Friday, July 22, 2011

Japan tour - Day 5

A-Bomb Dome and Trams

Didn’t want to miss Hiroshima, the city that was reduced to rubble on August 6, 1945 by the atomic bomb dropped by America in retaliation to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour. Took a JR train from Sanda to Kobe at 7 am. From Kobe took a Shinkansen at 8.45 am to Hiroshima. Thanks to the Japan Rail Pass, I didn’t have to pay anything.

Hiroshima -- just can’t believe that there were no human beings alive in this entire city 66 years back. Well-laid out, spaced-out, beautiful city just takes your breath away. And trams – our idea of it is a slow-moving relic on rails on the road. Far from it, in Hiroshima. It looks like a modern, swanky tourist bus, only that it runs on rails. And they are called Streetcars here.

The tram from Hiroshima railway station stopped right in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome or A-Bomb Dome or locally Genbaku Dome. This was originally the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall designed by Czech architect Jan Letzel.

The bomb exploded right above the hall, and portion of the building along with wire framework was left standing amid the ruins all around. It has left as such as a grim reminder of the tragedy.

Nearby is the Flame of Peace, lit on August 1, 1964, for the peace for victims and to pray for world peace. The flame was used at Hiroshima Asian Games in 1994.

There is also Children’s Peace Monument. This was built in memory of Sasaki Sadako, who was exposed to radiation when she was 2 years old. She died 10 years later of leukaemia. When she was ill, her many friends and well-wishers folded 1000 paper cranes, a Japanese custom when someone is ill. But she died.

Went to the Hiroshima Peace Museum. Paid a ridiculously low (by Japanese standards) entry fee of, I think, 50 yen. A walk through the museum is as much an educative experience as it is saddening.

There are lots of photographs and videos explaining the history of the development of the atomic bomb, and its horrors. A huge pair of photos – of Hiroshima before and after the bombing – is a stunning illustration of the unimaginable effect of the atomic bomb.

Remains of loved ones, like pieces of clothing and letters, donated by relatives and friends of victims are displayed. One of them is the school uniform worn by a boy. Very ironically, Japan, though campaigns for abolition of nuclear weapons, relies heavily on nuclear reactors for electricity. The story of how it all went wrong tragically at Fukushima, post-tsunami, is recent history.

From here, took a taxi to go to the 16 century Hiroshima castle. It’s a beautiful structure. The original castle was destroyed in the bombing, and what stands is the reconstructed one. On display are history of the Hiroshima, of the castle, life and culture of castle town, and weapons that were used during that period.

The typical dresses of the samurai are separately displayed for visitors to try and take photographs. On the 5th floor is an observation platform that gives you a panoramic view of the locality. There is an admission fee of 360 yen.

Kobe's Ropeway and Herb Garden

It was around 2pm and my friend and I headed to a restaurant at a nearby mall for lunch; after that took a Shinkansen to Kobe, the city that was ravaged by an earthquake in 1995. Nearly 6,000 people had died. Once again, the city gave no impression that it had been reduced to a rubble.

This city has a number of ropeways or cable cars. One that is most famous is just five minute walk from the Shin-Kobe railway station. (Shin in Japanese means new.) There is an entry fee of 1,400 yen for up and down cable car ride and entry to Nunobiki herb garden. Some people use the cable car only one way, and prefer to trek up or down the other way.

The cable car ride presents a breath-taking view of the forest below and of the city. There is the beautiful Nunobiki herb garden, where I am told, there are around 75,000 herbs of 200 varieties. Right up the slope is the herb market, a small herb museum and performance hall. There are a number of herbal products in the market. You can relax with snacks and drinks. The museum gives you peak into the science and uses of herbs. There is also a hall for aroma therapy.

We then took a train to see the Kobe airport. It’s a beautiful ride overlooking the port. It’s an amazing story of Japanese farsightedness in planning. There’s a fledgling IT and Biotech park. To ensure quick connectivity to the area, the authorities have a rail link and also built an airport. Interestingly the airport is also being developed as a tourist destination.

You don’t need to a air-ticket to enter the airport building. Walk through the building, shop if you want, get into restaurant and head up to the top floor. You will reach the vast expanse of the rooftop that has been beautifully landscaped.

Sit there to enjoy the cool breeze, and see planes taking off and landing. One can also see the sunset. Unfortunately, we missed it because of clouds. All for free, as of now. I can visualise this presently quiet airport becoming a popular get-away spot.

It was around 7 pm, and we headed back home. Decided to take a bus ride now: since is not direct bus to Sanda, took one to a place called Flower Town. These buses are like our Volvos, very comfortable. Most of these inter-city buses take the expressway, so the travel time is reduced. From Flower Town we took a train to Sanda. An amazing day that began around 7 am. Saw a lot, enjoyed a lot, learnt a lot.

Now looking forward to the trip to Kyoto tomorrow.

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