Thursday, March 10, 2011

Japan Part 6: Hiroshima and Miyajima

The red circle is us.

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 Peace Park (Genbaku Dome in background)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.

Itsukushima Shrine

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!


  1. Thanks for posting these beautiful photos (and thank you Katie and Soo-min) and sharing your insights. Perhaps you could start a kotatsu trend in the U.S., because I think that I want one. Sorry to hear about your stomach bug, and I'm so glad you're feeling better!

  2. Hi Becky,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences in Hiroshima. Indeed a grim reminder of the tragedies of war. You've gained a tremendous cultural appreciation for Korea and Japan, haven't you? Now you can publish a book! Cheers, Uncle Denny and Aunt Kathy.

  3. Hi Becky,

    Loved reading about your trip to Japan, and also enjoyed the pictures. Sounds like you had a wonderful time. Too bad about the camera...must be frustrating. Was hoping you'd be able to get a picture of Mt Fuji, but at least you were able to see it, even if just briefly. I can also relate to your experience at the Genbaku Dome, having visited Dachau in Germany. It's an eerie feeling being in such a historical place, and it's something you'll never forget.
    Glad you're feeling better. Looking forward to more stories and pictures.

  4. anne@sectwebdesign.comApril 16, 2011 at 6:16 AM

    Becky, I love the spring picture at the top of your blog - it must be beautiful in Daejeon as the trees bloom.