Fri 12 Jul – day 62 When I reached the exit from the station I reached into the outside pocket of my suitcase and took out the travel schedule that Inside Japan had prepared for me; this was A5 sized booklet that detailed day-by-day all my hotels and train trips and had information about the hotels in both English and Japanese.
I had the schedule in my hand as I headed for the taxi rank and I just indicated to the dispatcher the address of my hotel which he then rattled off in Japanese to the driver. He was wearing a peaked hat and white gloves and after putting my luggage in the boot ushered me into the back where the seat was covered in a white lace like material.
The traffic was heavy, but then it was Friday afternoon, and it seemed strange to being driven on the proper (left) side of the road. It took just over five minutes to reach my hotel which was situated on Peace Boulevard and so just a short stroll to the Peace Park. Having paid the driver – no tipping in this country, I entered the first of the Toyoko Inn’s that I would be staying in during my time in Japan.
The Toyoko Inn was a chain of convenience business style hotels which were owned and run by ladies – not a man in sight anywhere.
The ladies at reception were very efficient and I was quickly checked in, but not allowed to have my room key as there were still three minutes to go before formal check in time!! The one big concern had Anne at John Allan Travel and I had was allayed at check in when I was handed and then signed for the package from Inside Japan. This contained the Japan Rail (JR) Pass exchange forms plus all the hotel vouchers and I would check that everything was present at my leisure.
One of the receptionists hurried over to where I was sat and with a formal bow handed me my room key, so up in the lift to the 6th floor where I was hit by a blast of hot air as there was no air-conditioning in the corridors. It was no cooler in my room as the air-con was off and the sun was streaming through the window, so I switched the air-con on and adjusted the temperature downwards from the current 32° C. I also switched on the fridge and put my (floppy) chocolate and bottle of warm coke (which tasted horrible) inside to cool down.
This was not a large room and had no storage space, but was perfectly adequate for my needs. I unpacked all my bags and then sorted things out into piles before putting what I did not need back into my suitcase.
One good thing about Japan was that the tap water was drinkable even if it tasted a little chlorinated at times.
After having a shower I had a short snooze then went down to the self-service laundry located at the rear of the reception area and put all my dirty clothes into the washing machine. I last used one of these many years ago while I was waiting for a new washing machine to be delivered as the old one had thrown a wobbly and was leaking water everywhere.
This really was a convenience hotel; sleep wear was provided and you could buy shirts or blouses and underwear plus a toothbrush and toothpaste at the reception. There were lots of vending machines in the foyer selling all manner of food and drink plus cigarettes. I had already found out that lots of the (older) Japanese were chain smokers, but only in the enclosed and designated areas in public places. In the en-suite soap and shampoo were provided and there was a small pack-up with cotton buds in. The toilet was a wonder, from the heated seat, to the posterior washer, bidet facility and the fact that it did a short flush when you sat down!!
While the washing was being done I checked through the package from Inside Japan and everything was there except for three rail tickets on a private (non JR) railway and these would be sent to my hotel in Kyoto.
There was a free internet access computer in the foyer and so I went on-line and composed a long e-mail to my sister updating her on my progress which she will relay to my Mum who will check my route and current location on the maps that I had given her. With some amendments I sent the same e-mail to the rest of my relatives plus friends and rugby colleagues.
I then e-mailed Anne at John Allan Travel to say that all was well and that I had received the package from Inside Japan; she would be pleased.
The foyer was very busy as people were constantly checking in and there was a group of German’s being briefed by their tour guide; Teutonic efficiency.
I often got stared at, mostly by young children, so I just smiled and said “Konnichiwa” (Hello) in return; almost invariably their parents would look at me, smile and then tell the child to reply, so a shy smile and a “Konnichiwa”.
When the washing and drying had been completed (about the equivalent of £3-50 for a full load), I borrowed an iron and small ironing board from reception and went back to my room. No sooner than I had walked through the door the phone rang and the lady on reception said that I had a call – it was put through and Ben, one of the staff from the Inside Japan office in Bristol, was phoning to check that everything was OK. Now that was what I considered to be good service.
I kept the air-con on because the moment that it was switched off the temperature soared.
And so to bed – nice and comfy.
Sat 13 Jul – day 63 I awoke feeling really refreshed after what was a great night’s sleep in a soft bed, the first since Beijing. There had been some noise in the corridor, but nothing to disturb me for too long.
Up showered, dressed, packed my day sac and then out. They were serving the free breakfast in the foyer, but rice balls and noodles first thing in the morning are not what I call breakfast; there was bread and a toaster, but no butter.
As soon as I went out of the front door of the hotel I was hit by a blast of heat and humidity and it was just 09:00hrs; I turned right and took a slow stroll towards the Peace Park.
I tried to get some cash from an ATM in a convenience store but it was a no go.
There was little traffic about at this time of the morning, plus it was a Saturday, but there were quite a number of people riding what we would consider to be old-fashioned sit up and beg bicycles. Some had an attachment on the handlebars into which an umbrella could be fixed and today these were up and acting as sun shades.
A number of walkers (mainly ladies) also had umbrellas up so that their face and arms were in the shade. I am not bothered about the sun as I wanted to get a tan!!
Everyone obeys the lights at road crossings as jay walking was a crime.
Peace Boulevard, Heiwa Ōdōri in Japanese, was one of the main streets in the city and ran 3.6km from east to west. The street was one of the so called ‘100 Meter Roads’ due to its width and although 24 of these wide roads were planned in cities damaged during the war, only two in Nagoya and one in Hiroshima were actually constructed.
Construction of the road was started in 1945 as it was believed that this would act as a buffer zone to protect the spread of radiation. The major elements of the street were the four traffic lanes in the middle and down which modern quiet electric trams glided, with two green belts on both sides. In the mid 1950s, there was a tree-planting campaign along the boulevard and tens of thousands of trees donated from all over Japan and the rest of the world were planted in the name of peace.
The Peace Boulevard was home to many festivals and events throughout the year and for three days at the beginning of May, the street became a vehicle-free promenade when the Flower Festival is held.
Having reached the river which was tidal I took a photo upstream towards the Atomic Bomb Dome. Having crossed over the bridge I entered. The first monument was a memorial to Marcel Junod who was the Swiss doctor and member of the International Red Cross who led the first medical team to arrive in Hiroshima after the dropping of the atomic bomb. He brought 15 tons of medical supplies which included things that the Japanese had never seen before, like penicillin, and set about organizing the medical response. He was revered by the Japanese and every year on the anniversary of his death a commemorative meeting was held in front of the monument.
The Peace Memorial Park was situated in an area that was once the city’s busiest downtown commercial and residential district, but which was reduced to nothing by the explosion.
Visitors today included Japanese of all ages plus nationalities from all over the world.
In the Memorial Hall the exhibits were so well labelled in English that there was no need to join the tour which had an English speaking guide. All the guides were volunteers and between them they covered most of the languages of the world.
Standing 10ft high, the Peace ‘Watch’ Tower, or Atomic Clock as it was more commonly know, was unveiled on 6 Aug 2001, the 56th anniversary of the cities atomic bombing. The main clock tells the time but has hands (and the date) marked on the clock face which shows the date and time the bomb exploded. Beneath this were the digital displays which showed the number of days since the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, with the second giving the number of days since the last atomic explosion. Every time an atomic test is carried out the lower display was reset to zero and the last test had been performed by North Korea. In the body of the clock was a mechanism that would cause the clock to self-destruct if the human race faced annihilation.
In the main exhibition hall it was interesting to read the comments on the exhibits as it acknowledged that Japan was the aggressor nation, but also the debate in the USA whether notice should be given that the Allies had a weapon of enormous power. Copies of Cordell Hull’s (the US Secretary of State during WW2) diaries showed his concern about what was being developed and how it would change the world.
Also interesting was the display that showed the process by which the US military selected the possible cities as targets for the atomic bomb and the decision not to bomb these locations before the attack so that a full assessment of the destructive force of the atomic bomb could be made.
Having spent nearly three hours looking at the exhibits I took a photograph from the centre of the three memorial buildings looking down through the Peace Memorial Park towards the Atomic Bomb Dome. I bought lots of postcards from the souvenir shop as I send one to my Mum and other relatives and friends from everywhere I stop. Hopefully it will be easier to get stamps here than it was in Russia!!
When I left the Memorial Hall and went outside it was even hotter and the humidity had increased dramatically.
As the heat was draining I went into the Memorial Archive where the air-conditioning was blasting away. A circular ramp took visitors underground until you entered The Hall of Remembrance, which contained a 360 degree panorama of the destroyed Hiroshima recreated using 140,000 tiles — the number of people estimated to have died from the bomb by the end of 1945. It was then up the escalator to the video area where there was a constant stream of people’s recollections of the event and the day’s, week’s, month’s and year’s afterwards. In the record archive there was the life history, as far as could be ascertained, of the dead of all nationalities. The books were disturbing to read.
Near the centre of the park was a concrete, saddle-shaped monument that covered a cenotaph which held the names of all of the people killed by the bomb. The monument was aligned to frame the Peace Flame and the A-Bomb Dome. This one of the first memorials and was opened 6 Aug 1952, seven years to the day after the attack. The arch shape represented a shelter for the souls of the victims.
Beyond the monument was the Peace Flame which was difficult to see on such a bright day, but I could just make out the heat haze showing where the flame was. Since being lit in 1964 it has burned continuously and will remain lit until all nuclear bombs on the planet are destroyed and the planet is free from the threat of nuclear annihilation.
Next was the Children’s Peace Monument which was a statue dedicated to the memory of the children who died as a result of the bombing. The statue was of a girl with outstretched arms with a folded paper crane rising above her and was based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki who was two years old when the bomb dropped. She was later diagnosed with leukaemia which her mother referred to as “an atom bomb disease”. She was hospitalized on 21 Feb 1955 and given, at the most, a year to live. On 3 Aug her best friend came to the hospital to visit, and cut a gold piece of paper into a square to fold it into a paper crane, in reference to the ancient Japanese story that promised that anyone who folded a thousand origami cranes would be granted a wish by the gods. It was said that Sadako fell short of her goal having folded only 644 cranes before her death and that her friends completed the task and buried all the origami cranes with her following her death.
Although she had plenty of free time during her days in the hospital to fold the cranes, she lacked paper and would use medicine wrappings or whatever else she could scrounge. This included going to other patients’ rooms to ask to use the paper from their get-well presents. In mid October her left leg became swollen and turned purple and after her family urged her to eat something, Sadako requested tea on rice and remarked “It’s tasty”. Those were her last words and with her family around her Sadako died on the morning of 25 Oct 1955 at the age of 12.
Her story inspired children from across Japan to request that a monument dedicated to the young victims of the bomb be erected and to this day people (but mostly children) from around the world fold paper cranes and send them to Hiroshima where they are placed near the statue.
The Atomic Bomb Dome which was the skeletal ruins of the former Industrial Promotion Hall surrounded by scaffolding as the local government authorities were trying to assess the buildings current resistance to earthquakes and the subsequent vibrations.
Every year on the anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic weapon, 6 Aug, a ceremony is held to commemorate the victims of the atomic bombs and to pray for the realization of lasting world peace. The ceremony starts at 08:00hrs in front of the Memorial Cenotaph with many citizens including the families of the deceased and a one-minute silence to honour the victims is observed at 08:15hrs the time of the atomic bombs explosion. In the evening a lantern ceremony is held to send off the spirits of the victims on lanterns with peace messages floating on the waters of the Motoyasu River.
I would be in the country on the anniversary of the dropping of both of the atomic bombs and would watch with interest to see what the local English language TV channel showed.
I was heading into town with the railway station as my destination so that I could get my JR Rail Pass.
The heat and humidity had made me perspire so much that sweat was dripping off me and the bottom of my shorts were soaking wet.
I found myself in a long covered arcade (basically put a roof over a road) that was packed with people of all ages. I got a few double takes and sometimes a group of young girls would point and giggle. I hunted around to see if I could find a nail brush, but still nothing so I have virtually given up.
There were a number of ladies of a wide age range in kimonos.
When I reached the station the ticket office was full so I went up to the restaurant floor in the Asse department store which was part of the station complex. There were lots of different outlets which sold a huge variety of cuisine, but as I was more thirsty than hungry I went into a coffee shop that had a display of ice-cream and waffles in the window.
I was greeted by the staff and asked “Non-smoking”, answered “Yes” and was showed to a table; as soon as I had sat down a menu was placed in front of me “In English” I was told and this was immediately followed by a glass of iced water and a cleaning towel. I drank the water straight down and the glass was refilled straight away.; I then used the towel to wipe my face and hands.
I ordered two large glasses of a lemon concoction plus waffles and ice cream. “Two glasses” I was asked in surprise, “Yes”. When these arrived I stirred them to mix up the ingredients and drank the first one, it was thirst quenching and very tasty. The ice cream, fruit and waffles arrived and it was a creation, almost too good to eat, but I got stuck in and it was delicious. It was getting towards the end of the lunch period (12:00 to 15:00hrs) when the cheap(er) set meals were on offer, so the cliental started to thin out, but I just continued consuming my food and drink while I read my guidebook.
Having finished what was an excellent repast and paid the bill I went back downstairs to the ticket office and as there was virtually no queue I was served in very quick time. I handed over my passport and the voucher and these were examined, especially the entry stamp in my passport as JR passes were only available to visitors. Then I completed a form which once I had signed was stuck on the front of the pass itself; I had to confirm twice that I wanted the pass to start on Mon 15 Jul because once the pass was issued it could not be changed.
Once everything was completed I requested the booking clerk to reserve me seats on the four connecting trains to Kagoshima, this caused him to give me a look of disbelief and he called the supervisor over and then the expert English speaker (a lady) and they all found it strange that I was going to spend well over seven hours on various trains when the Shinkansen would have got me there in much less than half the time.
The problem with the Shinkansen was that as the lines were built as straight as possible, you spend a long time in tunnels, cuttings or behind noise walls. This was great if you want to get from one location to another as fast as possible, but you then see very little of what you were passing.
I had plenty of time to sit and watch the world go by and had planned to go via the long route as I wanted to see the countryside, but the staff in the ticket office still though that I had made a very strange request.
Having bought some stamps at the small post office in the station and used the ATM in a 7 / 11 convenience store to max my debit card and get lots of yen I set off to walk back to my hotel. It was still blisteringly hot and extremely humid so I was drenched in sweat again after just a few minutes.
The sky started to darken and a few spots of rain fell, so I quicken my pace and arrived back at the hotel just as there was a very loud clap of thunder, but no lightning as far as I could see, then the sky’s opened.
I went on-line at one of computers in the foyer and watched the torrential downpour while at the same time reading the replies that I had received from my relatives.
Up in the lift to my room which was like an oven as the maid had turned off the air-con; when it was back on full blast I had a shower and then did the ironing.
I then had a short snooze and was amazed to find that all the bed linen had been changed, so crisp clean sheets again – almost luxury. Even though the curtains were not drawn, I slept for a couple of hours which was easy in this nice comfy bed.
When I got up I sat for some time writing postcards while drinking copious amounts of water in order to properly rehydrate. I contemplated going out for dinner but quite frankly I could not be bothered, plus the ice cream, fruit and waffles had been very filling.
There no English channels on the TV, so I decided that it was time for bed.
This was the end of week 9, so 63 days gone and just 37 days left before I fly home.
Sun 14 Jul – day 64 It was yet another good night’s sleep and I felt that I had finally started to make up for all the nights I spent on and in lousy Russian train berths and beds.
It was an early start today as I planned to catch the first fast ferry from the Peace Park to Miyajima, a small island in the Inland Sea just off the coast from Hiroshima and one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions.
I took the same route along Peace Boulevard as yesterday until I reached the bridge where I turned right and strolled alongside the river. This area had been one of the oldest in the city before the bomb was dropped and there were still a few relics that had survived the blast and were now listed on the tourist trail. One these was the original zero distance marker and then a little further along was the original memorial to all the Korean people who were killed. For many years monuments to the Korean dead were not allowed inside the actual Peace Park, but that decision was rescinded and so a number of had been constructed.
When I reached the ferry terminal, the boat was at the berth and the ticket office had just opened. Having purchased my ticket I was told to be back 10 minutes before departure time and so I had 40 minutes in which to see more of the sights.
I walked up to the top of the Peace Park where Aioi Bridge crosses the river; because of its distinctive T shaped appearance, this was the bomb aimers target on 6 Aug 1945. The epicentre of the air burst was about 200m south-east of the aiming point; an insignificant distance given the weapons massive destructive power.
Nearby was the Peace Bell which was a large Japanese bell hanging inside a small open-sided structure. Visitors were encouraged to ring the bell for world peace and the loud and melodious tolling of this bell rung out regularly throughout the Peace Park. On the surface of the bell was a map of the world, and the “sweet spot” was an atomic symbol.
The whole of the Peace Park is a beautiful but sombre place and somewhere in which to reflect about the futility of war.
Boarding the ferry was a quick was easy process and I managed to sit by a window on the port side of the vessel; it was interesting to watch the Japanese passengers looking at the spare seats next to me and then going and sitting elsewhere. Eventually two young ladies occupied the seats as they were the only ones left; one of them started the questions,”Do you speak English”, “Yes” and we then proceeded from there.
We set off and went around the north end of the Peace Park before heading down river towards the open sea; there was not a lot to see because of the high river banks which were built to withstand tidal surges caused by seismic events. There were a few traditional houses and herons perched on the bridges looking for fish.
Out in the Inland Sea and there were lots of oyster farms to be seen, basically a raft with ropes dangling down into the water and on to which the oysters were attached. I had seen something very similar in the vast harbour at Vigo in Spain when the cruise ships I had been on stopped there.
The wild deer are all over the island and people are told not to feed them as human food is bad for the animals. They would eat literally anything that was lying around and that included plastic bags and polystyrene cups and because of this workers were constantly going around picking up litter and emptying the bins before the animals started foraging.
It took me about 20 minutes to walk to the entrance to the cable-car, which in Japan was called a ropeway and I bought a return ticket for a trip right up to the top station. There was a bit of a queue, but I was soon on my up upwards in a 6 person gondola and this took just 10 minutes to reach the middle station; after a quick change it was onwards and upwards in what I would call a proper cable car and this leg took just 4 minutes. The trip was through a very green landscape and there was a wide variety of trees; however there was a significant haze which meant that the clear views detailed in the guidebooks were just blurs.
At 530m, Mt Misen was the highest peak on the island and was part of the national park, while the whole island was an UNESCO World Heritage site.
When I reached the top station there were already people queuing to descend and so they must have been very early starters. I decided that despite the haze, heat (40° C) and humidity (over 60%) that having made it this far I would walk up to the top. The guidebook stated that it was a 20 minute walk to the top, but what it didn’t say was that the first 0.3km was downhill and the next 0.7km was up a very steep slope. An SAS Trooper could have probably run the distance up and down in that time, but for normal people and even the locals were struggling while complaining about the heat, a time of nearly an hour in each direction was closer to the mark.
I was certainly feeling my age and as I was carrying lots of fluids in my day sac plus my cameras it was heavy; an old rhyme from my schooldays came back to me – a pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter. As I was carrying nearly 5 litres, it was a heavy load indeed. But I was to drink all of that during my ascent and descent because I was perspiring so much.
I was heartened by the number of people who passed and said “Konnichiwa” and I gave them a courteous reply.
At one point there was a good view down the mountain and across to the mainland as the haze had lifted momentarily. Deer scampered up, down and across the path and were totally unafraid in the presence of humans as they fed on the vegetation.
At the group of shrines I sat and drank another litre of water, although not straight down this time, while I listened to the Buddhist priest chanting and banging his drum in the temple.
One good thing about drinking all this water meant that my load was getting lighter!!
On the way down I had to take it very easily as the rocks could be slippery and the very last thing that I wanted to do was to fall and break my leg.
I made another stop for fluids at the shrines and temples and then carried on down the path. On the upward stretch to the top station I suddenly felt my heart racing and started to feel faint, so I sat down and drank some more fluids. After about five minutes I felt much better and so made my way up the hill. I thought about having something to eat in the café, but decided against it and so just sat in the shade while I sorted through all the pictures that I had taken today and deleted those which I did not want.
I went to the toilet and despite the amount of water that I had drunk, there was just a dribble, so I must have been just replenishing what I had lost through perspiration.
At the cable car station I joined the queue and by now there were crowds of people waiting to descend. In front of me was a family of 4, mum, dad and two daughters whom I had seen while going up and down the mountain. The youngest lass kept giving me strange looks and eventually said something to her Dad, he turned, bowed and said ”Were you at the railway station yesterday drinking lemonade?”. I was amazed as it transpired that we had been in the café at the same time yesterday.
We travelled all the way down together and Dad did most of the talking; he was working, but as it was the school holidays the family had come with him. They had been to England twice I was told and when I explained how I had travelled to Japan they were amazed.
The youngest daughter was given a fan by her mother which she then handed to me saying “My mother would like you to have this as a present”. I had nothing to offer in return, but could not refuse the gift as it would have been seen as impolite. I expressed my gratitude as best as I could and said that I would display the fan in my house when I returned home.
When we reached the bottom we said our good-byes and there was much bowing which even I was doing now. The family were going to wait for the shuttle bus, but I was going to walk.
There were enormous crowds at the lower station all waiting to make the trip up, but it was highly likely that few of them would have been able to get up and down before the system stopped operating for the day.
The town was packed with visitors and as there were long queues for all the attractions and restaurants, I decided to make my way towards the ferry terminal.
The tide was now in and so I was able to take a decent picture of the O-Torii (Grand Gate) which features in just about every bit of tourist literature about Japan that you see. Groups of tourists all wearing ‘Coolie Hats’ were being rowed / punted around and through the gate.
Rather than take the fast ferry back to the Peace Park I decided to use the car ferry and then take the tram. The first part of the journey took just over 10 minutes to get us back to the mainland, but the tram was an hour’s trip. I had a single seat and while we were trundling along, very quietly as it was electric and on hard rubber wheels I fell asleep; I do hope that I didn’t snore and upset any of the other passengers.
I alighted at the Peace Park and made my way to the hotel; I thought about stopping for a meal, but just wanted to have a shower as I was now a bit rank. Back in the room I switched the air-con on and then went to the toilet; it was a horrible colour and so I drank two litres of water straight down as I was obviously suffering from dehydration. After my shower I wrote more postcards while I drank lots more water.
I then gathered up all my damp and sweaty clothes and went down to do the washing. This was the great attraction of a self-service laundry, get it done when you wanted or needed to.
While the washing and drying was being done I went on-line and started to delete all the old e-mails that were now of no relevance. I also requested the ladies at reception to order me a taxi for tomorrow morning to take me to the station.
The colour of my urine was clearing, but I had some more to drink while I was doing the ironing.
And so to bed after what had been an exhausting day – clean sheets again.