Friday, February 20, 2009

Hypocenter


"Hiroshima has the advantage of being such a size and with possible focusing from nearby mountains that a large fraction of the city may be destroyed." --Minutes of the second meeting of the Target Committee, Los Alamos, May 10-11, 1945


When the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the city essentially came to an end. That one fact represented almost everything I knew about our next Japanese destination. I'd of course seen the pictures of the
Atomic Bomb Dome, but very little else, so I was left with the impression of a ruined city with some surviving suburbs, guidebook information to the contrary. When we actually got to Hiroshima on the shinkansen, what we actually encountered was almost completely opposite my preconceptions. We left the station and found a modern, vibrant city in front of us. We'd decided to stay in a hotel rather than an apartment in Hiroshima, and our choice, the Hotel Active! (inexpensive, ultra-modern, and ideal location), was only a short distance away. We wanted to take a streetcar, but due to a slight traffic obstruction on the track had to taxi instead.

We hadn't really done any research on restaurants for the evening, but needed something to eat, so after checking we went across the street to the start of the city's entertainment district. After wandering for less than half a block, we found a fun little seafood place that was obviously a favorite of the local hard-drinking sarariman. A beer or two later and we were ready for bed!

I wandered around a bit the next morning through the entertainment district to get my bearings (and locate martini makings) while the girls slept in. Eventually Wendy and I walked over to the center of the city for lunch and found a highly-recommended stall for okonomiyaki on the 5th floor of a building completely full of similar food stalls. The counter was tiny -- I was growing used to that -- but we loved watching our meal made layer by layer in front of us.


Our friend Matthieu came in by train from Osaka (where he'd just arrived from Paris) to join us for the rest of the trip. When he made his way to the hotel, the four of us headed back out to visit the Peace Memorial Park and Musuem, including the A-Bomb dome.

There are only a few places I've visited that have similar impact. The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. is one, though that was abstracted from where those atrocities took place, and certainly Dachau, though I was fairly young when I visited there so have only half-remembered impressions. The A-Bomb Dome, Peace Park and associated Museum were every bit as well done, and right next to the hypocenter of the actual event, so were hugely moving.

The most impressive part of our entire stay in Hiroshima was that, as Americans (all but Matt) we never once felt any sort of resentment, and were welcome everywhere. Maybe it's because the city was so completely de-populated by the blast that most current residents never felt any direct effects to themselves or their families. Maybe it's the effect of time. Or maybe the Japanese have a great ability to look forward and not back.

After spending a couple of hours at the memorial, we needed some dinner. Only a half block from the A-Bomb done, the hustle and bustle of the entertainment district took back over. We wandered through the covered street malls until we found a likely-looking hibachi joint, and settled in for Matt's first real meal in Japan and our first where we'd had to prepare our own food. Wow, fantastic meat! Some of the beef was so fatty it looked like tuna.


We did a little bar-hopping in Hiroshima as well. Bars were everywhere, but not all were gaijin-friendly. Still, without too much effort we found an underground (not in the "covert" sense, but literally underground) bar to finish up the evening.

The following day dawned bright and sunny again, which was fortunate since we'd decided to take a boat out to the island of Miyajima where, among other things, was one of the most-photographed scenes in all of Japan, a floating torii (shrine gate). The island also happnes to be the home of largely domesticated deer that will steal food right from your packets, as well as some fantastic shrines, pagodas, parks, and the attendant tourist infrastructure and trinket shops. Still, all of us enjoyed the island and the views.



A quick ferry ride and train transfer later, and we were ready to head off to Kyoto!

Our complete set of Hiroshima photos can be found here.