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Updated: Oct 3, 2019

Inspiring Japan travel stories
Genbaku Dome Hiroshima

It was eight in the morning as I walked out hotel Elcient Kyoto. I braved myself walking in the cold rain to Kyoto station. Kyoto's April weather somehow betrayed me with its long drizzles of showers and cold winds. The grey padded vest and t-shirt I was wearing, exposing my arms. The coldness was crawling up on my hands. I had 23 minutes until Hikari 495 (bullet train) departed for Hiroshima. Kyoto and Hiroshima station is connected by the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines. It was 8:23 am. I found myself sitting comfortably on the train, reading my lonely planet while enjoying my Japanese bento breakfast. Two hours and twelve minutes later, the train reached Hiroshima station.

From cold weather in Kyoto, Hiroshima greeted me with its warmth. Only three hours later, my padded vest was no longer needed. Hiroshima is probably the most accessible city to navigate compared to any other Japanese cities. The retro light rail covers the trip from Hiroshima station all the way down to the Peace Memorial Park.

It's hard to imagine that here in the Genbaku Dome Hiroshima, once lied the tragedy of humanity that the world had ever witnessed. After 74 years of the disaster, I was standing right in front of the ruins and the skeletal dome. One morning on 6 August 1945, the skeletal dome once housed the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. For those wondering why the entire building wasn't wiped off flat to the ground by the atomic explosion, this is a little note for you:

The explosion occurred at 600 metres height. It is precisely 160 metres to the southeast of the then now Atomic Bomb Dome. At the time of detonation, it generated a massive blast with 35 tons of pressure per square metre. The explosion created a significant blow with a speed of 440 metres per second. Due to the overhead directional blast, the outer walls and steel-frame dome escaped complete destruction. It is the remains that we see today.

The skeletal dome standing still before my eyes was a clear reminder of our loss and pains, victory and defeat, blood and tears, and most of all, our hopes. I have read many histories of the 2nd World War books. I have studied and seen films about Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. I have met and listened to the stories from the war witnesses. One of them was my grandmother. Eventually, I made my way to the Genbaku Dome, the home of 47.2 ha Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The park complex consists of the Atomic Bomb Dome, the Cenotaph for Atomic Bomb Victims and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

The museum is probably the most compelling museum I have ever visited though it is not for those of the fainted hearts. I braved myself to jump in the long queue for the museum. It took me through a visual journey minutes before the A-bomb, the moment it dropped and the aftermath of the explosion. Walking through the visual displays, photographies, the artifacts from the casualties, only haunted me with more questions of humanity. The experience was daunting yet moving. The message of hope, peace, and friendship in the form of colourful origami cranes was after all heart-warming.

I made the origami crane one myself with the help of a thirteen years old boy. From the rooftop of Orizuru tower (only a minute walk to the east of the A-bomb Dome), I was standing on the glass floor, looking down millions of colourful cranes from previous visitors. A Japanese artist has come up with an art installation project to build a glass wall tower filled with origami cranes. How far have we become since the tragedy? How far have we learned from the ugliest face of war? I let the crane fall off my hand, joining a million others, as a wish for the world peace.

Miyajima Island

Inspiring Japan travel stories
Torii gate Miyajima island

The sun was about to leave the horizon as tourists patiently made a long queue to board the ferry to Miyajima island. The water was calm and dark. Mists blanketed the water surface. Before leaving the hotel early morning, I wondered if I would be the only person on the island. Soon when I got off the train at Miyajimaguchi station, there were hundreds of tourists heading to the ferry wharf.

Miyajima is the island where gods and people live together. This is the home of Itsukushima shrine, known to the world as the floating shrine. There are myths blended with historical facts when it comes to the construction of the shrine itself. The great torii has inevitably become the symbol of the island. In Japanese tradition, the great Torii resembles a portal between the spirits and the human worlds. In other words, the parallel universe indeed exists, at least in the Japanese traditional understanding of realms. The belief draws me back in time when I travelled to Bali only to find out that Balinese believe in Sekala and Niskala, the seen world and the unseen world. Shinto, as the native religion of the nation, is assimilated with Buddhism imported from China in the sixth century. As for Bali, the native animism belief in the island blends with Hinduism, imported from India some times in the fifth century. Though Hinduism and Buddhism are originated in India, the similarities between the two cultures can't merely be regarded as coincidence as well.

Patches of dark clouds dotted over the island. The moon had been long gone, leaving the low tide to reveal the six pillars of the great torii standing still on the ground, unmoved and undisturbed. I was walking on the muddy dark sand under the great torii. Five years ago, I was in the Bali island of gods, walking through the majestic Pura gate under the feet of the sacred mount Agung into the 'Niskala', the unseen world. Five years had passed by. Here I was in Miyajima. The island where gods and people live together, walking through the 16.6-metre high torii. I saw Itsukushima shrine in the distance. Mount Misen in the background was covered by a carpet of trees.

I have come so far, all the way from the south. My trip almost reached an end, and I didn't miss home, not even a thing. Breezes lingered low. I imagined myself walking through a portal to another universe leaving 'Sekala', the seen world behind into 'Niskala', the unseen world. Ahead of me, the sun gently shone down on Itsukushima shrine. It was red and gold.

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