Visiting Hiroshima Peace Park, Miyajima Island, and Himeji Castle - Lewis N. Clark
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Visiting Hiroshima Peace Park, Miyajima Island, and Himeji Castle

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When people come to Japan, they often focus on the largest or most well-known cities such as Tokyo or Kyoto, but there are some other great historical sites and scenic places to visit as well. Here's what we recommend.

Hiroshima

You'll find a variety of accommodations in Hiroshima, and our hotel seemed luxurious compared to the sparse youth center that we stayed at in Tokyo. We had individual bathrooms and showers, a fridge, TV, tea set, alarm radio, tatami mats, futons, etc. The futons were really comfortable and I wanted to steal the pillow for when we returned to the youth center. Maybe it doesn’t seem as luxurious as some hotels, but it was to us at the time. If you do take some time to travel throughout Japan, it's useful to pack a jewelry case so your necklaces and earrings don't get all tangled every time you leave for a new place.

Of course, you cannot go to Hiroshima without visiting the Peace Memorial Park and Museum, which encompasses one of the last buildings standing after the atomic bomb in 1945. To walk through the park as an American was difficult to say the least, and although we had already learned about the subject in class, it was nothing compared to being confronted by the past in person. Even though we often do not like to remember the past—especially if it was painful—it is important to learn from it so we do not repeat our mistakes.

You can read and hear many testimonies from that day (all translated into English). It was said at the time that grass would not grow for 75 years, but when the trees and plants started to sprout, despite the disaster that had befallen the land, hope spread among the people.

Hiroshima is once again a thriving city whose mayor, along with Nagasaki’s, continues to protest every nuclear bomb test throughout the world. People send paper cranes from around the globe to adorn Memorial Park and show their solidarity. Although that day lives in the minds and bodies of the inhabitants, they have tried to move on as much as one can after such a calamity.

Miyajima

To get to Miyajima Island, you can take one of Hiroshima’s public buses and then hop on a ferry. Located on the Inland Sea, the island is adjacent to Hiroshima and is quite the sight to behold. It’s surrounded by lush, sacred forests that have been protected for centuries. There is even a giant torii on the seashore as you approach land.

You can see a five-story pagoda as well as very old buildings adorned with beautiful paintings. Junior high school students will give you free guided tours in English at each of your stops (it’s a practical way for them to practice English outside of school).

We rode to the top of the mountain by gondola lift. I cannot explain the view in words, but I thought of how it must have taken days to climb to the top in years past when they didn’t have cable cars, and how wondrous it must have been to finally reach the summit. It’s even more impressive that they built well-established shrines at the top nearly 1,500 years ago without any modern technology.

There were deer roaming freely on the island (they are considered sacred and cannot be harmed), and one managed to eat my paper. Then other deer started following me around when I tried to eat my pastry. Everyone kept warning us about the monkeys (signs said to “Watch your babies” and “Do not look them in the eye”) but it was the deer we should have watched out for.

A few of us hiked to the very top of the mountain (a steep one mile climb) and it started to rain on the way. Although I don’t normally enjoy being wet, the rain felt good after exhausting ourselves for so long. (If you’re going during the summer months, an ice scarf will help you keep cool.) Often people will carry small rocks from the bottom of the mountain and put them in a pile once they reach the top. When we finally reached the summit, a rainbow appeared and we could see both where it began and ended. It was a magical sight and it was worth all the effort to get there.

Later we took part in a calligraphy and origami workshop hosted by students in Hiroshima who were also studying English. We carefully practiced the strokes with our brushes and I wrote “I wish you a Happy New Year” in Japanese, and also drew a cow for the upcoming Year of the Cow. We also created paper cranes and rabbits, although the student who was helping me managed to create a frog and detailed flower in the time it took me to make the rabbit alone.

Himeji

If you’re heading to Tokyo or Kyoto from Hiroshima, Himeji is worth stopping at. Himeji Castle has a spectacular view of the town below from the top floor. It was mostly used for storage by various lords (rather than for defensive or offensive purposes), which is why it still stands to this day. There were some places rumored to be where the bushi (samurai) committed seppuku (ritual suicide).

There was also a well that was said to be haunted by a maidservant accused of stealing some tableware and sentenced to death, even after she had saved her lord from a coup. Supposedly you could hear her voice counting the tableware and wailing when she couldn’t find a piece (if it counts for anything I didn't hear anything when I listened). You can also see how people lived at the time. It's a very impressive place overall and a good pit stop on the way to the other major cities of Japan.

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