It’s May 4, 2017. Our last day in Japan. The end of our too brief two-day visit to Tokyo. Tonight we head to Narita Airport on our way back to Winnipeg.
But Gail and I are not yet done with Japan. In just one week from writing this blog post, October 27, we will be returning to Japan once more, briefly stopping in Tokyo before flying to Matsuyama on Shikoku island. There, we will resume our Henro long-distance walk, starting in nearby Ōzu, where we left off on April 22. We will continue our pilgrimage around the island for another 425 kilometres, taking in Temples 44 to 88 before returning to Temple 1. (more…)
We are here, in Hiroshima, because of a solitary speck of time in the history of our world. It was 8:15 on the morning of Monday, August 6, 1945. The Little Boy atomic bomb exploded. 70,000 died immediately. Within three hours, a firestorm cloud would rage overhead, with an estimated energy 1000 times more than the bomb itself. By year’s end the death toll would rise to 90,000-160,000. 70% of the city would be levelled. Hiroshima, 1945. The first city on our planet to be targeted by a nuclear bomb.
Today, the hypocentre of the initial explosion is but an easily-missed plaque sitting alongside a modern commercial building. Mushrooming off to one side, much like the bomb itself, is a cultural landscape defined by that singular moment. Numerous memorials dot the treed grounds of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the Children’s Peace Monument and the Flame of Peace being two of the more evocative sculptural and architectural examples. Off to one side is National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. Visitors wind their way down to the partially submerged Hall of Remembrance, a spare, quiet space to reflect on that fateful event. (more…)
It’s a brief train and ferry ride from downtown Hiroshima to the small island of Itsukushima, more popularly known as Miyajima or, perhaps, Miyashima. And popular it is. The ten-minute ferry ride is jam-packed with tourists, Westerners like us but primarily Japanese nationals. As we pour off the ferry, there is a sudden realization that this will be far from a tranquil visit. The scene is carnivalesque. Children and adults run about madly. Tame deer follow, hoping for a handout. Unknowingly, we have arrived at Japan’s top tourist site on the first day of Japan’s most popular vacation period, Golden Week. (more…)
Yes, the area was invaded by the Mongols in 1274. Yes, there are the ruins of the 1603 Fukuoka Castle. And, true enough, we are staying in the very traditional Ryokan Kashima Honkan, a delightfully creaky old building.
But this is a back story quickly lost among the sleek towers of the city. This is Japan’s fifth largest city. It’s the place to come if you are a start-up company. The buildings are shiny, modern, new and Western. It’s a place to shop, to eat, to have fun.
Our cruise ship slowly makes its way through Nagasaki harbour. Under the delicate spans of a cable-stayed bridge. Past Mitsubishi dry docks, busily fitting a new cruise ship. Past Catholic churches, their bright white walls and spires set against the dark greens of steep forested slopes. And onto the open sea.
We navigate around numerous uninhabited islands until one – our destination – appears on the watery horizon. A long, grey form crusted with ruins. From this distance it looks like a battleship and, indeed, it is locally known as Battleship Island, Gunkanjima. It’s real name is Hashima and the reason we and a boat full of other tourists are coming here is because of Hashima’s industrial history. (more…)
It is fair to say that most people recognize Nagasaki as the site of one of only two nuclear bombs ever dropped on a civilian population. As significant as that event was, as relevant as it may be today given the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, I will leave that for my next post. That devastating attack was simply the most recent in a lengthy history of international confrontation and intrigue that has shaped the city of Nagasaki.
That history is evident as soon as Gail and I cross the threshold of the Dormy Inn to explore the city. Tucked in between the city’s concrete post-World War II towers are streets foreign to the Japan with which we have become accustomed. Just across a small canal from our hotel is the gateway to Chinatown, home to Chinese traders from the 15th to 19th Centuries. Not much further down that canal is Dejima, an artificial, fan-shaped island built by the Japanese in 1636 to house – or, more pointedly, isolate and contain – the Portuguese, then once they were expelled, the Dutch East India Company. (more…)