It was a whirlwind of emotions as I passed through Osaka and Hiroshima. I marveled at castles, strolled through a recreated 1830s Japanese village, squeezed into a submarine, learned about the devastation of war, and cheered loudly at a few baseball games (they deserve their own post).
You can appreciate the scale of Osaka, with skyscrapers stretching in all directions, from on top of the Umeda Sky Building. However, despite the taller competition, Osaka Castle still manages to be imposing on its approach. Say what you will about recreated castles, but the museum was attention grabbing with its artwork concerning the Summer War of Osaka. Osaka International Peace Center gripped me as well with accounts from residents there during firebombings in World War II – ‘We were told to sit still lest we run out of air,’ one account read after the bomb shelter she was sitting in was buried. You can decompress afterwards by strolling 1830s Osaka in the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living. The nearby shopping arcade has stands with delicious snacks like takoyaki, or fried dough balls filled with octopus. Just a word of caution – if you are riding on the train and you start thinking ‘wow, there are lots of women in Osaka,’ you may have accidentally jumped into the women-only car after running to catch the train.
Himeji Castle is striking – it stands at the end of a wide boulevard beginning at the train station. Since it has never been destroyed (it was covered in camouflage during World War II and escaped the bombings of Himeji unscathed), it still is made of its original wood (some of the huge trees used as support columns are dozens of meters tall) – hence, you probably shouldn’t smoke here. Be careful though since some of the stairwell ceilings are still low. If you are traveling back Osaka afterwards, you can stop in Kobe and end your day at a Hanshin Tigers game.
Hiroshima is a normal, bustling city. For instance, the hypocenter of the bomb is a block from Peace Park in an average, downtown neighborhood. You can take a well-marked, affordable streetcar straight to the Atomic Bomb Dome and Peace Park. Some of the memorials struck me more than the museum itself (still a must see spot) – colorful paper cranes contrasted greatly with the tower, for dead child workers forced to assist with cleanup in dangerous conditions, that they were hanging on. The paper cranes themselves are sad as the tradition started with a girl with leukemia who wanted to fold a thousand of them in order to be granted a wish – she didn’t live long enough to finish. Seeing a Hiroshima Carp game later that evening was a good way to recover and see a more lively, happier side of Japan. It’s even better when you make friends to enjoy the game with – more in my next post.
If you have a few hours to spare in Hiroshima, take a train to Kure and see the neighboring Yamato and JMSDF museums. There, you can learn about that city’s shipbuilding history and even walk inside the Akishio, a retired Japanese submarine.
I’m staying in Fukuoka now where I’ll take the ferry in a few days to see my friend, David, in Busan, South Korea. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Kyushu in my last few days in Japan.