Day 4 — 1 August 2010
It seems everyone who visits Japan raves on about how great the trains are — and they’re well within their rights to. The Shinkansen (bullet train) network in Japan is a truly amazing feat of both engineering and discipline. Not running within a minute of the schedule is absolutely unheard of, they’re comfortable, almost comically spacious and immaculately clean: I did enjoy watching the cleaners walking the length of the train spinning each of the sets of seats around so that everyone faces in the direction of travel.
The 821km from Tokyo to Hiroshima took less than five hours to cover (with a change of train in Osaka) so we arrived pretty much at the peak of the midday heat.
We’d originally planned to do some hiking whilst in the west of Japan, tackling the mighty Daisen (大山) peak and surrounding ridges. The relatively short walk from Hiroshima train station to our hotel (roughly a mile) highlighted what a catastrophically stupid idea that would have been. The heat was absolutely impossible (just in case you’re wondering, I’m going to be complaining about the heat a great deal — I am English, after all) and we were both quite literally dripping with sweat when we arrived at unquestionably the fanciest hotel we stayed in during the entire trip.
There is ultimately only one thing to do in Hiroshima, which is to visit the Peace Memorial Park and — like every other visitor — spend a great deal of time grappling with one of life’s eternal questions: Why?
Visiting the peace memorial museum is a devastating experience that it takes some time to recover from. It’s difficult to explain, but if you’ve not walked through the modern, healthy Japanese city that is Hiroshima circa 2010, it’s impossible to grasp the magnitude of the destruction caused by the atomic bomb dropped on 6 August 1945.
The museum does a brilliant job of exposing the cold, logical reasoning that led to the decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it taught me a great deal — for instance I had no idea of how complicit European powers were in the decision. What was most sobering was that at no point does it look to apportion blame, glorify the victims or even encourage bad sentiment towards those who committed the atrocity: the aim of the museum and indeed Hiroshima itself is simply to communicate a message of peace and tolerance. Which is absolutely remarkable.
We sat for a good couple of hours on the north shore of the park staring blankly at the A-Bomb Dome and watching the sun dip slowly below the mountains to the west. A young guy was sat a couple of hundred yards to our left playing a guitar and singing the same tune over and over again. A rather older gentleman approached us and asked permission to take our picture — proudly showing us the results on the back of his enormous DSLR as he went (it was so big his frail hands could barely hold it steady). He must have taken forty pictures and had clearly been at this all day with various gaijin around Hiroshima: I strongly suspect our photos are now on some kind of stock photography portfolio or dating website.
Without my friend in Tokyo to help us we floundered when looking for food and ended up dining at a pleasant enough looking ramen place that turned out to serve mostly fatty pieces of undercooked pork in a ludicrously salty broth. Not good.
We did make a remarkable discovering in our hotel room though: a small knob next to the bed with three settings (cunningly named ‘1’, ‘2’ and ‘3’). The digits were nothing more complicated than volume settings that piped piano jazz directly from the bar on the top floor into your bedroom — which was a very pleasant thing to fall asleep to indeed.