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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Adventures in Japan: Hiroshima and Miyajima!

The places in Hiroshima we visited weren't exactly fun, but they were important.

They really made me wonder what would have happened if Japan hadn't tried to expand their power into the mainland and fought in WWII. Would I be fluent in Japanese? Would I have known my relatives in Japan better? Would I even exist? All the fear and hatred of the Japanese here in America: would my grandmother have known a life without that constantly over her shoulder?

And I know that going to such a museum and thinking about how everything affected you and your loved ones is probably the height of arrogance, but that's how I felt. I also felt numb at how pointless it all was, the wars, the bombs--every time someone picks up a gun in the name of their country. A city devastated, thousands killed, nothing gained, and ultimately everyone loses. And we as a species do it over and over again. I think that what depressed me the most is that I couldn't think of a good way out of this spiral of hatred. It's been over 70 years and we are still killing each other.

A beautiful but sad sight: millions of paper cranes
We visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, also known as the A-bomb Dome (shown above), the only building left standing in the atomic bomb's hypocenter, and visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Inside the museum, we saw many artifacts from the blast as well as details of their survival following radiation exposure. What stuck me most was the Peace Watch, which resets itself every time a nuclear test is performed around the world. It struck me how fragile peace truly was, with so many countries not only capable of leveling an entire city with a single missile, but actively testing the technology.

After a sobering day of memorials and millions of paper cranes, we went to Miyajima island and I have to say it was probably the prettiest part of the entire trip. The cherry blossoms were at their peak and it was mind boggling. The petals really do cascade like snow falling when the wind blows, and I danced around in them without shame.

Miyajima is an island in the Inland Sea of Japan right near Hiroshima. I find it funny that the actual name is Itsukushima, but everyone calls it Miyajima which literally means "shrine island" because of its famous shrine.

Itsukushima shrine is an UNESCO world heritage site and the island features one of the most beautiful views in Japan: the floating torii gate, shown at the top at high tide with a boat passing through it. It's a gargantuan torii gate that looks like it is floating on water during high tide, and then during the dramatic low tide you can actually walk right up to it. 

The shrine over the water
The entire shinto shrine is built over the water! While we were there, there was a couple getting married at the shrine. There were so many Japanese tourists gawking at them (we were one of the few foreign tourists) that I wondered why anyone would want to get married in such a popular place.

Besides an awesome shinto shrine, Miyajima has a buddhist temple and a five-story pagoda just a short hike up some steps above the shrine. The view from the pagoda is worth it: you can see all the way to the floating torii gate. 

Look at this deer standing in line for food!
My favorite part of Miyajima was the fact that the whole place was filled with deer with no fear of humans. We were actually warned to be careful not to feed them anything, or else you'd be mobbed. Not only food, but paper was also something you had to watch closely: I saw plenty of distracted tourists end up playing tug of war with a deer as the deer snatched up their maps and started chewing.

When I went, the deer were all shedding out their fuzzy winter coats and were pretty patchy compared to their photogenic spotted summer coats. But that means they loved being scratched to help loosen up that fur. I had way too much fun with this!

Cherry blossoms and my bro!

My other favorite part of the island was that there were no cars and tons of food places all along the main road. It was such a small island I couldn't get lost if I tried and everywhere there were signs advertising for fresh oysters, hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, fish cakes on a stick, and momiji manju: wheat cakes baked into the shape of a maple leaf and filled traditionally with sweet red bean paste but also chocolate, custard, green tea, and more. I would get very fat and die early if I staying on that island, but I would have fun doing it!

What will I be featuring for Hiroshima and Miyajima? A look at all the train food and a recipe! I know you're curious about what I could possibly feature about a train or a train station, but stay tuned or follow the links below.

A look at Japanese Train stations and Ekiben
Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

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