Hiroshima Part 1: Peace Memorial Park
August 31, 2010
Hiroshima’s most striking characteristic is how ordinary it seems. Save for a gargantuan train station loaded with restaurants and souvenir stands hawking merchandise covered in the logo of the town’s beloved baseball squad the Carp, the city rarely feels imposing. Directly outside the station sat a cluster of booths selling various Japanese festival foods. The skyline hardly made a dent in the cloudy sky. The busier streets, done in the familiar shopping arcade style, came nowhere close to rivaling the bustling enclosed spaces of Osaka or Kyoto. Instead of a train system, Hiroshima uses a tram. Usually theme park parking lots use trams. Yet so does Hiroshima.
Of course, Hiroshima can’t be just a regular city thanks to its ever-present past. The first time a nuclear weapon was ever used on other humans…a distinction both immensely tragic and partially responsible for how history played out after World War II, though I’m not nearly educated enough to try to tackle that…was over this city. I’ll let Wikipedia serve as your history book, though I don’t think any further readings are needed to know the atomic bombing and Hiroshima are…and always will be…linked together regardless of how much the city wishes to move on. Tourists flock to Hiroshima for the sole purpose of seeing the Peace Memorial Park, a small stretch of greenery featuring various tributes to those who died in the bombing and landmarks still standing from the attack in 1945. It serves a dual purpose…one, it makes the sleepy city a desirable place for tourists, but it also stands as a cry for peace from a place familiar with chaos.
The Atomic Bomb Dome sits near the front of the park, the area’s most photo-ready sight. The A-Bomb exploded over this building, causing all the windows to shatter and killing everyone inside, yet not knocking the structure itself over. The aged building stands in stark contrast to the rest of the park, a beautiful slice of land next to a river that in another time would be a great place to go for a morning jog. Whereas other memorials serve to educate people on what happened, the dome simply reminds, needing nothing more than a few signs to get its message across.
A short walk away is an area housing a small flame. I heard it will burn for as long as nuclear weapons continue to exist on Earth. This became the source of many cynical remarks…which I certainly wasn’t above…regarding how that flame is never going out. Which actually makes me more angry in retrospect, the futility of the whole affair. After that was the main museum, which does an excellent job documenting the lead up to the bombing and the aftermath in heart-tugging fashion. Since every writer who comes to Japan to write about the experience tends to devote a decent amount of text to the museum (see Dave Barry, for example, who wrote an essay about his experience in Hiroshima that stands as my least favorite piece ever written by him thanks to its dunderheaded American-excusing side), I’ll simply say it’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be skipped if you happen to end up in the city.
We came to Hiroshima on August 5th, a day before the 65th anniversary of the bombing. Accordingly, the amount of visitors skyrocketed and crews were preparing seating for the next day’s ceremony. The memorial erected to honor the children killed in the bombing especially overflowed with people, both European tourists and school kids from all over Japan dropping off strings of paper cranes. Again, I turn the reigns over to the anyone-can-update hands of Wikipedia to fill you in on why. We would be back for the ceremony, so we left in the late afternoon.
Hiroshima does boast one of the most highly touted culinary treats in all of Japan. Hiroshima-yaki, the city’s take on the pancake-like okonomiyaki, was made out by various travel guides to be a mandatory experience. What makes the food special is the addition of soba noodles to the thick treat…Osaka’s take on okonomiyaki doesn’t include noodles, and these dueling recipes have resulted in a “rivalry” between the two cities over who makes better okonomiyaki.
I’ll say up front…I still like Osaka okonomiyaki a bit more, but Hiroshima-yaki certainly gives it a run.
(Japanese Fun Fact #78 – A commercial featuring Los Angeles Angel Hideki Matsui has been playing on TV a lot recently. It features the eh-OK slugger doing the YMCA with the stadium grounds crew all while wearing some dad jorts/jeans. It’s weird but I’m still glad the Angels get so much air time over here…even if Texas has the division more or less wrapped up = (