June 15, 2008
Hiroshima is a two-and-a-half hours bullet train ride away from Kyoto, and Miyajima is another one hour of local train and 20 minutes of ferry further still. The reason for taking this long day trip on day 2 of our two-week long stay in Japan? Since Kyoto was raining when we woke up in the morning, I wishfully hoped a more cooperative weather would await us in Hiroshima. Turned out it was not merely raining in Hiroshima; it was pouring.
After eating another disappointing bento (lunch box) bought at Kyoto’s JR station, I really started to wonder where were the above average bentos?
We arrived Miyajima at around noun, just when the tide was at its lowest. A few deer at the entrance of the ferry terminal were trying to grab the attention of anyone leaving the building. Next to the main gate was a stall selling a kind of biscuit favored by the deer. Many newly arrived tourists were lining up to get some snacks for these free roaming animals.
At low tide the torii and the shrine were unquestionably ugly. Without any water underneath the structure, the dramatic image of a shrine riding atop incoming tides was reduced to a complex of wood columns sitting atop wet mud, which was not a very good background for photos.
The low tide did present an opportunity to walk on the muddy seabed. We did what everyone else were doing and walked to the base of the torii. It was an even uglier angle than viewing it from ashore.
The heavy rain returned at around 1 pm. The tour groups in response were leaving in flocks. We decided to wait a couple of hours on the island for the high tide. During those four hours we scrolled along the only street on the island and checked out the better-than-expected souvenir stores, then after every half an hour or so we would walk to the shore to check out the tide. At around three we sat down for a light meal and tried some grilled oysters and a bowl of rice with stirred fried oysters. Oyster is the local specialty of the Hiroshima region, but I didn’t find the ones we had to be anything special. Maybe we had them in the wrong season or at the wrong place.
The rain was finally receded at around 4 pm. The tide was already much higher than an hour ago, and better yet only the determined few were still waiting. Waiting for what though? The tide? That seemed absurd to me. I have lived on the coast for my whole life, but I have never once consider waiting for the high tide. The sea always seems to be just there, unfazed and unchanged.
Like the minute hand, the tide did indeed show a little movement every minute or so, much quicker than the glacial pace we had anticipated. A full reflection of the torii was soon visible, and by 16:45 the tide was creeping on to the main shrines.
We decided to leave shortly after 17:00 so it wouldn’t be too late when we got back to Kyoto. I am sure the whole place would look even more picturesque when covered by high tide, but these couple of hours on Miyajima was already in a very tiny way a transformative experience for me. The lure of seeing Itsukushima Shrine at higher tide kept me waiting for something I had never paid attention to before, which turned out to be less boring than I once thought. The more time I spend on something, I find out, the more likely I might appreciate it.
Atomic Bomb Dome
I felt like we had to visit the Atomic Bomb Dome before heading back to Kyoto. We took the electric streetcar instead of the subway. Bad decision. The streetcar took more than one hour to reach our destination – the same amount of time we spent on subway from the JR station to the ferry terminal, which was almost twice the distance.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is located at the centre of the city, surrounded by modern office buildings. When we arrived at a little after 6 pm, the museums at the memorial park were already closed. The sky was getting darker by the minute. Other than the two of us, the memorial park was empty and quiet. We took a walk around the icon of war and destruction in the 20th century that was the Atomic Bomb Dome.
I understand the symbolism of the memorial and the magnitude of what happened here, but I didn’t share the same overwhelming flow of emotions many people said they felt at this place. Well aware this is not a tourist attraction, I found it hard to conjure the proper focus this place demands after an entire day of traveling.
I can only hope, probably like everyone else who has ever stood in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome, this kind of weapon will never be used again in the future.