Journal 20081009 Japan

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Madame Oui was good to get up early for our planned day trip to Hiroshima. We had a quick breakfast and took a local bus to Kyoto station for our Shinkasen train. We arrived in about 2 hours, and it was a bright and sunny day. We took a street car to “A-dome” halt, and there you were: the iconic bombed out building right in front of you. For me, it was a place for reflection, a potent symbol of the thousands who were killed in an instant by the first atomic bomb. I took some photos of the building itself, including pieces of masonry left lying on the ground. While some tourists were taking photos of themselves with the building as backdrop, that was too disturbing for Madame Oui and me.

We slowly made our way towards the modern museum and memorial, but first took a short break out of the sun. In a small shop, we refreshed ourselves with another grape Fanta soda (we’re getting addicted to these), and I bought myself a “Nuke Free: Peace from Hiroshima” badge for my denim jacket.

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We saw the hoards of Japanese school children arriving, several hundred of them from several schools. I waited patiently to take my desired photo of the dome building framed by the memorial, during which an American tourist asked me if I would take a photo of her and her (Italian?) boyfriend. I happily obliged, until she started instructing me how to use her camera and its features. I would have thought the presence of my DSLR would indicate that I know how to use a camera.

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Leaving hopefully the only annoying Yank we would see, we walked towards the museum entrance and noticed the school children eating their lunches, lying on blue plastic tarps they placed on the concrete floor. At least they were in the shade. I was surprised the admittance fee was only 50 yen (30 pence), but soon realised the catch was the 300 yen for the English audio guide (which we forewent). The main hall was an impressive display of all things leading up to the day of the explosion. I admired the before and after large models of Hiroshima. It wasn’t long before those lunching children entered in their dozens. They crammed up close to each display panel, scribbling away in their notebooks, answering set assignment questions.

We evacuated upstairs, where there were more artefacts and details of the event and its aftermath. I wasn’t planning on getting any souvenirs, but I couldn’t resist a graphic novel, “I Saw It: The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima”. But we soon reached a saturation point, and more hastily perused the rest of the displays. We did make entries in the signature books. I wrote “A vital lesson for us all”.

Madame Oui said that she wanted to see Hiroshima Castle, and the easiest way to get there was to walk. But she quickly lost patience with this, and we wasted some time arguing along the way. We found the entrance to the castle, and decided to have some crisps and drink for a midday snack. We enjoyed the cheeky little birds who came up remarkably close to us, looking for crumbs. We figured that the main castle had to be nearby, past the trees, so we investigated and discovered it. We weren’t about to pay to climb up to the observatory level, but we took some photos and promptly retreated to the train station, by street car. I had hoped to sample some speciality food, okonomiyaki, here, but from Glen Patterson’s description of it in his Hiroshima-based novel, The Third Party, it sounds like my miss may have been my mercy. We did get a slice chocolate torte cake, which we enjoyed on our return train journey.

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We got off the train at Himeji, as suggested, and walked straight up the main street to Himeji Castle. There was just enough daylight for some photos. We walked up to the main entrance, and enjoyed the rest of our stroll through the park. Madame Oui quickly became enchanted with Himeji, and wished we had more time to take it in. I told her that it was easy to hire free bicycles for the day, which made her want to come back all the more. If we had an extra day based in Kyoto, we would have certainly done this.

Back in Kyoto station, we wisely made good use of the baggage lockers and deposited our backpacks. I had also made a change of clothes on the train, and now felt refreshed and unencumbered. It was an Italian restaurant that we were seeking in The Cube, the massive set of malls attached to Kyoto station, and it was an Italian restaurant we found, on the 11th floor (ascended by escalators, not lifts).

After our lasagne, washed down with Asahi beer, followed by separate desserts and espressos, we wandered about the rest of the mall. In the basement we found a large bookstore, with 5 minutes before it closed at 9pm. I failed to find anything in English, but Madame Oui cleverly came across some children’s books written entirely in hiragana (i.e. something we could translate and easily comprehend!). We got two: a Walt Disney and a Winnie-the-Pooh one.

This evening, I managed to find us the correct 205 bus service to get us home.

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