Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the Island of Miyajima

Hiroshima and Oyster Beds in the Inland Sea
Blog Entry #51: The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the Island of Miyajima

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Buddha & Peace Pole
We had decided to stay two days in Hiroshima to have time to more fully experience the Peace Park, and we were glad this day for that decision. After a leisurely breakfast as the Comfort Hotel, we checked out, moved our backpacks next door to the Reino Inn, and headed back to the Peace Park for the morning.
8:15 am Clock Memorial
 The rain from the previous day had been replaced by warm sunshine, and the flowers and trees of the park welcomed us back.
National Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims

Photo Panel of Hiroshima Victims
Mizuno Family victims
Hiroshima Victims
We spent much of the morning at the National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, which displays photos, letters, and memoirs of both victims and survivors of the bomb. There is a digital database to search for the names of those killed, and I entered the surname of a childhood friend from Upland, Frank Mizuno, which brought up three panels of names and photos. Frank’s parents spent much of World War II in Japanese-American relocations camps in California; while I have no idea if he had any Mizuno relatives in Hiroshima, it brought back the years of silence his parents maintained about their time in the relocations camps across the Pacific.

Monument for Korean Victims of the A-Bomg
Korean Memorial
We also spent time at the beautiful memorial for Korean citizens killed by the bomb. An estimated 15-20,000 Koreans who were forced to work in Hiroshima during World War II died in the atomic blast; only in recent years has attention been brought to their plight in Japan during the war and the massive losses during the atomic bomb attack.

Pat being interviewed by University of Hiroshima students
Cenotaph & A-Bomb Dome
We had several engaging interludes during our time in the Peace Park, as it was a Saturday morning and we kept being approached by teams of two or three young men who would ask us first, “Do you speak English?” and when we affirmed we did, ask us if they could ask us some questions. Students from Hiroshima University, they were conducting surveys with English-speaking foreigners on a range of global issues.
People praying in front of the Cenotaph

 I was interviewed three times and Pat four on issues from air pollution and global warming, to oil spills and world poverty and famine. It was not always clear to us how well they understood our answers, but their faces lit up when I gave them my card showing I am a professor of environmental studies at the University of Montana.
Bell of Peace

Inside the #2 Streetcar
Ferry to Miyajima Island
Riding the Ferry to Miyajima Island
By mid-day we were ready for a break from the intensity of the war memorials and museums, so we boarded the streetcar for a trip to the end of the #2 line, the ferry terminal for the short crossing across the harbor to Miyajima Island. Just south of Hiroshima in the island-studded Inland Sea, Miyajima is considered one of Japan’s most beautiful places.

The Torii gate in the Miyajima Harbor
Still heavily forested and topped by 530 m. Mt. Misen, Miyajima is a UNESCO World Heritage site filled with temples and shrines, some which date back over 1500 years. Perhaps best known is Itsukushima-Jinja, the “floating shrine” surrounded by waters at high tide. Rebuilt in 1168, it could only be approached from the sea by commoners, who were not allowed to set foot on the hold island.

Instead they passed through the brilliant vermillion Torii gate in the harbor, now one of the most photographed places in Japan.

Menu options at our restaurant
Dodging the very tame “wild deer” who inhabit the island and aggressively chase anyone holding food [my favorite warning sign read: “JR railway passes cannot be replaced so please take care not to let it get eaten by a deer”], we found a restaurant where we could indulge in stewed rice and curry dishes before beginning our exploration of the island.
Family at lunch
Senjo-kaku Pavilion & Pagoda
Five-Storey Pagoda
The Inland Sea from Mt. Misen on Miyajima
After visiting the Senjo-kaku Pavilion and the Five-Storey Pagoda (dating to the 15th and 16th centuries) with old donated paintings hanging from the rafters, we headed to the cable car “ropeway” for a breathtaking ascent most of the way up Mt. Misen. Views of many of the islands in the Inland Sea as well as back across the harbor to Hiroshima were stunning.
Miyajima Ropeway up Mt. Misen
"Baby Buddhas" on Mt. Misen
Kobo Daishi's Flame
From the top of the ropeway we made our way another km to the summit of Mt. Misen. Home to several Buddhist temples and shrines, a temple near the summit is where Kobo Daishi is said to have meditated for 100 days following his return from China in the 9th century. Adjacent to the main temple is a flame said to be burning continuously for 1200 years since Kobo Daishi lit it; the Flame of Peace in the Peace Park was lit from this flame.

Buddhist monk tending Temple on summit of Mt. Misen

We arrived at the summit just before sunset, and the sun’s descending rays lit the summit brightly while lower elevations slipped into shadow. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful setting, though we couldn’t linger to long to enjoy it as we still had a 2-mile, 530 m. descent by foot ahead of us and it was getting dark fast.
Sunset over the Inland Sea from Mt. Misen, Miyajima Island

Japanese maples & fall colors on Mt. Misen
Pat and I were literally the last people down the mountain, as most others rode the ropeway back down. The hike through the woods in the dark was quiet and peaceful, interrupted only by the sound of crickets and a creek flowing next to the trail. Nevertheless it was very dark by the time we reached the base, and we were relieved to find a dimly lit path along the Mitarai creek to guide us back down.

Torii Gate at night
Memorial Mound in Hiroshima Peace Park
Most of the Saturday crowd was gone now, and we made our way back to the ferry terminal past the brightly lit Torii gate in the harbor, the more subdued Five Storey Pagoda, and several sleeping deer. As we took the ferry back across to the mainland, a full moon rose over the Hiroshima harbor.

The moon reminded us that exactly one month ago we watched the same full moon rise over the Taj Mahal and the Ganges River at Varanassi – what a whirlwind and amazing month we have had in the interlude.
Preparing Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima
We made our way back to the Peace Park by the streetcar, and finished a very full day by dining on the local Hiroshima delicacy – okonomiyaki – a delicious plate of fried noodles and toppings. Then to bed to prepare for our early morning departure for Tokyo the next day.

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