Our Final Port –
September 20, 2004 – My
last installment chronicled our first day in Taiwan. We stayed in
Taiwan for four days. In retrospect the country was more engaging
than I thought at the time.
write a lot more about it – after all, we spent
two full days traveling from one end of the island to the other with
the "travel agent from hell" – but I'll skip that for now. Maybe I
am not ready to relive it just yet.
After two more days at sea
we docked in Kobe, Japan.
We would be in Japan for six days. That was longer than any other
stop along the way. There had been some good-natured grumbling among
faculty and students
of our stay.
knew Japan would be the most expensive country on our itinerary in
terms of goods and services. Many felt that some of our time in Japan
would have been better spent in an earlier port, such as Vietnam.
(Everybody wanted more time in Vietnam.) As it turned out, however,
Japan charmed us all. Yes, it was terribly expensive, but it offered
a lot in return.
Our first day in Japan wasn't spent in Kobe, even though that's where
we were docked. We had signed up for a tour of the Museum
of Oriental Ceramics, which was located in the city of Osaka.
To get there we had to take a series of trains. It was the perfect
extensive (and often confusing) rail system. This was important
because we would be relying on trains for most of our transportation
in Japan. The Museum of Oriental Ceramics is a relatively small museum
devoted to collecting, exhibiting, researching and preserving oriental
ceramics. The collection
pieces of historically significant ceramic works from Korea, China,
Vietnam and Japan. We enjoyed the displays, especially some of the
The next morning we decided to go off touring on our own.
We set off for Hiroshima on the Shinkansen (high-speed bullet train),
accompanied by our good friend from the ship, Dr. Becky Houck, a marine
biologist. It took a couple of hours to get to there.
As it so happened,
we arrived in Hiroshima just one day before the 59th anniversary of
the bombing. On August
6, 1945, the first atomic bomb was used in warfare and Hiroshima
was its victim. Over 200,000 were killed
others were seriously injured. Mankind
had officially entered the atomic age. There was no going back.
The Peace Dome
was leveled and 70,000
of its buildings were reduced to piles of burning rubble. One of the
few structures left standing – part of it, anyway – was
the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Products Exhibition Hall. It
sat almost precisely at "ground zero." The uranium bomb, code named
Little Boy, had exploded above the Hall at a height of 580 meters,
a nearly vertical
building. Thirty people inside, and all nearby,
were immediately incinerated.
Hiroshima has since
been rebuilt. It is now a modern city and, more importantly, a widely
world peace. The remains
of the Exhibition Hall have been preserved unchanged since
day in 1945.
Now known as the Peace Dome, or Atomic Dome, it has become
the most famous landmark in Hiroshima, a powerful symbol of
the horror of war
the desire for lasting peace. I stood before the Peace Dome with goose
bumps and a lump in my throat. It was an emotional moment.
The Hiroshima Peace
Located on the banks of the Motoyasu River, the Peace Dome is part
of Hiroshima's extensive Peace Memorial Park. The park contains
more than fifty peace monuments and a large museum.
We toured the grounds, paying special attention to the Children's
and we watched as hundreds of people scurried about preparing for
Over forty thousand people from all over the world were expected to
pour into the park.
We next visited the Peace
It was an uncomfortable experience, but so worthwhile.
The museum displays large models and photographs of Hiroshima, before
and after the bombing, film clips, narratives, photos and poignant
artifacts such as children's toys and clothing, plus a watch that
stopped at 8:15am,
the exact moment of the bomb blast. Until I toured the museum, I did
not grasp the enormity of the destruction and the scope of human suffering
that befell Hiroshima. The moral justification for dropping the atomic
bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is something that has been – and will
continue to be – hotly debated. I will leave that to the
historians. One can only hope and pray that never again will man feel
compelled to use such weapons. The nuclear bombs we have today are,
quite literally, a thousand times more powerful than the 15 kiloton-yield
uranium bomb that
was dropped on Hiroshima.
Mitaki (Three Waterfalls) Temple
We took a taxi from the Peace Park and retreated to the cool hills
of Mitaki Mountain, just a few kilometers away. Once there,
we climbed a long series of rustic stone steps through a damp green
forest to reach the Mitaki Temple area. Small
were tucked along the trail, each in its own little clearing, always
with some sort of water feature nearby, often a small pond
or waterfall. Everywhere we looked we saw weathered stone figurines,
small Buddha's, and small tombstones, hundreds of them. Some were
in dripping grottoes while others sat along the edge
A passing monk told us that in 1945 Mitaki Temple became a retreat,
of sorts, for hundreds of refugees fleeing Hiroshima after the bombing.
Many of them were children. Due to their injuries, scores of refugees
died at Mitaki, unknown and unnamed. The tombstones and figurines
were carved to honor those who had died. Today, Mitaki remains a very
active place of worship, and it is one of the most rustic and scenic
temple sites in Japan.
The next day we took the train to Kyoto. I visited Kyoto for the first
time in 1980. I loved it then and I still love it now. A tourist could
stay in Kyoto for a week, a month, a year and never run out of things
to see and
established in 794, is a historic city with wonderful atmosphere.
the capital of Japan
for over 1000 years until the capital was
to Edo (Tokyo) in 1846. During its political heyday, Kyoto developed
as an intellectual, cultural and commercial center, full of
shrines, castles and palaces, teahouses and gardens. Many of its most
famous landmarks and neighborhoods have survived into
century, in part because Kyoto was the only
prominent Japanese city to escape the Allied bombings.
addition to visiting temples and shrines, we took pleasure in wandering
through old neighborhoods
lined with beautifully crafted wooden buildings
century). I remembered these from twenty-four years ago and it was
a thrill to see that so many still survive, especially since earthquakes
and fires are an ever-present danger. These aged wooden structures
are fragile and irreplaceable.
While Kyoto reveres
its past, it also has its eye on the future. Nowhere it that more
than at Kyoto Station, a modern steel and glass structure that is,
among other things, Kyoto's main transportation hub. When we got off
Station, I Iiterally gasped.
The place took my breath away.
I have since learned that Kyoto
Station, which opened in 1997, is the largest train station in all
of Japan and one of Japan's largest buildings. (No surprise
Railway (JR), various subway lines, a large hotel, a major department
store, three theaters,
center, a shopping mall,
and an observation deck. A stunning combination of soaring glass
and steel and with colossal public spaces, Kyoto Station has been
highly controversial among the citizens of Kyoto.
Some feel it "ruptures" the city's architectural heritage. Maybe so,
but the fluidity of space, intriguing discontinuities of scale, open
and infinitely mirrored reflections create a magical sensory
architect was Hiroshi Hara, whose work we encountered
later in Osaka.
the Umeda Sky Building, another structure that knocked my socks off.
It consists of two towers connected by a series
of glass enclosed escalators that float in the air between them. The
towers are conjoined at the top by a vast circular open-air observatory
that seems to hover above Osaka. It's called the Floating Garden Observatory.
I've become a big fan of Hiroshi
Hara and I took many photographs of Kyoto Station and the Sky Building.
Click here if you'd like to see a few of them.
Hara Photo Gallery || Previous
Installment || Next Installment
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