Life and death in Hiroshima

by Alice Baldock

Today we experienced two very different parts of the same city. Our morning was spent on the stunning island of Miyajima, which is largely dedicated to a Shintō shrine called the Itsukushima Shrine. Though largely marketed towards tourists such as ourselves, it still had a certain atmosphere which felt genuinely sacred. We were shown around by a very friendly guide, however I have to admit I spent a little while distracted by the deer which roam the streets of the island. They are so tame that they let you pet them; something which I have never experienced. Although I think perhaps the deer were more interested in what was inside my bag than in me, I maintain that they loved me enough to let me pet them!

We were lucky enough to witness a wedding at the shrine. This was something of a culture shock to me and some of the others, as the bride was wearing very different clothes to what brides wear in my own culture. She was clad in white – the same as many other European weddings – but she was also wearing a hood which hid her hair and the top of her face from view. She appeared very solemn, and the occasion seemed more formal and ritualistic compared to others weddings I have seen. After the wedding the couple rode a kind of carriage around town, and both looked much happier than during the ceremony.

After leaving this place which seemed full of natural, human and spiritual life, we moved to a very different place, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the park itself was eerily peaceful. Many residents of the city walked through it as though it was integrated into daily life, yet still retained a sense of respect for the area. After touring the park, we talked with a survivor of the atomic bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima. Her story was harrowing, and she conjured images which I did not want to confront. I think, however, that is important to remember large-scale human atrocities such as this, to remind us that they happened to people, not characters in a story. I left the park and museum feeling quite out-of-sorts, saddened by the fact this had happened and also finding it very hard to comprehend.

We ended the day moving away from the twentieth century and into the twenty-first by taking the Shinkansen, or bullet train, from Hiroshima to Osaka. The day was a mixture of past and future, of destruction and peace, and of nature and technology.

Pictures by Alice Baldock and Inga Menke

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