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05/11/2016

CIEE Takes on Hiroshima and Miyajima

Peace memorial

Waiting for classes to end the day of the Hiroshima trip was reminiscent of the cringe worthy scene in “High School Musical 2” where the students keep checking the time before summer break. Thankfully no one was chanting Hiroshima and we were all able to resist strong urges to jump on top of our desks and transform into pitch perfect Troy Boltons.

Our group looked like children eager to run downstairs to open presents on Christmas morning when waiting to board the Shinkansen at the massively maze like Tokyo Station. With time to spare the staff opened the floodgates by letting us loose into the wild to buy snacks and drinks for the long ride. I purchased a Tokyo Banana. I’m still uncertain if Tokyo Banana is famous or if they just do a fantastic job advertising the product throughout the station.

The Shinkansen is similar to an Amtrak train except for the mild ear popping and attendants selling food and drinks in the familiar airplane aisle style. The CIEE staff kindly provided bentos, although as adventurous college students we were determined to fill up on foreign snacks and cheap junk food. There’s always that moment of bliss when you bite into a mysterious Japanese treat and enjoy the unexpectedly delicious flavor. Just don’t buy Teagurt. I don’t recommend it.

The chipper tone of the guides along with the positive atmosphere created by the locals and moving words from the survivor of the bombing contrasted the heavy history and made for an enjoyable experience. The Children’s Peace Monument (pictured above) commemorating Sadako Sasaki and other child victims was especially touching thanks to Sasaki’s story about creating a thousand cranes to grant her wish of a world without nuclear war.

Okinomiyaki

Hiroshima is known for Okonamiyaki, a grilled savory pancake with ingredients ranging from kimchi to fish and meat. Naturally we had to have one so what better place to go than an entire building filled with Okonamiyaki bars. What was the logic behind our decision to eat at the corner bar on the fourth floor? No idea, but the food was delicious and unlike anything else.

Our Saturday night ended in true Japanese fashion at a karaoke bar. One friend’s attempt at “Hello” is still mentioned today. Whether for all the right or all the wrong reasons has yet to be decided. For some reason we ended the session singing “My Heart Will Go On.” Well, I did pick it thinking it would be an amusing way to end the night. Little did I know a Japanese man would shout “gaijin” (foreigner) in surprise when we stepped out of the entrance. They say looks can kill, but they weren’t talking about mine.

Floating gate

A short ferry ride took us to Miyajima, or what I like to think of as a possible location for a horror film involving savage deer feasting on innocent tourists. The beautiful island is known for the “floating” torii gate and makes for great photos, something many of us have proven you can never take enough of. After exploring the Itsukushima Shrine, we rode rail cars to the top of the island.

The rail cars were on the small side comfortably fitting six with the option to squeeze in eight for a less spacious ride. Not worried about cramped space, we began our ascension of breathtaking views. Unfortunately for me, I was sitting next to a person with a fear of heights. Adding to the inevitable disaster was a jokester of a friend ready to shake the already shifting car and bang on the windows. It didn’t take long for the circulation to get caught off from my right hand thanks to the death grip from the person to my right. Spoilers, in case it wasn’t obvious, we made it to the top and back safely and my right hand is hard at work writing this blog.

Rail car view

The trek continued with larger cable cars taking us across a large gap between mountains in what could pass as a location in the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Specifically, the scene when Jaws tries to ram Bond with a cable car and fails spectacularly. Skipping past a few I’m king of the world “Titanic” poses at the summit and an incredibly cheesy eternal flame contraption where you and your special someone simultaneously hit buttons to light a torch of everlasting love, (do people actually take that device seriously), we descended the mountain for lunch.

Call it schadenfreude, a German term for pleasure from the misfortune of others, but I was hoping a deer would attack someone after hearing the many warnings. However, by attack I didn’t want anyone to get hurt, maybe just some stolen food or a ripped bag or two. My sinister wish was granted. During our free time food hunt we became the hunted. One girl in our group was enjoying a mixture of sweet potato and ice cream when two deer snuck up on her. We may have also obliviously walked into the deer but that’s not the point. One of the deer spotted the food and strut its way over. Meanwhile, our friend began to panic. First she tried to hide behind one guy. He stepped away. Then she tried to give me the ice cream. I wouldn’t take it. Chivalry is dead when aggressive deer are involved. As if the deer ate the ice cream with its eyes, it began releasing red bean like pellets from its rear. Our friend escaped to a nearby gift shop and the deer went on its merry way.

Deer

The deer coordinated assaults on a few other CIEE students, although no one was harmed. My shirt even got nipped once when I had no food. Regardless, our weekend excursion gave us a new perspective of history, created new bonds between our peers and further immersed us in Japanese culture.

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