Monday, April 1, 2013

Hiroshima: Part 1

A second trip to Japan...

 We arrived a week before the climax of the Cherry Blossom seasons. They had just begun their primaveral wakening, sleepy and scant on the branches but with promise to come.

Our flight was an hour long and we took the subway to the Shinkansen, aka "The Bullet Train." The train was spacious (even by the standards of my long legs) and naturally very fast. If I remember correctly it moves at something like 188mph. Most seats were occupied by men in business suits drinking beer and laughing and chatting together - presumably an indicator of a good week of business abroad.

We got into Hiroshima at 9pm, and took a taxi ride 1 block from the station to the hotel (we weren't sure where it was), much to the laughter of the taxi driver and Natalie and I. "Ok, here we are," he said. "I'm sorry, what?"

It was very surreal, but equally wonderful, to see Mark in Japan. We were all very hungry, so we went to a small sake restaurant that become our late evening haunt the rest of the trip. We ordered Chicken Teriyaki (how could one resist in Japan), a mustard chicken dish, sashimi, a grilled veggie plate, and perhaps another dish or two that escapes my memory. In short, we ate our fill. Their sake list was extensive and included perhaps 10 locally brewed sakes. The meal and the drinks were delicious and lived up to every bit of the expectations of our previous trip to Japan. The fact that we were their with Mark catching up, talking about life and laughing, was all the more memorable.  

I got the distinct feeling this time, as well as every other time I went there, that the server had a particular dislike for me. Mark and I attempted to analyze his behavior with myself vs. the other customers for clues. Our results were inconclusive.

Thursday, our first full day there, was very fun but very heavy. Below is our taking the above ground trolley to the A-bomb dome.   

Below is the A-bomb dome. In the city center, it is probably the most well "preserved" building after the bomb hit. It lays within 100 meters or so of the A-bombs hypocenter (the spot directly below impact). What is especially startling about this building is comparing its current state to it original majesty - it was a splendid exhibition hall. Everyone in the building died. Seeing the skeleton, twisted remains of the circular staircase was very eerie. To think feet and toes and shoes just as our own once carried their lives and memories up those now-rusty stairs, is quite eerie.

Though you cannot ascertain it in this picture, from where this photo was taken to the A-bomb dome (seen towards the back of the shot, just on the other side of the trees) is probably 400 meters long. The stone arc on the photo-side of the pond is an epitaph for the people that died in the bombing. It's quite a beautiful construction actually, with the veranda at the very center of the A-bomb museum (i.e. where this shot was taken) aligning perfectly with the A-bomb dome, pond, and epitaph.

 The below two models, which are each perhaps 10m in diameter, really put into perspective exactly how destructive the A-bomb was. The A-bomb exploded about 600m above ground and within a second and a half erased most of the city, as you can see.

It's eerie to think people were going about their normal days, perhaps worrying about normal things. Some were irritated because they were waiting in line, others wondering what they were going to have for breakfast, many were headed to or had just arrived at work.

Perhaps the eeriest part of the whole museum (if one can even categorize such horrors) to me was this watch. They had several such relics, that stopped at exactly 8:15, the time when the bomb hit. Everything stopped then for the people of Japan. 

A great many of those who died in the blast were children. They worked at the mines and shops to help the war effort. Look was the A-bomb did to their close, and it's not hard to imagine what such force does to one's skin. The exhibit was filled with countless pieces of clothing, hair, skin, melted tricycles, children's toys, shoes, finger nails, giant chunks of scarred skin, working equipment distorted by the heat, and one giant stone slap where one man's shadow was permanently ingrained in the rock - the rock surrounding his body was bleach by the heat. It was to say the least, overwhelming.

After the bomb went off, a great majority of people had severe 4th degree burns (many water blisters all over their body and black crusted skin) or even worse the skin simply melted away from their body and lay in hanging tatters from their bones. After that it seems that everyone spontaneously had the same thing to do: walk home. Many of the people walked home half naked and with melted shoesand on the verge of death, and then died later that night or the next day. It is a gruesome sight to imagine, those thousand of people quietly marching half burned, half melted, back to their homes. Some of the walks were miles long.

As I think most of us know, the affects of the bomb pervaded well into the future, in the form of cancers and horrendous deformities in the children of those affected.

The paper crane (and their must have been countless thousands, some of which surely were made with needles) exhibit on the grounds of the park. Started by Sadako who was infected with cancer from the radiation, and began making the cranes in hopes of curing herself.

Later that evening, we went to a district in Japan known for its neon lights and abundant sources of food. It was fabulous to see (what I consider to be) traditional Japanese paper lanterns giving a ghostly luminance to the doorsteps of restaurants. It was very serene.

We walked up and down the entire main drag of the the district. Along the way I saw a Japanese liquor store. Because I had not tried any good Japanese Whiskey for myself, one of my goals for the trip was to find a good Whiskey and try it out. I bought a Yamazaki 10 year for about $35. I was impressed. For a medium grade Whiskey (about what you would pay for a Maker's Mark in the states) I found it to quite a bit better quality for what you pay.

We also stopped by a large gaming arcade of sorts. They had many claw machines, just like home, but in this case they featured some items that one would not ordinarily expect to see, well, anywhere. Below for example, is a large...uh hat? and, uh, face scarf?  

We eventually found a small hole in the wall sushi restaurant with top quality sushi. It was obviously fresh and was exceedingly delicious. Whether it was just being in Japan, or was simply the quality of the food itself, and I guess that both factors contribute, it was some of the best sushi I've had. The tuna was exquisite. Next to us were three business men who, no joke, must have ordered three times as much food as us, and were still going strong when we left.

We packed a lot into the first day but it was very memorable. Between the A-bomb museum, spending time with Mark in Japan for the first time, and then exploring the city and capping the night of with a Whiskey and fabulous Sushi, I couldn't have hoped for a more satisfying day.

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