|We wake early around 6am as we are going to Hiroshima today its raining but not heavily, we pack up the tent after a quick breakfast of coffee and toast. Neither of us has seen anybody at the campsite but we are still a little wary about leaving the tent up all day. I bookmark the campsite on the GPS as we don’t know where we will stay tonight so at least we can come back here if nothing better or closer crops up. The ride into the city goes quite smoothly thanks to the combined efforts of ‘Doris’ our GPS and Karen my Nagivator oops Freudian slip my navigator. Suddenly we are crossing the famous T bridge and driving right past “A bomb dome” one of the most iconic landmarks of the Atomic bomb that exploded 600 metres above this spot. Like most cities parking is hard to find and expensive, we see further proof of this when we turn down a side road and see a revolving car park that lifts cars up so several can fit in one space. Karen spots a load of scooters parked on the edge of a small grassy park and jumps off to see if we can fit between the bollards and up a ramp between two walls. We squeeze through and shimmy in between the scooters, its a big scooter honest guv.
Its a short walk to the Hiroshima museum and it takes us all morning to look around, it is a humbling experience. About midday we return to the bike to have some lunch, it is while we are sat in the park in the sun next to a river with sparrows hopping around our feet picking up the crumbs that a strange thought occurs to me. We are sitting right in the hypo centre of the explosion and everything and everybody here was utterly destroyed as far as the eye could see. It seems utterly impossible to imagine that happened here on a perfectly ordinary day at 08.15 am with no warning. What happened here destroyed so many lives and caused so much suffering that it must never be forgotten but Hiroshima is not a depressing or morbid place.
The rebuilt city is very beautiful and has a very cosmopolitan feel about it partly because it is an international port. Rather than being bitter or angry about what happened here the overwhelming message from Hiroshima is one of peace. The peace memorial museum and the City Mayor actively promote worldwide nuclear disarmament and have pledged that the peace flame in the memorial park will burn until there are no more nuclear bombs left in the world. The successive Mayors have written a letter of protest about every single nuclear test to the countries involved reminding them of what happened here, copies of them are displayed in the museum and there are hundreds of them !
Children here learn about peace at school and there is a resounding message from Hiroshima that concedes that all parties were guilty of atrocities but that we need to learn from the mistakes of the past.
The last line of the inscription on the peace memorial is very poignant and reads “let us never repeat this evil”. Ironically Japan is now protected by America’s nuclear umbrella much to Hiroshima’s dismay. There are several different memorials in the peace park but one particularly moving one is the children’s memorial inspired by one little girls fight against Leukaemia. Sadako Sasaki was 2 years old when the bomb went off she survived the blast as she lived more than a mile away from the hypo centre but she contracted Leukaemia at the age of 11 due to exposure to radiation. As her disease progressed she was visited by her best friend in hospital who told her of a story which said that if you fold a 1000 paper cranes your wish will be granted. Sadako’s wish was to get better and she began making origami paper cranes in her hospital bed from any paper she could find. Sadly she never reached her goal only managing 644 but after her death her classmates finished the remaining amount for her and she was buried in 1955 with 1000 paper cranes in her coffin aged 12. Some time later it was decided to create a children’s memorial in her honour and to remember the other children who died as a result of the bomb. Today the children’s memorial is surrounded by glass booths full of beautiful paper crane decorations made by children from all over Japan and the rest of the world, indeed we see a school party bringing their offering while we are looking around. We were also approached by some school children who were on a school project to practice their English. We were happy to answer their question sheet and when we had finished they handed us a present each, a paper crane which was quite spooky as it’s our first (paper) wedding anniversary today. Having looked all around the park and discovered that it is lit up at night we decide to stay until dark as we know we have somewhere to stay tonight. We while away a few hours in a cafe that has wifi uploading some pictures before heading back out after dark. The park looks beautiful lit up and we get some good pictures, we then wander up to the A bomb dome which is also floodlit. It looks even more eerie lit up at night, it was one of a very few buildings not to be destroyed partly because the explosion was almost directly above it meaning the shock waves didn’t hit it side on which is what destroyed most buildings. It is a brick shell with the twisted steel framework of its dome. The original copper roof melted instantly and even the steel distorted with the intense heat rays. We are on the edge of the park now and we take some pictures of the city lights from the T shaped bridge that was the bomb aimers target as it was so distinctive from the air.
Across the road is a long brightly lit pedestrian street which looks interesting so we take a wander along it and find a cheap place to eat. After a nice meal we wander back to the bike alongside the river and stop to listen to someone playing the guitar under a bridge, the acoustics are wonderful. The city has a very relaxed ambiance to it and we feel perfectly comfortable wandering the back streets even after dark.
The ride back takes an hour or so and the last part gets very cold as we climb back into the hills and get closer to the lake. We put our heated jackets and gloves on for the return journey and we are very glad of them now. Unfortunately once we get there and the bike gets shut off so does the heat, its freezing and we have to put the tent back up and pump up the airbed etc. We don’t want a repeat of last night so we hunt for the leak and manage to find a tiny pinhole which we patch hoping it will stay up. We go to bed in our thermals as its really cold now, we deliberately started in the north of Japan and we have been working our way steadily south but winter is catching us up now and it will be time to follow the birds example and fly south for the winter soon.