Homeless in Hiroshima
During our travels, I’ve tried a lot of new things: new foods, new places, new experiences. For instance, in Hiroshima, I tried arriving in a new place where it was pouring rain, with every hotel room full, and going from park to park like a hobo looking for likely spots to pitch a tent.
Because we changed our tickets to leave Nepal and travel to Japan 10 days earlier than originally planned, we arrived in Hiroshima in the midst of Golden Week – a series of springtime holidays wherein much of the country is traveling. In addition, we arrived during the Hiroshima Flower Festival – an outdoor celebration held during Golden Week wherein all of Japan comes to Hiroshima (ok, not really, but it felt that way). When I looked online for Hiroshima hotels the day before we arrived, I only found one room available in the city: for $500.
No problem, we thought – we had purchased a tent in Nepal and planned to do some urban camping in Japan. But after more than 24 hours of travel, with rain pouring down and no break in sight, I was a lot less keen on sleeping in a park than I had imagined I would be from the safety of my Nepal hotel room. The irony was not lost on us: during the period after the Nepal earthquake, when much of the population refused to sleep indoors, we chanced staying in our hotel room every night. While here in Japan, where everything was perfectly safe (but very cold and wet), we would sleep outside in a tent.
After circling the city (and getting more and more soaked), Dmitry saw a likely spot from across the river and we investigated: a wisteria arbor, under a big tree, next to a junior high school. It was quiet, out of the way, and near the train station.
We woke up the next morning, saw that the forecast called for rain most of the day (again), and booked a (much more reasonably priced) hotel room so that we could dry out – the city was not nearly as full on Sunday night as it had been on Saturday. After dropping off our luggage at the hotel (strict 3pm check-in rules in Japan) we started to actually explore the city – rather than just looking for a place to sleep.
Of course to all the world, Hiroshima is synonymous with the dropping of the atom bomb by the US during World War II. The stories of six survivors in John Hersey’s book, Hiroshima, have stayed with me since reading it in school. I was wondering what the city would be like today – how would the impact be felt 70 years later?
There are reminders of the bombing throughout the city – and of how the people chose to recover from it. Hiroshima is one of the most consciously peaceful and happy places I have ever visited, a place where recovery from tragedy has taken the form of both celebration and conscious efforts to reform.
Japan is in the process of inviting the G-8 leaders to the city (and to Nagasaki, where the second bomb was dropped) to discuss nuclear disarmament. Giant paper cranes, symbols of peace and the loss of children during and after the atomic bomb, are everywhere. We visited the Atomic Bomb Museum, a suitably dark and depressing testament to the destruction of a living city. It was strange to emerge from this grim place onto Peace Park, which was covered with families enjoying the Hiroshima Flower Festival; families celebrating, kids’ dance troupes, and traditional music and drumming. We spent some time watching the kids dance (I admit it, I am a total sucker for the sincerity that kids put into any kind of performance). Each group of pre-teen dancers was more hilariously inappropriate than the last (think awkward hip-hop followed by borderline stripper dancing). It was delightful.
The little dancer at top left was carried onto the stage, then stood quietly with her head cocked while the others performed. It was the cutest thing we saw all day – which is saying a lot in Japan.
Later, we strolled the broad boulevards of Hiroshima, enjoying stages filled with music, strange street foods, and the company of some of the nicest people we have met during our travels.