46. Treasure

from “Cowboy”, Erasure, 1997.

Our last day in Hiroshima saw us uncover a couple of real gems and made for a nice end to what we can safely say has been our second favourite city in Japan after Tokyo. We rounded off our visit with common activities on much of our travels: a museum and a garden. And with the museum and garden right next to each other this made for both a very convenient visit and the perfect way to spend the afternoon.

Time to explore the delights of the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum and Shukkei-en.

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Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum – open, spacious, relaxed, and all round fab.

Upon entering the museum we were immediately impressed with how modern, open, and airy it seemed to be; the rear wall of the main hall was all glass and overlooked the adjacent Shukkei-en garden. It wasn’t too crowded either which always makes for a more pleasant visit.

We were initially just interested in the permanent collections, but the very nice lady on the ticket desk explained that we could get a ticket that would cover us for the permanent and special exhibitions as well as entry to Shukkei-en all for only a little more than the price of the permanent exhibition alone; the sum of the separate parts was certainly a lot more than the bundled ticket, so we duly accepted.

Photography was again prohibited (drat and double drat) which was a shame as we saw some really great pictures, which we spent half the time debating on whether they would look best in our Hampstead or Bangkok flats. However, some of the items in part of the permanent collection had a special “photo OK” labels and so we do have a few examples of some of the lovely artefacts we saw – so a bit of a hurrah! there.

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Inkstone – a framed inkstone featuring a dragon in the sea.

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We were quite tempted to go around some of the galleries for a second look but given that it was our last day and time was pressing on we needed to go and explore the Shukkei-en garden next door before it closed. Of the several museums we visited in Hiroshima it was the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum that was not only the best, but arguably the best art museum in Japan so far and we cannot recommend it highly enough.

We used our garden tickets on the automatic reader of the glass door in the rear of the museum and were admitted to Shukkei-en – VIP access, don’t you know darling! It was a lot damper outside than when we had entered the museum and there had clearly been a brief downpour – oh goody that’s helped make it even more humid!

Shukkei-en (縮景園, which roughly translates as “shrunken scenery garden”) dates from 1620 and displays many features of the traditional aesthetics of a Japanese garden, especially the theme of “shrunken scenery”.

Being just a short distance from the hypocentre of the atomic bombing the garden was nearly devastated by the attack and became a refuge for victims. The remains of some who died are buried within the garden. Shukkei-en reopened in 1951 after extensive renovations, and here is a glimpse of how it looks now.

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We saw a few of our old friends the carp in the Shukkei-en lake as we meandered around, but when we got to the central arched bridge we discovered that there were a whole lot more carp in the lake than we had thought as evidenced by the feeding frenzy caused by some of the other visitors. We promptly found out where they got the fish food and bought some of our own in the shop/café, then set about generating our own fishy frenzy and get their picture.

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Hungry hungry hippos carp – blimey don’t fall in or you’re a gonner! Nom nom nom.

We also saw – a little to our surprise – a lot of crabs living in the garden but the little devils kept scuttling into their hidey-holes in the lakeside at the slightest movement and so we couldn’t get any good pictures of them.

A beautiful garden ended what was one of our most pleasant days of just being out and about in the city; they both were real treasures.

Hiroshima, we are going to miss you.

44. New Life

from “Speak & Spell”, Depeche Mode, 1981.

Post the atomic bomb the city of Hiroshima had to be completely rebuilt as a new city. You can see this in many aspects of its development into a modern city with – as we’ve preciously commented – a somewhat European feel to it we think. We both agree that aside from Tokyo, Hiroshima is easily our next favourite city on our travels in Japan so far.

One of the most obvious rebuilds we visited was Hiroshima Castle (広島城), sometimes called Carp Castle (鯉城). It is a replica of the original castle and was rebuilt in 1958.

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Hiroshima Castle – it looks very much like Osaka Castle, except for the more obvious wooden finish.

In many ways Hiroshima Castle is very reminiscent of Osaka Castle in appearance and style, although the finish of the former is more wooden and some (not us) would say less impressive. The façade aside, we found Hiroshima Castle’s interior a better conversion to a museum than Osaka’s, and it also had a more impressive collection of artefacts – which of course we could not photograph! But we did get to see a decent display of samurai armour, helmets, swords, and other items of a less warlike nature!

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Samurai helmet – this is a replica which you were allowed to photograph.

Hiroshima Castle’s museum also was much better at telling the full story of the castle from the very beings of the establishment of settlements in the area, through the castle’s construction and position of power, and right up to the present day. In contrast Osaka’s museum was more about the Summer and Winter wars rather than a full historic background of the castle. Not to say that we didn’t enjoy both, but Hiroshima’s was the more fulfilling historically.

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Hiroshima Castle – 360 degree views from the top, here looking back towards the centre of the city.

The castle grounds are also home to the Gokoku Shrine which is a Shinto shrine. Like the castle it was also completely rebuilt. This was very peaceful to look around and we enjoyed some great ice-cream from a little shop next door; Philip continued his fruity preference with a mango ice-cream while Robert continued his growing obsession with black sesame ice-cream.

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Gokiku Shrine – a quiet oasis, and the shop next door sells great ice-cream!

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Gokoku Shrine – the inner shrine.

The Ninomaru is the second line of defence, after the moat, and forms a bastion at the castle’s main gate. This restored building is open to the public and free to enter. Fortunately – or unfortunately – depending on your point of view it had a traditional drum inside that you were allowed to play: Philip didn’t hold back.

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The Ninomaru – a defensive wall building.

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The Ninomaru – the inside is now a mini-museum with various artefacts and replicas from the original castle.
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The Ninomaru – OK whose bright idea was it to leave a drum out where Philip can play it?

One of the most striking things we saw on our tour around the castle and grounds was a eucalyptus tree. What was so striking? Well upon reading about it from an nearby notice plaque we learned that this tree survived the atomic bomb.

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Eucalyptus tree – like Captain Scarlet, he is indestructible. You are not. Remember this. Do not try to imitate him.

We knew from a trip to Australia some years ago that eucalypts survive – and in fact encourage – bushfires. Wikipedia says:

Eucalypts obtain their long-term capacity to survive fire from their ability to regenerate from epicormic buds situated deep within their thick bark, or from lignotubers, or by producing serotinous fruits.

Bet you didn’t know that! No, us neither.

So with hindsight it is perhaps not so surprising that the tree returned to life given the evolution of the eucalyptus tree and its ability to survive fire; and now nuclear devastation! It was a small symbol of something of the old Hiroshima having passed through the ruination of the city to live on into today.

42. Atomic

from “Eat to the Beat”, Blondie, 1979.

Hiroshima. Everyone knows its name for one reason: the first city ever targeted with an atomic weapon. As such you can hardly visit Hiroshima without visiting the Memorial Museum and the A-Bomb Dome, or Genbaku, which was previously the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall.

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A-Bomb Dome – a stark reminder of the destruction of Hiroshima.

This was one of the few structures left standing after the explosion, located near the atomic bomb’s hypocentre, and it is now a symbol of peace and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The ruin serves as a memorial to the people who were killed on – and after – 6th August 1945. Over 70,000 people died instantly, and another 70,000 suffered fatal injuries from the effects of the explosion and of radiation.

It seemed only right that this is how we started our exploration of Hiroshima.

Next to the A-Bomb Dome is the Peace Park and located in this is the Memorial Museum. Although currently being renovated in parts, it still has the main exhibition detailing the atomic explosion and its aftereffects.

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Memorial Museum – scale model map showing the atomic explosion point.

The Memorial Museum turned out to be one of the Japanese museums where you could take photographs. However, we both felt that this was somehow a little out of taste – the exhibits are fascinating but the stories and truths they tell are grim, and at times horrifying, sickening and very graphic. It seemed somehow wrong to capture them in photographic form as “holiday snaps”, and better that they remain etched in our memories.

But we did take one picture of the horrifying reality: a tricycle. Such an ordinary thing. The story of its former owner was like that of the thousands who perished in the immediate aftermath of the atomic attack.

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Surrounding the museum is the Peace Park, which is a lovely green space and has many kinds of peace tributes set within it. The most significant of these is the Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims. This is a memorial arch under which is a casket containing a book that holds the name of every victim of the atomic attack.

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Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims – centrepiece of the Peace Park.

After the imagery of the Memorial Museum we enjoyed a pleasant walk in the sunshine around the Peace Park, and here are a few pictures.

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The Children’s Peace Monument – atop this is a paper crane, which comes from the true story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who died from radiation. She believed that if she folded 1,000 paper cranes her wish would be granted and she would be cured.
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The Peace Bell – you can ring this, and we did.
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The A-Bomb Dome – looking across the Motoyasugawa River from the Peace Park.

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The Gates of Peace – these are inscribed with the word “peace” in 49 different languages.

Hiroshima today is a beautiful city and, as we first thought, definitely has a European quality and feel about it (though we are not quite sure why this is) whilst still being very much a Japanese city. We would love to come back already and hope that one day we will.

Peace 

41. Waiting For A Train

from “Headlines”, Flash and the Pan, 1983.

Time to leave damp old Osaka and head further westwards, this time to Hiroshima. Once again the best way to get there is on the Shinkansen, this time on the Sanyo Line, which connects Osaka (Shin-Osaka station) to Fukuoka (Hakata station). Fukuoka is actually our next destination after Hiroshima and will be the most westerly point on our travels across Japan.

Tickets in hand, we duly turned up with time to spare and waited for our train.

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Shin-Osaka station – waiting for the Nozomi 19 train.

While we were in Osaka we had spotted the following poster at the main station and gotten somewhat excited at the thought of an anime inspired train.

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Neon Genesis Evangelion – poster advertising the special livery Shinkansen.

As some of you may know we are both fans of a number of Japanese anime series, and the poster we saw was for the special Shinkansen livery to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of our favourite anime.

While we were waiting for Nozomi 19 to arrive, what should pull in at the next platform but the JR West Shinkansen 500 Type EVA train. Ooh! OK it’s a bit geektastic, but we weren’t the only ones getting a bit excited. The platforms either side of the train were suddenly abuzz with people and every camera and smartphone was suddenly directed at the train. We had to wait a little bit for the excitement to subside and we could get a more uninterrupted shot.

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JR West’s 500 Type EVA – ooh, ooh, ooh!

Our train to Hiroshima was just the usual boring high speed N700 that whisks you from A to B in superfast time and comfort, not the 500 Type EVA. Oh well, you can’t have everything. 😛 Perhaps we can catch it when we move on to Fukuoka.

We arrived in Hiroshima on a slightly grey afternoon and headed into town to check into our hotel. We decided to opt for a hotel and not Airbnb on this stage of our travels as we had credit from previous stays booked on Hotels.com and thought we’d treat ourselves and have someone else tidy the room for a change!

In the taxi from the station to the hotel we both thought it looked and felt a bit European, with the bridges, rivers, trams, etc. This turned out to be somewhat ironic as we discovered on arriving at the hotel that the UK had just voted to leave the EU. Oh dear.

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Hiroshima – the view east from our hotel.

With an immediate ¥10 wiped off the £ to ¥ rate with the Brexit we’re glad we had our Japanese accommodations and travel costs paid already.

OK time to unpack and then we can start to explore Hiroshima.