Friday, July 25, 2008

My Trip: Peace Museum & Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Because I didn't sleep very well on Thursday night, it was a struggle to get up for my 8.30am breakfast on Friday morning. The World Friendship Centre give you two choices for breakfast time, 7.45 or 8.30, so you can imagine which I immediately chose!

I said goodbye to the Hawaiian girl I had met several times over the previous two days, and we exhanged contact details. I also gave my email address to the Canadian family I met twice by chance the day before. They even invited me to stay with them if I ever go to Canada!

I checked out, after paying and thanking Kent and Sarah very much for being such good hosts. It really was a great place to stay, and I told them that.

To be honest, I was a little nervous about going to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, because I'd heard so many stories about it being overwhelmingly sad. But I knew I had to go.

It's extremely good value for money, entrance is a mere Y50 (25p) and there are free lockers for luggage. The Museum is very central, located in the Peace Park.

I won't describe everything in detail like I normally would for two reasons.
The first is that most people know the events that led up to the bombing, and the results of the bomb very well. If you don't, this website seems full of information.
And the second is that I don't want to spoil it if you do visit. And I hope you can.

I did take some photographs throughout the museum.

This is a famous exhibit. A watch frozen at the precise second the bomb exploded over the city.

The last area, in the Main Building, was the most moving. The photos and videos below are of things that touched me most in the entire exhibition.

I don't think this photos is very clear, but the dark patch on the steps is somebody's shadow, etched into the stone.

Further away from the blast, dark patches on clothes or paper were burned away, while the lighter colours remained intact.

There's a photograph of this in my old A-level Geography textbook. It's called Black Rain (黒雨, kuroame). This toxic rain fell after the attack for several hours, staining walls like the one below.

There were lots of graphic photographs of burn victims, and vivid explanations of what radiation poisoning does to the body. This is one of the more tame pictures.

I spent a total of 3 and a half hours inside the museum. There were so many different things there, and I made a conscious effort to read everything and see each exhibit in detail. I could have done it in 90 minutes if I hadn't gone so carefully.

There was so much variety inside the Museum. There were drawings by hibakusha (A-bomb survivors) of skeletons stripped of their flesh, still standing up where they died; touchable artifacts recovered from the destruction; graphic photographs; lots of videos; and even real sections of buildings or walls taken from their original positions around the city.

I was very pleased that I went. In the end, it wasn't as overwhelming as I expected, so don't worry about going there. Some people might want to skip some sections though, I know I did. It was very sad, and very thought-provoking. It will certainly change your outlook on what happened.

I left Hiroshima at 14.30 on a Nozomi Shinkansen for Kyoto. It was very easy to buy the ticket, as I had the basic fare ticket I described in a previous post.

A few hours, and a few hours of sleep later, I was in Kyoto station. It was extremely humid, as I knew it would be, because Kyoto is infamous for being hot in summer. It's built inside a basin, so heat and humidity settles inside, and no wind can reach it to clear the air.

I was quite comfortable there though, as I'd been there once before with my family. I recognised a lot of things and knew my general way around. Before going to my ryokan (旅館, traditional Japanese hotel), I wanted to see one of the top sights of Kyoto that I didn't manage to get to last time.

I took a bus from the huge terminal outside Kyoto station and arrived there within 20 minutes. On the way up the hill, I spotted two maiko (young geisha) inside a building. I couldn't get too close but I managed to take a photo. I saw one geisha last time I went to Kyoto, but I didn't have time to take a picture, so I'm pleased I could this time.

And here it is! The entrance to one of the most famous temples in Kyoto, if not, Japan.

It's Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), the sacred water temple. It's famous for its view over Kyoto, and the way the structure is built on struts overhanging the hill. Apparently it's spectacular in autumn when the maple trees burn with oranges, reds and browns all over the hill.

Here's the place where people catch water falling from the waterfall above and drink it to cleanse themselves.

There is a Shrine within the temple's grounds with a famous attraction. There are two stones placed about 18m apart from each other. You have to touch one, close your eyes, and walk to the other without peeking. If you manage to touch the other stone, your wish for love will come true. It's just my luck then that it was closed at 5.30pm!

I left the temple at its 6pm closing time, and I was waiting for the bus back to Kyoto station when it started to rain! It was very heavy, hot rain, and it meant that all the buses were completely full of people. I had to let three go because it was impossible to push myself in.

I did find one that was slightly more empty but it was still very crowded, and of course my huge bags didn't help!

But I got back eventually and then followed the map I'd drawn to my hotel. It's testament to my map-drawing skills that it took over an hour and three people's directions to get there.

It was a nice place, called Ryokan Hiraiwa (旅館平岩). It was another cheap one, only Y14,000 (£70) for three nights, but it was very good quality.

This was my comfortable room inside the ryokan.

I went out to find myself some dinner, taking careful note of where the hotel was, and was shocked to see mist in the headlights of passing cars, even though it was over 30C! So humid!

I passed lots of places I'd seen or been to with my family. A yakitori (焼鳥, grilled meat) bar I went to before was full, and that was disappointing because it was nice there, but I found a different one and ate there.

And in the end, I was pleased that I found it because, halfway through my meal, an Australian guy came and sat next to me. I decided that I should make the first move, as when I meet people, they always start, and I need to be less shy! I pointed out that the English translation of some of the dishes like 'Heart' and 'Gizzard' didn't sound very appetising.

We got to chatting and I found out that he's here for a two-week holiday with his family. In just six days, he said he'd really gotten into J-pop, a topic I love to talk about. He said his favourite singer was Yui, who I like too, so I recommended some songs to him. Of course, I endorsed my favourite band, Perfume, and wrote some of their song titles down for him.

He told me that he stayed in the Tokyo Park Hyatt, which I've wanted to go to for ages! We talked until 10pm, and then swapped email addresses before heading back to our hotels, where I had a lovely hot bath.

It was so nice that I could make new friends on the trip, as I thought that I'd be alone for all of it except the first couple of days in Kyushu. What a great experience!

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