Getting ten friends through a Japanese subway station is a pain. Getting eighty students through? That’s a nightmare. The whole group went through three stations leaving mass destruction and utter chaos in a our wake on our way from Kyoto to Hiroshima . My personal favorite moment was when everyone got on the train, got yelled at to get off by those not getting on, then ten seconds later everyone rushing onto the train at the last minute. We finally made it to our shinkansen, or bullet train, in plenty of time, due to great planning by Marsha and Michiru Sensei. A sidenote on Japanese mass transit—it’s awesome. Don’t be fooled, you Chicagoans; Metra is not the way to really fly. JR Rail is clean, cheap, efficient, and on time. More importantly, its useful. Minus Kyoto, I haven’t been to a city yet where the rail hasn’t taken me where I want to go. After riding the rail and seeing the prices for parking, I can understand how one can go without a car here.
Hiroshima is a beautiful city. Seven main rivers flow south into the bay, and there is just something charming about here. The commitment to rebuilding the city post-1945 in a modern fashion has made the city very friendly to foreigners. The checkerboard pattern of the roads is very easy to manage, and the tall buildings and wide roads are reminiscent of a major city in the US. The main road here in Hiroshima was widened from ten meters across pre-1945 to forty meters afterwards, creating four lanes each way, with a landscaped pedestrian walkway and bike path. This is a very unique sight thus far in our travels.
A group of nine of us walked to the downtown area of the city, starving for dinner. We found a Yakitori restaurant, which is probably best described as Japanese kabobs. No English speakers to be found in the restaurant, but I managed to butcher my nihongo enough to get what we wanted. It tasted pretty good, but I could only identify one of the five skewers we were served: gizzards. The restaurant itself had a very Japanese setup. We were led to a private room, where we saw a very short table and cushions. Initially, we thought we’d be sitting and eating Japanese style, sitting on our feet, but then the host removed the floor from under the table. It’s hard to explain, so I’ll post a picture.
I also ran into my first golf store on the way back. I’m a huge golf fan, so it was a monumental experience. Just like everything else in Japan, it was chisai to tacai, small and expensive. Maybe I’ll have better luck in Tokyo!
Today we went to the Peace Memorial. We had the whole day planned for us, taking tours and seeing different areas of the park. The Peace Museum was probably the most emotional for me personally…They had artifacts from victims and survivors of the bombing. Lots of clothes, and even a few watches frozen at 8:15, the time the bomb was dropped. I’ve taken courses in both high school and college where we’ve talked about the Hiroshima bomb for weeks, but nothing could have prepared me for seeing a charred and rusted tricycle and helmet incased in glass. A three and a half year old boy was riding it as the bomb hit. He died instantly, but his father found the tricycle and buried it in the backyard with his son. The father didn’t want the son to be lonely in a cemetery.
Later in the day, we heard a presentation by an 85 year old gentleman who actually survived the bombing. He was only one or two kilometers from the epicenter, and he’d be the first to tell you that he’s lucky to be alive. He recounted such a gruesome experience for what must have been at least the one thousandth time. What’s amazing about the Peace Museum and park is that everyone is volunteering there to try and spread peace to ensure that a nuclear bomb is never dropped again. The park was full of schoolchildren walking from monument to monument filling out worksheets, so I asked them what they were doing. They told me they were studying peace. Mankind could probably use a couple more study sessions…
On a lighter note, I had Hiroshima’s famous dish for dinner: okonomiyaki. I ordered the “original,” which constituted a bread-like-base topped with pork, egg, cabbage, and a mystery sauce. It wasn’t delicious, but it’s another meal where I can identify a majority of the ingredients, so I’ll chalk it up as a success.
Today’s extracurricular activities started with a fairly congested tram ride to one of Hiroshima’s many ports. There, we took a boat across the water to Miyajima, a beautiful island in the Inland Sea of Japan. We only had two or so hours on the island, so we couldn’t explore too much, but we did see the major highlight of the island, the Ikutsushima Torii Gate. Although this has been the one millionth Torii gate I’ve seen in Japan, this one was special. We arrived to the island at high tide, so the base of the Torii gate was covered in water. The only way to get the gate was to via boat…We saw a couple of kayakers floating under the gate.
We returned to the big island of Honshu and quickly hopped the tram towards Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium to see the Hiroshima Carp take on the Hanshin Tigers in what turned out to be a big game in the Japanese baseball league’s playoff race. The experience was absolutely amazing and unique…You definitely can’t have a baseball experience like this in the US. The park itself was clean, which is a miracle in itself. Part of the reason is everyone picked up their trash and threw it away when they were done with it, which contrasted to the good old American pastime of throwing your garbage under your chair. I also had another novel experience; my shoes didn’t stick to the floor under my seat, which was a first for me at a professional sporting event. The fans were amazing too. As a diehard Bears fan, I enjoy rooting against the Packers as much as I enjoy rooting for my Bears. That’s definitely not the case here. When your team is up to bat, you chant, sing songs, and clap your noisemakers. You go crazy with audience participation. Think “Bear Down Chicago Bears” after a touchdown at Soldier Field, except that level of excitement is constant. When the opposing team hits, the home crowd was silent. No mocking, no ridicule…Just respect. The seventh inning was something special too. Each team’s fans, before their half of the inning, sang their team’s fight song, accompanied by their band. Yes, even the opposing team had a band and a fairly sizable supporting crowd. The fans blew up team colored, large balloons to wave during their song. Afterwards, they let them go flying into the air…Which turned out to be a cool photo opportunity. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” just won’t cut it anymore…