Friday, May 19, 2017

Never Forget Hiroshima

It would be difficult to find someone who has never heard of the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima in Japan during the Second World War. Recently I was in Okayama and Hiroshima was not very far. Thus, I went for a visit.

The image above presents my favourite sculpture from the Peace Memorial Park of Hiroshima. I loved the tender expression on the woman's face, the golden sliver of the moon and the baby playing with a trumpet. In a poetic way, I think that it sums up very well why we need peace in the world and why we must never forget Hiroshima.

Bomb in Hiroshima

During the Second World War Japan bombed Pearl Harbour and USA retaliated by bombing Hiroshima and then, three days later, Nagasaki. Hiroshima Bengaku Hall was one important building, parts of which were left standing after the nuclear bomb. This hall could be seen next to Ota river in the old images of the bombing site (below) taken in 1945.

The uranium bomb called "Little Boy" had exploded around half a km above Hiroshima. In an area of 2 km around the explosion, all buildings were razed to ground, though houses in a 7 km radius were damaged. Only a few buildings in reinforced concrete survived. More than a hundred thousand persons died in Hiroshima, about 50% on the day of bombing and the remaining due to its after-effects.

Across the Ota river, today a plaque shows a picture of the Genbaku dome building before the bombing (image below).

Hiroshima Today

Today Hiro (broad) Shima (island) has a population of more than 1 million persons and is the biggest city in south Japan. It is a modern city full of sky-scrappers.

Ota river as it reaches near the sea, it divides into different branches (Enko, Motoyasu, Tenma, etc.), twisting, curving and encircling the land in a network of rivers and canals, criss-crossing the Hiroshima town. In 1949 it was decided to build a Memorial Park in this place, which lies in a small island created by Ota river and its branches. This post is about this A-Bomb Memorial Park, also called the Peace Memorial Park.

I was staying at Okayama and took an early morning bus to Hiroshima. The views of the verdant hills and mountains around the highway with occasional glimpses of the sea, was the notable feature of this one and half hour journey. The Ryobi bus dropped me at the corner of Heiwa Odori street, around 200 metres from the Memorial Park.

Genbaku Dome

The ruins of the Hiroshima Prefactural Industrial Promotion hall, called Genbaku hall, is the iconic symbol of Hiroshima. Its skeletal round dome at the top is called the A-Bomb dome. The black signs of  fire, the twisted metal staircase at its back and its blown out windows, doors and roofs are somber reminders of that 6 August morning of 72 years ago when the bomb had exploded.

The Genbaku dome is the only building of this part of old Hiroshima that has been left as it was that day.

Looking at the Genbaku dome affected me deeply, almost to the point of crying. It also made me think and despair about the number of countries that continue to make ever-bigger and ever-potent nuclear bombs. I thought of the words of Israeli historian and author Yuval Noah Harari:
In a xenophobic dog-eat-dog world, if even a single country chooses to pursue a high-risk, high-gain technological path, others will be forced to do the same, because nobody could afford to remain behind. In order to avoid such a race to the bottom, humankind will probably need some kind of global identity and loyalty.
Behind the dome, in the same complex, there is a central fountain with pillars arranged in a circle, that also bear the signs of the nuclear bomb.

Around the Genbaku dome, there are a number of small monuments. The first is the Red Bird monument, a literary monument to remember Miekuchi Suzuki of Hiroshima, who was a writer and the founder of a children's magazine called Akai Tori (the Red Bird). He is called the father of children's literature in Japan. The sculptures are by Katsuzo Entsuba, and were installed in 1964.

The Jizoson tombstone is a relic from the bombing,  placed in a building near the A-Bomb Dome. Jizoson is a Shinto deity that protects children. It was from a tombstone in a Jisenji temple. Part of the tombstone behind the statue remained smooth while other parts exposed to the thermal rays became rough.

The Student Memorial Tower is a pagoda-like monument in concrete with an angel in black stone at the base and sculptures of pigeons sitting on the top. It is located behind the Genbaku dome. On its sides there were colourful shide (streamers) of Orizuro (paper cranes), often placed near shrines, memorials and tombstones in Japan. At its back there were black stone panels with scenes showing the work of student volunteers in Hiroshima.

The other monuments mentioned below are scattered in different parts of the Memorial Park built across the river.

Peace Flame

The Peace Flame was lit in 1964 with the pledge that it will remain lit until all nuclear bombs on the planet are eliminated and the earth is free of nuclear bombs.

Memorial Cenotaph

The Cenotaph is an empty tomb to remember the persons who died in the bombing. It is located near the center of the park and is a concrete, saddle-shaped monument. The stone under the arch has the names of all of the people killed by the bomb. It was built on the open field and inaugurated on August 6, 1952. In the image below you can see the flame and the Genbaku dome seen from the Cenotaph arch.

Children's Peace Monument

This monument has a central pillar with a girl standing at the top holding in her hands an Orizuro paper crane. There are two more figures of children on the sides of the pillar.

It represents the story of a girl called Sasaki Sadako who had radiation sickness due to the bombing and believed that if she could make one thousand Orizuro she will be cured. However, Sasaki did not survive.

This monument remembers her and the other children who died in the bombing. People place streamers of paper cranes near this monument.

Peace Bell & Peace Clock

There are different bells in the Memorial park and museum. One of these bells placed in the garden has the words "Know yourself" written in Greek, Japanese and Sanskrit.

Every morning at quarter past eight, the time of the bombing, a clock placed on a metal tower near the park entrance, plays a peace prayer.

Prayer Monument

This monument has a sculpture of a couple with a child. It was created by artist Yoshizumi Yokoe in 1960. In front of the monument is a stone with a poem by a Hiroshima-born poet called Atsuo Oki, whose title is "Praying for peace and peaceful repose of the departed souls".

National Peace Memorial Hall

This underground hall designed by Kenzo Tange was built by the national government of Japan in 2002. It presents the stories of the bomb survivors and their old photographs. The image below shows a fountain built at the top of the hall.

Hiroshima Flower Festival

This festival is held in the first week of May each year in the Peace Memorial Park. When I visited Hiroshima in the last week of April, they had started preparing the flower for this festival but it was not yet complete. The image below shows the preparation of the flower.

Mother and Child in the Storm

This is another beautiful sculpture in the Peace Memorial Park expressing the hope for peace by the ordinary people. It was made by the artist Shin Hongo for the women associations of Hiroshima in 1960.


Every monument and sculpture in the Peace Memorial Park of Hiroshima is about peace, hope, and prayers. Yet in spite of the sufferings of thousands of persons, we continue to live in a world that threatens new man-made disasters and catastrophes. The lessons from the holocaust of the Jews or the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, are forgotten. So what should we do as individuals?

I believe that at individual level only we can promote a culture of respectful dialogue. The visit to Hiroshima was a reminder to renew my personal commitment for a culture of non-violence, the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and the search for peace. I understand that this does not stop people fuelled by ignorance or hate or bigotry, but still as an individual I prefer to choose peace and dialogue.

I want to conclude this post with the picture of an old man who was sitting near the river bank behind the Genbaku dome, feeding the birds from his hands.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Okayama, City of the Crow-Castle

This year I received a work invitation to Okayama in Japan. I did not know anything about Okayama before going there. It was a wonderful surprise to discover this bustling city with its beautiful riverside castle, gardens and museums. The image below is from the wonderful Korakuen gardens of Okayama.

This post is about my explorations of Okayama. All the places mentioned in this post are at a walkable distance from the railway station.

Okayama and the fable of Momotaro

Okayama is one of the bigger cities in the south-west part of Japan. It is the city of the fable of Momotaro, the Peach-boy.

According to the fable, an old woman found a peach fruit. When she opened the peach, inside she found a baby boy, who told her that God had sent him to be their son. He was given the name of Momotaro (Momo = peach +Taro = elder son). When Momotaro grew up, together with his animal friends, a dog, a monkey and a pheasant, he went to fight Oni-demons. He killed the demons and came home with their treasures and lived happily ever after with his old parents.

The statue of Momotaro greets persons arriving at Okayama railway station. The main road in front of the railway station is called Momotaro Dori road which takes you to Okayama castle.

Ekimae Market

Right across from the east exit of Okayama station is the Ekimae covered market. Full of shops and restaurents, along with an occasional hotel, I had great fun walking up and down this market. Most Japanese shops have boards and food-menu only in Japanese, so I loved trying to understand what different shops were selling.

Nishigawa canal and street

I think that the area around the Nishigawa canal was part of old Okayama before the city was destroyed during the second World War. Rest of Okayama is a newly built city.

With the calm canal waters, gardens, trees, fountains and sculptures on both sides of this quaint canal, I loved this part of Okayama. The image below has a sculpture built along the Nishigawa canal.

Okayama Symphony Hall

This round-shaped modern building was built in 1991. It is close to Shiroshita round-about on Momotaro Dori road. Designed by the well-known Japanese architect Yoshinobu Ashihara, the Okayama symphony hall is famous for its acoustics.

While you admire the symphony hall, I suggest that you should also go down the underground crossing at Shiroshita round-about. A colourful tower-like construction jutts out of this round-about.

It has a lovely sculpture of a woman and a crane. The crane is a common motif in Okayama city. Its statues are there in the city and live cranes can be seen at the aviary in Korakuen park.

Parks around Asahi river

Crossing the Shiroshita round-about will bring you to the core cultural zone of Okayama. This area is marked by a number of parks along the two sides of Asahi river, along with a number of sculptures.

Along the river, a large number of persons walk, cycle and jog or do exercises. On one side, you can see the Okayama castle while a bridge will take you to the famous Korakuen gardens.

Crow-castle of Okayama

The black-coloured castle was built in the sixteenth century. It was also called U-Jo or the Crow castle. The old castle had the roof gilded in gold and was thus called the Gold-crow castle.

During the Meijo reformation period (1868-1912), the medieval castles were seen as problematic and thus even the Okayama castle was partly abandoned, its moat was filled and its walls disappeared. The remaining castle building was razed to ground during the second World War.

The present castle was built in 1966 as a concrete building. A few parts of the castle were gilded in 1996 when its 400th anniversary was celebrated. Outside, some remains of the old castle have been identified including the old walls and a pond. Parts of the old moat have also been recreated.

Korakauen Gardens

The three hundred years old Korakuen Gardens are counted among the most beautiful Japanese gardens. The aesthetic principles defining the beauty of the zen gardens in Japan include - Kanso (simplicity), Fukinsei (asymmetry), Shizen (naturalness), Yugen (subtletly), Datsuzoku (unusual), Seijaku (stillness) and Shibui (austerity). Trees with branches tending towards the ground are especially appreciated. These ideals are expressed in the Korakuen gardens in different ways.

These gardens were created for Ikeda Mitsumasa in the early 17th century as a place for private relaxation. Cherry, maple and pine trees were planted. The artificial hill called Yuishinzan (in the image above) was constructed by his son Ikeda Tsugumasa. At the same time, the water canal was also built.  The name Korakuen garden was given in 1871 and in 1884, these were opened to public.

The garden has a central pond called Sawa no Ike with different miniature islands such as Nakanoshima and Minoshima. I personally liked a smaller pond near the main gate called Kayo no Ike with a bamboo groove, some shrines and the Eisho bridge. This part also includes the archaeological remains of some stairs from the old dock used by Daimyo. While I visited Korakuen, it was full of young school children who were adding colours to its beauty.

Museums of Okayama

Okayama Prefactural Museum is located near the main gate of Korakuen Gardens. A short walk from here will take you to a museum dedicated to an Okayama artist called Takehisa Yumeji. If you do not have the time to visit the Yumeji museum, you can admire some of his paintings which adorn the bridge leading to his house (in the image below).

Two more museums, Okayama Prefactural Museum of Art and the Oriental Museum are located on the main street near the Shiroshita round-about.


Even if my stay in Okayama was short, I really liked this city. I stayed at Toyoko-inn near the Ekimae market and it was a perfect place to visit the city.

Among the different restaurents of Okayayama where I ate, I want to nominate Hajime at the Shiroshita round-about, where the people were really nice, the food and the ambiance (bookshelves full of Manga comics) were great.

I want to conclude this post with another sculpture from Okayama - this one is placed near the Western exit of JR Station. I want to apologise for not mentioning the artists of the different sculptures presented in this post. Their names were written exclusively in Japanese and I was unable to read them. However, if you can tell me the names of these artists in the comments below, I will be honoured to add them to this post.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Shrines & Temples of Ushimado

The tiny seaside town of Ushimado in south-west Japan is famous for its beautiful sea and verdant islands. It is also a heritage town with glimpses of the old Japan of wooden houses and traditional shrines and temples.

In Ushimado you can see three small islands close to each other. At low tide you can walk from one island to the next and this passage is called the Kuroshima Venus road. You can admire those 3 islands in the image above.

Ushimado and the legend of Ushi-oni

There is a legend of a monster called Ushi-oni, who looked like a cow. Empress Jingu came here disguised as a man after her husband died. She met the monster and killed it. Different parts of Ushi-oni fell in the sea around Ushimado forming the different islands. The original name of Ushimado was Ushimaro - Ushi (cow) + Maro (killed). This legend is celebrated in the Ushimado shrine in the city.

During the Edo Period (1603-1868), Ushimado was a ship-building town and was used as a resting point by Korean Royals on their way to Edo.

Reaching Ushimado

Ushimado comes under Setouchi in the Okayama prefacture. It is about 30 km from Okayama. You can take an Ako line train from Okayama, get down at Saidaiji or Osafune and then take a Ryobi bus to Ushimado.

At Ushimado, I stayed at hotel Limani. Looking out at the beautiful islands and the sea was an incredible wake-up experience, as you can see from the image below.

Ushimado Lighthouse

The lighthouse of Ushimado, is a traditional wood tower with a pyramidal roof and it is mounted on a square stone pedestal (image below). In the image below, you can see as it appears from the sea.

HonRenJi Buddhist Temple

One early morning I explored the main street of Ushimado called Shiomachi Karakoto. The Kaiyu museum was closed but just behind it, I found an ancient temple - Honrenji. It was built for welcoming the Korean visitors and is considered a cultural heritage site.

A Koromon (gate) marked the entrance of the temple. The main entrance led to a big wooden building, probably the Butsu-do, the Buddha hall.

Majority of temple structures were in wood. The buildings had huge curved roofs, almost as big as the rooms below. To the right, stairs led to a terrace overlooking the sea with some more temples.

There was a 3-storied Daito (large pagoda) on the terrace close to the edge overlooking the sea. Each part was made in rectangular form with wooden fenced balustrades. There was a mokoshi (skirt-shaped) roof on the lower two levels and a pyramidal roof on the top floor.

Next to the Daito, there was a massive bell tower with a stone and a rectangular wooden base, on which which a big copper bell was mounted, covered by a beautiful curved roof.

Behind and above the temple there was a cemetery area. Being early morning it was very quiet and peaceful. The different temple buildings were closed, still I really enjoyed this visit.

Tenjin Shrine and Tenjinyama Tumulus

This is a Shinto shrine at the top of the hill above HonRenJi temple. It is dedicated to Tenjin, the god of scholarship.

Tenjin was a 9th century poet called Sugawara no Michizane, an important official in the imperial court of Emperor Uda. After the death of the emperor, he was exiled and died as a lonely man. Seventy years after his death, Michizane was deified and became Tenjin. His shrines were built in different parts of Japan. The legend says that he had visited Ushimado during exile and cried on the top of this hillock.

Long stairs along with a Koromon gate led to the shrine. The main temple was closed. On the left, there were Inari shrines marked by vermilion coloured Torii gates. One Inari shrine was full of Kitsune (white foxes), the messengers to the god Inari. Inari gods are linked with rice-crop and fertility. Kitsune were shown with their right front paw raised up to protect an urn, and each had a golden round tablet in the mouth.

At the bottom of the hill, there was a tall brick tower covered with creepers in an ancient looking courtyard. I could not find out the significance of this tower. Nearby there was a more recent iron tower with a weather-wane.

Kompira-Gu Kou Shrine

This was another Shinto shrine at the top of a hillock. Kompira-gu is a god of the sailors. Kompira shrines were originally made by Shugendo sect in Kotohira mountains of the Kagawa prefacture and are also called Kotohira-gu. Outside its closed latticed doors there were banners of rope and straw.

The views of the sea, islands and surrounding Ushimado were beautiful from this shrine.

Sai Ichi Inari

This Inari shrine was on the main street of Ushimado, behind a house, where a row of vermilion Torii led to small shrine. Praying to this Inari was supposed to grant you a long and happy life. A holy person from Fushimi Inari in Kyoto had established this shrine in Ushimado.

A Buddhist shrine and the cemetery

One evening while walking to the back of the hill of the Tenjin shrine, I came across another Buddhist shrine linked to a cemetery. This shrine had seven carved stones, all wrapped in red wool-covers. The central stone had a bigger statue of Buddha. Behind the Buddha stones, there were seven round stones.

This shrine was close to a Buddhist cemetery with tombs scattered along the hill at different levels.


Today most cities of Japan look very European. However, Ushimodo has still many places where you can see the old Japan and its traditions. For example, the image below shows an old well of Ushimado and a couple of shrines close to it.

I want to conclude with another image from Limani hotel where I stayed. This image shows the hotel swimming pool with the sea just beyond it.

I was in Ushimado for a meeting on conservation of history of leprosy, invited by the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation.

I could not visit many tourist places in Ushimado such as the Kaiyu cultural museum, Maejima island (Green island) and the Olive Gardens. However, this visit gave me an opportunity to see and appreciate the traditional Japanese houses and some of their traditional temples and shrines. At the same time, it was a beautiful place with incredible sunsets.

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