HIROSHIMA - NEVER FORGET TO MOVE FORWARD

 


I followed the crowd departing the under-construction Hiroshima station, deciding halfway through that I no longer wished to be a part of the amorphous blob of drones. I turned off and ended up on a platform with no exit, forcing me to sheepishly rejoin. Sometimes the blob knows best. A quick glance at Google maps showed my hotel to be right on one of the several rivers that branched off from the sixty-four mile long Ōta River. Easy enough to find the correct one, I thought, until an hour later I realised I’d somehow walked in a circle after passing the same pizza vending machine twice. I took note in case I found myself feeling peckish while staggering the streets at two in the morning. 

 

The river where the hotel was located flowed down from Mount Kanmuri, and was lined on either side with narrow wooded groves, benches, and little parks all the way to the bottom, only pausing at intervals to make way for the bridges. My purposeful strides had turned into a casual and relaxing stroll as I followed a dirt path alongside the flowing water, something that would become the norm during my time here. Eventually locating the hotel, I was glad to hear my room was on the eighth floor, but instead of the city views I was promised when booking, I was greeted with a large metal panel that adorned the building for “safety reasons,” and obstructed any visual pleasure I was looking forward to.


Back outside, the Peace Park was my first stop, a large area that encompassed the Atomic Bomb Dome, Peace Memorial Museum, Eternal Flame, and numerous other exhibits around the park memorialising the victims of the bomb. Surrounded by vibrant green trees, freshly cut grass, and a healthy flow of tourists, it seemed impossible that any kind of large-scale destruction occurred here. I made for the underground museum, believing it to be important to experience before seeing the rest of the city. Descending the steps, I wasn’t sure what I was about to witness, or that I’d even want to write about it. 

 


After spending an hour walking through dark halls and examining everything on display, I still wasn’t sure. It felt like an obligation to see the absolute worst devastation humanity is capable of, to make sure it leaves a mark on your soul, as it well should. I won’t go into too much detail about what is on display in there, but to say the images, and especially the surviving relics, of the young children and students who died in the most horrific ways imaginable were stark reminders of who really suffer in conflict. This was easily the most depressing thing I’d ever seen, but after emerging on the other side, I knew it was the right choice to go there first. The nature, the chirping birds, the crowds of people, there was a new appreciation for how beautiful, calming, and resilient Hiroshima had shown itself to be. 


I spent quite a while in the park, hiding from the scorching heat under the shade of the trees, and giving myself brain freeze from drinking ice cold water too fast. Among the monuments spread throughout was an elegant cenotaph through which the Peace Flame could be seen when facing it head on. The flame itself has been lit since 1964, and will continue to be until the threat of nuclear war is eradicated. 

 

The most touching monument was that to a young girl named Sadako Sasaki, who was only two when the bomb hit. She seemingly escaped unscathed, but years later that she began to suffer from the effects, leaving her hospitalised and fighting leukaemia. Her mother told her that if she could fold one thousand paper cranes, she would get well again. During her long fight, she made just shy of 1500 before sadly succumbing to her illness. What stood now was a statue with the figure of Sadako standing on top, encircled by several glass booths filled with the millions of colourful paper cranes that are sent every year from all over the world. 

 



I spaced out sat on a wall staring at the Atomic Bomb Dome, the iconic metal structure, stained brick, rubble still strewn around its base untouched for decades, the backdrop of clear blue skies, forested mountains, and sounds of life. A young woman approached, telling me she was a photographer waiting for a client to do a shoot. I thought she was going to ask me to be her next top model, but unfortunately she only wanted to practice her English. The entire experience here left me feeling both empty and full, but one of the lasting effects was that I departed with a strong desire to appreciate the short time I had in the city.


A simple way to enjoy oneself is to partake in the consumption of okonomiyaki, of which there are two styles popular in Japan, Osaka-style, and Hiroshima-style, with the latter, I declared, being the superior of the two (the inclusion of fried noodles makes this so). So good was Hiroshima-style that there was an entire multi-floor building dedicated to it called Okonomimura (Okonomiyaki Village), each floor filled with small counter-style restaurants. 

 

I found one that was empty as it was only my second time eating okonomiyaki, and I wanted to avoid making any public blunders like my first time when I put the menu on the shiny silver table without realising it was actually a grill hotter than the sun. Still, the panic on the server’s face was worth the humiliation. This time was much more enjoyable, watching the chef make it fresh in front of me and placing it under my nose to cut up and eat without fear of burning the whole place down. I was soon joined by a family, then by a group of friends, and before long, the little restaurant was as full as my tummy.

 



I set off for Hiroshima Castle on a twenty-minute walk that felt like an eternity in the 38 degree heat. I prepared myself for just a brief moment of respite as I walked down an underpass to cross the busy street. Down in the refreshing depths, however, was a large shopping complex, complete with connections to five other stations in the Kamiyachō area. I was quite pleased with this discovery, as exploring it gave me a reason to stay in the cool of the subterranean streets. Naturally, I went to Starbucks and got myself a steaming hot coffee. 

 

In the centre of the complex were a few stalls selling bento's, sweets, and what looked like CDs from the stone age. Accepting that I’d spent too long meandering and looking at expensive hats, I readied myself for the blazing heat. Not far off from the castle, I could see the new 20,000 seater football stadium being built for Sanfrecce. Some of the mock-ups I saw online showed there would be a gap in the south stand that would afford a view all the way to the Peace Flame, though it appeared that idea was shelved in favour of styling the roof to mimic “wings of hope.”


The white castle walls stood ahead of me, surrounded by a large moat. I assumed it was likely on its hundredth rebuild by now. The site was quite large, and like the rest of the city, filled with trees. It was possible to walk inside its walls, but seeing as I had to take my shoes off to enter, decided not to subject the other visitors or the tatami floor to my feet. 

 


The location of the original castle built in the 1590s housed only the foundations, the rest destroyed by the atomic blast, and currently sat overgrown in the shadow of the replica, which stood close by. This one was constructed in 1958, meaning it lacked that fuzzy feeling I get from, say, European castles, where I know soldiers hacked each other apart with swords and got up to all sorts of debauchery inside their very walls. Hirosima Castle’s whole site was used as a military outpost for some fifty-odd years, starting with the First Sino-Japanese war of 1894-5 until its destruction during World War II, so I took solace that some unseemly business must’ve taken place on the grounds at some point.


Unlike most big cities, people here never seemed to be rushing to get anywhere. There was a leisurely ambiance about the place, which almost subconsciously compelled me to slow down and match its pace. This, along with the wide streets, calm rivers, and abundance of greenery, made Hiroshima feel like the least claustrophobic city I’d ever been to. After losing about 3 stone in sweat, I went back to the underground complex and sat beside a water display eating ice cream, and that’s where I stayed, lurking around in the shadows like some kind of goblin until the sun went down, only emerging in the infinite darkness of night to scurry off to an Irish bar for a pint of Guinness. 

 

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