Raderstorf World Wide Adventure

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The City of Peace and Okanami-Yaki

Hiroshima is, by far, the most enjoyable city I have explored. Although it is most famous for the 1945 nuclear tragedy and the Peace Park, travelers also enjoy lively nightlife, picture-perfect temples, and some really tasty Yaki-tora.

As the train was pulling into the station, I expected Hiroshima to be more or less, the same as Kyoto and Tokyo. I was very soon proven wrong. There are three major things that make Hiroshima special: The roads are much wider, and everything isn’t so crowded together. I guess that’s because everything has been rebuilt since the bomb was dropped. Also transportation is much easier. In addition to subway and bus lines, there is a streetcar system much like San Francisco. The best part is that most of the signs, and other assorted things, such as menus, are in English. This is extremely helpful when you can speak about 10 words in Japanese and can read two (even though it is kind of fun trying to order dinner when the waitress has absolutely no clue what you are saying).

When we got to the station, Dad was sent off to the information booth with the mission of finding a suitable hotel for the night. From past experience, we knew this was a bad idea, but he was the only one willing to risk getting the blame. When he came back and exclaimed “what a good deal he had gotten”, we all slapped our foreheads and asked each other why we had let him go. But the room had already been booked, so we had no choice.

The half-an-hour tram ride was easy and painless. Better yet, it only cost 520 yen, roughly equal to five dollars, for all of us. When we reached the hotel, all four of us were pleasantly surprised (sorry I doubted you, Dad). It was a fairly new building with five floors. The room was nice, a little small, but would do the job. It had a private bathroom and coin laundry right next door. It also had a shower and a Japanese bath.

As soon as we settled in, it was off to the peace park while we still had daylight. It’s amazing, and quite sad that anyone could do this kind of thing. The bomb was dropped during morning rush-hour without any warning at all. Over 140,000 people, almost half of Hiroshima’s population, perished. It wouldn’t feel quite so bad if it wasn’t our country that had committed this horrible act. It must be how a German feels going to the holocaust museum in Washington D.C.

The worst, is the A-bomb dome, originally an industrial architecture center, it had been reduced to a skeleton of brick and iron half the original size. It had stood only 160 M away from the hypocenter. It’s amazing it survived, because almost all buildings within 2 km of the blast were destroyed. The entire city was leveled in less than two seconds.

We were finally able to drag ourselves away from the park with a promise we would be back first thing in the morning. We soon found ourselves strolling down the Hondori St. in search of the best Okanami-Yaki (a savory pancake made with cabbage, soba, egg meat, and various other sauces and spices), Hiroshima had to offer. Because Hiroshima is famous for its Yaki-Tori, it was not hard to find what we were looking for. It was, on the other hand, very hard to decide. The streets were lined with yaki-tori restaurants. We decided on a four story complex full of restaurants. With Yaki-tora, not only is the food good, but it’s quite a lot of fun also. You sit at a bar and the food is cooked directly in front of you on hot surfaces. Yaki-tori is a name for all food of his type, and includes Yaki-soba (fried soba noodles), okanami-yaki (fried pancake), and other items.

We all slept quite nicely, even though the pillows were as hard as rocks. We had breakfast as a place called Choco Cro, a coffee shop chain specializing in chocolate croissants. The Japanese really know how to make pastries.

Holding true to our word, we returned to the peace museum and the remembrance hall. It is so full of information I could spend all day there, and even longer writing about it. The museum displays many interesting, but depressing facts about our government. The atomic bomb took many years to develop and cost over two billion dollars. At that time, that was enough to completely eradicate poverty from the earth. The project was started by Roosevelt and the initial order was given by Truman. It was carried out even though Japan was attempting to negotiate a cease fire through the Soviets. It seemed that the purpose off dropping the bomb was to gain the upper hand over the Soviet Union by making Japan surrender and to justify the huge cost of manufacturing it.

The atomic bomb was about three meters long and weighed four tons. It contained 50 kilos of uranium 235, but only one kilo actually split and provided the force of the explosion. Only one kilo provided the energy equal to 15,000 tons of high-performance explosive. The bomb, nicknamed “little boy” was dropped by the air force bomber Enola Gay. It exploded 580 m above the ground approximately 200m south-east of its target. I have seen “Enola Gay” many times in the past at the Pima Air Museum in Tucson AZ, but I never knew what kind of damage it had caused.

The museum had many very interesting artifacts from survivors and victims. There was some of the well over 1,000 paper cranes that were folded by Sadako Sasaki while she was hospitalized by radiation inflicted Leukemia. There is an old Japanese belief that says “if you fold a thousand paper cranes, your wish will come true. Even though Sadako folded well over a thousand cranes, each one possessing the wish to live, she passed away after an eight month struggle.
Another story is that of a large step of stone belonging to the bank of Hiroshima, about 260m away from the Hypocenter. The step was whitened by the heat, except for the place where a person had been sitting, waiting for the bank to open. Now a dark area exists like a permanent human shadow.

I am now writing this from the bullet train bound for Tokyo. The one thing I have learned about bullet trains is that you are not allowed to take pictures out the windows. It isn’t a rule, but a law of physics. Even if you do get your target, it’s so blurry, it is impossible to recognize.

Tomorrow we are off to Beijing and it’s a farewell to Japan, land of funky toilets, tiny cars, overcrowded cities, and last, but not least, very good food.

Ben – 12/01/2004


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