I arrived in Hiroshima to the most rain I’d seen in a long time, luckily the hostels here have been really good about me checking in early and leaving my bags with them. In the downpour my morning wasn’t too productive but by the afternoon it had eased off enough to venture out. First was Shukkeien, a traditional garden, which although lacking any real signs of spring didn’t need too much imagination to see how beautiful a place it would be. Further along was Hiroshima castle, another rebuild similar to Kyoto but still a worthy sight. Inside were exhibitions on the city’s history and displays of old swords and armour, whilst the top of the tower had some good views out over the surrounding castle grounds.
It was still feeling very cold here but at least some clear weather returned. I took a day trip out of the city to what may seem an insignificant small island. Okunoshima was a secret poison gas factory is the second world war, but after an accident and subsequent closure the test subjects escaped. So now their descendants have free reign over the island in massive numbers… I am talking about BUNNIES! Known as rabbit island now, the bunnies have completely taken over and have become a small attraction for those who manage to find out about it. As soon as I stepped off the ferry there were a few hopping over, hoping I might have some food. They were tame enough to come right up to people but still wary of being touched. Walking around the island it was impossible not to smile and laugh as hordes of bunnies either came to me or were too busy chasing each other around. Needless to say I took quite a few photos here and despite making me seem a little odd I’m glad I went!
That evening I got to try the local food, okonomiyaki, and even have a go at cooking my own! It starts with a kind of pancake batter before being piled up with cabbage, bean-sprouts, a little green onion and optional bacon. Then comes a fried egg and some noodles, various flipping of things and before you know it you have something that looks and sounds a mess but actually tastes rather good, especially topped off with the special sauce and mayonnaise!
With one final day in Hiroshima I managed to cram in a lot of the main sights. The morning was spent around the Peace Memorial Park which included many different monuments, the remnants of a domed building left standing and a museum. It’s difficult to really write how it feels; reading the plaques, viewing the memorials and contemplating it all. One memorial mound holds the ashes of 70,000 people… all either unidentifiable or with no surviving relatives. The museum goes into more informative detail about the politics, the bombs and radiation, the after affects; but there’s still the overwhelming task of making sense of it all. On the positive side the city has really taken upon itself a mission of peace and that message certainly comes across. One example being the copies of letters on display – for every single nuclear test by any country since 1968 the city’s mayor of the time wrote a letter of protest and condemnation. Another thing I noticed was that on the actual memorials there was little or no mention of nations or countries involved, no blaming or sides, it was just about the humanity of it all and a hopeful reminder that it should never happen again to anyone anywhere. There’s a flame in the centre of the park that is said will burn for as long as there is a single nuclear weapon in our world, it would be quite a special day to see it extinguished.
Well, leaving the seriousness behind I departed for the nearby island of Miyajima, famous for it’s many temples, shrines and the iconic floating torii. It is also populated by rather friendly and inquisitive deer who like to think you must have something tasty in your bag. Walking around it seemed it was a very busy and touristy place, yet that didn’t particular undermine it’s beauty. In the busy shopping street everywhere was selling the local ‘momiji manju’; small maple-leaf-shaped cakes with various fillings, all very nice indeed. It was also easy enough to escape the crowds by avoiding the mountain ropeway and actually use one’s legs to make it to the top of Mount Misen. Atop this peak were grand views back down to the temples and across the water to the mainland. With daylight dwindling I decided to stick around and watch the sunset, which turned out to be absolutely beautiful with the sun falling to rest behind the torii, now ‘floating’ properly from the rising tide. Another overnight bus journey awaited me that night, heading back East to Kyoto.