Today I re-packed everything into my suitcase, and left Osaka for Hiroshima. Along the way I stopped in Kobe, a small town to the west of Osaka, to meet my friend David. David is a developer who’s been doing contract work for a company in Australia, and is spending the summer in Japan to tour around with his wife, and be in the same time zone as his employer. We had lunch at the train station there (had beef, but I don’t think it was “kobe” quality) and caught up on what we’re each up to. Despite both living in DFW for the last couple of years, we haven’t seen each other very often. He’s in Japan through July, and then will be headed to Seattle if he gets into a startup incubator he’s applied to, or to San Francisco with me if he doesn’t. Where ever I go, it seems David is there!
After lunch I hopped back on the Shinkansen for Hiroshima. The trains here are both amazing and horribly frustrating. Different trains (bullet, regional, subways) are all run by different private companies as well as municipal trains, and they all require different tickets and different entrances, and the quality of signage (and english assistance) varies a lot between them. Google maps will route train connections for me, but it’s all in Japanese on google, and the characters don’t seem to match what’s in the stations. It’s probably a lot easier if you can read Japanese, and American public transport is probably just as confusing for people who don’t speak english (and even for those who do), but I’m still griping about it anyway. It’s easy to get lost, but I suppose that’s all part of the adventure. Lets just say there’s a lot of room for improvement in “usability” of these cities.
Arrived in Hiroshima, which looks much like the other parts of Japan I’ve seen, but less dense than Osaka. I can imagine someone actually owning a car and finding a place to park it here, though there’s an extensive street car and subway system for those who don’t partake. Unlike other big Japanese cities like Tokyo and Osaka, however, Hiroshima has had the “benefit” of being rebuilt from scratch just 50 years ago with proper city planning. So the streets are in a grid system (gasp!) and the transportation system seems less cobbled together as well.
After checking into my hotel I quickly headed back out to visit the Peace Park Memorial/Museum before it closed. When I was in 10th grade a few friends and I made a documentary film about Hiroshima and the first atomic bomb. It was always something I was interested in and have studied a lot, and our video took “best of state (Arkansas)” in the National History Day competition in DC. A lot of the imagery I saw in the museum I recognized as material we had used in our documentary.
It’s a pretty sobering place, and I was interested to get the Japanese perspective. Somewhat surprisingly, it was very similar to the American perspective. They freely admit that they started the war with the US with the surprise Pearl Harbor attack (I still haven’t seen an explanation for why they did that, unless it was just them being overly ambitious after taking over most of the Pacific). The only new bit of info I saw on why the US decided to use the atom bomb, which popped up several times in reading through all the panels, was that Truman felt like they needed to use the bomb to help justify the $2 billion spent on its development.
Soon after I arrived in the museum I was approached by a group of school children who asked me if I spoke english, and then asked me if I could answer some questions for their school. They hand me a little booklet with 5 or 6 english questions and a pencil. “Where are you from?” and “why did you visit hiroshima?” were the easy questions, “what do you think the effects of the atom bomb have been?” and “what steps do you think we can take to achieve a nuclear free peace in the world?” were essay questions, not 1-sentence answer questions! I commented about this to the kids, but it seems outside their rehearsed introductions, they understood very little english. I wrote some simple but thoughtful answers for them, gave them my email address, and let them take a picture with me. I thought that was kind of cool. Then 3 minutes later another group of kids came up to me. “Excuse me sir, do you speak english?” I tried to explain that another group beat them to it, but again, they didn’t understand anything outside the basics, so I just wrote down for them what I wrote down for the others, and took another picture. I guess they’re short on foreigners for their english assignments this summer. I hear tourism is down 75% after the earthquake and tsunami in hit back in March.