#TBT: Japan Trip, April 2005: Shinkansen, Hiroshima, Peace Memorial Park

I’m writing this on my PDA (MODERN DAY NOTE: A PDA. Wasn’t that CUTE?!?!?!) while on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) from Hiroshima back to Kyoto. If you can read it, that means I’m much more computer-savvy than I give myself credit for (grin).

Today was pretty stress-free, since we’re getting more of our bearings when it comes to trains, shuttles, scheduling, maps, etc.

After yesterday’s near-fast (grin), we made sure to make room for meals today. We took the 9:20am shuttle from the hotel to Kyoto Station and, after a quick detour to a touristy place under Kyoto Tower to buy postcards, we had breakfast at a restaurant in the Station called “Beef Stew.” And I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure that’s what Joe and/or Steve (our friend on this trip with us) had for breakfast (grin). I, on the other hand, had bacon and egg on French bread with a side of salad and Miso soup (Yeah, salad and soup with breakfast. That’s what they do here. Different culture).

So we made it onto the Shinkansen to Osaka (15 min ride), then switched trains to go to Hiroshima (90 min ride).


Waiting for the Bullet Train


Here it is!


The trains are VERY comfortable, with padded seats and foot rests. They have bathrooms, offer snack/beverage service, you name it.


This train is 8 cars long and each car has its own set of “rules”….reserved seats vs. non-reserve, smoking or non-smoking, “silence car,” etc.

At Hiroshima, we took a trolley car to the museum area that we intended to see. The first thing we saw was the Peace Park, which encases the remains of the “A-Bomb Dome.” That is a building that (sort of) survived the atomic bomb attack (“sort of” because all that’s left is the skeleton of the building and a few inner wall structurings…as opposed to all the other buildings in the city, which were totally obliterated).


The A-Bomb Dome as you approach from the trolley.


Information and history about the A-Bomb dome.


Beauty, destruction and modern times.


Information about the destruction of Hiroshima.


The Peace Memorial Park area. In the hours and days after the bomb hit, thousands and thousands of bodies floated in this river.

The park also houses several memorials (to the various thousands of people who perished), and the history museum. Here are a few of them, with explanations when possible:


Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students (middle- and high-school students who were working for the government to help make fire paths. Over 3/4 of the mobilized students died from the A-bomb.)


Close-up of the base of the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students


Cenotaph for A-bomb victims (Memorial Monument for Hiroshima, City of Peace).


Short explanation of the Cenograph


Children’s Peace Monument. This memoriam is to Sadako Sasaki, a teenager who died of leukemia over a decade after being explosed to the A-bomb at the age of 2. Her goal was to make 1,000 origami cranes, in the hopes that doing so would cure her. She didn’t live to finish, and her grieving friends raised the money to erect this memorial to her. People from all over the world still bring thousands upon thousands of paper cranes to her memorial site.


The golden crane inside the Children’s Peace Monument.


Short explanation of the Children’s Peace Monument.


A small percentage of the thousands of cranes at the Children’s Peace Monument.


This mound of dirt is made from the cremated remains of the people who perished in the days, weeks, months and years after the A-bomb hit. Most of the people whose ashes are in the mound were unidentified.


(from front to back) Flame of Peace, Pond of Peace, Cenograph (partially obscured) and the center area of the Hiroshima Peace Museum.

The museum was amazing…it went through the history of the city of Hiroshima, the history of the invention of the atomic age, the events that led up to 8:15am on August 6, 1945, the immediate effects of the bomb, as well as the after-effects, some of which (birth defects, cancer, psychological, etc) persist to present-day time.

The museum houses thousands upon thousands of artifacts, from clothing people were wearing on the day of the bombing, to lunch boxes (melted, with burnt food still inside), to a pocket watch that was permanently stopped at 8:15am, to steps from a former bank that still had the faint shadow of the person who was sitting on them when the bomb hit and he/she was incinerated on the spot. There’s no way that my writing or our our pictures could ever do it all justice, but this website can give further information.

Besides the obvious tragedies of the loss and illness of thousands upon thousands of people, the one disturbing thing to me, as an American, is that the museum portrays not just the city, but the entire country as an innocent victim of the U.S.’s actions. Pearl Harbor and the rest of Japan’s part in WW2 was VERY minimalized in their presentation. Then again, as Americans, WE have learned an entirely different view of history. All depends on your perspective, I guess.

It was raining when we left the museum, but with umbrellas in hand, we checked out the various memorials within the park (see pictures above) and each took a turn ringing the Bell of Peace.


Me ringing the Bell of Peace


An explanation of the Bell of Peace

After that, we caught a trolley back to Hiroshima Station. In the months before we went on vacation, we had gotten a lot of “Japan advice” from someone we knew who had spent about 6 months living and working there, circa 2001-2002, and he recommended if we were going to eat in Hiroshima, to try to go to a restaurant that served okonomi-yaki style, since Hiroshima was famous for it. Okonomi-yaki is grilled ramen noodles, egg, vegetables and a batter, with meat, that you make into a sort of loose pizza in front of you (think of Benihana-style but smaller scale, the food comes all mixed together and you heat it up yourself). We found such a place near Hiroshima Station and had dinner there. VERY tasty!


Steve enjoying his okonomi-yaki.

After dinner, we got our tickets for the Shinkansen back to Kyoto (no changing trains this time!) and here we are on it (remember, I’m writing this on my PDA).

Tomorrow is our walking tour and I think it’s laundry day, as well. Until next time, sayonara!

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Visiting The National September 11 Memorial & Museum

I grew up living in Northern New Jersey and  could see the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in the Manhattan skyline from the windows of my high school.  I’d been to the World Trade Center several times as a child to take in the sights from the observation deck.

During my first trip back to New York after the attack on 9/11, I remember driving on the New Jersey Turnpike and looking toward Manhattan. This was a drive I’d been on countless times before. I knew there was something missing. A huge empty space.

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Me and my mom on the observation deck of the Twin Towers (c. late 1970s)

September 11th means something different to everyone. We’ve talked about visiting the museum and memorial on previous trips but Sharon just didn’t want to go – she’s not ready. While I was traveling with my father on my most recent trip to New York, we had a free day and both decided that we wanted to go.

I’m not going write a review or give you thoughts about my visit. My feelings are very personal and I think that everyone has the right to experience the location without being told how to feel. What I will do is give you some tips and hints that I discovered during our visit that hopefully will help you plan your time there.

Things to know

The location is split up into two separate areas. There is the 9/11 Memorial which is the outside area which includes the park, waterfall and reflecting pools. This area does not need any ticket or admittance fee. The 9/11 Memorial Museum is the area located underground and holds the exhibits and displays. You can buy tickets online if you know your plans in advance. I’d suggest this as it will keep you from having to queue outside before entering. There are discounted tickets for seniors and veterans. Active duty and Retired U.S. Military are admitted for no charge. We arrived about 20 minutes before our ticketed time but had no issues in entering right away.

 

How to get there

Getting to the location is very easy using the subway. Since we were staying near Columbus Circle it was easy to catch a train and exit at the Chambers St. stop. I’d recommend using an app such as Google Maps  to tell you which train to take. This helps because it lists the train line and destination (that’s how you know you are getting on the correct train). It also shows the stops along the way and even when the train is due to arrive. The one caveat is that, unfortunately, the New York subway doesn’t run as efficiently as in other cities like the London Underground or Tokyo subway. In New York, it’s always a guess as to when the next train is coming.

After getting off the train at Chambers St., there is signage for which way to exit the platform for the 9/11 Memorial but the signs sort of stop when the time comes to figure out which set of stairs to take. We just picked one and it was easy enough to find our bearings once we got to street level. One of the first things we saw was the Freedom Tower. It was a short walk from there to the entrance to the museum.

You can also take an taxi/Uber/Lyft to get to the Memorial from your hotel. However, traffic in Lower Manhattan is usually horrible and there is a lot of construction in the area so it’s probably not your best choice.

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Freedom Tower

Self Guided and Guided tour options

The museum does offer a self-guided audio tour. The least expensive version is a free app which you can download to your phone or tablet from Apple or Android. The whole tour downloads so you don’t need to have reception in the museum to use it.  I had forgotten about this before arriving but was able to download it right at the tour desk on the upper level. The person at the tour desk watched to make sure it downloaded correctly. I didn’t bring headphones but they were able to sell me a cheap pair for $2. My dad has the new iPhone with no headphone jack and had left his bluetooth headphones at home. He had to rent the tour on a iPod-like device for $7 and leave his drivers license as a deposit.

The tour is narrated by Robert DeNiro and is very well done. It gives some information and leads you from area to area. It doesn’t lead you to specific items (except for a few iconic displays) but instead lets you look around and explore on your own. There are also several guided tours of both the memorial and the museum. They take 45-60 minutes and cost $15-$20. I’m not one for being led around in a large group so we didn’t sign up for one. You can purchase this with your ticket ahead of time or they were taking sign ups the day we were there. Even on an day that was not crowded, the tours did seem to be selling out for the afternoon time slots, so book in advance if that is your type of thing.

Entering and Touring the Museum 

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Entrance Building t0 the Museum

You have to go through airport-style security to enter the museum, including taking off your shoes and belt. They also do not allow large bags or backpacks in the museum so leave them at your hotel. The information desk, tour desk, restrooms and coat check are one level down from the entrance level; this is where the tour starts. It was a bit confusing on where to start the audio tour. There is one display on the top floor that is talked about and then you need to walk all the way down to the exhibit levels for the next stop. We kept looking for the next area so walked past most of these displays. In retrospect, you can listen to the opening, take your time walking down and reading and then restart when you get down to the main level. I know that sounds a little confusing but it makes more sense when you are there.

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The audio tour takes you from area to area and give some background. We followed the tour to the entrance to the Historical Exhibition. This is located in the original footprint of the North Tower. This, by far, is the most intense area of the museum. The audio tour says that if you have time, to enter the exhibit and yes, if I only had a limited amount of time, I would go to this display first. It is the most important part of the museum to see, IMHO. There were way too many displays to see in the time we had. They rightfully prohibit photography and usage of cell phones in this and several other areas of the museum. Unlike other places, most people were respectful of the rules but the staff also would remind those who were not.

Per the website:

Photography, videography, and audio recording is prohibited in the following Memorial Museum areas:
• Security screening area (ground floor entrance inside the Museum Pavilion)
• September 11, 2001 (the historical exhibition), except whereas otherwise posted
• In Memoriam (the memorial exhibition)
• Auditorium (second floor inside the Museum Pavilion)
• Rebirth at Ground Zero (film presentation)
• South Tower Gallery (interstitial space).

Cellular phones must be silenced, and not used for placing calls, while visitors are in the Memorial Museum’s Exhibition Spaces. Phone calls can be made from the Concourse Lobby level and from the Museum Pavilion’s auditorium level (2nd floor). If visitors are using a Smartphone with an audio component to provide information, they must use personal headphones, or keep the device silent, while in the Exhibition Spaces.

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The Last Column – The final piece of steel to be removed from the WTC site. It is covered with names, pictures and messages. It was transported from the site by an honor guard.

We finished making our way around following the tour in about 2-1/2 hours. There was still more to see but it is a very intense experience and that was enough time for us. Some of the displays are very emotional and the museum does suggest using discretion if bringing younger children (their age suggestion is 10 years).

There is a gift shop which sells all types of items related to your visit. They did provide my dad a discount for being a veteran.

From there, we headed outside to the Memorial. We had an early time to enter the museum so didn’t really walk around the outside when we got there.

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9/11 Memorial Reflecting Pool and Waterfall.

The 9/11 Memorial is more the thing that will come to mind when you think of the site. The iconic reflecting pools and waterfall were the first things to reopen and are the location of the remembrance ceremonies on 9/11. The size and scope of them is impossible to capture just standing there. We silently walked around for a while and then decided to call it a day.

I was thinking about how back in 2002 , I saw that empty space in the Manhattan skyline. That space was made very real when seeing the Memorial. It was right in front of me. A deep hole. However, when I left I didn’t feel a sense of loss or emptiness. There was a remembrance of what happened but also a sense of renewal. That in the face of the worst, we can be the people that we hope we are. I’m very glad my dad and I were able to visit.