Thursday, December 29, 2016


Some places in this world need to be seen rather than read about. Opinions or beliefs are just not correctly formed if you don't have the benefit of direct experience. Yosemite Valley in California is one such place; so is Paris.

Hiroshima fits that category.

The day started with a trip to Onomichi. Anyone with a foreign passport can get a rail pass; there are many varieties, and we got the seven day JR (Japan Rail) west pass that goes all the way from Kyoto to Hakata all the way in Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu. It covers the shinkansen for much of that distance, including the Nozomi, which is the fastest.

And when I say fast, that means topping out at 186 miles an hour. It's a rush, no pun intended.

Onomich is an old town with some excellent temples and old, narrow roads that would barely be a sidewalk in most cities. Cars aren't allowed, but we encountered a couple of scooters. Mostly, though, we had the place mostly to ourselves. Twice we were passed by other people doing as we were, wanderers on an old, historic path.

There are a lot of cats in Onomichi. I hate cats. they can be cute, but a stray cat is not a pretty thing. Some were clearly domestic animals that were just doing whatever the hell they wanted with their time. Others had missing tails or parts of ears. Some had visible scars.

Mostly, for me, it was about the temples and shrines. They were quiet, peaceful places. Once we climbed old iron rungs up a small cliff to experience that small difficulty that priests often had to go through in their training. My wife spent time taking pictures. I just existed, for the first time in months not concerned with anything other than that moment. I looked out over the inland see. Staring off into that middle distance, modern society's noises in my right ear, a crow cawing among songbirds in my left, I realized that the thing I had feared - might still fear - is liking that peace too much. Getting addicted to it, to the point where nothing else matters. It's something that sounds lovely on paper. Writers have made fortunes telling us we should all do exactly that. But peace doesn't pay the bills. And I guess that is as good a summary of my problem as any.

We ate ramen near the coast and headed on to Hiroshima.

It was late in the afternoon by the time we checked in to our hotel, which sits near the atomic dome and the peace museum. That evening we walked to see the dome in the fading light. It was nearly directly hit by the bomb; a nearby intersection of two bridges was the "x marks the spot" target. How anything survived is a marvel. My mother in law told us a story about how, when she was young, you could walk around inside the building. Now, though, it is closed off and has been actively reinforced to keep it from falling. As it should be.

The next day we went to the museum.

It's not something that can be described easily. You go in knowing there will be an impact on you; but exactly what that will be is different from person to person. Anger. Sadness. Despair. Frustration. Everyone feels some combination of those emotions, and more. Because the focus of the museum is on the children. The students who were in the city that day. Young people who had no part of the war, no function in that awful machine that destroys nations.

That's what hits so hard.

The uniforms.

The bags.

The stories of children who lived and those that died.

The silence inside the museum was so complete that people hesitated to even cough. They picked up their feet and placed them back down silently. Only the whirring of the central air system and the gentle hum of lights could be heard, along with the occasional "wow" uttered in a few different languages.

In the afternoon we headed to Miyajima, an island that is home to a wonderful shrine and is itself one of those places a person must experience in person.

The museum, though, stayed with us.

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