It is a cool but cloudy Monday morning in Tokyo, and the CIEE students just finished an amazing weekend in Hiroshima and Miyajima. On Friday afternoon, we left from campus to go to Tokyo Station to take the shinkansen up to Hiroshima. Our nozomi shinkansen train was super fast and comfortable – we made it to Hiroshima in just about four hours – but when we got to the station in Hiroshima it was raining. But, we didn’t have far to go to the hotel, so we packed into the street car and set off for the hotel. Hiroshima is one of the few cities in Japan that still uses street cars, so it was pretty cool to get to ride in one. We only had a few stops to go, and once we got off the street car we were only about a 10 minute walk from the hotel, so were in our rooms by 10pm or so and were able to run any errands we needed to run before turning in early to get ready for the big day ahead of us!
A street car in Hiroshima!
Saturday started out dreary and drizzling, but it actually cleared up and turned into a beautiful sunny day. We had a buffet breakfast in the amazing hotel restaurant – it was on the 15th floor and had a spectacular view of the surrounding area, including the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. After breakfast, we left the hotel and walked over to the Peace Memorial Museum that was built to honor the victims of the bomb and continue to advocate for peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. We had a few minutes to explore the exhibits downstairs before going to watch a film about the experience of the mothers of victims from the bomb. It was a pretty heavy film and started the day off on a somber note, which continued as we spent the rest of the morning wandering around the museum and seeing the exhibits. It was a personal experience for all of us and being there is hard to put into words, but I will say it is definitely a place you should visit at least once if you go to Japan.
A view of Hiroshima - you can see the a-bomb dome over to the left
After the museum, we went on a walking tour of the Peace Memorial Park. By that time the rain had gone away and it was a beautiful sunny day, so we got a lot of great pictures. The park is really well done and is a beautiful memorial to the victims. Monuments in the park include a cenotaph housing the names of all the victims, a flame that will burn until all nuclear arms are decommissioned, the museum itself, and the atomic bomb dome, which was pretty close to the hypocenter of the bomb but remained (comparatively) pretty intact. All of these elements lie in a straight line, which made for a really cool picture!
The cenotaph in Peace Memorial Park. Behind it you can see the eternal flame, and behind that you can see the a-bomb dome
After walking around the park, we had obento for lunch and then had the amazing opportunity to hear an “hibakusha,” or someone who was affected by the bomb, speak. The woman, Matsubara-san, was a school child at the time of the bombing and was working outside helping the government to demolish houses for a fire break when the bomb hit. Her story was really emotional and it was an incredible opportunity to hear her speak in person. There are currently about 70,000 hibakusha still living in Hiroshima, but of course that number is continuously declining. She seemed to be in pretty good health, and although it was hard to understand her English at times, she said a lot of interesting things. She concluded by talking about how the hibakusha won’t always be around to fight for peace. She passed the “torch of peace” on to us and urged us to continue fighting against the use of nuclear weapons in the future. It was really moving and definitely got us all thinking.
Later in the afternoon we had free time to explore Hiroshima more. A group of people went with our tour guide to Hiroshima Castle, where they explored the castle grounds and got to try on samurai and period costumes. But, instead of the castle, I went with several people to explore the “hondori,” which is a covered arcade lined with shops. It was incredible, and I definitely did my part to stimulate the Hiroshima economy -- I did more souvenir shopping this weekend than I had done in the whole semester combined. After shopping, the whole group met back at the hotel to go to dinner at an okonomiyaki restaurant. Okonomiyaki is a type of pancake made with flour, cabbage, egg, meat, and whatever other toppings you want, and it originated in Hiroshima so is a big part of the local scene there. The dinner was delicious and a lot of fun – we all sat around a big grill and watched them make our food. After dinner, we split off to wander around the area some more, either shopping or just seeing the sights. It didn’t rain the whole time we were outside on Saturday – we really lucked out with the weather.
Girls in Hiroshima!
Sunday, however, was a different story. We woke up to rain and it rained steadily the rest of the day. But, we didn’t let that stop us from enjoying the beautiful Miyajima Island and Itsukushima Shrine. We left the hotel around 8:15am to take the bus to the ferry to get over to the island. I had been to the island before so I knew what to expect, but as the famous Itsukushima torii (gate) came into view for the first time, the boat almost tipped over from all of the people on that side of the railing taking pictures. (Not really, but it was fun to see everyone run to one side to take pictures. Myself included.) It was rainy and foggy but some of the pictures actually turned out pretty well!
The famous torii of Itsukushima Shrine!
When we got onto the island, our tour guide took us to some places of interest before heading over to the shrine, which is absolutely beautiful. The shrine has been designated as one of the “top three most scenic places in Japan,” so it’s definitely worth a visit whenever possible. We actually had the amazing opportunity today to see part of a Shinto wedding that was going on in the shrine. It was really beautiful and we saw part of what I think was the “vow ceremony” before the bridal party moved to an outer part of the shrine to watch a performance of traditional dance. The costumes were amazing and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience – we were really to get to witness it.
A traditional dancer dancing in front of the bride and groom
After our tour of the shrine finished, we all split off to explore the island on our own. A group of us walked out into the marshy area to the actual gate – it was low tide so you can walk pretty far out in the sand. We spent the rest of the day wandering around the streets of Miyajima, trying the local momijimanju (mapleleaf shaped waffle type things with various fillings) and oysters – both of which the island is famous for. Despite the rain, it was a lot fun, and we all got some good omiyage (souvenir) shopping done. I also did this thing called "Dr. Fish"
where you put your feet in a pool and this special type of fish eats all of the dead skin off your skin. It sounds gross but it was really cool - it tickled a lot and left my feet noticeably smoother and feeling better. And it was pretty cheap - about $5 for 10 minutes! Definitely worth it.
Out in the mud and rain by the torii!
But, eventually the rain took its toll and most of us got back to the ferry station a few minutes before our scheduled meeting time of 1:55pm. After that, there were five different means of transportation between us and getting home – the ferry, our bus, the shinkansen, the JR rail trains, and then the walk from our home station back to the dorm. But, we all made it back safely and collapsed into our rooms to get ready for the week. This weekend flew by and I can't believe it's already the middle June! Can't wait to see what's in store for this week - mata!