Heat and goodbyes in Hiroshima

The Hiroshima Exhibition Hall was completed in 1915. On August 6, 1945, it was one of the few buildings of brick, stone, mortar, and steel, and thus remained standing when all the flimsy wooden buildings were flattened.

Too soon, the day came when I had to send my little girl home without me. It had been a great visit, albeit “visit” was all it was. I had to focus on work again, and Miss T had to get back to summer with her dad in California. Her plane would leave from Hiroshima on Monday. Sunday we took the train north to see the city and stay the night to avoid having to rush the next morning.

We were extravagant in Hiroshima! I wanted to have the most enjoyable time possible, because it was so sad for us to be separated again. The shuttle bus to the airport was right outside the train station, so I didn’t want to go too far in search of a hotel. We spotted a Sheraton only steps away, but of course we knew it would be expensive for such convenience. I did a little calculation in my head and said to Tara, “Ok. We’ll go see if they have room for us and how much it is. I’ll set my spending limit at…. 16,000 yen.” We didn’t tell the man behind the counter anything about our discussion, so it was a little surprising to hear him announce: “One room for two, one night, that would be 16,000 yen.” It’s a lot of money. I looked at Tara. She said, “Well, that’s your limit,” and shrugged. So I took the room.

Our expensive – but very convenient and luxurious – room in Hiroshima.
From our room we could see the Hiroshima Carp baseball stadium, and thousands of people walking to it for the evening’s game.

We both took showers and changed our clothes, then we struck out. Directly in front of the hotel was a plaza filled with taxis (I’m telling you: we paid for convenience). We got into one and asked to go to Peace Park. Our plan was to wander around the Peace Park and museum, then sight see as we walked through the ginza on our way back to the hotel. {Note: in every single search I run, the Internet tells me there is only one “Ginza” and it is in Tokyo. However, I frequently heard the local shopping districts in smaller cities referred to as the ginza. If I am wrong, I plead forgiveness. I am only copying local habit.}

Only later did I check the weather in Hiroshima on Sunday and discover that it was in the 90s all day, peaking at 97 degrees, with 75% humidity. We were irritable and unmotivated the moment we stepped out of the cab. Ugh, what horrible weather. How can locals endure it for a lifetime? How can visitors choose to stay here, as I see so very many American servicemen do? My own reaction to the weather must be related to living most of my life in the arid West.

Tara and I walked a wandering path, not knowing where to go, but aiming for the trees, and their promise of less heat. We had our umbrellas up for shade, but there was really no relief to be had. Beneath the shady trees, we spotted across the river what is now called the Atomic Bomb Dome. It was the main thing I had come to see. The only atomic bomb landmark I knew.

Sitting in the Peace Park, across the river, Tara looked at the destroyed building across from us, its famous steel dome skeleton attracting her gaze. “See how it’s bent to one side? I wonder if that’s the direction the bomb came from.” Later, at the museum, we found out she was right. And more than the empty shell of the building, the steel support beams squashed to one side made this so real to me.

We walked to the tip of the island the Park occupies, walked out along a bridge to where it intersected another bridge and made a “T.” We turned right to cross the river to the bombed building. We had no idea that we had carelessly walked across a target. August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay aimed for that exact T, hoping to drop the bomb called “Little Boy” onto it. She missed, but only a little, proving a remarkably accurate drop for conditions in 1945.

We walked solemnly around the rubble left at the base of the building, reading the information signs and feeling the enormity of destruction this place signified. High school girls were collecting signatures in support of world peace, and were delighted to take both of ours.

The back of the bombed out building, with rubble remaining at the base of the walls.

We saw a man seated in the shade, who asked in English, “Are you Australian? British? American?” We said American, and he began to tell us his story. Mito Kosei was in utero at the time of the bombing. His harangue was health care rights from the government of Japan for those injured by the radiation poisoning. He needled us with arguments and incensing comments, using a 3-ring binder filled with images and newspaper clippings to press his point. How very terrible the radiation was. We agreed. And how very terrible it still is and how the government of Japan refuses to acknowledge that there is any remaining health effect, and the government of the U.S. is in cahoots with Japan in denying the existence of any health damage resulting from radiation poisoning. He showed us his own health care card, provided by the Japanese government, that acknowledged him as a survivor.

I wasn’t exactly sure what his angle was. Why was he so angry? We stood there long enough for him to touch on other topics. One of the pages was a full 8×10 of his mother, whom he spoke of with great affection. “She lived to 92,” he said. When I raised my eyebrow, he quickly added, “My father, who died before her, lived to the age of 96. My parents lived a long, full life,” he said, beaming with pride. And again, I wondered what his personal complaint was, regarding radiation poisoning. Of course I acknowledge that radiation poisoning is terrible, but this particular person was feeling personally wounded. But I couldn’t tell from what. His parents had lived very very long lives, he himself appeared healthy, and even had the support of his government to receive health care benefits. It touched a nerve, I guess, and reminded me of U.S. veterans. Receiving so much, so much, from their government, yet remaining angry and accusatory.

Inside the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Museum
Watch stopped at exactly 8:15 a.m., the time of the world’s first atomic bomb used as a weapon.

We crossed the bridge again to return to the shade, and slowly made our way back to where the taxi had let us loose. Neither of us was eager to see the inside of the museum, because what we had seen so far was very sad. I had been getting tears in my eyes just reading the information panels at the atomic bomb dome. But we suspected it would be air conditioned, so we went in.

It was devastating to both of us. The museum is beautiful, thoughtful, thorough, brutal. It’s three stories high, with a skywalk over to an additional section that went down through another three stories. Tara and I got through the first floor, most of the second, and then that was all we could take. I had been crying for half an hour. We left the museum.

A 3D display shows the actual location of the detonation site. 600 meters above ground, the bomb destroyed nearly every structure within a 2 kilometer radius, and killed thousands of people instantly. Thousands more died soon after, flesh dripping off them, with nausea, fever, diarrhea, loss of hair, and internal bleeding. And then many more died after that, due to sudden bouts of cancer.
Tara blows to cool her ramen.

Next we entered the shopping area. The main item on our agenda was to find a manga bookstore for Miss T. We wandered only a block before Tara spotted a ramen restaurant. We were instantly distracted from manga to food!

This place was perfect for us. Huge bowls of ramen came out with sliced pork and green onions on top, and rice and deep fried chicken pieces for side dishes. And next to our table: a bookcase filled with tattered paperback manga for us to read while we ate. I selected an issue of Fullmetal Alchemist. True, I couldn’t read it, but one can figure out a graphic novel without the use of words.

Miss T in her element.

Only a few blocks away, we found the manga  shop we sought!

Covered outdoor shopping in Hiroshima

The shopping districts in every town are covered and allow foot traffic only. It’s such a good idea: protects people from the weather and traffic, and encourages shopping. Why don’t more cities in the U.S. use this idea? Hm. I suppose a mall is the same idea, except it’s indoors. I like being out of doors, with a roof.

We stopped at a coffee shop with tables near a big front window. Tara and I each got an iced fruit drink and sat, resting our feet, while we gazed out the windows. After some time, Tara remarked to me: “It looks like those guys are going up to pretty women who pass them, and talking to them.” I looked out the window, and in a few minutes I was certain she was right. I also knew exactly what I was looking at, because I had read the post of another WordPress blogger who wrote about “Nanpa.”

Would you go out with me?

These were single guys, hoping for a date. They stood in the center of a busy intersection, and tried to make a connection with every eligible-looking female who passed them. They never had any luck the whole time Tara and I watched.

Hiroshima in the setting sun. Every city in Japan is on a river, surrounded by mountains. It makes for postcard images.
Street lights counter the growing darkness

As we walked, the sun dropped, and the weather became less obnoxious. Our spirits lifted a little. We reached the river, which provided some lovely reflecting views. We chased river crabs around, trying to get their photographs. We passed tired and somewhat dejected Carp fans returning home from the game. {I had read earlier that the Carp fans are wildly supportive of their team, despite many losses for the players. It reminded me of Boston fans.}

Restaurant lit up along our long walk back to the hotel from the Peace Park.
Red crab beside the river

We wandered the streets and crossed several bridges, always wending our way toward the train station. We did finally make it to the train station, but were stuck on the wrong side of it. Full of confidence, I led her into an underground tunnel, but when we came out again, I saw that I had led us even farther away from the hotel. I checked our map, trying to discover where the proper tunnel was, and which way we should go to find it. As we sat there on a wall, looking at the map, a Japanese man came up to us. He did not look like most Japanese men, who have short hair, a white shirt, and black slacks. This man had long, unkempt hair in a ponytail, filthy grey t-shirt, and ragged olive cargo pants. He was barefoot. However, he talked to us with total confidence, and he gestured at the map.

It was easy to explain our problem: I simply pointed at the hotel on the map, and he saw we were on the wrong side. He said something to us, gestured for us to follow. Part of me was unsure how to handle the idea that an unkempt Japanese man now knew where our hotel was, and that we were lost. But Tara trusted him immediately. I had been in Japan long enough to know that crime hardly ever occurs here, and that people are mind-blowingly honest. So, we followed him.

It would have taken us an hour to discover the path he took us along in only 10 minutes. Through throngs of people, down one block, around a corner, down two flights of stairs, into the tunnel, a long, long tunnel, turning corners, intersections within the underground tunnel, and finally choosing one set of stairs, among several others, to climb. We resurfaced only steps from our hotel. Tara and I gushed our thanks, and in seconds, he was gone.

Miss T showing a lack of eagerness to begin her day.

The next morning we played around in the room awhile, trying on the complimentary kimonos, checking out the mini-bar with things written in Japanese, and ate a fabulous {and expensive} breakfast buffet and watched some London Olympics. I believe it was Judo. Japan and Korea were contending, and the members of the lobby were very fired up about it, men and women alike!

goofing around in my hotel kimono

Finally it was time to go to the airport. We showed up very early, since it was an international flight, but Hiroshima is a small airport, so there wasn’t much for us to do once we checked in. We wandered around the place for a few hours, did some last-minute gift shopping, and the heartbreaking part: I waved goodbye at her while she went through security and out of sight. Well, she had made it all the way to Japan by herself. I suspected she would make it back to the states just fine too. But it was still a very sad day for me, and I stayed sad during all the hours it took to get back home to Iwakuni.

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