This was my view of the A-bomb Dome at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima.
It felt strange to be walking on ground where so many people had lost their lives. One of them was Sasaki Sadako, who died of radiation induced leukaemia. During her illness, she folded over 1,000 paper cranes, the Japanese symbol of long life and good luck. The Children’s Peace Memorial, dedicated to her memory, is surrounded by cabinets containing what must be millions of them.
There are many memorial structures in the area around ground zero, but it was the museum which affected me the most. The history is probably familiar to most of us, but the remains of personal possessions were very touching.
There were many exhibits of charred school uniforms and clothing. In this case, the dark areas on the cloth burned out and victims had the images of the patterns on their clothes burnt into their skin.
Whilst acknowledging their role in the war and the lies the people were told, (on both sides), to make them give their support at the time, the message here is repeated time after time – we should never let this happen again. The Japanese are very concerned about the use of depleted Uranium by the USA and UK during the Gulf Wars and the increase in birth defects there and in other places where it has been used.
I found myself alone and in tears, but as I left the building a lovely Japanese lady helped me to make an origami crane and though it’s not a very good one, I have kept it.
I spent the night in Hiroshima and went, the following day to Miyajima, a Shinto shrine on an island in the Seto Inland Sea. At high tide the O-tori Gate becomes partially submerged.
I made a brief stopover in Osaka, where I finally got to taste a proper Japanese vegetarian meal. There was melt- in-the mouth tofu with sticky Amber sauce.
Like many sites in Japan over the winter, though, it was being repaired and I was not allowed into the Main Keep, which was a pity. I wandered through the West Bailey, which was extensive and was used for apartments for the ladies.
I had time to go to the Modern Art Museum. It was packed with people earnestly discussing all the pieces. There was some really fine photography displaying both the Japanese love of nature and of innovation and experimentation. I’m pleased I went, even though it was a rather cold day, as this lady in the street clearly demonstrates.
It was quite a long train ride to Kanazawa, North-East of Osaka on the coast. I only had one day left to explore it. I wished I had a lot longer. There are many things to see and do and most within walking distance, though there is a convenient bus service. I started at the market, which was mainly for crab and fish but had a good variety of vegetables also.
Next I headed for the Higashi Chayagai district, which is the old Geisha area. You can get a feel for how discreet this way of life could be, as all the shops and restaurants were hidden behind shuttered sliding doors.
As well as silk, lacquer ware and their oddly misshapen pottery, there was Mizuhiki string craft, used for tying envelopes or as straps for mobile phones, and Temari or decorative string balls. Most of this was costly but still very pleasurable to view. No windows, though, so I can’t call it window shopping.
Then I walked through the Castle Park to The Museum of Contemporary Art. The best thing there was an exposition of how some local architects were engaging with local communities since the tsunami, to construct low-cost, attractive, safe housing that people want to live in. An exciting new initiative.
There was also an exhibition of “Architecture for Dogs”, which was quite fun, and this swimming pool.
I would definitely recommend this destination in Japan. I would have also loved to visit me “snow monkeys”, which are not too far away on the route to Tokyo. I had run out of time, however, and only saw the winter snow from the train.
I liked Japan enormously. Things function well, from the toilets and trains to the packaging that opens easily, without having to use teeth or scissors. It is pleasant to have people bow and smile at me and I haven’t been treated like that since Nepal. The Japanese admire tradition but embrace novelty. Some things are very odd, (they have a radish festival and one for needles and pins), but that is part of the charm. I was made welcome and I would love to return in a different season, to enjoy more of its vibrant yet refined culture.