On Saturday, as part of my apparent quest to never go more than a month without leaving Shikoku, I got up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 to meet my friends Alicia, Lauren, and Nicky downtown to go to Hiroshima. We got up at that ungodly hour because the ferry we wanted to catch was at 6:25. Hiroshima is one of the two closest major cities to Matsuyama (the only one closer is Okayama), and the regular ferry costs ¥6,800 (about $80) round-trip and takes a little shy of three hours. I’d been to Hiroshima once before, back in 2008, but considering the number of times I’ve been to Tokyo, it should come as no surprise that I love revisiting places. I also love those people, so clearly it was a win all around.
The caption on that photo is a line from a comic that we quote frequently – don’t worry about trying to decipher its meaning. Anyway, moving right along, we started our day with the A-Bomb Dome and the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park. I was the only one of the four of us who’d been there before and it’s pretty much your responsibility as a decent human being to go if at all possible, so we did. Allow me to reiterate: if you spend time in Japan you need to get yourself to Hiroshima to visit the Peace Park. It’s not a huge time commitment (just a couple of hours), the museum is only ¥50 (less than a dollar), and you really need to see it. And Hiroshima’s awesome – there’s tons of stuff to do when you’re finished. We got there at a little past 11:00 and left at about half-one. In that time, we took pictures, saw some of the memorials, went through both halves of the museum, were photographed signing an anti-nuclear armament petition, and got politely accosted by Japanese Jehovah’s Witnesses. Seriously.
The A-Bomb Dome and the museum, the first half of which is devoted to Hiroshima City and the war, the second to the bombing and aftermath, are some of the most horrifying things I have ever seen in my life. Photos can’t capture what you feel looking at that structure, which the city is very carefully preserving so no one will ever forget. And I can’t even describe the museum. It has things owned and worn by victims, stories, survivor testimonies, scale models, physical evidence of the destructive force and heat… it’s kind of soul-crushing, but so important. 6 August 1945 is a very important date and what happened in Hiroshima needs to be remembered so it will never happen again.
But that really can’t be the only thing you do with a Saturday, so afterward we moved on to Miyajima!
Miyajima is a sacred Shinto site and the torii at Itsukushima Shrine (see above photo) is one of the Three Views of Japan. The other two are the islands of Matsushima Bay in Miyagi (probably quite damaged now) and Amanohashidate (a sandbar covered in pine trees) in Kyoto. The torii is supposed to be floating, as in when the tide is in you can’t see the bottom of it, but both times I’ve been to Miyajima the tide’s been out. One day I will get to see it floating and take the little boat out to it and take pictures and it’ll be amazing. One day. But, yes, Miyajima is fantastic. It’s a small island (12 square miles), but has many Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, as well as a ropeway that puts you within a 30-minute hike to the top of the tallest mountain. And you can buy momiji, which are maple leaf-shaped pastries filled with something sweet. My favorite is custard.
Because Miyajima is sacred, the trees can’t be cut down for timber, deer and monkeys rove freely (the monkeys are way up in the mountains, though), and there can’t be any cemeteries. About 2,000 people live there, but death is taboo under Shinto, so the Buddhist funerals Shinto people have must happen on the mainland. Shinto and Japanese Buddhism have a sort of symbiotic relationship and Shinto as we know it only exists because of the import of Buddhism from China, which is why they don’t cancel each other out. But that’s its own topic entirely.
Because of the time on our return ferry (7:50), and the amount of time it takes to get from the Miyajima port back to Hiroshima port, we only got to spend an hour on the island. It was a very haphazard, run around taking pictures and seeing, like, three things, hour. But it was still lovely because Miyajima is a beautiful place. If you’re ever in that part of Japan, you should go because it’s great. The ferry from Hiroshima is only 10 minutes, though it does take about 30 minutes to get to the port from Hiroshima Station, and it’s breathtaking in the best possible way. Lauren and I want to go back and explore the mountains, to see the little temples and shrines that are more hidden away. There are paths and hikes and it would be completely possible to devote a whole day to just that. In short? A++ will definitely go again.