Japan: Nagasaki, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park & Miyajima – remembering Japan
On the beginning of this blogpost I have to admit I was not sure how I should write it. Should I keep it quite general, so no one gets offended or thinks it’s too descriptive? Or should I stay true to myself and tell you in detail what I saw and heard, and what changed something inside of me? I want you to know what to expect when visiting these cities, so I decided to stay true and tell you about the most important heart-breaking parts of history we as human being should all be aware of. I can’t tell you about these beautiful cities without talking about the horrors their residents have lived through in the past (also, since we have already written about Pearl Harbor and the other side of the story in Sophie’s Hawaii series). Despite all that, I think it’s important to highlight how much has changed and why they are definitely worth a visit.
After visiting Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, we bought the Japan Rail Pass to head to Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This started to be the most life-changing experience I ever made. The Rail Pass is the most convenient way to travel Japan as a tourist, as it allows you to use the Shinkansen, Japan’s high-speed trains, but you have to keep some information in mind. The Rail Pass can only be purchased if you are on a tourist visa and costs about 29,000 Yen (ca. 220€) for 7 days, but it can be purchased for up to 21 days. Many websites explain this in a very complicated way, so if you’re lost in information, I recommend you buy the Pass in a station in Japan like we did. The helpful sellers will explain everything you need to know.
For us, Nagasaki was a bit of a holiday during our vacation. We had a pretty strict itinerary in order to see as much as possible and Nagasaki was our chance to relax a bit. As you surely already know, on 9 August 1945, Nagasaki was destroyed by the Atomic Bomb “Fat Man” and 39,000–80,000 people died. Nowadays, Nagasaki is once again a big industrial city with a very pretty harbour, which you should definitely visit during sunset and where you can eat the most amazing fish.
A very famous bridge is the Megane-bashi Bridge or also called Spectacles Bridge, where even Kois are swimming through the water. It’s very calming around there and not as hectic as some other Japanese cites are. Like every other Japanese city, you’ll find various of beautiful temples there as well, definitely worth a visit is the Confucius Shrine. Fun fact: the land on which it stands belongs to the Chinese Embassy so technically you’re visiting China when going to the temple!
Also, you should go to the top of Mount Inasa for the sunset for sure. If you are not as sporty or it’s simply too hot, the cable car will bring you comfortably to the top. The view is incredible, and you can see the whole city, as well as the sea. On days with a good view you can even see until Battleship Island (Hashima Island) where they filmed great parts of the James Bond film Skyfall! There are also tours available to visit the island, but they are quite expensive.
We would have loved to visit the Atomic Bomb Museum in Nagasaki as well, but we heard the one in Hiroshima is even bigger and decided to visit this one instead, but a fellow traveller told us it is definitely worth a visit, so we plan on visiting it as soon as we get back to Japan!
Again, we travelled with the Shinkansen and the journey was as pleasant as ever. What I noticed – every time the conductor passed through the train compartment and was about to leave for the next one he bowed to all the passengers, even though they didn’t even notice it. I can’t get over how kind Japanese people are!
But now on to Hiroshima … like I have already mentioned, this was surely the most fascinating part of our journey and I can truly say it has had a very big impact on me. A short excursion into history: during the final stages of World War II, on 6 August 1945 the US detonated the Atomic Bomb “Little Boy” over Hiroshima and killed 90,000–146,000 people. I’ve always been very interested in WWII, watched tons of documentaries and so it was only right for me to visit the Atomic Bomb Museum.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial park is located directly where the bomb hit the city back then. Already on the way there I had a weird feeling in my guts as I didn’t know what to expect. The first thing we saw when entering the park was the A-Dome. Even though the bomb exploded exactly over that building, it is still quite intact. What most people forget: an Atomic Bomb is most effective when exploding not too close to the ground, but also not in a high altitude, and this bomb detonated a bit lower than planned.
Right in front of the A-Dome, we met Mito Kosei, an in-utero survivor of the attack. He offers information on what the bomb did to him and other people and how it affected and changed the lives of everyone who was around during the detonation. Also, there are kids collecting signatures for an UN petition to abolish nuclear weapons (“No More Hiroshimas”) and we even got gifted some paper cranes, which are a symbol of peace and used to remember Sadako Sasaki, a girl who survived the bomb, but then died years later because of cancer caused by the radiation and in the hospital did fold 1000 paper cranes. Sometimes I carry one of these paper cranes with me as a talisman.
In the middle of the park there’s a peace flame, that’s been lit 1 August 1964 and will continue to burn until the last Atomic Bomb on earth has been destroyed. If you stand in front of the shrine you can look directly through it to the Peace flame and the A-Dome.
Then we entered the Museum. It is honestly hard to describe how you feel in there. What I love about it, is that despite of the horrible bomb, the Japanese do not try to appear “completely innocent”. There was war and even the Japanese did horrible things. But this never justifies an Atomic Bomb. Nothing ever justifies an Atomic Bomb.
The museum portrays life before the bomb, the outbreak of the pacific war, throughout the bomb and now. There are many objects that belonged to the victims and animations that show you how the bomb detonated. You do hear other visitors cry and sometimes even I was close to tears … What really gets to you are some sentences you read. All over the walls you’ll find explanations on what the heat did to human skin and what bombs do and then there comes the sentence “By the mid-1980s, the world had nuclear stockpiles capable of killing every human being on the planet many times over.” If this doesn’t give you an anxious feeling, the information that nowadays there are Hydrogen Bombs around that are even more deadly will for sure.
What definitely impressed me was a “Reconstruction” flag a house owner put on his property just a day after the bombing, expressing the will to rebuild and not give up. There are even clothes from victims, killed by the heat but somehow still preserved and pieces of walls that got stained by the black rain (black rain contains radioactive fallout from the bomb explosion). You hear a lot of personal stories, rivers filled with dead people and I definitely started thinking about my own life and my problems (and how small they suddenly felt). Those people died, lost their loved ones and everything they owned – and what is it that we complain about all day long?
In my opinion everyone should visit this memorial once in their life. I guess then people would finally realize what bombs and war really do and how deadly they really are. I guess there would be way a lot more peace in the world and it was surprising to see that Barack Obama was the only US President to ever visit the memorial during his presidency (some did after their presidency). When we visited, the Peace Park was preparing for the festivities of the upcoming anniversary and it was really uplifting to see how these people built something from all that pain and how Hiroshima nowadays is a modern city with more than a million people again.
Of course, Hiroshima has different things to offer as well, like a beautiful castle, a vibrant city centre and the famous island Miyajima where the Great Torii is located. This is the most famous gate of Japan, but it depends on the time of the day you visit it, if you can actually go up to the gate or if it is covered in water. There are numerous websites that tell you exactly when to go. We visited when there were neither low nor high tide and still, it was very impressive!
The area around the gate is very pretty as well. There’s a beautiful temple and something very special: Miyajima is naturally populated by deers that are very friendly and not at all afraid of people. They come to you and want to be pet in exchange for food. Definitely something I, as a Tyrolean, was not used to!
I hope you enjoyed reading all about the moving parts of my Japan trip and if you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask! It’s been quite challenging re-living everything, but I can only tell you to visit the Memorial Parks, they’ll have an incredibly big impact on you and will change how think and appreciate your everyday life. Sadly, my Japan series is slowly coming to an end, but I can’t wait to tell you all about my hike up to the top of Mount Fuji next week!