Harmony in Hiroshima

This week’s blog topic from Where’s My Backpack blog – Travel theme: Harmony

Hiroshima was in the news recently when Barack Obama made his visit there – the first US president to do so since the 1945 nuclear attack. This visit brought up the collective memories and consciousness of the horror that occurred almost 71 years ago, when according to the president’s speech, “the world was changed”.

His visit also highlighted the need for reconciliation between nations previously at war, and a future that relies on harmony.

I visited Hiroshima just 2 months prior to the president’s visit as part of the itinerary of Queen Elizabeth’s 2016 World Cruise and of course I expected to see the peace park, memorial museum and the bomb site, that includes the famous A-bomb dome, (preserved as a symbol of peace), to remind the world of the events of August 6th 1945.

But I didn’t visit any of them.

Instead I spent the day on Miyajima Island, where I experienced complete harmony with nature; the island is a little piece of heaven “where people and gods live together”.

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Welcome to Hiroshima

After disembarking Queen Elizabeth into the cool morning we entered the tin shed that served as a passenger terminal but this cold metal exterior belied the atmosphere within.  The maiden call of Queen Elizabeth brought excitement, wonder and many smiles to the locals who welcomed us warmly.  They even had a small display showing the history of Cunard, along with many local goods and services.

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Excitement at Queen Elizabeth’s maiden voyage here

I was drawn to the volunteer welcomers, all pretty in pink, because I have volunteered in a similar position at Port Melbourne to welcome the cruise ships to my city. I approached them and asked if I could pose with them, and after showing them some photos of me in the role in Melbourne, along with some helpful translation, they were delighted.

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Hiroshima’s Cruise Welcomers

Waterfront welcomers with ship

Life in Camelot working as a Waterfront Welcomer in Melbourne

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Life in Camelot with the Hiroshima Cruise Welcomers

After utilising the free internet in the terminal (Cunard really needs to step into the 21st century and provide free internet services), my husband and I each bought a one day streetcar (an electric railway) and ferry pass for 840 yen (just under AU$10).  The streetcar journey took about 30 minutes to reach Miyajimaguchi where we then boarded the ferry.

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The ferry to Miyajima Island

It only took 10 minutes for the ferry to transport us to Miyajima where the majestic Tori gate beckoned us into the shore. We were greeted at the terminal by a deer – it seemed tame – as it sniffed around my handbag for food.

As we wandered along the waterfront I discovered that the deer are everywhere and live in harmony on the island with the traders and the tourists.

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Greeted by inquisitive deer

They were just so photogenic and placid that I could have stayed with them all day.

I even took photos of other tourists enjoying the deer…

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Excited tourists posing with the deer

… and then I reached the Tori gate!

This majestic gate was far more orange than I’d expected but still so grand.  The tide was in as we approached and I took loads and loads of photos of it, with my iPhone and my SLR (the film not developed yet as I write this).

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Miyajima’s Tori Gate

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Life in Camelot and husband, King Arthur, pose with the Tori Gate

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A vision for sore eyes

I could have sat and gazed at the gate, the water and the gorgeous deer for hours but there was more to see on Miyajima Island, this little slice of Japanese countryside bliss.

There were a lot of people wandering about the Itsukushima Shrine, which also appears to float in the ocean when the tide is in, but we were drawn to Mt Misen and felt compelled to climb it before doing anything else.

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Itsukushima Shrine

I love a good cable car ride up a mountain (that will be another blog post some day) and was excited at the prospect of riding the ‘ropeway’ as the Japanese call them.  However we didn’t have any cash on us that day and couldn’t see any credit card signs at the ticket office; however this didn’t phase me too much as it was the most glorious day and we were drawn up the mountain by the sheer beauty and serenity.

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Directions up Mt Misen

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5 storied pagoda

The ascent was made easy by the sheer beauty of crossing little stone bridges, over creeks, waterfalls and koi-filled ponds, shaded by handsome trees, and of course, more friendly deer.

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Ascending Mt Misen

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Koi pond

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Life in Camelot with a deer friend

We never made it onto the ropeway ride because at the top (and main entrance) we discovered that the ride required a further 2 or so hours spent on top of the mountain, time we didn’t really have before returning to Queen Elizabeth.

So we descended the mountain via a different, but just as beautiful path and drank in the tranquility of this little piece of heaven, near Hiroshima.

Communing with nature makes you hungry though, and after buying some gifts and souvenirs (I just had to get something to celebrate the gate and the deer),

we ducked into one of the little restaurants that faced the ocean for a late lunch.

As if all those giant oysters weren’t enough, my husband had to stop at one of the local vendors to try his luck with some barbequed octopus on a stick (he claims it was still struggling as it went down),

and I indulged in one of the little cakes in the shape of the maple leaf as we strolled back along past many tourist shops.

Maple cakes

Momiji Manju, is the name given to the maple-leaf shaped pastries found on Miyamija Island.  They consist of a dough of flour, water, sugar and starch and are filled with red bean paste. They are boiled but served cold, usually at teatime.  It has been this way since the 14th century.

As we approached the Tori gate again my heart skipped a beat because whilst we’d been frolicking in the mountains with the deer the tide had gone out and it became possible to take even more photos, down at the water level.

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Low tide at the Tori gate

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What a grand structure

Of course it was just at this time that my trusty NIKON SLR camera (only about 17 years old) decided to stop working completely – it may have been just one deer shot too many – so I only had my iPhone to rely on for the rest of the photos.  However, that didn’t stop me from taking as many as possible, including the obligatory ‘selfie’ in front of the gate.

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Selfie at the Tori gate

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Barnacles and coins to make a wish upon the Tori gate

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A very happy traveller

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Beautiful day on Miyajima Island

It was with a heavy heart that I boarded the ferry back to the mainland because I could have stayed there and enjoyed the peace and harmony of the island all day long.  But we had intended to try to see the city of Hiroshima as well before heading back to Queen Elizabeth.

As luck would have it, (or possibly not), we’d spent so many hours on Miyajima we ran out of time and had to return to the catch the last shuttle back to the cruise terminal.  It was still a hive of activity  with visitors keen to see the ship and partake in the festivities of this day.

I used the free internet again, watched a display of young sword fighters and saw some sturgeon being sold by a local fisherman.

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Farewell performance for cruise passengers

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Baby sturgeon for sale

I talked to some lovely local women who gave me brochures for my scrapbook and practiced their English; they were even impressed at my 3 or 4 words of Japanese; they really are so well-mannered.

Then I joined my husband back in our port-side stateroom where we watched the Hiroshima police band play for us whilst the excited locals waved their glowsticks with gusto.

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Police band and groupies farewell Queen Elizabeth

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Farewell Hiroshima – we shall return

When we reconnected with our fellow passengers that evening we heard many stories about how sad and poignant their visits had been; some people who had spent their time between the peace memorial and the island wished they’d only been to the island, because the island offered an idyllic escape from the grim reminders of war in the city.

As we sailed away to our next port I was left so inspired and moved by Hiroshima, it’s people, nature and harmony.

Anzac Day 2015

In 1986 I visited Anzac Cove in Gallipoli. It wasn’t Anzac Day but rather November, close to Remembrance Day. It was a deceptively tranquil piece of coastline where the tunnels, graves and memorial imposed a sense of surreal awe upon a young Australian backpacker.

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli

Ataturk's memorial at Gallipoli, Turkey

That was 29 years ago and I wouldn’t have believed that the commemoration of Gallipoli would grow even stronger as the years went by.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the landing of the allied troops onto this forboding peninsula where so many thousands of young men died, and many observations were held across several continents to mark this solemn occasion.

I write about one in particular because it involves a relative of mine, who served at Gallipoli; my great-great uncle, Benjamin Bennett Leane was honoured today when Prince Charles read out part of his diary at the dawn service at Gallipoli.  The diary was written in the form of letters, addressed to his wife Phyllis, back in Australia looking after their 2 young children; Benjamin never met his youngest child.

Benjamin Leane (pictured standing on the far left) was one of 6 boys, 4 of whom served at Gallipoli – one of them was my great grandfather (seated front left in the picture).  Benjamin and his brothers managed to survive the ordeal at Gallipoli, but he was to die 2 years later at Bullecourt in France.

Life In Camelot, WWI, Anzac, Gallipoli, Leane family

My relatives, the Leane brothers, in WWI

This is just one of the hundreds of thousands of stories that would have been shared today and in the 100 years since the landing and ensuing battle at Gallipoli, forever to be known as Anzac Cove.

I would love to hear your stories too.