June 29, 2011 § 1 Comment
I exited the Shinkansen with a view to the left of the city of Hiroshima – no where near as skyrisen as Tokyo – and with the lingering taste of an earl grey and apple waffle stuck on my palette; a taste that was soon dissipated as I ordered my caramel Macchiato from the first Starbucks I saw. My ears were slightly saw from having my headphones on for around 5 hours from the bullet journey from Tokyo, and my arms felt uncomfortable after I had to carry my luggage through the station, after the said 5 hours of playing solitare on my aging iPod. It was rather cold, but after the past few days, I couldn’t really feel it too much. Despite leaving a blazing summer at home in Australia, it felt so nice to be blanketed in the harsh chill Japan’s mid winter had to offer. My fingertips though, reached out to the window whilst on the train and touched the view of Nagoya, blanketed in a perfect white snow – the kind of thing I thought I’d miss out on this trip, and would have to stick to seeing in animated films I was so fond of.
We made ourselves obvious as tourists, awkwardly looking at a tourist map of Hiroshima, clumsily making out the places we could go, and where our hotel was, and where we had to go, and where the closest 7-11, or Family Mart, or AM/PMwas. I liked the air of Hiroshima immediately; it was so much more calm than Tokyo. Accidently, we approached a park, which we originally thought was the Peace Park, en route to our hotel. After a minute of my parents gawking, we turned to the main road and headed towards our hotel. I attempted to access the Wi-Fi (which seemed little in abundance in my travel) to make my claims to Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever the hell felt important then; but we’d finished checking in by the time I actually connected. We dropped our bags off in our room and began our aimless wonder around Hiroshima. For once, I had the afternoon to myself; it was such a relief from the vigorous timetabling of a mere 5 days in Tokyo. After exiting the hotel, and smiling at a few schoolgirls, I began back towards the peace park. Though not armed with a map, I just vaguely recalled my steps back to where we came from.
I took a photo of a junior high school I saw, which really excited me. It made the place feel a billion times more Japanese, and I’d like to admit that seeing regular places such as schools was one of the reasons I wanted to go to Japan; schools were a part of Japan I wanted to live out – to make sure places I saw in animes and films were real, and not just part of a wonderful imagination that had helped draw me to the place. At this point, it helped me realise that a Japanese schooling was not something that I would never get to experience – but I had to delay the sadness that was slowly swelling up in me. My family wanted to push along to the Peace Park, so we continued back along the grey streets to the first statue we saw. There were no cars on the road.
There was a small bridge that led into a small plateau which had a well-groomed wall of trees as a border. I ascended some steps, after being drawn in by the sight of an old traditional building, looming over the park I had walked into.
Of course, at this stage I realised that I was not in fact at the “Peace Park” as of yet, rather, I was in the old grounds of a Daimyo’s castle. The grounds beneath the watchful structure were cold, grey and mossy. The tree trunks were so dark. It seemed really foreign to me. Even at first, I felt no comfort from Hiroshima. Not only the tree trunks, but there was just something that was so cold about it. Everything in Hiroshima was like that. I guess it didn’t help that there was little sunlight coming through the thick white clouds obstructing the sky. As I approached the castle, I reaffirmed my position as a tourist by hurriedly taking photos of the exterior, trying to avoid having my family members in the photo. It, like the tree trunks surrounding, was a tall and dark brown structure, turned into a museum. I felt for the first time in my trip in Japan, a connection to the traditional past and history to it. We did Japan, particularly the Meiji Restoration in my prelim course at school, so things like maps, diagrams and dubbed English history tapes playing were rather familiar to me.
One thing which seemed to really seemed to stand out with me was the panoramas I encountered of the city. I didn’t mention that opposite my Hotel was an over-traffic bridge, which gave a view over one of the rivers and the rest of the city. There was a lookout at the top of Hiroshima, which we reached after around an hour of looking at old swords, Samurai uniforms, and photographs of the castle in its former glory. From the top, the moat surrounding the castle was a perfect mirror, in which I saw a giant dead koi. At least, it looked dead. As I exited the castle grounds, I took a photo of some school kids drinking coffee. I began towards the Peace Park.
En route to it was when we started seeing things from 1945. I was embarrassed of my parents ratting through a temple, while a service was on, so I continued on, until I witnessed my first strip of paper cranes. It was in a small alcove, in front of a rock that said something-or-other in Japanese. The bomb images continued – further down, there was a burst apart tree, held together by rope and wooden staffs. A temple complex too, rebuilt after the bomb was further down. I bought a Mountain Dew from the first vending machine I saw. It was cold, and I was really after a coffee. I can remember distinctively turning left after this temple complex thing too, and finding a series of paths which looped around the city. My parents were confused. It was straightforward to follow too; so I wasn’t really sure why.
The appearance of the baseball dome was significantly underwhelmed by the sight of the famed Hiroshima Dome. I was really excited, and it was such a grabbing sight. It just stood there, barely together, looming over the immediate area. There was something immediately humbling about just standing near it. Thinking about it now, all of the blood feels like it exits my heart. It left such a resounding sadness inside of me. I began clicking my camera like I was at one of the President of the United States’ press conferences. Though with more action, I guess. Shots with the marble rock next to it, shots of the marble rock, etc. Riveting stuff. As I mentioned before, Hiroshima was the first time things genuinely Japanese began reaching me. Before, in Tokyo, I felt like a tourist. I went on tours, looked at the main sights, and essentially walked around a big city. Don’t get me wrong, Tokyo was an incredible experience – but Hiroshima just really touched me. When I followed the Hiroshima Dome around, and wound up on the river side of the ruined building, I noticed the bridge crossing the two sides of the Peace Park. Underneath, there was a musician playing guitar and singing, with his sound reverberating to a large circumference around the Peace Park. With a few more cars on the road, the sound became more and more faint.
There was a concrete pillar behind Hiroshima Dome. It was dedicated to all of the Students caught up in the bombing. At its base were hundreds of strips of paper cranes, donated from schools around the world. There were statues of birds with open wings, four sticks of incense at the base of the tower and an elderly woman praying. I stood still for around 4 or five minutes, trying to comprehend the crippling effect the war in the Pacific had on the city. Meanwhile, the cars on the road began to pick up. I approached the road which had the Peace Memorial Museum opposite. We didn’t go in, and continued around the Peace Park for at least another hour or so.
Images of the paper cranes became more prominent too, and around the Childrens memorial, there were huts of handmade donated artworks, all bearing messages of PEACE; all made with paper cranes. The colours from the countless sheets of folded paper seemed to be jumping out at me, shouting amidst the grey, very grey evening. I couldn’t tell if I should have felt overjoyed that there was such a message of PEACE being spread, or sad that such messages had to exist. The Atomic Bomb Memorial mound seemed so brown, as did the rest of the grass in the area. Winter was in regular swing, clearly, spreading the omnipresent death of the place, and literally chilling it through my body. I continued around the river slowly for a while too, passing the monument for all of the Korean lives lost from the drop. Before arriving in Hiroshima, I had slightly negative thoughts towards it, I have to admit. I just thought it would be a boring low-rise city with a sad history. But around here, I came to realise that this is a place brimming with an accessible Japanese culture, with a firm history embedded in it. There’s little I can say that doesn’t condescend Tokyo, but it wasn’t like that. Hiroshima was just different.
I left the Peace Park just as the sky had been blessed with a beautiful blue-black night sky. After a short walk, I accidently found the spot in which the bomb was dropped immediately above. I found Hondori, the main shopping district soon after inspecting a few vending machines with no resolve to spend my precious precious Yen. My family dispersed, my parents entering a department store (in which I saw a lovely new camera. It made me think, why did I have to buy a camera BEFORE going to Japan!? It was so clear, (though perhaps too expensive) and had a touch screen focus. I hadn’t seen one in Australia before), and I dragged my brother into a gaming store. Not electronics gaming, but things like sculptures and trading cards. I bought a few souvineers for friends and my brother whilst inside. Typically, those kind of stores are not as popular in Australia, and I doubt I would have found one quite like it in the main shopping centre of anywhere in Australia. Nt only that, but at the back were schoolboys whom were playing cards and painting sculptures were drinking tea in thermos’ and eating takeaway. As much as I’d like to say it was a difference in culture, I can’t imagine it being too much different in Austalia – maybe less crowded. There were a few people there. Hurriedly, I took a photo of the exterior and continued into the departement store my parents were in. We had around more than one kilometre ahead to browse, and I made a resolution with my parents on where to meet in whatever space of time. Then, I embarked down the strip, of lights, thousands and thousands of people, lights, posters, lights and coloured lights. Hiroshimas night had finally exited the brim ethereal grey enbalmed in the city, and ironically, I was in something beautifully contrasted.
I have to admit, I don’t remember every miniscule detail in this period. We ducked in and out of shops, bought lovely Meiji Chocolate at heavily discounted prices, biscuits; my brother and I essentially gluttoned ourselves with whatever Yen we had floating around. Strangely, I didn’t buy too much for myself (until Osaka) when I was in Japan, but I certainly did look hard. There was so much I wanted, and in all honesty I felt a little greedy wanting to continually stop (which was particularly evident when I was at Harajuku); in hindsight I should have bought more, but I still had such a sense of excitement from looking at the shops whilst in Hiroshima (well, anywhere). Shortly after leaving, my brother wanted to look in a shoe shop, and the service there was incredible. Strangely, I never felt anywhere in Japan much of a language barrier. I could speak the best Japanese out of my family, so every time they wanted something, they got me to speak. But here, the shoe store attendant knew quite good English. There were hundreds of unique shoes here, and I really considered getting a pair of shoes I had never seen before, and probably would never see again. I just kept on convincing myself “No, no, this trip was enough, it’s okay,” but as I said, bad idea in hindsight. I thought it was strange my brother was so inclined to a pair of Nike Air-Force 1’s, since they were everywhere in Australia – but here was quite cheap too. Before making the absolute resolve to ask my parents for money, we had to meet them first. Of course, we got lost, expecting to see them outside the shoe store, they weren’t there. For some reason, my incling was to continue and check until the end of the strip. Heading towards the glowing green lights of PARCO, my brother and I pushed through thousands of people, witnessing stores and stores of unpronouncable names, people with styles an Australian winter would take its sweet time catching up with, through an ethereal yellow glow, and lights in every direction; reaching each set of traffic lights was the only reminder of how cold and black the city was, yet on the other side was the promising yellow glow of comfort, people and consumerism.
By the time we reached a coffee shop with the cover of “Abbey Road” for it’s logo, next door to PARCO we realised that our parents were not in fact there. We pushed back through the crowds, in the same journey and fashion – yet it still seemed like a different place. In my limited experience of being a tourist, I find it so interesting that to so many people, this brand new journey I was on would be regular routine. Businesspeople leaving work, shoppers going to pharmacies or PARCO for the latest whatever, school children going to Starbucks for a study and hanging out with their friends – to them it would be all the same. We arrived back at the shoe store to see my parents vaguely disappointed. For the next hour or so, my brother tried and deliberated shoes, in what was an interesting shopping experience, essentially seeing a really devoted salesman. I won’t document the experience though, I just sat down looking at Star Wars Addidas shoes for 30 seconds and asked if I could leave, and see everyone back here in an 15 minutes. Quietly, the bathroom was calling me, but I used it as another excuse to explore this surprisingly bustling city.
Leaving the store, I was still really surprised at how lively it was. As I said, my cynicism to coming here painted the place as a dead town with a war memorial. But this promenade helped open my eyes to the goldmine of the Japan I was really looking for. I headed to a takeaway store I can’t remember the name of, and bought a hot dog thing for a dollar. I was feeling quite hungry by this stage, it was around 8 or 9pm. Leaving, I wanted to investigate the McDonalds in the middle of the strip, despite being tempted by the Starbucks nearby. When I reached the top of the stairs, I walked slowly past the familiarly decorated rows of chairs and tables, covered in familiarly packaged food. Though the air was so different. My mind never seemed to grasp the fact I was however-many-miles-away-from-“home”. It was more like I was just somewhere different, in my own tourist bubble, observing things I was so green-eyed for, things that I would never have in my life. After I left the bathroom I saw students with books open talking, a girl sitting alone, young children playing their DS. Each of them carrying stories my life would never even touch on. I left the building sad, and thinking about how much I wanted to sit down by someone and magically learn fluent Japanese and blend in and act natural, and how much I wanted this place to be my home.
“Everything beautiful is far away, or maybe everything far away is beautiful. It’s just like how grass is always greener on the other side. Grass just looks nicer on the other side, you know? Grass where you’re standing looks like dirt with green hair.”
By now I was directing a small portion of spite towards Hondori Street. I found my way back to the shoe store and sat down, contemplating nothing. We left, and it was time to find a spot for dinner. I backtracked whilst everyone else followed, back to PARCO, still avoiding its entrance. Like the tourists we were, we got out our “Lonely Planet” books and tried to compile a mental image of where to find “Okonomi-mura” for Okonomiyaki for dinner. I walked faster than the rest of my group, and at one stage said “I’ll go ahead here, and run back and tell you if I find it”. I wound up in a concrete park surrounded by night-clubs with well dressed Japanese men and women heading in and out of the assortment of clubs. I went the wrong way. We found the “food theme park” and walked up the long steps. Trailing behind me was the voices of my parents “are you sure this is the right place?” We walked in and were beckoned by an elderly couple to eat some of their okonomiyaki. We really only witnessed one other restaurant, since we went straight into the solemn and empty restaurant. The man got straight to work on creating four delicious pancakes – the local delicacy. Us sitting in the dingy restaurant was made awkward by my mother, saying things like “They’re calling other people in, and no one else is coming in. Maybe this place is really bad?” Other people were probably just heading to more popular places. I was happy with our choice. It felt authentic. So Japanese, that the owners couldn’t even converse with us, and by the time our food was ready, the man (who cooked) joined his (presumed) wife in sleeping sitting up. I ordered the drinks and concluded with the bill (unfortunately resorting to waking the tired couple), since I knew the only amount of Japanese.
We wondered back to our hotel, on what was a seemingly long walk. I stopped to go to a bathroom in a 7/11, and occupied time looking around at the products. I couldn’t get over how much of a subtle difference just shook me, and how entrancing it was. Then, I stayed in the lobby of the hotel for a few hours, using the Wi-Fi, attempting to send meaningful emails and update trivial social networking sites.
I’m not sure how to conclude this, since I probably could never do justice how I felt and feel now that I am home. Hiroshima is one of my most cherished experiences of my life. In Australia, I had just concluded an emotionally draining and fulfilling period. So where was I headed after this? A place which was a completion of a childhood, a fulfilling of this cultural yearning for me. How my body and my mind truly felt; I can’t even begin.