Sorry this blog is so late in coming! I honestly meant to get it up sooner, but got taken out of action for a little while with a nasty stomach bug. Feeling much better now, though.
The main objective of our Hiroshima trip was to attend the peace forum, which was held in a beautiful little chapel at Hiroshima Women’s University. Many thoughtful and interesting opinions were shared, I think it goes without saying. Jenny, who has her masters in international development, took the opportunity to look at the root causes of violence in our world; Okdeuk took a more national approach, and discussed a problem very close to her country’s heart – the recent North/South Korea violence. The Japanese students who spoke talked about the local peace movement, how it was still strong so many years after the war, and how it opened their eyes and changed the way they thought about the world.
To go along with this, it was only appropriate that we pay a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park. And honestly, the only word I can think of to describe it is tsurai – that Japanese word that goes beyond just painful and into heartbreaking territory. One of the most striking images (and one I will carry with me always) is that of the Genbaku (atomic bomb) Dome. The dome was located almost directly beneath the epicenter of the explosion, which is why it can still be seen today; had it been further out, the concussion would have hit it sideways and knocked it down. So today the dome occupies the strange position of being one of the few relics of the event, yet also a testament to how deadly and destructive that event was. Seeing its crumbling walls looming over the river, seeing the clouds move through the skeleton of the dome, is nothing short of haunting.
Moving on to something a little brighter: a big highlight of the Hiroshima trip was that we got to do homestays. I don’t want to knock the absolutely royal red-carpet treatment we got in some other places. However, for me, actually being received into someone’s home and sharing their life, if only for a day, was even more touching than any official welcome could be. The Shingu family – Yuu and her parents – took great care of me. They also let me use their kotatsu. (What’s that, you ask? Only one of the greatest Japanese inventions ever! It’s a table, you put your legs under it, and soon you’re all toasty and warm.) At any rate, Yuu and I had a lot of great conversation, because as it turns out, we have a common interest in linguistics – she studied French in addition to English. It was great to talk with her about the politics of language and share our cross-cultural experiences.
The day afterwards, I said my goodbyes to Yuu and her family, and our gang headed out on a sightseeing trip to Miyajima. Miyajima is an island in the nearby bay – you take a short ferry ride to reach it – and it is well-known as one of the most scenic places in Japan, due to its lush natural preserves as well as its traditional architecture, all surrounded by shimmering waters. Even in January, the effect was magical.
To be more specific, the island is famous for its Itsukushima Shrine, a very old Shinto relic that is perched half on the shore, half on piers over the water. The torii, or shrine gate, is out in the middle of the bay, and back in the day, people had to steer their boats through there on their approach in order to purify them. People still worship at the shrine in the modern era, too; it’s customary to make a hatsumoude, the first shrine visit of the year, on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, in order to pray for good fortune, health, wisdom, etc. in the coming year.
We stopped in at the Buddhist temple on the mountainside, too, and got stared at by many little monk statues and several very large demon ones. Plus, I got my fortune told by an omikuji. That’s where you shake up a jar of sticks, draw one, and get an oracle according to the number on the stick. Seems like I will have good luck this year! (Well, fingers crossed, anyway.)
Miyajima is also the place to pick up your momiji manjuu, which are little cakes shaped like maple leaves. These are then filled with just about anything you like – red bean paste, green tea, honey, custard, chocolate, you name it. We stopped in at a little cafe specializing in the confection. However, there was no way I was gonna choose just one of those scrumptious options, so I ordered one of everything off the menu. (I did have extra money left in my food budget. Well worth it.)
Here are the pictures from Hiroshima, and here are the pictures from Miyajima. Once again, the props go to Katie and Soo-min, so thanks for letting me use your wonderful photos, guys! This concludes the epic Japan saga!