The A-Bomb Dome – formerly the Hiroshima Industrial Promotion Hall, a shattered shell left standing after the nuclear detonation that has subsequently become a World Heritage Site and a symbol of the city – is covered in scaffolding for renovation and refurbishment. Apparently they do that every three years. Scaffolding is the bane of the tourist. Why must we be forever fretting over the structural integrity of buildings that have lasted through countless eras? If it can survive a goddamn nuclear explosion I’m sure it can go without regular safety checks.
grumble grumble

grumble grumble

Peace Memorial Park at sunset was cool. Saw a number of statues, including one of Sadako the crane-crafter, and a large mound comprised of the ashes of thousands of victims. The Hiroshima flame – salvaged from burning wreckage, thus ignited by the atom bomb itself – burns eternally and will only be extinguished when every last nuclear weapon on Earth has been destroyed. It will be burning for some time, I imagine. Below it a plaque reads: LET ALL THE SOULS HERE REST IN PEACE, FOR WE SHALL NOT REPEAT THE EVIL.

Lot of young Japanese doing MySpace poses and photographing themselves in front of that monument. I don’t get offended by much, but seriously? Come on.

Jamie's contribution

Jamie's contribution

Museum was closed for the day, so we agreed to return tomorrow and in the meantime went out to investigate Hiroshima’s nightlife. Went to the Lotus Bar, a very cool venue on a fifth storey. Drank some red wine, watched a dude emerge onto the balcony on a building across the street and piss into a flowerpot, drank some more wine and then headed off to track down the Kobe Bar, a hidden venue up a flight of concrete stairs behind a Stussy store. The owner was one of those really exuberant Japanese people who will launch into an air guitar solo at a moment’s notice, and when he found out we were Australian immediately put an AC/DC DVD onto his projection flatscreen. This was one of the factors that led us to leave after only a few drinks.

I ended up splitting off from the main group on the way home – I wanted to get to bed, and they’re a bunch of dawdlers. Drunkenly bought some greasy hot chicken from a Lawson’s in the backstreets, saw a racoon dog as I was crossing a bridge over the river, and made it home by 1.00 AM.

This morning Rob, Roy etc. were lazy and mildly hungover, so Chris, Jamie and I left early to get to the war museum. A lot of stuff I’ve read warns you to leave it as the last thing you do in the day, as it’s shocking and such, but I figure I’m pretty desensitised to that kind of thing – plus we didn’t have a choice anyway.

Well, desensitised I may be, but that museum is very… confronting. Incomprehensible, actually, would be the one word I would use to describe it. We think about nuclear weapons a lot in terms of the Cold War and MAD and what might have been, but we often forget that two cities – hundreds of thousands of people – did actually suffer a nuclear blast. Photographs of charred corpses, horrific drawings by survivors, and models of people with ragged skin hanging from their limbs combines to make a rather harrowing experience. Steve told us beforehand that the pilot of the Enola Gay commited suicide not long after the war. I looked it up, and he was wrong – Colonel Paul W. Tibbets actually had a long and happy life and said he never once regretted what he did. He should take a walk through that museum.

Although I’m not suggesting he should actually feel guilty, either – the decision to bomb Hiroshima was made far away in the government offices of Washington, and if it hadn’t been him it would have been another pilot. Nor is Hiroshima the lone atrocity in that war – the Holocaust (obviously), and the Japanese treatment of POWs, the rape of Nanking, et cetera ad infinitum. But add to that list the firebombing of Tokyo and Dresden, the Allied mutilation of Japanese war dead… no country walked away from WWII a good guy, thousands of war crimes were perpetrated, and war in itself is a crime. And, fuck, they started that shit. Hiroshima was an undeserved, brutal act of evil, but if it came to a choice between the Americans dropping a nuke on Japan or the Japanese dropping a nuke on America, it’s no choice at all.

Nonetheless: that decision. A single bomb and hundreds of thousands of lives ruined in an instant. And then dropping another just three days later, before they have a chance to understand – let alone surrender? It’s clear that the U.S. government simply wanted to test the bomb on human subjects, after pouring so much time and money into it.

But then, with the Cold War about to begin, if we didn’t have images from Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a constant reminder of what nuclear weapons can do… might we not have been so reluctant to use them throughout the latter half of the 20th century? Might more widespread devastation have been wrought? Might we have wiped ourselves out?

Pointless conjecture. Children were incinerated.

But children were incinerated in Tokyo, in Dresden, in Berlin, in London. War is war, death is death. We are monstrous people – no matter how civilised, how refined, how courteous we become, part of us will always want to hunt down our competitors and rip their throats out. War is this genetic urge writ large.

Like I said, the word is: incomprehensible.

I left the museum to find Jamie and Chris sitting on a bench in Peace Memorial Park, surrounded by pigeons. We took the tram to the train station to go to Miyajima.

After all that I just wrote, it feels like the museum was weighing heavily on my mind for the rest of the day, but it wasn’t really. In modern Hiroshima there are the usual pachinko parlours, McDonalds, Subways, Starbucks, skycrapers, hotels, crossroads, billboards… away from the park and the museum and the A-Bomb Dome you don’t really think about it. The past is the past.

Miyajima is a large island in the Inland Sea, not far from Hiroshima and considered a pleasant daytrip. It probably is, on most days, but today was drizzly – that kind of weak rain that doesn’t seem heavy but wil leave you thoroughly damp within seconds. Nonetheless, it was our last proper day in Japan and we can’t dictate the weather. After catching the ferry across to the “airand,” as a helpful stationmaster wrote the word on a piece of paper for us while giving directions, we did some cross-language haggling at the JR office and rented three bicycles for two hours. Astride our mighty hogs, we cruised down the shopping streets of the island’s main town, admired the deer that roam as freely and placidly as quokkas on Rottnest Island, and arrived at the famous torii, one of Japan’s most famous sights (Google Image search “miyajima torii” – you’ve seen it, everyone has). I’m sure it’s quite striking when the tide is high, but we saw it at low tide, when it was rising from the mud – the aquatic version of scaffolding, if you will.

HOG CREW '09

HOG CREW '09

Abandoning the torii, we followed a coastal road that eventually led us to a rubbish-strewn but pleasant beach. We scrambled across some wet rocks to find a more secluded cove, hung around there for a while, then returned to our hogs. It was drizzling constantly the whole time, but I was wearing so many layers that it didn’t penetrate all the way through and I was happy as a clam. We rolled back into town, had some tempura at a tourist trap restaurant that charged us 790 yen for it, and then returned our bicycles to spend the rest of our afternoon on foot. The rain was coming down a little heavier now, so Chris and I purchased umbrellas from a souveneir stand. Jamie obstinately declared that they would be useful for only one day, and were therefore not worth it; Chris and I laughed and laughed as he soon become wretchedly wet.

Pink is for girls. Mine was blue.

Pink is for girls. Mine was blue.

With no specific destination in mind we followed the roads out of the town, heading inland and uphill – Miyajima is mountainous, Hawaii-like, and it soon became a hard slog. Before long we were following rabbit-trails through thick, verdant rainforest. Very cool, and one of my favourite memories of the trip. We arrived at a a lookout that gave a spectacular view of the town before us, with rain coming down over the ocean and the green mountains above us shrouded in fog.

That was the point at which I should have known to call it a day, quit while I was ahead and go back into town. But Chris and Jamie were still keen, and my legs weren’t hurting too badly, so I followed them ever further uphill like the fool I was.

Chris stops to pee because his bladder is full. Full of urine.

Chris stops to pee because his bladder is full. Full of urine.

It became unpleasant so gradually I didn’t even realise. Walking through verdant rainforest with great views in a mild drizzle is wonderful; slogging up a thin, steep trail that heavy rain has turned into a creek, lined on both sides with wet heather, wearing soggy Converse high-tops that aren’t designed for hiking, with fog eliminating the view entirely, on a chilly February day, with a several hours of rain having finally seeped all the way through to your thermal underwear… well, that isn’t much fun at all.

Eventually, with burning thighs and rasping lungs, I caught up to Chris and Jamie and declared that I was calling it quits and heading back downhill. Chris tossed me the hotel key (which, my catching skill being my catching skill, I then had to dig out of the undergrowth) and I made my shameful retreat back down the mountain. Every step was soggy, and I slipped over several times. I was yearning for the hot shower waiting for me back at our hotel room, and keenly aware that I had a long walk, a ferry ride, a train ride, two tram rides and another walk in between me and it.

I got lost once or twice, but eventually emerged back into the town and made my way back to the JR ferry terminal. It was only then that I realised my bag was soaked through – the bag which contained my iPod, passport, plane tickets… well, nothing that a hair-dyer couldn’t fix.

I arrived back at the hotel well after sunset, freezing my ass off and soaked to the bone. Interlude: I forgot to mention that we’re staying at a hotel for some reason. Fucked if I know why. Roy said he “thought he’d treat us” and assures us that it’s not costing us much more than a hostel. He is surely lying; as Chris said when we entered, it feels like a hotel James Bond would stay at.

SORRY M - MUST DASH

SORRY M - MUST DASH (adjusts bowtie)

In any case, I had no beef with it when I arrived this evening and could jump straight into a private shower. Chris and Jamie weren’t far behind me; apparently they’d turned back not long after I did, and were on the ferry right on my heels. Our hotel room is now strewn with wet clothes and we’re blow-drying our shoes (and, in my case, my passport, travel insurance papers, plane tickets etc). I wouldn’t call Miyajima a failure at all. It was quite enjoyable, and even the wet trudge home was something I would dub “memorable.” Here’s something to always bear in mind: unpleasant experiences make good stories in the long run.

Anyway, we need to go capitalise on our last night in Japan. I’ve drunk several glasses of red wine while writing this and need to go track down the Kurosawa bar with Jamie. Sayonara!

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