As our time in Japan drew to a close, we continued to head further south. The weather got warmer (still hazy skies, though) and we finally started to see some cherry blossoms in full bloom. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time in these last three destinations, relative to our slightly-more-than two weeks in Tokyo/Osaka, but here are some of our highlights from the end of the trip.
We spent one day in Hiroshima, mostly in the area around the Peace Memorial Park. This park, which was full of beautiful cherry blossoms at the time of our visit, is on the site of what was the center of the atomic bomb blast. We entered the park from the north end and were greeted by the somber sight of the A-bomb Dome rising above the surrounding greenery. This building, formerly the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrual Promotion Hall, was almost directly beneath the bomb when it detonated. In spite of this fact, the walls and dome remained standing while the rest of the building was destroyed. The dome, now a World Heritage Site, is left in its skeletal condition as a reminder of the destruction and suffering caused by nuclear weapons.
We also visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and National Peace Memorial Hall. Both of these buildings, while recounting the facts of the explosion, also prominently featured first hand accounts of people who were involved in the blast and its aftermath. The stories of the victims and survivors were harrowing and heartbreaking. Walking through the museum and memorial really brought to life what had, up to this point in my life, often been reduced to a few paragraphs in a history textbook. They weren’t fun places to visit in the typical sense of travel or vacation destinations, but I would absolutely recommend making time for it if you are in Hiroshima.
By contrast, the park surrounding all of these solemn reminders of the cost of war was beautiful and full of life, especially with the cherry blossoms blooming all around. We spent a while just sitting and admiring the scenery. I imagined this was the intended effect as it was helpful to have some time to decompress after the more grim exhibits in the museum.
Our time in Fukuoka was even more brief than Hiroshima. It was really just a long layover in-between Hiroshima and Okinawa. We took a bus from Hiroshima to Fukuoka. At about $40 each it was half the price of the train. We didn’t have anything in particular planned for Fukuoka, and our flight to Okinawa wasn’t until that night. This meant that even with a four hour bus ride in the morning we still had plenty of time to do some exploring. We got lunch at a tempura restaurant in Canal City, a giant shopping mall not far from the bus stop.
After that we took a stroll to Maizuru Park. This ended up being the best cherry blossom viewing experience of our entire trip. There were flowers everywhere, and the park was full of people picnicking under the trees. There were so many varieties of trees, the branches of which were filled with vibrant shades of pink. After wandering for a while, we found a nice spot to sit down and napped, read, and took some belated engagement photos.
We then returned to the station to pick up our stuff since we had stashed our bags in a coin locker again. We may be frugal, but no amount of pinched pennies is worth carrying a thirty pound pack on your back all day. It was a very quick train ride to the airport, and our check-in with Peach Aviation was incredibly fast. The flight to Okinawa was a little less than two hours and cost about $30 each.
Our last stop in Japan was Okinawa. Okinawa represents a unique cultural crossroads. For much of its history, Okinawa was known as the Ryukyu Kingdom and had a unique language and culture, separate than that of mainland Japan. Additionally, since the end of World War II there has been a significant American military presence on the island. This has allowed elements of traditional Ryukyuan, Japanese, and American culture to mix together on this small island. For example, the ubiquitous street-side vending machines, common all over Japan, were frequently stocked with root beer on Okinawa (much to Alana’s delight).
We spent a couple days in the capital city of Naha before taking a ferry to nearby Zamami Island. Naha was an interesting city. The area we were staying, by Kokusai Dori (International Street), reminded me of Ocean City, NJ, where I frequently went on vacation while growing up. There were lots of stores selling funny souvenirs, many reflecting the mix of American and Japanese culture. The only tourist destination we visited was Shurijo Castle. This big red fortress was once the seat of power of the Ryukyu Kingdom. When we got our tickets we were also given a map that had spaces for stamps we could collect at different areas of the castle. It was a fun little scavenger hunt (probably designed with kids much younger than us in mind) and we got a prize at the end for finding all of the stamps. The castle itself was very well maintained and noticeably different in design than any of the other castles we had visited previously.
Zamami Island, like our quest to see cherry blossoms, turned out to be a seasonally misguided effort. The island was practically deserted. It seemed like we were the only guests in the small hotel where we were staying, and we hardly ran into anyone walking around town. Many of the restaurants were closed or operating on limited hours. The beaches were nice, though the weather wasn’t quite warm enough for either of us to feel like swimming, and the sky was still perpetually hazy. I’m sure Zamami would probably be a great place to spend some time during the summer, but I wouldn’t recommend going there in late March/early April.