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