by: Brian Leonard, Executive Producer
In July, I was lucky enough to travel to Hiroshima, Japan, from the Washington, DC, area for a shoot. I was working on an exciting new pilot for Travel Channel that looks at places where something big once occurred — either manmade or natural — that changed the place forever, and we find out what makes it different today. It’s a very inspiring project, and I wanted to feature cities that are not the “normal” vacation and tourist destinations. So Hiroshima was a great place to start.
On August 6, 1945, the US dropped the first atomic bomb in history on the city known as the “Venice of Japan.” It was virtually flattened. Today, it is a beautiful, vibrant city filled with life. There’s a population of 2.8 million who enjoy a huge, open-air mall, vintage and modern streetcars, fantastic restaurants, hotels and several popular universities. There are also the reminders of what happened here almost 70 years ago: The Hiroshima Peace Memorial, also known as the “A-Bomb Dome,” Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum.
I wasn’t sure how we, as Americans, were going to be perceived and received by the people of Hiroshima, but my concerns were gone immediately upon arrival. Everyone was as nice as they could be.
We stayed at the RIHGA Royal Hotel right in the middle of the city. You could see the A-Bomb Dome, the Art Museum and the sprawling downtown from our hotel windows, and the people there were fantastic, as was the service. The employees of every establishment take great pride in providing the best service they can, and it’s the best in the world that I’ve seen. Everyone, even people we met on the street while we filmed and disrupted traffic, was patient and understanding of us.
As a history buff, especially a military history buff, I was drawn to everything that represented World War II, especially the A-Bomb Dome. It’s haunting and powerful, like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. This sobering testament to the power of man should stand forever to remind us that we should go to any length before using a weapon of mass destruction ever again. I was surprised to find out that there’s a movement of young people in Hiroshima that want the dome torn down, so the city is not reminded everyday of what happened here, and they can move on from its haunting past. But others feel strongly that it must stand tall for peace, especially those who are still alive that were personally affected by the explosion.
On the other side of Peace Park, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was a total surprise. It covers what happened in such great detail. You leave with a true understanding of the total devastation of a city, but you are astounded by the resiliency, determination and creativity of the people to survive and rebuild. The explanation through exhibits and collection of artifacts is impressive to say the least. It’s reverential and it’s huge, much bigger than it looks from the outside. Don’t miss the special view of the A-Bomb Dome from the main entrance of the museum.
Directly in front of the museum is the Memorial Centotaph, an arched tomb that represents all the victims of the bombing. A ceremony happens here on every 6th of August. If you look through the arch with your back to the museum, you can see the A-Bomb Dome in the distance across the river. In between is the Flame of Peace burning brightly, which will only be put out when all the nuclear weapons in the world have been destroyed.
Things to Do
This is an ancient city where most of its ancient cultural structures and buildings were destroyed in 1945, but many were reconstructed to their original look to help rebuild the identity and history of this proud prefecture. There is a bank building inside the Hondori Street “mall” that survived the blast that is a retail spot today. In front of it, as in many places around the city, there is a stone plaque that shows what it looked like before, and right after, that fateful day in 1945. Once again it proves the strength of Hiroshima’s people.
There are amazing boat rides through the city’s many rivers, some on modern tourist crafts and others in older, more traditional wooden Japanese vessels, and there are many delicious restaurants in Hiroshima. Our favorite noodle place was Hakata Ippodo. (They’ve actually opened one in New York City’s East Village!) We must have gone there 4 or 5 times during our week’s stay. The pork belly side dish is to die for! And just 25 minutes away from downtown, you can take a ferry to the island of Miyajima to see one of the top scenic spots in Japan. It has 1,200-year-old shrines, temples, pagodas, an “old town” and a very hikeable Mount Misen with various ways to get to the magnificent view at its summit.
The biggest draw, though, is the first Torii of the Itsukushima Shrine. Standing 600 feet offshore, it serves as a gateway between the spirit and human worlds. If you visit during low tide, you can walk out to touch it, but it’s beautiful anytime, surrounded by people or by water.
The funny thing about Miyajima is it’s inhabited by wild deer that come right up to tourists looking for food. They are braver than any pigeon or squirrels I’ve seen in America. Just watch out, because they’ll grab anything from your pocket or purse that looks edible, including paper!
To my surprise, there’s no tipping for the fabulous service you receive in Hiroshima or anywhere in Japan. Even when I wanted to give someone something, they bowed their head and said “no thank you” with a smile.
Speaking of bowing, get used to it there. The great respect you receive from every employee of every establishment there is humbling. In the hotels, the taxis, the stores and the restaurants, everyone bows to greet you. It’s a wonderful gesture that should not go unappreciated by all visitors to this fascinating, proud land.
By learning a few words in Japanese, like thank you (arigato), hello (konichiwa) and goodbye (sayonora), you return a little of the respect that they strive to show you everyday. Appreciate the kindness they show you in Japan; it’s what’s sometimes missing, so terribly in our country.
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