From sacred to profane and to atrocious- Hiroshima prefecture

Day five. The toriis of the Inari shrine site in Kyoto made such a strong impression that I ended up spending time researching the meaning of these orange gates. One thing leading to another, I booked myself on a trip to Miyajima that has the famous, much photographed ‘floating torii’. Now, knowing that the train ride would go through Hiroshima, would it be appropriate to stop there or would it be a morbid, voyeur idea? Well I finally decided to go for it.  With the amazing Japan rail pass, there is no need to think twice before hoping on a train.

Miyajima has the merit to be a simple destination. Go there, sense the atmosphere and click pictures of the sooo photogenic torii. No need for complicated explanation from the guidebook. Although, the whole story behind this one torii gives it more dimension. In fact, the whole island used to be sacred, and just opposite the torii is a Shinto shrine with its pleasing orange, white and forest green contrasts. Since the torii symbolizes the passage from the profane to the sacred, those who were living on the other side had to first pass under it in their boat in order to be allowed on the shores of Miyajima. Now tourists arrive ‘en masse’ via ferries that are too big to sail safely under the torii. So maybe the place has gone profane now. Still, many enjoy the profanity of the pure esthetics of the scene and have a happy day. And the families that line up to be photographed in front of it bring home a treasured memory.

The visit of Hiroshima was not about esthetics. However, the ruins of the building known as the ‘atomic dome’ have a physical appearance that render something powerful. Very close to the hypocenter (The bomb exploded at 600 meters altitude, so the point on the ground right below it is known as the hypocenter), it suffered a vertical physical shock that left most of its walls standing. It was, in other words, in the eye of the firestorm. The dome has been standing until now as the city chose to turn it into a monument, which eventually became a Unesco heritage site. The rest of the peace park is all about strong symbols. The flame of peace will be kept burning until the last nuclear warhead on earth will have been destroyed (We’d better prepare combustible for the long haul). The children peace monument refers to the heart-breaking story of Sadako Sasaki, a girl who developed leukemia few years after the bomb and who folded origami paper cranes to express her wish to survive. She did not make it, but her classmates continued, and today people send paper cranes from all over the world in sympathy. Finally, the memorial for the victims has a fountain shaped like a clock stopped at 8h15, like all the clocks of the affected areas of Hiroshima. It pours water in the memory of those severely burned who haunted the burning ruins of the city begging for water. Beyond all the debates as to whether we should remember more the victims of the Japanese atrocities or the victims or the bomb, or as to whether the bomb saved lives by preventing an invasion of Japan of whether it was just the curtain raiser for the cold war, one can’t help wondering why mankind even thought of developing such evil tools and why we developed (and kept) more and more of these. Not to mention that in the meantime, they became so powerful as to dwarf the one unfortunately used on the sixth of May 1945.