Sunday, 14 November 2010

Atom bombs, School projects, Master Yoda and Kimonos

Sunday 14th November 2010

MP3 track of the day: Taken - The Last Samurai

Weather: Very cloudy and warm; clouds disappearing towards the late afternoon

Due to two Spanish blokes making a lot of noise as they got ready to leave this morning (plastic bags should be banned in dorms) I was up a very reasonable 7am. In the process of getting ready, like most people, I went to the toilet. Now most toilets have only one button (the flush button) as basically that's all you need. Apparently Japan is different to the rest of the would, here your toilet comes with a joy pad of all sorts of buttons and options. I consulted my guidebook where there was even a paragraph explaining about this strange phenomenon:

...Western toilets are gradually becoming the norm. Look out for nifty enhancements such as a heated seat – very welcome in winter – and a handy device which plays the sound of flushing water to cover any embarrassing noises. These are either automatic or are activated with a button, and were invented because so much water was wasted by constant flushing. Increasingly, you'll be confronted by hi-tech western model, known as a Washlet, with a control panel to one side. It's usually impossible to find the flush button, and instead you'll hit temperature control, hot-air, dryer or, worse of all, the bidet nozzle, resulting in a long metal arm extending out of the toilet bowl and spraying you with warm water...”

Well the seat was already set to heated (which was nice) but I didn't want to be sprayed with water so fortunately I didn't need to play around with the panel as the flush button was easy to find.

Once on the street I walked in the direction of the piece gardens; getting closer to the gardens I had to go underground and follow some pedestrian tunnels. I hate using underground tunnels as I loose my orientation of where I am, however there were loads of signs in English and so it was pretty straight forward. Inside the tunnel there was a shopping arcade with a food area (might come back here for lunch) and I noticed that Christmas songs were playing over the sound system (already?); there were loads of Christmas signs being displayed all around the tunnel complex too.

Upon exiting the underground tunnel I arrived at the piece gardens; I first found a bench and ate the breakfast that I had purchased in the supermarket earlier. I then went to look at the first monument; the A-bomb Dome. On the 6th August 1945 at 8:15am, US 'Enola Gay' dropped the first atomic bomb (called 'little boy') on Hiroshima; the epicenter was the Aioi-bashi bridge due to it's central location within the city, and it's easily identifiable 'T' shape. The A-bomb Dome (or Industrial Promotion Hall as it was known then) stood within the epicentre and yet, for some unknown reason, the building was still standing after the explosion, yet it was a ruin. Most of the buildings that did remain upright on that day have been destroyed, apart from this one, which has now become a world heritage site to remind the world of what an atomic bomb can do. Held up by quite a bit of internal scaffolding, the building was quite interesting. A fence ran around the perimeter and rubble still remains, untouched, around the base of the building. As I was taking photos a group of three Japanese Students came up to me and said “... Excuse me, you speak English?...”. As I later found out they were doing a school project about global issues; all their questions where in English so it looked like they were targeting English speaking foreigners (luckily me). The first group asked me about whaling to which I had no real comments as it isn't discussed much in the UK. Personally as long as the whaling is done in a sustainable way then I don't see a problem with it; activists need to remember that we too are a legitimate part of the food chain and if we stopped killing certain species then this could have a disastrous effect on how the food chain evolves … however like I said, it has to be sustainable because I don't want to the whale become extinct. The second group asked me about endangered animals and the third group (getting a little tired of it now, but I couldn't say no) asked me about global warming (to which I replied using as many big complicated English words as possible … there, decipher that!). Each group had an dicta-phone and they took a photograph of me … umm wonder if the teacher would feel sorry for me being bombarded by all these groups. After the third group had finished quizzing me I decided to make a run for it into the main part of the Piece Park.

The Piece Park was very nice; monuments and bells where erected everywhere. However the main attraction, the cenotaph and the eternal flame (which will only be put out once all nuclear weapons have been destroyed), was out of bounds due to the Dalai Lama making a speech. I walked around the perimeter of the condoned off area listening to what he had to say; apparently he's saying that the time for talking about eradication of nuclear weapons was over and it was time for action, action from governments to destroy their nuclear weapon programs I found this a little ironic as here he was talking about the removal of nuclear weapons, when he himself was saying that it was time to stop talking. Now I will probably be put on some 'hit squad list' for saying this but, as I listened to the Dalai Lama speak he sounded an awful like Master Yoda … it's true I tell you, I had to stop myself from laughing.

As I couldn't get to the cenotaph I headed to the Hiroshima Piece Memorial Museum which cost 50 yen (about 30p) to enter. I was all geared up for a museum visit and so, with loads of English to read, I prepared myself for a long and information packed session. The museum was well laid out, there were very definitive sections. The first second was about the history of Hiroshima right up until 8:15am on the morning of the 6th August 1945. The second section was a non-bias view of what happened with both the American points of view and Japanese being displayed on monitors. In-between these monitors where two circular models of Hiroshima before, and after, the bomb hit … needless to say that a lot more work was needed on the before model.

After this I headed upstairs to a section about Hiroshima's stance on the removal of all nuclear weapons on the planet. This section did start to get a bit dull with, I think, the museum repeating itself. It was very hard to keep my concentration levels up and read all the information; eventually I did skip a bit. The most interesting bit was that whenever a nuclear test happens, anywhere in the world, the mayor of Hiroshima sends a letter condoning the act to that countries leader, asking the country to think again (Ha … I bet that'll make Kim-jong-un quake in his boots).

The final section was a collection of objects from the blast; it took me a while to refocus and concentrate again. It was quite sad seeing all the photos and burnt clothes but not as horrific as I thought it was going to be. In one glass exhibit, there was a tricycle and a metal helmet, the inscription said that this belonged to a three year old boy who was out playing on his tricycle when the atom bomb hit. When the farther came to bury his son he decided that he was too young to have a normal grave and instead buried him, in his back garden, with the tricycle and helmet that he loved (as that his son could still play with it). After forty years the farther dug up the boys remains and put him in a proper grave … quite a moving exhibit. Another sad fact, whether it was deliberate by the museum I do not now, was that most of the clothes on display where children's. Apparently the Japanese government had adopted a policy of destroying key buildings to stop the spread of fire if a city was bombed. This job was given to the children with Hiroshima (as most the men were fighting and the women were working else where) and most of them where out on duty that day.

The museum was good, however I think that the bit about Hiroshima's crusade to rid the world of nuclear weapons should have been at the end of the exhibit. Where the Americans right to use the Atom Bomb? Yes I think so; put yourself in their shoes, using the bomb saved hundreds of American lives and that is a countries first priority in war. I blame the Japanese government for not accepting surrender terms earlier, however it's easy for me to comment now … hindsight is a wonderful thing.

It was now 2:00pm and I was starving; I still had a packet of chocolate biscuits from yesterday and so I ate all of those. Due to the Dalai Lama having finished his speech I could now go to the cenotaph and the eternal flame. I took a few photos before returning to that underground tunnel to find somewhere to eat.

As I walked into a small restaurant I was greet by tables and seats to the left of me and a bar style seating arrangement in front. I was shown to a bar stool seat in the right hand corner; in front of me was a large metal area which is used to cook the food. It seemed like most of the diners where having this 'Japanese Pancake' however, I found out that it had egg in it. I therefore opted for chicken thigh which, from the photo, looked very nice indeed. I sat down and watched the chefs work in front of me, it was really interesting and I saw many 'Japanese Pancakes' being cooked. When my meal was ready the chef passed it to me, over this large metal area, and I got out the chopsticks provided and prepared them. One chef saw that I only had chopsticks and so he rushed off to get me a fork. On his return he saw me eating the meal with the chopsticks and I think he was pretty pleased. As I looked out of the corners of my eyes I could see other diners, and staff a like, checking out me eating my meal with chopsticks … it felt good. I soon finished my meal and paid 1000 yen for it (£8; a little expensive but the experience was worth it) and headed back out into town.

The day was drawing to a close and so I started to head back to my hostel. On the way back I took a detour to Hiroshima Castle, an ancient Japanese architectural design, but built after the atomic bomb hit. My guidebook said that, if you've seen other Japanese castles you could miss this one … well I haven't and so I went in. It was lovely and with all the trees in their Autumn colours it made it even more pretty. To add even more 'prettiness' to the situation there seemed to be something going on, I couldn't tell what it was but there were loads of little girls in Kimonos. I have to say that I was half tempted to take a photo of one of these little girls as the dresses look so pretty, but I felt uncomfortable asking the parents and so I left it … hopefully in Nagasaki or Kyoto I may see women dressed up in Kimonos.

I got back to my hostel at 5pm, however my day wasn't done just yet; I dropped my bag off in my dorm, picked up my guidebook and headed to the train station. I've managed to book a train to Nagasaki, supposed to be one of the prettiest cities in Japan, for two days time and I've also found out times for the train, and ferry, to Miyajima tomorrow – the island with the floating Japanese gate. Luckily the ferry is operated by the rail company and so the cost of the journey will be covered by my pass.

I came back to my hostel and booked a hostel in Nagasaki (though, being on automatic pilot, I booked three nights when I was supposed to book two as time is short … doh, I'll have to see what Nagasaki is like and possibly change if necessary) before having tea and checking my emails. Tonight I shall be heading out to a sports bar, that the lady on reception highlighted for me on my map, to hopefully see Lewis Hamilton winning the world championship … fingers crossed.

Toodle Pip!

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