This is part 3 of our Japan recaps – click here to read the whole series.
Paying our respects at nuclear bomb site Hiroshima was important for both Dara and I. A day trip to Hiroshima fit right into our itinerary. From Kyoto, it’s a three-hour shinkansen train ride to central Hiroshima, and from there, it’s easy to hop on a bus to the Peace Memorial.
The Genbaku Dome, the ruin of a former government building, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The building was one of very few left standing after the A-bomb hit. The exposed metal dome has become an iconic reminder of Hiroshima’s past.
As you wander around the side, it’s impossible to miss the big, leafy oak tree growing alongside the remains.
The atmosphere within the Peace Park is thick with emotion. Yet there’s also a pervasive peacefulness, a quiet stillness, signs of life (case in point: the massive oak tree, as well as the young student protesters collecting signatures for a peace petition).
Baby K won’t remember traveling to Hiroshima; he was only 11 months old at the time of our trip to Japan. But we’ll tell him about it one day when he’s old enough to understand.
On another side of the park is the Children’s Peace Monument, which commemorates Sadako Sasaki and the countless other children who died during the bombing and later from the horrific effects of the radiation. I’ll never forget reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes in grade school – her story was gut-wrenching, so terribly unfair. How can an innocent child die from leukemia?
At the base of the monument is a plaque with the inscription:
“This is our cry, this is our prayer: for building peace in the world.”
Behind the monument are a number of glass cases that display long chains of colorful paper cranes folded as a wish for peace by school children around the world. (Sadako believed she would be cured if she folded 1,000 paper cranes.) Over 10 million cranes are dedicated to the Children’s Peace Monument each year.
When we arrived, a school group was gathered to grant their respects and dedicate their own paper cranes. Watching the dozens of tiny heads bowed in prayer brought tears to my eyes.
We continued our self-guided tour of the Peace Memorial Park, wandering over to the “Memorial Cenotaph” – a large concrete arch recently visited by President Obama, who called for a “world without weapons” during his historic remarks.
Beyond the cenotaph is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The museum’s exhibits provide a thoughtful, comprehensive perspective into the events leading up to the bombing, the devastation it caused, and the aftermath. The emotions conveyed by the imagery and objects preserved at the museum are difficult for me to explain in words.
One of the most haunting images was a child’s tricycle. The owner, a three-year old boy, was riding in front of his house when the bomb struck. He suffered severe burns and passed away that night. His father buried him in the backyard along with his tricycle.
Decades later, his father unearthed the tricycle and donated it to the museum.
As a parent, the grief of losing your child to a catastrophe is unfathomable. I hope that the world’s leaders visit Hiroshima and listen to these stories, and understand the consequences of warfare. 70,000 people were killed in just one day. Tens of thousands of other innocent civilians died over the decades that followed from cancer and other consequences of the widespread radiation.
It was early afternoon when we exited the peace museum. There were still plenty of daylight hours, so we hopped on a train to Miyajimaguchi to catch a ferry to Miyajima Island. (From the train station, it’s a quick walk to the ferry port. The ferries depart quite frequently, so we didn’t wait long.) The train and ferry were both covered by our JR Rail Pass – hooray!
The ferry ride was short and sweet. We scrambled aboard to get a spot near the front of the boat for prime photo opps. After a week of our amateur GoPro videography, Baby K had taken a keen interest in the GoPro camera. We snapped some silly selfies en route to Miyajima.
When you disembark from the ferries to Miyajima, you’re facing a long, wide pier lined with shops and food stalls. We let Baby K play next to the path, and many tourists stopped to snap photos of him or say hi. Before we could say no, one man hoisted him up for a photo with his friends. This led to an immediate meltdown. Stranger-danger level: high!
We did our best to cheer him up, but Miyajima probably wasn’t his favorite place.
Still, we relished the view of the iconic torii gate (a.k.a. Itsukushima Shrine), which allegedly appears to be floating on water during high tide. And we caught a glimpse of some fishermen setting out for an evening trawl.
The island was beautiful, but cramming Hiroshima and Miyajima into a single day trip with a toddler was a bit too optimistic. If I could change our itinerary, I would’ve devoted the whole day to Hiroshima, and saved Miyajima for another visit.
We returned to the mainland before dark and missed out on the rope-way up to Mount Misen, but a great mountain adventure lay ahead of us.
Up next: our adventure staying overnight at a Buddhist temple in Koya-san, the mystical town enshrouded by the forests of Mount Koya.