Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Hiroshima - the city of water
Golden Week (actually ten days) is the longest Japanese holiday period (except Christmas/New Year celebrations) on the turn of April and May. However, while the December winter holidays are a time of family reunion and religious rites, the nice spring weather strongly encourages you to do some serious tourism. And in fact, most of my friends embarked on long trips to some more exotic locations, like South-East Asia, Korea, Kyushu or Hokkaido. Unfortunately, I had to show up in my company in between the individual national holidays (or more precisely, I found out that I don't have to but it was way too late to do any reservations). I was then left with only a weekend-long trip to the south-west of Japan, the Chugoku region, namely to the neighbouring cities of Miyajima and Hiroshima, the latter known as the Japanese City of Water.
I slept through the horror of a twelve-hour-long bus trip (too cheap to take a Shinkansen? yes!) and found myself in the westernmost region of the main island of Honshu. With sunny weather and good moods, my friends and I began the standard sightseeing procedure through the town's history. First, the Hiroshima Castle ruins making a vast park with the reconstructed main keep, ninomaru gate and Hiroshima Gokoku Shrine inside its premises. Second, the lively modern city centre with a shopping district, a j-pop gig, some friendly locals and cabbage filled okonomiyaki lunch. Third, the world-famous Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, being a vivid and honest testimony of indescribable suffering which led to humble understanding and heroic reconstruction. The completeness and accuracy of all the symbols and monuments really touches the heart and shows how mature the post-war Japanese society has come to be. Especially that they never seem to hide their own faults in bringing the catastrophe upon themselves. The whole place strongly reminded me of Auschwitz because of the all-around scars of the past and feelings of historical importance. Hiroshima, however, seems to leave you much more optimistic about the future, not only exposing the pain, but also putting emphasis on the town's resurrection and subsequent worldwide peace campaigns. And also thanks to the rainbow-hued origami cranes - symbols of good fortune.
Leaving the elevated tone behind, we took the evening tram (yes, a tram in Japan) to the nearby Miyajima, where we stayed in a party youth hostel. We were sharing a huge common bedroom with an international and at least tipsy crowd of Americans, Aussies, Mexicans, Japanese and various Europeans (English, Swedish and so on). It's easy to guess that the atmosphere was loose and we had a good time. The following morning, fresh and well-rested, we took a ferry to the beautiful island of Itsukushima. Combining all the most prominent elements of a typical Japanese landscape (the sea, the green mountains, amazing temples and shrines, deers wandering the streets), the island is included in the Three Views of Japan, the canonical list of Japan's three most celebrated scenic sights, compiled by Confucian scholars in the XVII century. This of course speaks for itself and further comments seem unnecessary - just looking at the photos is enough to tell how magical the place is, especially the World Heritage Site of Itsukushima Shrine with its famous gate that seems to be floating during high tide.
Why is Hiroshima called the City of Water? Probably because it was founded on a river delta coastline and consists of many islands separated by canals. Some parts of the town even used to be waterside marshes, now obviously reclaimed by people. Hiroshima is also an important port town, overlooking the whole Seto Inland Sea. Originally, I wanted to mention the atomic bombings in the title of this post, but opted against it. For me, Hiroshima and its region are simply much more than just victims of past violence. They are a symbol of Japanese endurance and the beautiful, traditional lifestyle, always so close to the sea.