Thursday, June 18, 2015

Japanned, Day Seven

My Wife and I went to Japan for ten days. We had a blast. I took notes.


The Hiroshima Day Trip.

We were up early this day. Excited. This was going to be a big thing. This trip to Hiroshima had always been on our list. There's some things you should see, y'know, if you're afforded the chance.

So, late last night, I discovered that our hotel had a laundry service--so fancy--but it was too late for me to put anything in, so this morning on the way out, I gathered up all my dirty clothes--almost too much for the provided laundry bag--and dropped it off at the front desk. I feel like I made the right decision to travel/pack light, but that fact, plus the hot weather, meant I really had to jump on any and all laundry opportunities. The hotel didn't offer laundry as a complimentary service, but screw it, it's better than doing it myself.

We caffeinated like a Boss at a convenient Suntory coffee vending machine we passed on our way, because there were to be no more delays. We were on the move. We had a mission. It was Hiroshima Day. By now, the rhythms of the Kyoto subway were pretty familiar to us, so much so, I could roll my eyes at a German-looking couple we passed who didn't know what side of the escalator they were supposed to stand on (the left). Ha... tourists... amirite? So we made it to Kyoto station easily, caught an early Shinkansen without a hassle, and we were Hiroshima bound once again!


Well, at least until we reached Shin-Osaka...

What the hell, man?

It was the same deal as last time. We stopped at Shin-Osaka, and that was it, the train goes nowhere. Then there's an announcement, everyone around us gets up and starts filing out of the car. Ela and I exchange a confused and exasperated look, and this time, a nice Japanese guy stops at the door, looks at us, considers, and then, screwing his face up in a red-faced look of extreme concentration, visibly straining, digging deep down into the back of his brain, he spits out, "Train. Stop. Here." in a voice like he's being squeezed in a vice. We nod our resigned understanding and say "Arigoto", and he sighs as if released from his constraints and able to breathe deeply once again, and nodding and smiling at us, he leaves the train. Ela and I gather up our shit and follow. "Crap," I say, "What the fuck is up with this shit?" Ela just shakes her head, at a loss.

Then we noticed something...

There are many companies and many lines in Japan. Japan Rail runs the Shinkansen (Bullet) trains, and the Shinkansen have three lines in this part of Japan: The Nozomi, the Hikari, and the Kodama.

The Nozomi is the premier fancy-pants "I'm in a hurry" line. It's faster, stopping at few places. The Kodama is the slowest line, the line of the common man. It stops at every single stop. The Hikari is somewhere in-between. It's stops at some places, but not others. It moves at a medium pace, and there's a lot of foreigners on board. The reason for this is because our JR Pass was only good for the Hikari line. Why? Who knows, it's Japan.

The problem was, the Hikari line seemed to be stopping for good at Shin-Osaka, and we needed to keep going to Hiroshima. And that's when we noticed the Nozomi... According to the board, the Nozomi wasn't staying in Shin-Osaka; it was going on to Hiroshima and more stops beyond. Why? Who knows. All we knew was there was a Nozomi train sitting right across the platform from us, and it was leaving in the next few minutes.

Ela and I exchanged a look.

Hmmm... It's not like anyone ever checks any tickets on these things, not that we've seen. Certainly no one has ever checked ours while en route. In fact, if you're on the platform, then you've already paid, right? I guess it's an honor system, then. Everyone knows what they're supposed to have, and everyone goes where they're supposed to go? Admittedly, that's a good system to have in Japan.

Good thing we're Americans...

We slipped aboard the Nozomi Line completely unnoticed--not that anyone was even looking at all--found ourselves a couple of empty seats, and we were off! Hiroshima bound once again!

Two hours later, we were there.

Hiroshima, the city that will be famous forever.

Besides the bomb site, the Itsukushima Shrine is also in Hiroshima, but it's not as well known as the Peace Memorial. Well, it is well known, I mean... it's a World Heritage Site after all, and an official National Treasure of Japan, but for obvious reasons, it's not the main draw of most tourists in Hiroshima. Anyway, it's this Shinto shrine set out on a small island that floods during high tide, which makes the great orange tori gate appear to be floating on the water. It's really beautiful.

Before Ela and I left on our Japan trip, the Itsukushima Shrine was recommended to me by a friend as a really cool place to visit, but as things got closer and we discussed our plans and talked our schedule over with Will and Kelly, we decided to skip it, because it didn't seem like we'd have time to see it, and we had other priorites. Besides, it involves about an hour-ish train ride to the south of the city, blah, blah, blah.

Well, we were all wrong. Turns out we had plenty of time.

In preparation for our the trip to Hiroshima, the night before Ela and I had found some really terrible and very spartan directions to the A Bomb Memorial on-line. So, when we arrived at Hiroshima Station, we followed these directions to get to the train. And after about an hour-ish ride, we discovered that trains and trams are not the same thing.

The gate was really pretty though...

We eventually found a cab, and after a few minutes of First Contact Charades with the cabbie, we were headed back across town toward the memorial.

Stopped at 8:15

At 8:15 in the morning, on the 6th of August, 1945, a B-29 bomber called "The Enola Gay" dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. A blast equivalent to the power of 15,000 tons of TNT reduced four square miles of the city to ash and ruins. 70,000 people were killed instantly. Another 70,000 people died from the radiation sickness, from extreme burns, from horrifying injuries in the next few days and weeks. An untold number have died in the years since, killed by the cancers festering within them, the tiny remnants of that day. It wasn't the only Atomic Bomb the United States dropped on Japan, of course, there was also Nagasaki, but for today... we were in Hiroshima.

20 minutes after detonation                                                        3 hours after detonation                                 

The most well-known piece of the park are the ruins called The A Bomb Dome (Genbaku Domu).

This is how it looked before that day, and how it looked in the days after.

Originally built in 1910, before the bomb it was known as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall (Hiroshima-ken Sangyo Shoreikan), housing various government and civic offices over the years until the war effort took it over. The bomb detonated 600 meters above and 160 meters--less than two football fields--away from this building. It seemed strange for the Memorial to include on the plaque: "Everyone inside was killed instantly." Almost everything within a mile of the center of the blast was completely flattened. The rest burned.

Growing up in America, we were all taught about the "good parts" of using the Atomic bomb.

This is inconceivable to the people of Japan, but we're taught how the use of the bomb, while terrible, had some positive outcomes. The two bombings stopped what would've been a bloody and prolonged war, and may have even saved untold thousands of lives, perhaps even millions.

But after seeing a single small sandal with the clearly defined outline of a slim footprint scorched permanently onto the wood, and reading how that sandal belonged to a 13 year old girl named Miyoko, and how, when she never came home that day, her mother searched and searched among the ruins, never finding her daughter's body, but in October of that year, while still searching, she did find this sandal, and immediately recognized its somehow unburnt strap, one that she herself had made from one of her own old kimonos, it's then that you realize, the Japanese are right... there are no "good parts" to the use of the Atomic bomb.

The park is beautiful though, a wonderful tribute.

It is peaceful and serene and strangely hushed, despite being in the center of a bustling city. There's trees and grass and birds singing, but it's somber. When you are standing in the center of it, you can't help but realize you are walking on the mass grave of thousands, thousands who had died in sudden blinding light and scorching fire, in terrible agony, skin sloughing from their bones, screaming. Massacre seems too small a word for what happened that day. It's too much to imagine, hard to begin to comprehend, impossible to describe. You feel dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of the moment, that day laying like a terrible scar across time, forever.

But the day we were there, it was a beautiful, bright and hot, and the long green of the park was filled with children--many hats of many colors--all holding hands and giggling and running and following each other around the site in long snaking lines. They chattered and whispered and laughed, and whenever a group would pass us, they would wave excitedly and say "hello" in their high piping voices and heavily accented English, the word obviously unfamiliar in their mouths.

More than 6000 of the dead that day were from groups of 1st and 2nd year high school students who had been assigned the task of demolishing old buildings for firebreaks, should the city face bombings from Allied planes. Survivors tell stories of how they and their friends all stopped what they were doing and looked up at the distant rumble of the single B-29 flying overhead, shielding their eyes against the bright morning sun...

And then their friends were gone.

We stayed there for a long time. We toured the museum. Looked at the pictures. Examined all the memorials. We sat and we listened, and then finally, hot and dry and bent from the weight of it all, we left on the trams we were supposed to have arrived on.

The trams were cool, and they really did look completely different from the trains, not just in where they ran and how, but they were still in the old streetcar style too, mostly because of this stuff...

Unsurprisingly, the scars from the bombing still run deep in this city.

The Hiroshima Tram was also the site of the last of Ela's public falls in Japan, as she tripped while climbing on board, just totally flat out ate it. And not a single person acknowledged it, but me.

Heh... Japan...

While riding the tram, we discovered that Hiroshima has a different type of metro card than Pasmo. When discovered this, when the tram's card reader wouldn't accept our card. But, no one stopped us from getting on, or staying on, even though we hadn't paid, so we rode back it to Hiroshima station. When we got to the station, there were Japanese Station Agents there, standing by a podium with a clear plastic box. They weren't waiting for us or anything, and some of the people were putting money in the box, so Ela and I both dumped in a hesitant handful of random coins. The station guys seemed fine with the amount, they smiled and bowed... so, I guess we're cool then...?

We left the area quickly.

We had planned on going to the Cat Museum (Maneki-neko Museum) next, but luckily we checked first. The Cat Museum is closed on Tuesday, and since it was a Tuesday, no dice... So then we were thinking of going to Hiroshima Castle and checking out the samurai museum, and all that awesome sounding stuff, but as we were trying to figure out routes and times to get there, we realized that the (maybe) last train of the day back to Kyoto was leaving in a little less than half an hour, so that plan was suddenly out too. Oh well, next time, I guess.

It was time to go back to Kyoto!

It was a quiet train ride home. We made it all the way back to Kyoto Station without incident. But at the last exit, right before climbing the many, many stairs up out of Karasuma Oike Station to our old familiar Exit Six, Ela had a sudden brain fart and stuck her Passmo in the ticket slot, instead of just touching the pad.

The machine ate her poor Pasmo.

Luckily a very nice Japanese young woman stayed and translated for us as the subway agent--they were all dressed in very nice, very clean uniforms with hats and epaulets, almost like they were in a marching band--dug in the machine, finally pulling her Pasmo out of the ticket-taker's guts. Ela loved her Pasmo, so as the guy handed it back to her, she looked as relieved as a little girl who has just had her kitten rescued from a tree. She was a little upset that Pasmo was now chipped though, and as we trudged up the many, many stairs and headed back to the Hotel Monterey, she was loudly contemplating buying a whole new one.

But she didn't, and she still regrets it.

Back in our room, I discovered that the hotel had laundered my clothes--as well as my salt-stained Baystars cap and my original sweat towel--and it was all laundered better than anything I've ever owned has been laundered in my entire life. And the folding? It was amazing. I gave them a tightly-packed bag of balled up sweat rags, and they gave me back clothing origami. There was tissue paper folded into all my clothes. Why, so it wouldn't chafe against itself? I don't know, but it was even in my underwear. That's thorough service. The Hotel Monterey in Kyoto is the shit, man, that's basically what I'm saying here. If you're ever in the area, this is the spot.

So, showered and freshly laundered, we decided we were gonna hit the hotel bar and then find some dinner, but... the bar closed at 8...? That's weird. I mean, sure it's a Tuesday, but still... 8 o'clock?

I guess it's straight to dinner then.

We decided we wanted some sushi. Ela wanted some fancy sushi, not conveyor belt sushi, so we found a place over by Nishiki Market. At this point, we were pretty much old pros when it came time for the Japanese Restaurant Script.

We enter...
Entire staff: Irasshaimase!
Us: Arigato!
Us, to the hostess: Futari
Hostess: Hai!

When ordering...
Us: Sumimasen! Nama bier, futatsu
Waitress: Hai!
Us: Unagi wo kudasai
Waitress: Hai!

When finished...
Us: Okanjo kudasai
Waitress: Hai!

When leaving...
Us: Gochiso sama!
Entire Staff: Arigatou gozaimashita!!

See? Easy-peasy Japanesey! We were actually getting pretty good at passing for somewhat normal in a restaurant in Japan. However, this led to an unforeseen second problem. Y'see, if you know the Script really well, as we did, then native speakers will sometimes assume you actually know Japanese, and then they start talking at normal speeds and, well... our facade quickly crumbles. Ela and I speak Japanese at a level akin to a pair of slow parrots, but we try, so there's that. We definitely got the feeling that our efforts were appreciated. Plus, we're really good at Charades too--give me the word "cockpit" and prepare to be dazzled--so what I'm saying is: restaurants were starting to be pretty easy for us. And yes, it's a source of pride.

And the sushi was delicious.

Well, at least I thought so. Ela was less impressed. She was feeling a little miso-ed out actually, claiming she could taste it in everything. She probably wasn't too wrong, really. Either way, she wasn't satisfied. I could tell because she was being a little sad-facey and walking a little foot-draggy-like as we left the restaurant. "Should we get a drink?" I asked. She nodded, her lower lip was a little sticky-outy. This was all happening as we passed yet another Japanese Irish/English Pub--they seem like they're kind of a thing in Japan--and this one, it turned out, was the oldest Irish pub in Kyoto. Yes, it's true. Ever since the year 2000, Japanese Anglophiles have had this place open for them, a safe haven for them to wear their really, really long scarves to. "How about here?"

She nodded happily.

We had a couple of drinks. I had Gin and Tonics. Ela had a Guinness or two. We ordered a basket of fries and a small pizza, which turned out to be really small, like appetizer plate small. Ela inhaled it, as we sat among too cool for school Japanese Neo Mods and drunken Salarymen, while three of the type of white guy who always play guitar at parties played some Irish-like music in the corner.

It wasn't too bad, kind of like home... but not.

Eventually, we were strolling slowly up Karasuma Dori again, arm in arm, drunk on love and on vacation, and mostly on booze, and we noticed a small hand-painted post card shop near the hotel. We decided we would visit it the next day. We stopped in a 7-11, and while Ela was grabbing some stuff, I found a waffle treat thing in the freezer section that had ice cream and chocolate in the middle. Let me assure you, it was delicious. While eating my ice cream waffle and waiting for Ela, I watched a teenage "B-style" girl, looking like an Otaku fever dream in a huge hoodie, combat boots, high stockings, a shockingly small pair of hotpants, and a gigantic stocking cap, literally buy all of the lube, scooping up the entire shelf in her arms and carrying it to the register.

I'll leave it up to the Gods as to which of us made the better purchase.

It was our last night in Kyoto at the Hotel Monterey. Tomorrow, we have to pack up our stuff, and move across town to the Ryokan Yoshida Sanso.

Day Seven Done,


the library bird said...

mmmmm. waffle cone.

Jon said...

It was better than a waffle cone... it was a waffle, filled with ice cream and chocolate