Days 30 – Hiroshima
Hiroshima is known throughout the world as the first place to have an atomic bomb dropped on it. It happened on 6 August 1945, during WW2, and three days later the city of Nagasaki was also destroyed, leading to Japanese surrender to the Allies.
A few years after the event, the city debated how best to remember the visitors, and they decided to create the Hiroshima Peace Park, along with a museum dedicated to showing the world what happened. I visited the museum and it was as moving as you might expect. You walk through galleries showing the impact of the bomb, on the people and the city. Photographs taken during the event show groups of stunned people with all their clothes blown off and the skin scorched. Buildings blown away. Children’s toys scorched. Houses turned to rubble.
The most poignant artefacts are the things that were left behind. A child’s tricycle. School uniforms. Lunchboxes. All presented in the museum for us to remember the impact of what happened that day.
By the end of 1945, due to either casualties on the day or people who died due to the effects of the bomb, it is estimated that 140,000 people died, with countless other families ripped apart and ruined.
I also learnt why Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen. It was because the American military were looking for sites that would have the biggest impact, where the blast would spread the widest and have the greatest casualties.
The museum is set in the grounds of what they call the ‘hypocenter’ which is the area directly below where the bomb exploded. There is one building now known as the A-bomb dome that remained standing and has been left as reminder of the horrors of nuclear war.
Hiroshima is a fascinating place and a testament to the hours of war. Whilst it is not easy to see, I think if you visit Japan you should come here.
Day 31 – Hiroshima
I visited a fantastic art gallery today, the first one in what feels like ages! I have been really unlucky as nearly all the galleries I wanted to see have been closed for one reason or another. I am always amazed how small regional galleries can have the most amazing permanent collections and the Hiroshima Museum of Art is no exception.
It contains works by Van Gogh, Chagall, Degas, Manet, Rousseau, Munch, Modigliani and Picasso to name just a few. If these works were in a major gallery you would queue to see them and be surrounded by crowds. Here I had them virtually to myself. Always check out local galleries where you travel, you never know what you may see! I also visited a second great art gallery in Hiroshima, with works by Dali as a highlight.
In the afternoon I visited the rebuilt Hiroshima Castle. It was originally built in the 17thC but like everything else here was destroyed in 1945. It has been rebuilt with a museum inside, explaining the history of the castle. You can climb up to the 5th floor and enjoy views across the city. As you can see from the video it has been raining a lot today, in fact it has not stopped raining since I arrived! It is the rainy season after all.
Just to end I wanted to share this photo below which is a genius idea but which I have not seen anywhere else. Locakable umbrella holders. Loads of galleries, museums etc have them, to stop everything being dripped with water, you simply insert your umbrella and lock it, taking the key. Since the Uk is obviously the wettest country in the world, why don’t we have them!
Day 32 – Kobe
Today I headed east to the city of Kobe. Apparently it is famous for dead meat but I chose to ignore that and headed the wonderful Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art. As luck would have it there were having an Impressionism exhibition, I couldn’t believe my luck! I couldn’t take any photos but they had a wonderful exhibition including works from Monet, Picasso, Sisley and my new favourite artist, Maurice De Vlaminck. It is interesting how the collection came to be. The owner of gypsum production company, in the 1970s, decided to start collecting art so that his workers had a more pleasant environment to work in, and he amassed this amazing collection for them to enjoy. It now is touring Japan for us all to enjoy. What a wonderful employer.
The gallery also has a great permanent collection, including some Japanese impressionist paintings from the early 20thC, a movement I had not been aware of but which I loved! Particularly an artist called Heizo Kanayama.
Outside the gallery there are also some great sculptures, including a big apple and a large girl!
I then strolled along the harbour front to Meriken Park. Whilst parts of the walk were nice, Kobe is one of these cities that has dedicated itself to the car and sacrificed the pedestrian, building a monstrous two tier freeway going right through the harbour front. It may have been built after the large earthquake that happened here in 1995. I only vaguely remember it but the monument in Meriken Park says that over 6,000 people died sadly. Meriken Park also contains the iconic Kobe Port Tower, shown below.
Day 33 – Osaka
A short hop east to the city of Osaka. Signs up everywhere warning people about security measures in place for the G20 summit next week, glad I am not here then! Plus I might accidentally see the Trump.
Weather is a lot nicer here, cooler and no rain. Headed out to Osaka Castle in the morning, along with every tourist in the city it would seem. Climbing eight floors to the top you get some great views across the city. Running out of steam I headed to the river and the lovely Nakanoshima Park, marooned in the middle of the river on an island and very peaceful. After nearly five weeks away, travelling around on trains, planes, buses, subways, taxis, by foot I am starting to flag a little! So I lay on a bench and looked at the clouds for an hour and it was great.
In the evening I headed south to Dotonoburi, a crazy, neon canal-side area of Osaka with shops and restaurants. There is a famous advertising sign called the running man that all the locals go crazy for and take endless selfies in front of. I don’t know why. There was also a man dressed as a wolf, dancing on the front of a boat to Michael Jackson songs, sailing up and down the canal. I don’t know why.
Day 34 – Osaka
A very lazy day today, feel like I am running out of energy! Plus it was super humid and that is the worst kind of weather. Anyway I spent the morning at the Apple store, trying to fix an issue with my MacBook, then wondered through the side streets of Osaka, visiting a few little community style temples that no tourists ever come too and it was great.
I then headed back to to the riverside park I went to on my first day here and snoozed by the river. Lovely.
In the evening I sampled the local speciality which is called Okonomiyaki. It is a kind of vegetable based pancake, cooked in front of you on a hot-plate. The veggie option was cabbage, eggs, potato, cheese, with a mayonnaise topping with some other stuff I wasn’t sure of! But it was delicious.
I then visited Osaka Tower and went up the tallest building in the city to see nighttime views across the city, a nice way to end my last evening here.
Day 35 – Osaka
Today is my last day in Japan, and in Asia. I have not visited Asia for quite some years. I think the last time I was here was way back in 2005. I really love the culture and people and energy of this continent, it is everything I wanted it to be. Challenging, awe-inspiring, welcoming and a world away from my everyday life.
I am heading off to Hawaii tonight, but I just wanted to end with some thoughts on my time in Japan.
Life in the land of the rising sun
- Japan truly is the friendliest country in the world. It is also the politest and most orderly. Everything you have heard is true. I like and respect order and efficiency and this country has it in bucketloads!
- The Japanese people have embraced technology, without forgetting their culture and history. Technology like robots, sushi conveyor belts and self parking car garages sit alongside Shinto temples, kimonos and origami. This seems to be true of both young and old.
- There is a real respect for older people, which is great to see and sadly lacking in many countries.
- It is the tidiest country with the fewest bins. They have hardly any public bins, yet the place is sparkling!
- There is a strange attitude to smoking. There are loads of signs telling you that you can’t smoke in the street, and yet you can still smoke in bars and restaurants.
- People cycle on the pavements more that then road and you just have to get out their way quickly it would seem!
- The attitude to tattoos is similar to the UK in the 1950s. In my current hotel it says you can’t use the spa if you are drunk or have tattoos. They pretty much equate the two together. They seem to have a view that tattoo=criminal. As much as I obviously look like a Yakuza overlord, I just used it anyway #rebel.
- The trains. Oh the trains. Not ONE SINGLE TRAIN I used was even one minute late. I will leave that there for you to consider.
- The Japan Rail Pass is a brilliant idea and a great cost-efficient way to get around. Highly recommended.
- Plastic. The Japanese, and Korean, people love plastic and plastic bags. The UK is certainly way ahead in our environmental outlook that’s for sure.
- My final note I am sure to be back here one day, there is so much more to see. Aloha, I’ll see you in Hawaii.