A long weekend on the “Wide Island”…

Usually, national holidays fall on a Monday and I lose out because that’s my day off anyway.  But, this time I was lucky.  Today is Autumn Equinox day, and so I was granted a beautiful long weekend.  And beautiful it was, because I decided to make the most of it and flee to Hiroshima!

As some of you may know, Hiroshima (The “Wide Island”) is my absolute favourite place on the planet (so far!), and yet I still can’t quite explain why.  I’ll admit I was a little nervous to go back there, the first time since I fell in love, in case the passion had faded.  But I needn’t have worried.  The moment the shinkansen arrived into Hiroshima Station I felt a grin spread across my face – I was home.

I went to Hiroshima two years ago.  So why bother going again?  I’ve been to all the main sightseeing spots before, admittedly, but this time I wanted to really explore.  And I certainly managed that!  I even decided not to distract myself with a trip to the gorgeous Miyajima this time (next time I’ll find longer and make it back there…).

I managed to unintentionally start my exploring straight away.  Last time, I stayed at a fabulously cheap and perfectly adequate hostel-cum-hotel called Aster Plaza, so I saw no reason not to stay there again.  My memory isn’t so hot though, and I managed to get myself lost almost immediately.  I took the streetcar and got off at Funairi-machi (as their website instructed) but was clueless from there.  I had a map, but it somehow didn’t help at all.  It was drizzling, but I was enjoying the adventure and travelling light, so not at all phased my my state of being lost.  In the end I gave in and asked in a Lawsons for help (always trust a convenience store when you’re lost!).  They were quite surprised that I was on foot, and managed to communicate with me that I had actually gone way off my map.  Anyway, their directions were simple enough (go straight, go over two bridges and turn left) so I thanked them in my best Japanese and left, still excited by the adventure.

As soon as I got to the second bridge I knew where I was, as I could see Aster Plaza looming before me.  Aster Plaza is a strange place – it’s a sort of conference centre, and it’s huge and very glitzy, and on the 8th and 9th floors it has a ‘Youth Hostel’, which is actually just a remarkably cheap business hotel.  My two nights cost me less than 8000 Yen (that’s less than £40!) total, which almost makes up for the extortionate train fare.  And, I was pleased to discover I had quite a view from my 9th floor bedroom:

By the time I’d found the hotel and checked-in, it was gone 3pm.  My plan for the first day actually consisted of going back out of Hiroshima, to Tenjingawa Station.  My purpose?  Shopping.  I had planned to go to Diamond City Soleil to visit Next and look for some more trousers which actually fit me, and I thought it best to get it out of the way first.  It was only one stop away from Hiroshima, and I happily spent the afternoon there, browsing the various stores, and picking up a few things in Next.  It was, quite unnervingly, exactly like the big shopping centres you get at retail parks in England (think Bluewater or similar), and visions of how I used to spend my Sunday afternoons a couple of years ago kept flashing before me.  It was odd, but quite pleasant.  Curiously, there was some sort of theme to the place.  There were various poems and decorations around, and these very adorable pig statues:

That evening, I spotted a restaurant, very near my hotel, called Otis.  I wouldn’t normally bother eating dinner out on my own, but I really fancied a good meal, and this place had an English menu outside, boasting vegetarian lentil curry.  I couldn’t resist!  So I took myself out for dinner, and even had a beer.  It was really good! The restaurant was curious.  A little odd, but I’d go back.  I couldn’t quite work out if the guy running it was Japanese or not!  He clearly spoke English, but I didn’t want to go in there and not speak in Japanese.  But at times I wondered if actually he thought I was strange and really he wasn’t Japanese at all.  Anyway, the food was really delicious!

The next day was my big ‘exploring’ day.  I set off early and started with the Peace Memorial Park and the A-bomb Dome (Genbaku Dome) (which were a mere stones-throw away from my hotel).  Of course, I’d been there before, but I still found it all very moving and peaceful (despite the tourists who were lurking everywhere – one word of advice, when you’re visiting a place like the Peace Memorial Park, it’s not big, clever or funny to stick your head inside the Peace Bell after donging it.  Show a little respect, please.).

I didn’t go to the museum this time.  For one, I’ve been before.  And for another, it was a beautiful day and I just wanted to walk.  I took many photos along the way, naturally.  Here are a few, but the whole collection can be seen here.

Fountain of Prayer:

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Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall – this monument depicts “8.15”, the time the A-bomb was dropped toward the hypocenter:

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Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims:

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Children’s Peace Monument:

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Paper cranes:

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A-bomb Dome (Genbaku Dome):

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I filled the rest of the day with a visit to the castle, a couple of shrines and a visit to the beautiful Shukkeien Garden (which I hadn’t been to before).  Hiroshima Castle is nothing special.  It’s only worth going to really for the view from the top.  But Shukkeien Garden was quite a surprise.  It’s really big, and absolutely gorgeous.  I could have wandered for hours!

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I spied on a couple and their photographers as I wandered around.  I wasn’t sure if they were posing for real wedding photos or if it was some sort of catalogue shoot or something.

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I think they spotted me!

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen reflections like this:

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At one point I spotted a snake!

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And a crab! (I spotted one of these wandering free in the Peace Memorial Park too!)

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After I’d had my fill of green, I made my way into downtown Hiroshima (marked on my Get Hiroshima tourist map as ‘a bit of a dodgy area’.  But it was still only afternoon, so none of the dodgy stuff was open yet.  I saw one very cool looking bar along the way:

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Which also sported this wonderful Lennon painting:

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I’ve been singing ‘Imagine’ in my head ever since.

And so, after all my wandering, I still can’t quite put my finger on why Hiroshima feels like home.  It’s certainly a wonderful city.  It has a very positive vibe, very friendly and accommodating to tourists, and I also kinda like the fact that they have streetcars instead of a subway system.

I think one of my favourite things about Hiroshima is the wonderful story of Sadako Sasaki and the 1000 paper cranes.  I’ll quote Wiki, rather than rewriting it:

“On August 3rd, 1955, Chizuko Hamamoto — Sadako’s best friend — came to the hospital to visit and cut a golden piece of paper into a square and folded it into a paper crane. At first Sadako didn’t understand why Chizuko was doing this but then Chizuko retold the story about the paper cranes. Inspired by the crane, she started folding them herself, spurred on by the Japanese saying that one who folded 1,000 cranes was granted a wish. A popular version of the story is that she fell short of her goal of folding 1,000 cranes, having folded only 644 before her death, and that her friends completed the 1,000 and buried them all with her. This comes from the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. An exhibit which appeared in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum stated that by the end of August, 1955, Sadako had achieved her goal and continued to fold more cranes.  Though she had plenty of free time during her days in the hospital to fold the cranes, she lacked paper. She would use medicine wrappings and whatever else she could scrounge up. This included going to other patients’ rooms to ask to use the paper from their get-well presents. Chizuko would bring paper from school for Sadako to use.”  During her time in hospital her condition progressively worsened. Around mid-October her left leg became swollen and turned purple. After her family urged her to eat something, Sadako requested tea on rice and remarked “It’s good.” Those were her last words. With her family around her, Sadako died on the morning of October 25th, 1955.”

I heard this story on my first visit to Hiroshima, and if you spend even 10 minutes in Hiroshima you’re bound to see or be given a paper crane.  The city is simply swarming with them.  After my first trip, I really wanted to make a crane and send it to Hiroshima somehow.  I tried a couple of times but failed, making nothing more than something which resembled a squashed daffodil.

Well, this morning, I sat in Starbucks for a solid 2 hours.  And I folded. I folded and I folded and I folded again, and eventually I made this little green fellow:

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I then marched off to the Peace Memorial Park again, and deposited him in his new home:

It’s not much, I’ll admit.  But all the time I was making it I was thinking.  About peace, about Hiroshima, about many things. And a lot of thought went into him.  So there he lies.  A little piece of my peace in Hiroshima.  I’ll be back to check on him someday… 🙂

One thought on “A long weekend on the “Wide Island”…

  1. Wow, sounds like an amazing place! Thankyou for your description and fantastic photos – I definitely want to visit sooner rather than later. I hope to go down that way during golden week next year!

    Like

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