Hiroshima is basically Kagoshima turned up a few notches. Larger, busier and with a far fiercer nightlife, with scores of establishments and little hole-in-the-wall bars. The narrow streets swarm with people while taxis try to nudge their way through them like bumper cars. Our hotel receptionist only seems slightly sickened by our presences; clearly we’re lowering the tone what with the hotel being on the edge of red light district and all. There are three major stops on our Hiroshima trip: Okunashima, Miyajima and the Hiroshima Peace Park.
Okunashima (Rabbit Island)
Comparatively few people in Japan seem to have heard of Okunushima, at least in Kagoshima it seemed this way. A small island off the coast of Tadounma, it was formerly the site of a chemical weapons facility in WW2 and according to local legend the rabbits are either escaped test subjects, or left there by succeeding generations of Japanese school children. Regardless the place is absolutely overrun with them and is subsequently probably the single most dangerous environment in the Japanese archipelago. Mutated by exposure to buried weapon stocks, with no natural predators and having long exhausted their traditional food supplies they now roam in herds tracking, isolating and running down their new favoured prey: man. It’s like taking a trip to the raptor pen in Jurassic park, but with fluff.
The rabbits were out in force despite absolutely torrential rain, but sadly Egglet is not eaten alive as she seems to have some sort of bond with them, like that old film Beastmaster.
The downpour was so intense that soon began to coalesce into a mist, leaving the island a mess of rushing water and eerie half-formed presences lurching suddenly from their ghostly shrouds. No wonder this is the country that produced Silent Hill.
Miyajima is another small island, home to the famous Itsukushima Shrine. It’s also covered in deer; though they’re quite different to the ones encountered on Yakushima. Prolonged interaction with the hordes of hoi-polloi that descend on the island have made them bolder. Ruthless. With the cold calculation of a veteran street urchin, they will isolate the weak from the human herd and pounce. As soon as we step foot off the ferry a deer lunges forward, tears the map from Egglet’s hand and promptly eats it. I love this country.
By comparison the shrine itself is a bit of a disappointment, a victim of its own hype. Constantly billed as one of the 3 great views of Japan by Hayashi Gahō, after the majesty of Yakushima it completely fails to astound or entrance. The long rows of souvenir shops and hordes of tourists lead it to have less in common with a religious pilgrimage and more in common with a ride at Disney land. I’ll always have the deer though.
Hiroshima Park, the Bomb Dome and Peace Museum
After the harrowing animal terrors of Okunshima and Miyajima we come to the light-hearted portion of our trip. The Bomb Dome and Peace Museum are two components of a wider anti-war monument situated in the center of the city; it stands as a stark contrast to the jingoistic landmarks that adorn most metropolitan centers for obvious reasons. The museum is thought-provoking, moving and occasionally quite horrible, as it educates you about the results of the world’s first atomic weapon attack. Like an enormous mausoleum or epitaph, the crowds are far more restrained and reverential than those found on Miyajima.
The Bomb Dome itself still remains the most striking monument for me. The ghost of a structure built of a style completely at odds with the rest of the metropolis bordering the park. The image of it standing amid the utter desolation of blast zone – an otherwise 2D world – is just so stark.
On that somber note we leave Hiroshima for a whirlwind tour of Kyoto in our next installment.