Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Hiroshima - A Very A-Bomb Fourth Of July

It was completely by accident that I ended up in Hiroshima for the Fourth of July, but when I realized it on the train here, I decided to save all the bomb museums for today. I can't explain why - it just seemed like the thing to do. I guess a lot of people had that same idea, because the museums were packed with American families.

I woke up to pouring rain, the hardest it has rained yet. And why shouldn't it rain? I can't remember a Fourth of July that hasn't had fireworks delayed by rain, so something as simple as being in Japan isn't enough to prevent a rainy Independence Day.

Unperturbed by the rain, I set off to the Peace Memorial Museum. They've done their best to make all the bomb-related parts of Hiroshima free, to make sure everyone can see them. This was the most expensive museum - roughly 40 cents. It starts with a short history of Hiroshima, followed by an elaborate exhibit detailing the war and the events leading up to the bombing. The entire thing was extremely fair and unbiased - as much as they pay attention to the US's scouting of the best cities to bomb that would give scientists a good view to study the after-effects of the bomb on unsuspecting people, they also focus on Pearl Harbor and Japan's reckless leap into the war.

Then you walk past the wall of pictures taken by people of the mushroom cloud, followed by a small walk-through replica that makes you feel like you're in the center of the destroyed city - complete with manikins with melting skin and horrible burns. But that's nothing compared to the second half of the museum.

The rest of the building is filled with pictures and artifacts. There are tons of tattered, bloody outfits schoolchildren were wearing when they died, a tricycle a four-year-old was riding, locks of hair mothers cut from their children's bodies, and so on. Some of it is really gory, such as the pictures in the hospital of people with horrible burns, and the pictures of deformed bodies due to radiation. One of the more striking exhibits is an entire section of stone steps someone was sitting on. The explosion seems to have totally obliterated the person and turned the stones white, with the exception of the parts of the stones where the person was sitting, leaving a sort of permanent shadow. You are also allowed to touch a few things, like melted roof tiles, twisted glass, and fused-together bowls. It was really shocking, but it serves its purpose well - there's no way you could come out of there thinking nuclear weapons are okay.

I visited some more small memorials, such as the memorial hall with a fountain shaped as a broken clock stuck at 8:15 - the time the bomb went off - surrounded by a mosaic panorama of the destruction, made out of 140,000 pieces, one for every person supposedly killed in the explosion.

It's impossible to get the feeling this place gives you by reading or hearing about it. You really need to see the collection of broken wristwatches stuck at 8:15 or the pieces of broken glass that are still occasionally removed from survivors when they go to the hospital complaining of strange pains. It's completely surreal, and absolutely necessary to see.

After that, I had a nice pick-me-up meal and headed to some old castle or something. I was the only one there other than the employee, who was simply an elderly volunteer with a passion for history. He laughed when I forgot to take my shoes off, but I guess it endeared me to him, because he let me go in a blocked-off area of the castle that was pretty cool.

The next stop was the Prefectural Art Museum. The place is mostly modern, which I am pretty lukewarm about, but I did have a specific reason for going - they have a Salvador Dali room, and he is my favorite artist. I kind of flew past all the stupid squares and triangles that are supposed to represent something, and came face-to-face with Salvador Dali's "Dream of Venus". It was beautiful, and crazy as ever. The wall was also filled with little sketches he did, all of them of course filled with twisted, disgusting people doing bizarre things. The rest of the museum and the garden outside were whatever.

For dinner, I decided to go to some place recommended by Lonely Planet. We all know what this leads to, so I'll make it short: they're retarded. They made it look like it was one block from the A-Bomb Dome, when it was really three. For some reason, they omitted an eight-lane street from the map. Nonetheless, I found the place.

The first floor is this enormous bakery. It is filled with any baked good you can imagine, in addition to other delicious-looking treats. I didn't explore it until after I had already eaten, but I'll definitely have to go back. The second floor is a sort of upscale food court. There are various counters from different nationalities, and then a bunch of tables in the middle. I settled on Chinese and got some shrimp fried rice. This is the problem with English menus - all the food is probably good, but I'm not going to try anything at random like I have in other restaurants, since I get scared away by the descriptions. But the shrimp fried rice was unbelievable - I don't know how I can go back to that crap back home.

Overall, this city has had the best food of my trip so far. In addition, there is so much to do here, and it manages to maintain a small city feel, even though it is home to well over a million people. I planned on going somewhere else for my final two nights before I go to Kyoto, but I think I've decided to stay here two extra days. I promise the private room and delicious ice cream weren't too influential in my decision.

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