Going from Beppu to Hiroshima was like stepping out of a warm relaxing bath but instead of where your towel was hanging you find a vicious Ogre who
proceeds to ferociously and repeatedly stab you in the eye with an electric cable!! It was a shock to the system is what I'm trying to say.
Beppu is a beautiful town by the sea, famous for it's natural hot springs so we spent 3 days there floating in mud baths and being buried in sand by Japanese people with shovels. It sounds wrong but it's very pleasant. We did some work as well of course but mainly we did so very little that people probably thought we were dead.
After dragging our lazy corpses into the van we embarked on our journey towards Tokushima. It's a drive that normally lasts about 10 hours but luckily for us our thoughtful administrators arranged matters so that we would spend the night at the half way point, in Hiroshima, in order to rest and have a chance to inspect the famous city the next morning.
Laziness is a stubborn virus and having caught it badly in Beppu, we were now riddled with it and even in our highly fortunate situation, we mumbled and grumbled through an early breakfast, unable to break the zombie spell.
We thus came to greet our tour guides at the appointed spot, the Hiroshima Dome, rather later than planned but in the usual Japanese manner, the 2 ladies bowed, smiled and were all grace and kindness. They then lead us into what became, for me, the most poignant guided tour that I've been on to date and a terrible look at the chaos of warfare.
As the neurones in our brains finally found each other, connected and normal wakefulness gradually returned, we were guided via several war memorials.
These included a very moving statue, representing a young girl who had died of cancer due to radiation caused by the A bomb. She is surrounded by thousands of paper cranes made in her honour as a token of compassion.
The Dome itself is an impressive sight. A few walls left and some skeletal framework having amazingly survived the blast.
Further on in the memorial park hangs a large steel bell. On it is engraved a map of the world, leaving out the barriers between countries and so symbolising world peace. After the A bomb atrocity, the slogan "Peace starts in Hiroshima" was first heard and the ringing of this bell, followed by a prayer, is said to cause peace waves that reverberate outwards riding on the journeying sound.
Next we were led into the basement of what used to be an old office block. When the bomb went off, all the workers where killed, except one. He had gone to the basement to retrieve some files. In this dark underground lair we learned the details of the survivor's story. How he groped in the dark, his confusion on encountering a mass of rubble where the stairs had been, how he froze when he came into contact with dead bodies, the cries of pain and anguish that filled his ears and the harrowing sight that awaited him when he finally managed to get out: The whole city was flattened to dust and by the river he saw small tornadoes rise into the air as the burning heat caused the water to instantly evaporate.
We passed by a huge mound of earth, covered in turf and heard that it contains the ashes of all the dead that could not be identified.
All around us were grave stones, monuments for the dead, flowers, arches, statues, a burning flame that is always kept lit, waterfalls and the statue of a clock, frozen at the time of impact, surrounded by various items retrieved from the wreckage int the area. Everything seemed to cry out: "Never forget what happened here!"
Inside a memorial building we watched a touching film that described the accounts of 3 or 4 survivors. Their stories all began with the explosion and we gravely listened to them recalling the panic, fear, heat and dread and we heard of children watching their mothers bleed to death... People who have known what it means to be in Hell.
One story that stood out for me was that of a young boy that saw his burned schoolfriend being carried on his struggling mother's back. The boy took his friend on his own shoulders and bore her child to the nearest hospital. At that moment the mother thought this boy was an angel. Sadly, her wounded son didn't survive.
We began to feel quite emotional and decided that a toilet break and a coffee were in order so we sat down and drank and ate at the entrance to the A bomb museum. While we sat there we were lucky enough to be introduced to an elderly gentleman who had himself survived the bomb. He was 17 at that time and though he now seemed in good health, he suffered extreme illness and exhaustion due to radiation poisoning throughout his life. He was expected to die just like 80 percent of people did who suffered from those symptoms. He told us his story with a smile.
The A bomb museum left me speechless. It began with information about the war, the various reasons for the bombing and so on... Then we were shown footage of the mushroom cloud itself and 2 large models of the town, each about 2 metres in diameter, showing the state of Hiroshima before and after the explosion. The town was flattened over a radius of many miles, under waves of radiation and heat that reached temperatures of up to 4000 C at the core of the blast. An absolute and until then, inconceivable catastrophe.
The museum is so fascinating and terrifying and I was so immersed in it's reality that I felt like this horror had all taken place last week. It is so shocking!
There were horrific photographs showing people scared with sores, blisters, ulcers and other wounds and diseases that looked inhuman. People morphed by chemicals and twisted and torn beyond recognition. And added to the immense number of dead were the people who came to the city to seek out loved ones and returned empty handed and empty hearted only to die themselves of diseases caused by exposure to radiation.
It took me some time to start smiling and joking again after exiting the museum. Even so I highly recommend the experience if you are ever in Japan!
We had a long drive ahead of us and ran out of time so we were unable to explore the city further. After the tour we had a late lunch with our guides and Sam had the gentlemanly idea of paying for their food to show our appreciation. They protested, at first, of course, but we insisted and they finally gave in so there was no need to come to blows.