Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Day 727 - Hiroshima, Honshu island

Good news…I think this may be a short posting, I don’t’ have that much to write for a change, may be that is why I am starting with a bit of waffle!

We had a late start from Matsuyama, my fault entirely due to a last minute panic as I realised I had some matters from back home that needed to be sorted out before I would next find internet access…who said life on the road is all easy? So after a problematic start to the day things could only get better, they did. We had a really easy route out of Matsuyama, just a case of heading north all on one road and to make matters even better it had a very good cycle path for about the first 20k. It went through a couple of tunnels and through those the cycle path was about as wide as the road with a good surface and good lighting, if only all the tunnels were like that. Once the road reached the coast it became single carriageway without the cycle path, normal service resumed. We stopped for lunch right beside the sea, the weather was in decline, it started to drizzle as we ate our smoked fish. We were back on the road in time to see a dog being walked by its owner, the dog wearing a nappy, made to measure by the look of it. Before long we were on slightly quieter roads heading for an archipelago of islands that we would cross in the next couple of days, all connected by a series of expressway bridges built in 1985. The first one was the biggest, 7.5km in length with 6 towers. The bridge came into sight, all we had to do was try and get on it via the cycle path. We chose the right option and before long we were heading around in circles up a very impressive cycle ramp to join the expressway across the bridge. I would have thought more money had been spent on this one cycle path that on all the cycle paths in the UK put together, but at least this one was heavily used, we saw dozens of cyclists on the track, the first time that we have seen pleasure cyclists in any numbers. The views from the bridge were great but would have been even better if the weather had been a little clearer. After about 5-6km of cycling on the island we were already in the centre and spotted a sign to Rose Garden. We headed there in the hope of finding somewhere to camp but for some reason were really surprised to find that it was….a Rose Garden! I don’t know why, but neither of us expected that. We started to backtrack only to find a small track leading away from the road into a lovely little bamboo wood which made a perfect little campsite for the night.

The forecast for the following day was rain, but we set off to a warm but overcast day. Being a Sunday we expected to see far more cyclists than yesterday, as it happened we saw no more than about 5 the whole day. We crossed to the second island, then followed the well signed route across the 3rd bridge, all very impressive. On the fourth island we took the long route around the island to see the temple of Kosanji (photo). This is a bit of an oddity, created by a former wealthy steel merchant after the death of his mother. The temple was designed by taking aspects from all the best temples around Japan and creating them on his doorstep, then becoming a reverend to enable the structure ‘temple’ status thus freeing it from any taxes. The finished item was all a bit strange and had the feel of an Indian temple rather than anything from Japan. The best part of the whole place was the old house that his mother used to live in with it beautifully manicured gardens. Whilst we were there the rain started, we dashed between the buildings trying to stay dry, we could hardly see the nearby hills. The temple had various stamps place around and if you filled in all the spaces on a sheet of paper they gave you, then you received a free postcard. I was surprised to find that everybody followed it religiously, appropriate in a temple I suppose. It was still raining when we were ready to start cycling again so we took refuge outside a supermarket and had a little snack. It wasn’t going to stop raining and neither of us could eat anymore, we were going to have to move on in the rain. It didn’t take long before we were soaked. We crossed the bridge to the next island and could hardly see any land let alone a decent view. We decided to push on to the 6th island and then just find somewhere to camp, hopefully out of the rain. By the time we were crossing the bridge it had stopped raining, we were getting an ever improving view and even beginning to enjoy the cycling again. We passed a reasonable spot to camp right beside the sea but decided we would find something more secluded, though in reality we started to enter a built up area that turned into a town, none of which was marked on the maps. Camping wasn’t looking great, I was getting my ear chewed off by Christine who wanted to return the 5km or so to the spot we had seen by the sea, though I was reluctant to return into a head wind, we were late enough as it was. Luck was on my side, we made for the hills, turned down a track I had spotted that climbed a little, then came to an end. Climbing up a steep bank by taking one bike at a time and both of us pushing we made it to the top and a nice secluded little wood, and quiet enough for Christine to calm down again.

Come morning within a couple of kilometres we were crossing the last of the 7 bridges, all as impressive or bigger than the Severn Bridge back home. The logistics of creating such an expressway are incredible, it was very impressive and made for a truly great ride. We arrived in the small town of Onomichi, another town packed with over 25 temples. We saw people walking around them all, collecting a stamp at each one, they are rubber stamp crazy here. We visited a temple high up the hill giving us great views of the last bridge we had crossed. Cycling along the coast wasn’t fun, though we hadn’t expected it to be, too much traffic, too much urban sprawl, what a mess! After Yasuura we turned on to what we had expected to be a back road, but it wasn’t, though it was at least a little quieter. We were climbing too. After a while we decided we really ought to start looking for a place to camp, so we soon turned off and rode through some terraced fields. People were working in the fields so we asked one for permission to camp. We were turned down, but we weren’t sure if he had understood us. Around the corner we asked a woman for permission, so she went off to speak to her friends. Judging by all of the pointing up the hill things were looking pretty good. I could tell by her body language as she returned that indeed all as well, though I was really surprised to find that we were being allowed to camp on an unused terrace down the hill, not up it. To make matters worse she didn’t want us to take the bikes across, so we left them in a shed and walked along the terrace edge with a 4m drop on one side carrying all our baggage, it took 2 trips. We could see them all up the hill having a little natter about us, then another woman turned up and seemed to be indicating that we should look at her house, so back we went along the edge of the terrace, my sense of balance already improving. We followed her to her house where she seemed to have the Japanese equivalent of a Granny flat that she said we could stay in, a delightful little place complete with a lovely tatami room, typically Japanese. Another two journeys of balancing along the terrace edges and we were riding to the house. Surprisingly, when we arrived she told us that she and her husband were going elsewhere for the night and would return at 9am the following morning, we had the place to ourselves, very trusting. So all was well….or was it? Actually, no it wasn’t. We were right beside the road and Christine can not stand the slightest noise, I could see that she was very worked up and hardly knowing what to do with herself. My comments that the road would quieten down at night did little to console her, “There is no way I will sleep, and if I do I will be woken by every car that passes”. Once we had finished dinner, and as I wrote my diary she lay on the floor and put earplugs in to see just how bad it was going to be. Minutes later she was sound asleep, cars passed and she didn’t stir, I could here her breathing heavily as she slept. I left her in peace but when she eventually woke she was off again “There is no way I am going to be able to sleep through this, every car wakes me up”. I think she found it hard to believe it when I told how well she had been sleeping.

By morning she was a little happier, she had got plenty of sleep though it hadn’t been perfect by any means. The run into Hiroshima was a busy one and involved a couple of minor climbs, though that is hardly an oddity in Japan, there isn’t a lot of flat around here. On the way into town we met the first touring cyclist we have met since we have been here, a Japanese guy who had been on the road for 6 months and lives in Tokushima, a town we had passed through a couple of days ago. Once we had sorted out somewhere to live for a couple of nights we went straight to the Peace Memorial Park. First stop was the Museum, a very powerful museum giving a full documented history of before, during and after the fateful day of 6th August 1945 when the first Atom Bomb the world had ever seen was deployed, detonated 600m above the city centre killing thousands of people in seconds. It was one of the most fascinating, moving and sad museums I have visited. There were images and models of before and after the event, hardly a single building remained standing within a 3km radius of the hypocentre and by the end of 1945 140,000 people had died. Hiroshima has turned itself into a Peace City with a large memorial park at its centre and to this day it continues to fight for the end of nuclear weapons. Across from the Peace Memorial Park remains the A-Bomb dome (photo), one of the few buildings that wasn’t totally destroyed and today it stands there as it did after the explosion as a powerful reminder of what happened on that day. We spent a long time in the museum and walked through the park afterwards. We walked in almost total silence, both finding it had to talk after seeing what we had. We ended the evening with philosophical discussion about the ethical questions raised about killing so many people to bring an end to the war, though it is well documented that it could have been stopped without the bombs as Japan had agreed to surrender, they just couldn’t agree on the position of their tenno (emperor).

So today we have visited a mixture of sights. As we rode around the city we could see evidence of little things that had survived the blast, even a tree 1.5km from the hypocentre that had been badly scorched yet was now still growing strongly. We visited a contemporary art museum, one of the worst museums I have ever visited. I tend to struggle a bit with modern art, though even by the end of the one Christine said “I can’t find anything good about this place, it is terrible”. It was all the work of a single artist, or at least that is what he called himself. I reached a work entitled “Oneness in paper (No.323)”. It was a large piece of paper with a large whole torn out of the middle, then that piece had been torn up and placed back sort of randomly. It wasn’t even framed, it wasn’t worth the money or effort to be honest. If I had seen that on its own I probably would have stood there and scratched my head for a while, but after I had just walked past the other 322 of the things it was wearing a little thin. By about No. 350 he had advanced to the use of a 3rd colour, the guy was a nutter. He then advanced to 5,000 works entitled “Point”, though I certainly couldn’t see the point! Then one Christmas some plonker gave him a roll of tape! Now there were 5,000 works called “Tape” and guess what, they were pieces of paper torn in half and taped back together, though for some strange reason he forgot to throw them away at the end of it. Actually I have just had a thought….the guy isn’t a nutter at all, he is a genius. As we cycle around we have a constant problem of finding a rubbish bin, there are none anywhere. He has obviously got around the problem by hanging up his litter on the walls of an art museum…what a guy! I don’t usually fill in questionnaires, but I did about the museum. The place was massive and employed a lot of staff, yet other than us nobody was there. I asked them if they could work out why? Another art museum was vastly better, it even had Dali’s floppy clocks in there. We ended the day in sombre mood again having visited a memorial to the victims of the bombing.

But Hiroshima has shown what a great spirit the people here have. From the ashes has grown a big city that is still coming to terms with what happened on that day at 8:15am. But as we ride around it now looks like any other Japanese city, yet at the time of the blast it was said that nothing would grow there for 75 years. The city has made a big impression on me, it is something I will never forget.


aoiffe said...

In late March The Guardian newspaper reported on the official Japanese recognition of the only known survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs. Fron what I can recall of the article the man, who is now in his 90's, had been on a business trip to Hiroshima when the first bomb detonated. Burned, he made his way home to Nagaski and was caught up in the second blast. An amazing personal history.

dad said...

I remember well the day the bomb was dropped. We were still working in the Med and,sadly,our thoughts were not of the victims but elation because we would not be sent to the Pacific where if we were sunk the chances of survival were slim indeed. Innocent civilians always pay for tthe sins of those who start wars.

Caff said...

Well I'm afraid I have no wise comments to make about Hiroshima other than it was a very thought provoking post. I would however like to take the opportunity of congratulating you on completing two full years of travelling and cycling. Oh to have your opportunities you lucky bugger! It seems strange reading back to the first few postings you did and your doubts about whether you would make it to the Alps let alone Australia. Now here you are cycling with a lovely companion who is cooking you 3-course meals and buying you chocolate you lucky bugger! How quickly time seems to have flown.I wish you all the best for year 3 of your travels. My love and best wishes continue to go with you you lucky bugger!! :-) xx