Wednesday 31 July 2013

Finally, Hiroshima (part 1)

If there was one city that I really regretted not visiting last time I lived here, it was Hiroshima.  I mean, my favourite food is from Hiroshima, and the city has so much (unfortunate) history to it.  As you all probably are well aware, Hiroshima is one of only two cities in the world that has had an Atomic bomb dropped on it.  The other, of course, is Nagasaki, which makes Japan the only country in the world that has been the victim of an atomic attack.  Now, I don't go into politics on this blog, I leave that to other people.  All I'll say is that the Japanese are a very resilient nationality, and the patience and persistence they show in picking themselves back up again after devastating events is truly remarkable.  Hiroshima is now, understandably, at the forefront of a global push to wipe out nuclear weapons.

The opportunity finally came up for me to visit recently.  A guy that I used to work with here last time, Toby, was coming over to Japan for a visit and told me that he was planning to go to Hiroshima.  I quickly decided to join him, and started planning for it.  He was going with two friends from Australia, Tim and Steve, and Steve's friend from Osaka, Eriko.  The plan was for me to catch the shinkansen (bullet train) meet them in Shin Osaka before heading on to Hiroshima together.  I made my way to Tokyo station at the horrible time of 7:30 (I usually only start work at 2:30pm!) and found my ride amongst the puzzle of train platforms.

Nice huh?  The inside is quite comfortable, more room than and aeroplane and the seats lean back a whole lot further than an aeroplane too.

They cruise along at anywhere between 285 to over 300 km/h.  A lot of the bends that they go around are banked so that the train doesn't derail as they go around them.  All in all, a very nice, comfortable way to travel, just damn  expensive!  Tokyo to Hiroshima (about four hours, 700km) costs about $180 each way, but even that is cheaper than flying.  The cheapest way to get there is by overnight bus (about $80 one way) but that takes 12 hours, and I am not as young as I used to be, and I'm afraid I might stiff and sore!

So the train pulled away from the station and didn't get anywhere near top speed until we cleared Yokohama to the south of Tokyo.  As the train headed out into the country Japan I got my camera out (I only ever use my mobile phone camera) and took a few pictures of the countryside.

I love how the camera can't keep up with the speed of the train and the bottom of the photo warps.  I sit here now wondering if this is what time travel looks like........

I took this photo to show how close the train going the other way is to the train I am on.

 The trains thunder past in the other direction which rocks the train you are on around as the air being pushed in front of the train knocks into yours.  Just as I was taking another photo of the beautiful countryside, a train blasts past me, making my heart skip a beat!  This is how that photo turned out!

The sound of the shinkansen at top speed is a mixture of a low rumbling sound and a high pitched noise that sounds like the air is screaming as (I don't know how many) tons of train smashes into it.  The noise is quite subdued though, and the air conditioning in the carriage almost makes more noise than the train.

I got to Shin Osaka and changed to my next shinkansen and as it left the station, I went for a walk through all of the carriages looking for Toby, Tim and Steve.  I couldn't see them and walked back to my seat wondering if they had made it or notAbout halfway to Hiroshima my answer came in a text message from Toby.  Their connecting train was late (very rare here) getting to Shin Osaka and they missed the one that I was on.  No problems though as they were able to get on the next one and they arrived about an hour after I did.

After meeting up, we made our way to where we were to stay for the night.  We stayed in a Ryokan, or a traditional Japanese Inn.  These places are very nice, traditional Japanese style rooms and this particular one had a very high rating on trip advisor.

Here are a few shots of the room that we were in.

Very nice, as you can see!

We left our things there and made our way to the nuclear museum.  On our way there Toby took us through some backstreets looking for something very special.  I must say here that Toby has visited Hiroshima a number of times and really knows his way around, so without him, we would really have been lost.  Finding what he was looking for, he lead us over to this little monument that even some people who live in Hiroshima don't know exists.

I hope you can make out what it says.  If not, it is basically saying that it was 600m above this exact spot that the atomic bomb detonated, blasting the city with heat rays of between 3,000 to 4,000 degrees C.  This sight gave me chills as I briefly contemplated what I was reading.  We didn't have much time to reflect though as we wanted to get through the museum before it closed.  Luckily I was able to head back here the next night by myself, and I just stood there looking at the monument reflecting on what happened on that day.

The museum itself is divided into two sections.  The first is the child friendly section.  The second part is where it gets more graphic and heart wrenching.  

I will let some photos now continue with the story.

This is a watch that was recovered after the bomb.  As you can see, the watch stopped at exactly 8:15.

These are the official orders that committed Hiroshima to it's fate.

And this is how Hiroshima looked after the blast.

Nothing left standing except the shells of a few buildings made of ferro-concrete.  

I took another photo of a quote by a photographer who was at the scene but the photo didn't turn out very clear.  The photographer said "I fought with myself for 30 minutes before I could take the first picture.  After taking the first, I grew strangely calm and wanted to get closer.  I took about 10 steps forward and tried to snap another but the scenes were so gruesome my viewfinder clouded with tears".  This is the photo that he took.

There was one fact that I read which completely took my breath away.  It said that at the time of the bombing (August 6th 1945), about 350,000 people were in Hiroshima.  By the end of December 1945, 140,000 people had died due to the atomic bomb.......

I moved past the first part of the museum and Toby said to me "here is where it starts to get difficult".  I had had problems chocking back the tears in the first part so couldn't imagine what was to come.  Moving into the next part, the first sight I see is a recreation of a scene that must have been a common, yet grisly, sight at the time.  People walking along with their clothes in tatters and skin hanging from their limbs.

It is here that I will say that I was walking around listening to an audio guide.  I haven't taken a lot of pictures of this part of the museum as it is quite heartbreaking, but listening to the audio was incredibly difficult.  There were a lot of exhibits of items of clothing that had been found.  For each item, they were able to tell the name of the person who it belonged to and what happened to them.  Listening to these personal accounts and stories was saddening, horrific and heart wrenching.  I will show a couple of photos from this section though.  Here is the explanation of the next exhibit I will show.

They have actually taken the steps of the bank and brought them in as an exhibit.  I am sure you can make out the shadow that they talk of.

Outside of the museum, there is a memorial to a little girl called Sadako.

The story of Sadako is told inside the museum.  Sadako was two years old at the time Hiroshima was levelled by the atomic bomb.  She was in her house about two kilometres for the blast site but the force of the blast blew her out of a window in the house.  She the blast.  Nine years later she became sick and was diagnosed with leukaemia.  Within a few months she was hopitalised and was given a year to live.  One of her friends from school came to visit her in hospital and folded a piece of paper into an origami crane.  An ancient Japanese story tells that a person who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish from the Gods.  Sadako's wish, of course, was to be able to live.  She eventually folded her thousand cranes but didn't stop there, she kept going.  Survival, however, was not to be granted by the Gods, and on the morning of 25th October 1955, with her family around her, Sadako died aged 12.  There is a photo of Sadako in the museum resting peacefully at her funeral.

Such an incredibly sad story, and I am glad that this part of the museum was quite dark.  This was one of the last displays, and we made our way outside in silence.

After leaving the museum, we made our way to the spot nearby that was the intended target of the bomb.  It was a bridge commonly known as the T bridge due to it's shape.

As I was taking these photos, I couldn't help but think that this is probably exactly what was happening on the morning of August 6th 1945.  People were probably just going about their business completely unaware of what was about to happen.

From here it was just a short walk to the nuclear dome.  It was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall.  It is one of the few buildings that remained standing after the bomb and was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1996.

It stands proud in defiance of what the city suffered through and I see it as a symbol of resilience of the people of Hiroshima.

Needless to say, it was a pretty emotional and powerful afternoon that we had just been through, and we needed something to lighten the mood.  We were in luck as the annual fireworks display happened to be on that night at Hiroshima port so we piled on to a streetcar and made our way there to see the display.

I think most of Hiroshima was there as the place was packed full of people, but we were able to get a spot with a reasonable view.

After the fireworks display, we went to an Izakaya for a bit to eat and bumped into a group of girls who had been to a baseball game that night.  The swallows are a Tokyo team, so I guess they had come all the way from Tokyo to watch the game.

And with that the end of the first day in Hiroshima arrived.  It had been a incredibly confronting, sad and heartbreaking day, but I was happy to have seen what I did, as I think it is important to remember what has happened in the past sometimes, to make sure it doesn't happen gain in the future.  Being one of the reasons that I wanted to come to Hiroshima, I had fulfilled a strong desire.  I really recommend that, if you come to Japan, you really need to visit the museum and dome, if nothing else.  You will be glad you did.

So, one of my reasons for coming to Hiroshima had been satisfied.  The other was to be satisfied the next day.  Part 2 of my visit to Hiroshima will be coming soon.  

Thanks for reading, and see you soon.

Thursday 18 July 2013

Shibuya at night!

Most people associate Tokyo at night time with bright neon signs and lots of them.  A couple of years ago when I came for a holiday to Japan with one of my brothers and two friends, they were looking forward to seeing all of the neon.  We visited about two months after the major earthquake and tsunami of 11th March 2011.  The country was in electricity saving mode, so the nighttime view was more restrained than I remembered it being.  Fast forward two years and there is not such a problem with electricity supply anymore, in fact (after all nuclear reactors were shutdown after March 11) 2 have already been restarted and there are applications in to restart 12 more of them (out of a total of 50 countrywide).  That means the neon signs are back, and there is no better place to see them than in Shibuya, the heartbeat of Tokyo.

Last time I lived in Japan, I worked in Shibuya for 1 1/2 years, and when I say Shibuya is the heartbeat of Tokyo, I mean it keeps on beating, 24/7!

When I worked in Shibuya, one of my students was an elderly man, well into his nineties.  He was an absolute joy to teach.  He had been coming for English lessons for about 3 years but his English level had not improved.  He forgot, from one week to the next, what he had learnt the previous week, but he loved coming and we loved to see him each week.  He had some amazing wartime stories that he loved to tell (which I will not tell here so as not to offend some people) that he told with great energy and animation!  He also told me one time ho he could remember walking through Shibuya as a young child and that it was just farm land with a few houses back then.  It is nearly impossible to imagine that when you look at modern day Shibuya.  It is now home to contemporary fashion and a very vibrant and robust nightlife that is enjoyed by Tokyo's young, and the ever-drinking Tokyo salaryman!

Let me begin by saying that Shibuya is an assault on the senses, in a completely good way. One of my current students is a concierge at a hotel and she asked me one time why all of her foreign guests always ask "How do I get to Shibuya?".  It is an exciting place!

I use Shibuya station everyday (and also did when I lived here before) so, for me, it is one of the easiest of the large train stations in Tokyo to navigate.  Coming out of the train station you head down some extremely crowded escalators.

At the bottom of the escalators there are always people handing out advertising material (usually in the form of a small pack of tissues or a plastic fan in summer).  It is loud and in your face from the moment you start heading down the escalators.

Outside of the train station, there is an area called Hachiko square.  It is a famous meeting area for those meting friends in Shibuya.  It is also home to the statue of a famous dog.  The dog's name was Hachiko, and Hachiko's story is a good one (set in the 1930's).  Hachiko's owner was a professor at Tokyo University and every afternoon, Hachiko would make it's way to Shibuya train station to meet his owner as he came home from work.  One day, the professor died at work but that didn't stop Hachiko from coming to the train station each day for the next decade until the loyal pet itself died.  The statue of Hachiko was placed in the square as a tribute to it's loyalty.

It is also home to some of Shibuya's street performers (of which Tokyo doesn't have many, unless they are singers looking for a lucky break).

Shibuya is also home to the world's busiest pedestrian crossing (that I have talked about briefly here).  Crossing this pedestrian crossing is like being in the middle of the great wildebeest migration through the Masai Mara, the foot traffic is so heavy!

I also mentioned in the previous post where I touched on this pedestrian crossing that it also has the busiest Starbucks coffee shop in the world.

Moving on from Hachiko crossing, I headed off down Center Gai, a pedestrian only street, home to hundreds of shops, restaurants and bars.  Enjoy!

A 24 hour food place right next door to a nightclub that is open until after the first train of the morning.  Kind of a ready-made customer base! 

A menswear shop (suits, shirts, shoes etc)

A shop selling all kinds of silver jewelry imaginable.

I'm not quite sure.......

Shoe shop.

One of the little side streets that runs of Center Gai.  "Loft" is the name of a big department store.

First time I've seen a chicken with eyebrows........

Delicious Japanese curry restaurant!

A couple of guys waiting to lure customers into their Izakaya restaurant.

A good cheap chain eatery called Matsuya that is good for a fast meal anytime!

I would have laughed and laughed if Backstreet Boys got a bigger crowd than Justin Bieber!

Karaoke place.

The only reason this one is here is that I saw it and remembered a student recommended I try this shop's ramen.  I didn't today, but putting it here will remind me to do so later!

I noticed that this restaurant serves okonomiyaki, amongst other things.

American owned, Australian themed steakhouse.

Korean BBQ I think.

Clothes store full of bright flouro coloured clothing.

The ever-present flower shop.  Each area in Tokyo has at least one.

Not sure of the thinking behind this one, or maybe the mannequins were from the cheap mannequin reject shop.

A giant electronics store.  Imagine, eight floors of just electronics!  I know my brother Matthew will probably get goosebumps when he reads that and remembers walking through them in Akihabara two years ago!

These pictures are now heading out another street called Dogenzaka.  This is Shibuya 109, an iconic fashion department store.

A nice Irish pub that is popular with the expat crowd as well as Japanese people.

About halfway up Dogenzaka I start to head in a little side street.  In this direction is the seedier side of Shibuya, although, still quite safe. The first place I saw is a Pet Hotel, 

right next to an Adult shop!

This poster is advertising jobs available to ladies in the Adult industry.

And up this little stairway is Shibuya's Love Hotel District.  I have previously written a little about Japan's love hotels here.

They are used for couples who, for whatever reason, do not want to or cannot have sex at home (maybe too far away, they still live with parents, they haven't cleaned the apartment for a while etc).  You can rent them for a "rest" or short stay (three or four hours) or a stay (overnight).

Some signs also have photos of the rooms as well.

The Love Hotels themselves are built with great style and effort on appearance to tempt the love-struck couple inside.

They also have signs out letting people know if they have vacancies or not.

Some more neon, if you hadn't had enough yet.

Japan has a few homegrown Burger places that do quite nice burgers.  They are (in order of generally accepted quality, from high to low):

Mos Burger:

Freshness Burger (whenever I walk past this one, I always think "Well, I hope so!"):

First Kitchen:

and Lotteria:

Most Japanese will also rank all of these above Macdonalds and Burger King too in terms of quality and taste!  Each of these are present in Shibuya.

Back out on Dogenzaka I saw one of Japan's famous Fugu restaurants.  

Fugu is that poisonous puffer fish that Homer Simpson nearly died of one time.  It is considered safe if only prepared a certain way.  Because Fugu is a poisonous fish, you actually need a licence to be legally allowed to prepare it.  Having said this, people still die every year eating Fugu.  I haven't tried it yet, because (as I tell my students) why would I want to eat something that can kill me!

And here is the humble Fugu.

Just off the side of Dogenzaka I spy a little cafe that deserved a closer look.

A look at the menu revealed....

Kangaroo, alligator, ostrich and gizzards!  I might go back one day for the kangaroo, but will give the gizzards a miss I think.

It was getting close to dinner time so I looked around for a ramen place and found this one nearby.

I ordered the top one.

Luckily for me, they also had an English menu, and the girl serving also was nice enough to speak English to me.  Dinner arrived,

and departed soon after!  I can only imagine what my heart doctor would say if I had one, and if he saw that!

Full and satisfied with another exploration, I wandered back down a nearby side street to the train station.

My train was waiting for me, so I boarded it and made my way back home.  

I hope you enjoyed Shibuya.  It is a special place for me as I spent all of 1 1/2 years working there, and I love it's energy.

Thanks again for reading, and I'll see you again next week.