We knew that we had an intense morning ahead of us, but we wouldn't truly understand what we were about to see and feel, until we actually arrived in Hiroshima. As we know, this is the location where the USA dropped an atomic bomb during WWII, killing over a quarter million people.
We took a train ride and knew we had arrived when we stepped out onto the platform and saw a big yellow arrow pointing us in the direction we wanted to go.
The Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition, now called the Atomic Bomb Dome, was at the epicenter of the explosion, and therefor survived, for the most part.
We walked through the park, and across the bridge, which was the original target, and soon came to something very colorful. Protected in small shelters, were thousands of origami paper cranes. It was the Children's Peace Monument.
Sadako Sasaki was a young girl who survived the bombing, however was still exposed to it. She was two when the bomb arrived, but nine years later she was diagnosed with leukemia. Believing that making paper cranes would help her survive, she started folding daily, until eight months later, she lost her battle. Now, more than ten million paper cranes are offered to the memorial each year.
We made our way into the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
Before the bombing.
The shadow of where a man was sitting, before being vaporized by the bomb.
Walking through the museum, I saw and learned so much. One of the most powerful moments for me was when I walking through a part of the museum that had artifacts that had survived the attack, and clothes of children and adults that had not. There was a certain point, where I decided to skip a few glass boxes that contained things that I honestly didn't want to see, one of which being that of a finger that belonged to a young man.
A Japanese man stopped me, seeing that I had skipped it and insisted that I look. He said "Look, finger of boy". I said ok, and looked over the shoulders of the kids in front of me. It was black, and mangled from the explosion. I didn't know if I should be annoyed that this man insisted that I look, or if it was his way of wanting me and others to see what this did to people, to his people. I turned back to the man and nodded my head out of respect and the man nodded back.
We all met at the exit of the museum, less giddy than our previous ventures, and instead we all seemed a bit more reflective. It was incredible to be in a place that I had only read about in history books and seen so much footage of in documentaries.
Walking along the park, and heading to see more of Japan, children stopped us and started to read from their journals in English. They had questions about how we felt about the museum and about peace. As we answered the questions, more Japanese students came and started asking the same questions. Giving thanks, they gave those of us who answered questions a paper crane. I ended up with four, that I have folded safely in my notebook.
I love a good boat ride. This one, to Miyajima certainly surprised me. All of a sudden, a large orange arch emerged from the water.
At high tide, it gives the illusion of the arch floating, but at low tide it was still impressive.
Before we land on the island, we need to talk about the wildlife, specifically the deer that run wild and seem tame at the same time.
They were everywhere and they were not afraid of a good ear scratch. Stinky? Surprisingly no. Their antlers felt like velvet and they let you touch them, as they would begin to chew on your shirt or try to dig through your bag for food, as they did successfully to one of the moms.
Who needs a barrel of sake or twenty?
We had a quick dinner from a store and turned in early.
Our first stop on our last full day in Japan was at Ryoanji, a Zen temple in Kyoto. Before arriving there, we took an old tram and then walked through a quiet town.
Entering the Zen gardens, I realized that there was a similarity between this garden and Monet's garden in Giverny, which I visited as a kid. Apparently, Monet based his gardens after this one.
We had to take off our shoes before entering the rock garden. There are 15 rocks, all lying silently, cushioned by smaller stones that have been perfectly raked by the monks.
We ran into a few more school children that had questions for us in English. They were so friendly and excited to be speaking to some Americans, but I was just as excited to be speaking with them.
We took in the perfect forests, the manicured grounds, and the zen feeling around us. Yet another temple called our name, so off we went. This one had a bit of a golden touch to it.
I naturally had to have an ice cream break before seeing this next temple, and I was so glad that I did. Saving the best for last really rang true here. Kinkaku-ji was home to the best green tea ice cream that I have ever had. It was rich and creamy and packed with macha flavor.
Happily filled with macha, I made my way to the spectacular "Temple of the Golden Pavilion".
Imagine living here.
Even the tea had flecks of gold in it. I think I'll take all my tea with gold now, thank you very much.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine would be the last that we would visit. It's a very famous Shinto Shrine, complete with thousands of tori gates, it stretches up the mountain.
We ended our evening with a trip to Gion, the entertainment center in Kyoto, where we also had dinner. We walked around in the drizzly rain, and made our way through some back alleys. We saw something pretty neat.
There were real geishas entertaining behind the windows. Our leader, who lived in Japan for 19 years had never seen this before, and so we decided it was a pretty rare sighting. Feeling a bit like the paparazzi, I snapped away like crazy. Look closely...you'll see them.
I am a huge fan of dogs, and when I spotted this Bernese Mountain dog, having a snooze outside of his owner's store, I naturally had to give him an ear scratch. My husbands family has one, so it wasn't even a question.
Dinner was at a quaint place, which served yummy yakitori and tempura. We made our way back into the rain, singing songs from Mulan, louder than maybe some would have liked,.
The next morning brought about a bitter sweet feeling. I wanted to explore so much more of Japan, especially Tokyo. We had to get back to the city, so we had a bullet train ride to look forward to. I had heard so much about this "Mister Donut", so I grabbed a couple as my breakfast and train snack.
I also bought a couple of Japanese magazines, of which I could only read some of the the words, that were written in English, but otherwise, I just imagined what it might say and enjoyed the photos.
I also bought the groups favorite iced coffee drink, and devoured every caffeiney sip.
Once at the airport, we checked in and had just enough time to get some food and spend the rest of our yen on souvenirs.
I insisted that I needed one more bowl of ramen, and luckily our leader had a favorite spot that we made it to in the airport and sat and slurped, not speaking much, just savoring.
I entertained myself most of the trip. There weren't any isle seats left (bummer), and I really didn't want to sit in the middle again, so I decided a window seat would be second best, and with that view, watching the sun rise, going back in time to L.A., I think it was the best choice.
I'll be back, Japan. You can bet on that, and I'll be ready to see so much more of you, and eat so much more ramen and fresh fish than ever. You've been lovely.