Spring Break 2010 – Day Five

Today was our day away from the students. Everyone has something different planned on this day with their host families. A group of them got together with their families and went to Osaka and met up at the Pokemon Center. Who would have thought that so many high school aged students would still love Pokemon so much?

The three chaperones recruited a teacher to take us to Hiroshima. Our purpose was two-fold. We wanted to ride the bullet train, and this was a location sufficiently far away to experience it. Second was our desire to visit Peace Memorial Park.

There were four of us going on this trip; Daniel (Kyoto teacher, left in picture below). Scott (Modesto, Director, middle), Brad (Modesto, Teacher, right), and myself (Director, behind the camera). It seemed fitting that on this day of our visit it would be a cloudy drizzly rainy day.

Once off the train there’s a very efficient local rail and bus system for getting around.

The rail car dropped us right across the street from the famous Hiroshima Dome.

Prior to the bomb being dropped this building was the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall. A large metal green dome sat atop this building. The bomb exploded almost directly above this building. The dome vaporized and everyone inside the building was killed from the heat of the blast. The building was one of the few left standing after the blast. As the area was rebuilt over the years this building became a reminder of what had happened and took on the name of the “A-Bomb Dome”. It later became the anchor of the entire Peace Memorial Park.

The actual ground zero marker is a few blocks to the east of the park. It’s a simple marble memorial on the side of a small road. It would be easily missed if you did not know what you were looking for.

There are many memorials throughout the park. One of the more famous is the Sadako Sasaki, or the girl of a thousand cranes.

My eleven year old so had read her story and folded a paper crane for me to place at her memorial when I visited. I also folded one with him and placed them on the pile in the only open box of paper cranes at the memorial.

The Hiroshima Memorial Museum tells the full story of the events that unfolded here during WWII. The museum straddles the park with buildings on both sides and another elevated building connecting the two main halls.

One of the most graphical displays in the museum consist of two scale 3-D maps of the area of the park before and after the bomb.

The full impact of the destruction brought by the bomb is exhibited throughout the museum in various displays and artifacts of the time. It was very awkward being an American visiting Hiroshima and the museum. I’ve discussed this event with many Japanese and had recently read the book “The Last Train From Hiroshima“. (This was an amazing book of personal stories of survivors that has now been pulled off the shelves due to claims made by one of the interviewed people who later turned out not to be where he had said he was on the day of the bomb. A new edition of the book is due to be released correcting these parts). I knew many of the stories of the survivors before stepping foot in the museum, which I think made the impact of seeing their artifacts on display all the more meaningful and emotional).

The debate that often arises when discussing the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is what would have been if the bombs had not been dropped. I’m not going to get into that debate here.

The display for Sadako Sasaki was one of the hardest to explore, as her story is so sad. Her final few paper cranes are on display. These were so small that she was folding them with needles.

Our visit to Peace Memorial Park was well worth the trip. Every American should have the opportunity to visit. Everyone will take something different away with them, but none will leave unchanged.

When we left the museum we ran into a large group of high school girls and their chaperones from Australia. They were from an all girls school and they were also on an exchange. With their program they are required to take two years of Japanese before coming to Japan. They stay for several weeks and visit a variety of cities and locations on their trip.

We kept bumping into them as we explored the area of downtown Hiroshima. In this picture we were on our way to sample a dish that has a famous Hiroshima spin, Okonomiyaki. This is like a giant pancake made out of egg, noodles, meat, vegetables, and other secret ingredients that’s made in front of you on a hot grill. It is as much a show as it is lunch.

And here we are after enjoying our unique Hiroshima cuisine, getting ready to start our journey back to Kyoto.

That’s me second from the left. The cook offered to take our picture after we finished our meal.

One interesting thing that I encountered on the way back to Kyoto was the “Women Only” boarding platforms for the train. Because trains in Japan are very crowded, and personal space is not as much of a cultural issue as it is in the US, women are sometimes harassed on crowded trains. Some of the train cars are set aside for women only to address this issue.

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