This sculpture of a sleeping child is said to symbolize Norwegian optimism, survivability, and future life.
The design incorporates a separate pedestal, a rock from Hiroshima’s ground zero given earlier to Narvik by the mayor of Hiroshima. One of three peace sculptures in Narvik it was dedicated in 1956, 1995 and 2006 to remember the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.
Nuclear accidents seem to happen, or be avoided, on a regular basis these days; countries arm themselves with ever more terrible bombs, nuclear power is poised to replace coal and gas, and the world sails on as though the 1945 destruction of two Japanese cities had never happened.
It was Sunday, August 6, 1945, and the early morning sun shone from the blue sky over Hiroshima, Japan. It had been a night of constant alerts with sirens warning of planes overhead but early in the morning, the all-clear sounded. The streets were full of people, workers returning from night shifts, day workers on their way to take their place, military workers, factory watchmen, women shopping, secondary school children making fire breaks, all, we can suppose, weary after a sleepless night.
Shortly after 7 a.m. an urgent communique came to the Military Command at Hiroshima Central Broadcasting, cut short after just a few phrases by a blinding flash, a blast of searing heat and a roar that shook the earth from its orbit.
It was 8.15 a.m when the American bomber Enola Gay dropped a five-ton bomb over Hiroshima and a blast equivalent to the power of 15,000 tons of TNT reduced four square miles of the city to ruins, instantly killing 80,000 men, women, and children. People turned to charcoal there and then, limbless and headless bodies flew through the air, and on the ground writhed still living bodies, their flesh torn from their limbs. Tens of thousands more died in the following weeks from wounds and radiation poisoning. In total, it is said that 140,000 died from the effects of the bomb the Americans called “Little Boy”, 80,000 on the day and 60,000 from injuries and the combined effects of flash burns, trauma, radiation burns, and illness. Three days later, another bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, killing nearly 40,000 more. A few days later, Japan announced its surrender.
Cenotaph at Night with Dome in Background, Hiroshima Peace Park – Steve Moore
In 1970, five countries had A & H bombs, the USA, the UK, the USSR, France and China, and they signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty designating themselves nuclear powers and prohibiting all other countries from possessing nuclear weapons for 25 years. As we know, other countries now possess the bomb, or the wherewithal to make a bomb, although the fact is often denied.
The Memorial Cenotaph in Hiroshima is located in the centre of the Peace Park, It is a saddle-shaped structure which was erected in 1952, the shape representing a sanctuary for the souls of the A-Bomb victims. Inside it holds a list of their names.
Clock in Hiroshima Museum showing how many days since the bomb was dropped and, below that, how many days since the last nuclear test.- Mari Nicholson
There is a Global Peace Watch Clock within the Museum in Hiroshima Memorial Park which displays the number of days since the A-bombing of the city which killed thousands and left thousands more to die painful deaths from radiation poisoning and still others to live with the effects of the poison. Below the clock is another number which shows the number of days since the most recent nuclear test. It can be surprisingly low as many underground tests are conducted which are low enough not to create a critical mass of fissile material and so does not attract publicity. One has to ask oneself why nations feel the need to continually increase the power of their bombs when just one or two set off from different sides of the world could end of our world and our civilisation.
The Museum is dedicated to telling visitors the history of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and among the exhibits are a number of articles and remains damaged by the bomb, together with poignant pictures and sad memorabilia.
Hiroshima is not like the rest of Japan. It was flattened when the Atomic Bomb was dropped on it. It has been re-built and is now a soulless place of dull, grey concrete, wide avenues, boulevards, shopping malls and all the accoutrements of a modern city. What is lacks is a soul. That was destroyed in 1945.
Visitors to the city will be moved by the World Heritage Site of the A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima’s most famous site . It stands forlornly by the river across from the Peace Memorial Park, as a reminder of the power that rained down upon the city half a century ago and brought such terrible devastation to its people. On that fateful day it stood within 100 metres from what became ground zero. The A-Bomb Dome is a propped up ruin, the only building still standing. Try and visit it at night if possible, when it is lit from the interior as well as the exterior. It is quite eerie.
The Children’s Peace Memorial in the Peace Park is continually covered in thousands of tiny folded paper cranes, a symbol of longevity and happiness in Japan, which come in by the busload from schools all over Japan on a regular basis. The Memorial was inspired by the story of leukaemia victim Sasaki Sadako, who, at age ten contracted the disease, after which she embarked on a task to make 1000 paper cranes in the belief that if she succeeded she would survive. Sadly she died having only completed 644 but her classmates completed the task, and so started a tradition that continues to this day.
School children learn the lessons of history on the banks of the river that guided the Atomic Bomb to Hiroshima – Mari Nicholson
The Peace Memorial Park is located across the Aioi-bashi Bridge and includes the Cenotaph which lists the name of all the known victims. The river is said to have been the bomber’s point of aim on that fateful morning. Beneath the Cenotaph burns a flame, set to burn until the last atomic bomb has been destroyed, at which point it will be extinguished. Thousands of sufferers from radiation burns threw themselves into the river in an effort to ease the pain but to no avail, and hundreds of corpses remained afloat in the water for days after the blast.
The Peace Memorial Museum is the place to find information. It delivers a simple anti-atomic warfare message with a power that can leave you in tears. The depiction of destruction and suffering is told with no pulling of punches and makes one think of what modern warfare, using these bombs, would be like.
Hiroshima Art Museum which has Dali’s Dream of Venus and works by the Japanese artist Hirayama Ikuo who was present during the bombing.
Shukkelen Garden. Located next to the Hiroshima Art Museum
Mitaki–Dera: the Three Waterfalls Temple, a quiet and secluded gem with a fine view over the city.
Best trip outside the city – to Miyajima. The famous Red Torii gate of the Itsukushima Shrine (at least the one that is most photographed) can be seen here, in a very touristy town but one with great charm. While there, try the famed oysters, raw, deep-fried, or in hot pot dish, the savoury pancakes and the ice-cream sandwich in a brioche bun.
From bonsai in lush landscaped gardens, to kimona-clad beauties shopping in Ginza, and from pale green tatami mats in Ryokans to exquisite floral arrangements, Tokyo, as well as reaching into the future, is picture-book Japan come to life.
This is the first stop on a tour that will take in stays in some of Japan’s most beautiful cities and countryside, Kamikochi in the Japanese Alps, Kyoto, the ancient capital, Takayama, whose beautiful old town still preserves traditions, Hiroshima and Miyajima, and Hakone where a cable-car side-trip to Mount Fuji is planned. Fingers crossed, the weather will be fine on the day.
Kamikochi, Japanese Alps, turquoise waters of the snowmelt from surrounding mountains – Mari Nicholson
Driving into the city from the airport did not show a green and pleasant land. Living space is at a premium in Tokyo, which means that the suburbs are composed of high-rise apartment blocks built wherever space could be found, all in a uniform grey, unbroken by a splash of colour or flowers on a balcony. Once in the city however, another world becomes apparent.
Getting around Tokyo
Tokyo is a city of districts, each offering something different to the visitor, so it repays a bit of research before you set out to explore.
With its sensory bombardment, the capital of Japan can seem daunting to the first time visitor but with a little planning, we found it to be very accessible.
Tokyo is composed of many different districts each with its own character and charm, and as a capital with a reputation for safety, walking the streets is one of the best ways to absorb the atmosphere, check out the local craft shops, or explore the shopping malls both below and above ground. I am a leisurely traveller, happy to leave some things unseen, rather than rush around ticking off the sights, so I didn’t try to see everything.
Orientation, subways, and trains
Tokyo Train Station – Mari Nicholson
Rail is, without doubt, the best way to get around Tokyo, and the trick is to buy an IC Rail Pass for 3,000 Yen which is something like the UK Oyster Card, and which is valid on the vast subway network, the equally extensive overland train network, and the Monorail (great for views over Tokyo Bay), and also valid to use in some Japanese cities. Not only that, but you can use it to buy drinks from the kiosks on every station, just slap your card on the designated spot, and hey presto! green tea or hot chocolate can be yours in an instant. Topping up when needed is easy, with instructions in English.
Taxis are on the expensive side, but you don’t tip in Japan so at least what you see on the clock is what you pay. If you decide to hire one, then ask your hotel to write the destination in Japanese and show this to the driver. Rear passenger doors are automatically locked so wait for the door to open.
Luckily my travelling companions, Ken and Steve, are wizards when it comes to map-reading, especially subway maps, so I was able to rely on their expertise on negotiating the metro. Even I, after the first day, felt confident beneath Tokyo’s streets, as the system is made easy for non-Japanese speakers, with letters and numbers as well as names on the stations, fail-proof directions to platforms and tannoy announcements throughout the carriages when a station is reached.
Tip: Buy your IC Card and get a Tube Map as a priority on your first day. Then hurl yourself into the city and enjoy the experience – remembering to stop for sustenance occasionally.
Tokyo Fish Market
Everyone said the Tsukiji fish market which handles a larger volume of seafood than any other market in the world is a must, and although we had all seen fish markets in the East before, we went there on our first morning. It’s impressive, with over 400 varieties of seafood on display from massive tuna laid out on marble slabs, squid and octopus squirming in baskets, shellfish heaped up in mounds, baskets of crustaceans, and eels, lots of eels, along with species of fish I’d never seen before. Tiny automated carts zip around (you need to watch out for these) collecting boxed items to be forwarded on. I loved the machine where huge blocks of ice were man-handled into a drum which turned it into ice cubes which were then used to pack the fish for the retail market.
Parks and Gardens
Misty Day in Tokyo Garden – Mari Nicholson
Too many to be able to visit them all, so we choose just three, the Shinjuku Gyoen Park where an air of tranquillity heals the spirit, and Koi carp plop in the streams under arched bridges, the gardens surrounding the Imperial Palace which are a superb example of the perfect Japanese Garden and the Kiyosumi Gardens with its large pond surrounded by some very special stones placed in the garden as stepping-stones, paving stones and stones for the waterfall.
Imperial Palace Garden, Tokyo – Japanese Tourist Board
There are too many Museums to mention and too many to visit on a 3-day visit if one wanted to see anything else, so Fukagawa Edo Museum was the only Museum we visited in Tokyo. This was an instant lesson in Japanese history and was a great help in understanding modern Japan. It consists of a display of reconstructed Fukugawa Saga-cho houses, taverns, and shops, all looking as though they’ve just been vacated – as well as a small theatre and lecture hall, all furnished in the period. There are interactive displays and fantastic model towns, rivers and courtyards filled with people. Well worth the visit.
Edo Museum – Mari Nicholson
Restaurant Menu – Mari Nicholson
There are so many superb restaurants in Tokyo, that won’t go into the eating experience, but the best sushi restaurant in Tokyo is said to be in Kyubey, right here in Ginza . Sadly, we just couldn’t make time to visit it as there was just so much sight-seeing to take in but from what we heard from other people, this is definitely the place to go. The prices are in keeping with the area with dishes from 4,000 to 8,000 yen, while a full set runs from 10,000 – 30,000 yen.
But I was mightily intrigued by some of the ‘alternative’ restaurants in the city. First up there are the ‘Maid’ restaurants which pander to Japanese male fantasies and allows the customer to interact with real-life manga characters. Waitresses are typically dressed as French maids and customers are treated as though they are the masters/mistress of the house. These range from standoffish Victorian style maid service to the school-themed cafes where customers pay to be spoon-fed or to be slapped in the face in public.
Then there are the ‘Cat’ cafes, the ‘Dog cafes, the ‘Bird’ cafes, the ‘Rabbit’ cafes, where you can sip your coffee or tea while relaxing with either your own pet or a rental pet. As space is so scarce, many people do not have the option to keep a pet so this is the answer to the problem. Mind you, if you do have the space to have a dog or a cat, you can also buy a pram in which to wheel them about. It stopped me in my tracks, but the Japanese sailed serenely by, unfazed by this strangeness.
Dog in Pram beng fed Ice-Cream
Dog in Pram, not unusual in Japan
And now there is a ‘Goat’ café as well, 5 minutes walk from Shibuya Station at Shinoda Building 1F, 23-3 Shibuya, but I wasn’t able to check this out to see how they interacted with the goats. This one sounds seriously weird.
I have had this image of Japan for years, of a country of kimono-clad beauties, beautiful gardens landscaped with flowers and red bridges, temples, and Bonsai, and, you know what, it is just like that.
I didn’t manage to cover the whole of Japan on my trip, that will take a few years, but I did chance upon many instances of the above as well as the frenetic crackling neon of Tokyo with shopping on Ginza, the surge of people crossing the road at Shinju and suspicious bars behind curtained doorways off the main streets: the traditional craft shops in Takayama; the Ryokans where you sleep on a futon and eat only Japanese food: Kamikochi in the Japanese Alps, a sublimely tranquil place for walking and cycling, where snow-capped mountains surround fast-flowing rivers, and monkeys cavort among the bamboo, and where the birdsong is so sweet it stops you in your tracks: Kyoto, ancient capital of Japan with its traditions and spectacular sight-seeing: Hiroshima with its sombre Peace Park and its nearby island of Miyajima, and Hakone where the image of the ic0nic Mount Fuji changes depending on time of day and weather.
To say it was culture shock is putting it mildly whether it was from seeing a racoon on a lead being led along the street, to seeing a dog in a ‘dog-pram’ being wheeled around a park, to witnessing day in and day out, the regiment of ‘salarymen’ coming and going from their businesses all dressed in their uniform of black suits, white shirts and dark ties. The men of this most conservative of nations never sport coloured shirts.
The kimono-clad women and young girls I saw, and the few men I glimpsed dressed in traditional garb, I later found were often Koreans who hired the kimonos when they were in Japan. Many Japanese hire them also, as the cost of buying a good kimono, or a special one, can be astronomical, and they are nearly always worn for weddings.
So, join me as I blog about my trip on later pages, let me know if I can answer any questions you may have, or just log on and say ‘hello’.