17.09.23 — Travel
After just a day and a half in Osaka, I was up and out of my hotel early in order to make the most of the remaining two days I had on my Japan Rail Pass, the ticket I was using to travel around the country on its famed bullet trains. Although I was in the train station by 10:30am however, I somehow managed to miss my first train and thus arrived in Hiroshima at around 2pm: the hottest time of day.
I’m sure many images of an old and bomb-torn city come to mind when I mention Hiroshima, but upon leaving the train I noted that it looked very similar to the other Japanese cities that I’d visited so far on my trip. I guess that it’s precisely because of the devastation caused by the bombing of the city that it’s now a modern and sprawling metropolis: everything had to be rebuilt from scratch.
Although intrigued by the other parts of the city, the high temperatures and the limited time I had during my day trip meant that I was focussed on going to see what makes it unique: the Memorial Park. To get there, I quickly discarded the idea of walking through the humid heat and hopped on a bus to take me over the river and to this historical location.
Stepping off the bus, I began walking through the park, located near the epicentre of the blast and where much of the old city centre used to lie. Finding a little structure along the way, I headed inside only to find that it contained an archaeological dig site which had unearthed the scolded floor of a destroyed home. This impacted me much more than the various monuments and informative plaques that dotted the park, amplified even more as I was stood there completely alone. It was my first time being directly confronted with the realities of what happened in Hiroshima in 1945, and made me pause to reflect on the horrors of war.
The next impactful sight was of the infamous Peace Memorial. This consists of the bombed out yet miraculously still standing ruins of an old exhibition hall, a structure which was the only one left standing after the nuclear bomb detonated above the city. It was an eerie sight to behold, but definitely the best way of visualising the destructive power that these kind of weapons carry. Just imagining the landscape with only this shell of a building standing felt rather odd, especially as the modern city now completely encloses the Memorial Park with its towering skyscrapers and busy streets.
I then visited the last few monuments in the Memorial Garden, which included ringing the Peace Bell. I then started wandering over to the next place I wanted to visit, stopping off at a Family Mart in order to recover in their air conditioning and get myself a drink and an ice cream to cool off a little.
This route eventually took me over more water and into the Ninomaru of Hiroshima Castle. This fortification looks as old as time, but is actually a faithful recreation as the original was destroyed during the bombing. Wandering through the gate of this structure and onto an artificial island, I then explored the beautiful gardens. Heading northwards, I eventually wound up arriving at the castle itself, another reconstruction of the original.
As I headed out, I noticed what looked like the remains of a bunker just outside of the Hiroshima Gokoku Shrine. I approached the old concrete walls for a closer look, whereupon I was approached by an old man who began speaking to me in Japanese. Noticing the look of confusion on my face, he repeated the word “bunker” and then gestured for me to follow him. I was then surprised as he squeezed through a little opening and casually wandered into the bunker itself, beckoning for me to follow suit, something I felt obliged to do and so off I went.
Inside, the space had been pretty thoroughly taken back by nature, but there were still openings that the man began to gesture to and explain to me in Japanese. Although I didn’t understand a thing, I was very appreciative of his interest in showing me the bunker: I definitely wouldn’t have ventured inside if he hadn’t come along. After a short while, we headed back out into the light of day, and I recited my best and most polite Japanese phrases in order to thank him with a bow.
From there, I left the Hiroshima Castle complex and made a quick stop at the Great Torii, famous for surviving the blast of the atomic bomb. I then headed eastward and to the pretty Shukkeien Garden, a very tranquil place which was the perfect way to end a busy day on my feet.
The gardens were peppered with a variety of lovely spots, including a pretty stone bridge, pools full of koi fish, all kinds of plants and trees, and even a little wooden structure jetting out over the water. Taking off my shoes as indicated, I sat down in the shade of this little building, resting my body and mind for a while as the afternoon turned into the evening.
Now weary after a long day out, I hauled myself off the floor, out of the gardens, and onto a bus back to Hiroshima train station. There, I grabbed a bite to eat and awaited the next bullet train back to Osaka, where Inés had one little treat left in store before the day came to an end: it was karaoke time!
After a quick shower in my hotel to freshen up, I headed to the south of Osaka and to a karaoke place where she and her friends had booked a room for the evening. I was tired, but I just love karaoke, and there was no way I was going to leave karaoke’s birthplace, Japan, without a good sing-song!
I paid my dues, grabbed myself a strange milky water drink, and headed into room number 19, where Inés introduced me to all of her friends and old housemates. We then sang along to some absolute European classics and listened along as everyone else sang a variety of songs from around the world in a variety of languages. There were songs in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, German, English, and even Spanish. It would have been rude if me and Inés hadn’t treated everyone to a rendition of Aserejé and then the Macarena!
With my energy now fully spent and the threat of the metro closing on us, Inés and I then said our goodbyes and headed back to our respective accommodation. It had been a wild day of somber moments and then absolute hilarity, so it was definitely time to get some rest before the next day would see us head off on yet another little excursion outside of Osaka. More on that coming soon in my next post!