic Park, even though the ride was little more than lifting you high up to drop you into a dark hole; kinda like splash mountain. For that one I noticed the people in front of me nod to each other before putting on their plastic rain hat. I just put my head down and stuck it out. The picture at the end was funny, but even Ann looked scared. She says she was scared though, because of the T-Rex trying to bite you before the drop.

I think that was it for the scary rides. The others were just plain fun. It was worrying to see the many hidden areas filled with nothing but waiting queues, but I was happy we weren’t waiting in them. The one we did have to wait and hour for was a new ride. This one was a “Space Fantasy”, where you fly through the stars ‘collecting’ bits or something while spinning in circles. While a bit scared at first, it didn’t drop you too badly or anything, and was really exhilarating. This was everyone’s favourite ride, as you slung around a huge Saturn, and other amazing displays.

The last ride we made, was a small kids ride: Snoopy’s race. Sure it was a short kids ride, but seeing the house was worth the trip. I don’t think I’d ever witness a place as magical as that, where drawings from the Peanuts comics came to life. We went mostly because we had seen every other ride we had wanted to already, and we would be finished in time for the light parade.

This parade was longer than Disney’s, and just as exciting. The density of the lights on each motorcade wasn’t as high, but still thoughtful and neat. One great change from USJ and Disney is you have room to move around and do stuff. During their parades, you’re lucky if you can find standing room. At USJ, we were front row, and Ann was waving to the many people parading by.

After the parade, surprisingly most of the rides were shutting down even though it was only 8. We got some food after much discussion, and Noriko went home. In the morning, we went to Osaka’s world-class aquarium.

If I had to compare it to Okinawa’s, I would much rather go there, if only for the main viewing room alone, not to mention the dolphin shows. It was still an amazing aquarium with cool things to see, though the pamphlet I saw walking in had my mind on other things the whole time: nearby, there was an IMAX playing Hubble 3D.

I love space. I can’t tell you how much, or even rational thoughts as to why; I just knew I needed to see that show. Luckily everyone else was feeling enthusiastic, and we saw what we wanted in 2 hours at the aquarium anyways to go. The show was simply amazing given what they had to work with. I remember reading briefly of the challenges they had filming it, and for what it’s worth, I was still immensely entertained. It had a lot of footage of the last servicing mission done last year, and it showed some 3D images that Hubble has taken.

Minds blown, we rushed to the next island over that had Osaka’s world trade center. From the amazing view on the 49th or whatever floor in the harbor, we looked out over Osaka while eating a buffet of wonderful varieties; diet again left at home.

Stomachs full, and rushing to beat the parking meter from rolling over the next hour, we headed home. Everyone was sleepy, but I forced myself to be alert with my responsibility for getting everyone home safely. I think that trip took a little over 4 hours so it worked out.

Who knows if I’ll be back right? Brett said I should stay another year just to do USJ some more times, but I feel at peace with it, having conquered most of its offerings. It has made me sad to think about “saying goodbye” to these places. I much prefer the “see you later”, but realistically who knows. There are many other places to see and things to do in the world; I feel like I have proper closure with these mystical giants.

"A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve." -Joseph Joubert


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