Visiting Hiroshima

A paper crane in the background with the words "Visiting Hiroshima" and a peace sign.

Hiroshima is three hours away from Kyoto and five hours away from Tokyo by shinkansen. It’s far too long to make a day trip out of it and not near too much of interest, and yet thousands of foreigners still stop by when they’re in Japan.

The bombing of Hiroshima by the US is modern history, but after the bombings, Hiroshima the city slowly slid out of the Western mind. The bombings were behind fifty years of growth, healing, and history when I was born, but even then, all I knew of Hiroshima was the destruction and enormous casualties. A lot can happen in 70 years, though. Hiroshima is now bustling city that reminded me of Boston with its waterways and green spaces. Most of the memorials to the victims of “little boy” are centered in the Peace Park, built over where the worst damage occurred.

This is the A-Bomb Dome. Once an important meeting place and source of pride for the city, it is now the most well-known icon of bombing. It’s only one block away from the hypocenter, the point directly below the bomb when it detonated, and everyone inside was killed. Somehow, much of the building remained, and it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Heritage Site status was declared in 1996 against the wishes of the US and China, who voted against granting the special historical designation. Pro tip from Renee to the US government: If China is the only other country voting “nay”, you should seriously reconsider your position. That’s not good company to be in.

Usually, the A-Bomb Dome doesn’t look like my picture above. When it’s not undergoing conservation, it looks more like:

(Picture from WikiTravel.)

The Peace Memorial Museum is an absolute must-see for understanding both the immediate aftermath of the bomb and the city’s healing process. It’s also nauseating and heart wrenching. This is coming from someone who’s read books about forensics and watched vlogs about mortuary science for fun. From the girl who went to the Museum of Death on spring break, where visitors frequently pass out.

This was worse.

But it was worth it.

Part of the shock was that I simply didn’t expect to see removed keloids or deformed fingernails in museum boxes. I was also a little concerned about the number of small children I saw with their parents. History is for everyone but not all ages. Most kids seemed either a bit shell shocked or like they were trivializing exhibits to process them.

Little Boy, actual size.

The museum covers the events after the bombing thoroughly, until after the effects of atom sickness began to appear. Then it switches to a long, elevated hall with a clear view of the A-Bomb dome out the window on one side and posters detailing other bits of history on the other side. I stood in front of the poster that explained how the bomb was tested in New Mexico for a long time. In Hiroshima, the atom bomb destroyed upwards of 100,000 lives. In New Mexico, we named our baseball team the “Isotopes”.

You’re probably getting the feeling that a day visiting Hiroshima isn’t fun. And it’s really not. So after I left the museum I got ice cream (from Baskin Robbins, because Asian ice creams are terrible) and sat next to the river.

Visiting Peace Park only takes one day, but I planned for two days in Hiroshima. My second day, I took a day trip to a unique island a short train ride out of the city. It’ll prove much lighter and, uh, fuzzier than this entry, I promise!

The Studio Ghibli Museum

A robot from Castle in the Air with the words "Studio Ghibli Museum" in bold white letters

A quick note: this is from the blog I kept when I was in Asia during 2014 and 2015. You can read old posts here.

Although anime and manga still aren’t quite “mainstream” in the US, if you haven’t heard of Studio Ghibli, you must have been living under a rock. You’re also probably new to this blog, because I’ve posted about Ghibli films twice: here, in a general post, and here, in a post about  the studio’s Academy Award-Winning Spirited Away.

Anyway, I’ve been a fan of Studio Ghibli and the works of Hayao Miyazaki for years now, so when I planned my trip to Japan, a stop at the Studio Ghibli Museum was at the top of my “to do” list. The museum, also known (for some reason) as the Museo d’Arte Ghibli, is in the town of Mitaka on the outskirts of Tokyo. It’s inaccessible by car, and visitors are strongly encouraged to take public transit all the way or walk part of the way.

A sign pointing to the Studio Ghibli museum in Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan

It’s easy to find the museum from the train station.

No pictures are allowed inside the museum, so you can fully experience it without the distraction of the camera. I appreciated the rule for a different reason: since I had no idea what the inside looked like, everything was interesting and surprising and worth exploring.

A group of people waiting in line outside the entrance to the Studio Ghibli Museum

Waiting in line for the first entry slot in the morning.

The museum was designed by Miyazaki himself, and his fingerprint is on everything. I’ve been to plenty of theme parks before, ones that look nice but are a little too shiny, or where you find that what you thought was wood is painted on or the cast iron is hollow in the middle. At the Ghibli museum, everything feels real. The museum treats children like individuals, and everything is child safe. Exhibits have steps in front of them, so that children can see the exhibits without their parents’ help. I actually had to bend down quite a bit to see some things, as they were set up at a six year old’s eye level.

A young woman with sunglasses standing in front of a model of a robot from Castle in the Sky at the Studio Ghibli Museu

This creature is from Laputa: Castle in the Sky resides on the roof. Pictures are allowed on the roof, so here, have some more!


Model of a robot from Castle in the Sky

Up on the roof there were dozens of people in a small space. How I managed to get a picture without a single one of them is beyond me.


A large cube with strange patterns, from Castle in the Sky

This is also from Castle in the Sky, if I’m remembering correctly.

When you enter the museum, you get a ticket to see a short film. There are nine films on rotation, each one only available at the Ghibli museum. Each guest can only see one film. Everyone understood how special this was, because as soon as the movie started, everything was completely silent.  The movies are completely in Japanese, but that hardly mattered. That’s the beauty of cinema, after all–it’s a heavily visual medium. I saw The Day I Harvested a Planet, which was magical.

A short strip of three film frames, surrounded by a cardboard frame.

Each ticket is special, too, with a few frames from a Ghibli film. I think these are from Spirited Away.

It’s hard to do the museum justice in a short blog post, and I think that’s intentional on Miyazaki’s part. It’s designed to be an experience, so writers are left in a catch-22 because if we do it justice in words, we take away from an potential experience.

This, then, is where I end my post. Hopefully, you too can one day take a trip to the Ghibli museum and experience it the way it’s meant to be experienced.

A robot from Castle in the Air with the words "Studio Ghibli Museum" in bold white letters