A Half-Day Visit to Hiroshima (2017 East Asia Trip Series)

I did not plan to visit Hiroshima during my one week trip to Japan, since it was far from Tokyo and Kyoto. Originally I planned to stay in Osaka for the entire day. However, my interest in history prevailed so I undertook a half-day trip to Hiroshima and made the decision almost spontaneously (in Chinese: 说走就走) before I went to Osaka. Since Osaka is on the way from Kyoto to Hiroshima, I left my luggage in Osaka at the hotel and came back for the night after visiting Hiroshima.

If there is one thing people associate with Hiroshima, it is probably the atomic bomb. The first atomic bomb to be ever used in war was dropped on Hiroshima during the final days of World War II, killing many innocent people as well as combatants alike. Today, Hiroshima has many monuments dedicated to promoting world peace.

I arrived in a gloomy Hiroshima on a cloudy and relatively cool afternoon on the Shinkansen, in contrast with the sunny and hot weather for the past several days, perhaps setting the tone for what I am about to see.


My first destination was the Atomic Bomb Dome, located right beside the river. I got there on a street car from the Hiroshima Shinkansen station. The dome is what is left of the former Hiroshima Prefecture Industrial Promotion Hall, originally designed by Czech architect Jan Letzel. The atomic bomb “Little Boy” was exploded approximately 600 meters in the air, 160 meters southeast of the hall. Since the blast came from almost directly above, some of the walls around the dome are still standing.

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According to a board near the A-Bomb Dome, the citizens of Hiroshima debated whether to keep this structure. “Some felt it should be preserved as a memorial to the bombing, while others thought it should be destroyed as a dangerously dilapidated structure evoking painful memories.” Ultimately, it was preserved and the goal is to keep it looking like the original site after the bombing.

I circled around the enclosure around the dome and walked one street to the east, to a ordinary-looking hospital. On the west side of the hospital was a stone monument, marking the hypocenter of the blast. Unlike the A-Bomb Dome, this place was much obscure and hard to find, and there weren’t any tourists when I was there.

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The stone monument reads:

Carried to the Hiroshima from Tinian Island by the Enora Gay, a U.S. Army B-29 bomber, the first atomic bomb used in the history of humankind exploded approximately 600 meters above this spot. The city below was hit by heat rays of approximately 3,000 to 4,000 °C along with a blast wind and radiation. Most people in the area lost their lives instantly. The time was 8:15 am., August 6, 1945.

Next I crossed the bridge, which was the intended target of the bomb. On the other side of the river is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Children’s Peace Monument. There is a memorial for Sadako Sasaki from Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, who developed leukemia after radiation exposure due to the bombings and began folding paper cranes while in hospital, as legend says that anyone who can fold 1000 origami paper cranes can be granted a wish by the gods.


I wrapped up my day by walking back towards the train station on foot, passing by the Hiroshima Castle. The entire city has a sullen feel to it. As I was finding my way through the city, I was reminded of not just the suffering of innocent people in Hiroshima, but also the many more in China, Korea, and all parts of Asia harmed by Japanese invasion during World World II, as well as innocent civilians in other Japanese cities that were bombed. Unfortunately, militarism started by a small group of people overtook the country in the early 20th century and ultimately resulted in the suffering of Japan’s own people.

We should all be grateful we live in a relatively peaceful era, don’t take that for granted and live our lives meaningfully.

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Three Nights and Two Days in Kyoto (2017 East Asia Trip Series)

During my one week trip to Japan, I spent a total of three nights and two days in the city of Kyoto. I arrived on the late afternoon of August 18th on the Shinkansen (high speed bullet train; 新干线) from Tokyo and slept in Kyoto on the nights of August 18th, 19th, and 21st. On the 20th, I spent the night in Nara during a one day trip there. I spent more time in Kyoto than any other city in Japan, after consulting with a few friends who suggested Kyoto had more to see than Tokyo. As a traveler who is more interested in history than modern city scenery, I sensed this was the right judgement. Kyoto was the capital of Japan for more than 1000 years.

First Night: Kamo River and Gion

Since I arrived in the late afternoon, I decided to tour somewhere close by the hotel. The hotel staff suggested I check out the Gion-Shijo subway station area, which has the Kamo river and many bustling restaurants and shops to the west. To the east is Gion, the most famous geisha district in Kyoto.


I stayed at Piece Hostel Sanjo and toured the bridge area around Gion-Shijo station.

After having conveyer belt sushi for the first time in my life, I arrived on the Shijo Dori bridge overlooking the Kamo river. On the west side of the river, many people dined on the roofless wooden balconies illuminated by lights that look like fireflies from afar. Many young people sat along the grassy river banks, staring into the water that rushes in the dark. Some maybe locals just casually enjoying a night beside the river, others maybe travellers taking the opportunity to soak in the peaceful yet lively atmosphere. A little to the southeast is the Hanamikoji Dori, a road with traditional Japanese houses on both sides. There were many tourists on this road, all waiting to see geisha, which we did.

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Second Day: Higashiyama Ward and Fushimi-Inari Taisha

On the next day, I started the day exploring the Higashiyama Ward (东山区), beginning with Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), an independent Buddhist temple with a history over 1200 years, dedicated to Kannon, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It sits high on Mount Otawa and one can get a panoramic view of Kyoto from the top. There is a shrine up the top, Jishu Shrine, that is popular with young people. It is said if one can walk from one stone pillar to the other with his/her eyes closed, one will be able to find true love. Up and down the road to Kiyomizu-dera one can find many small shops selling various arts and crafts, and specialty foods and drinks. My favourite is anything made with matcha, which can be found throughout Kyoto.

After Kiyomizu-dera I strode downhill along two preserved streets, Sannen-zaka (三年坂) and Ninen-zaka (二年坂). There are restaurants and teahouses on either side of the street. This pedestrian-only street doesn’t have any power lines, unlike the rest of Kyoto, which can give visitors a taste of what Kyoto was like before modern times. Further north lies Maruyama-koen Park, with a small pond and trees that look like a small oasis. Further downhill I passed the Chion-in Temple and Shoren-in Temple.

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I then took the subway to downtown Kyoto, ate ramen for lunch, and toured Nishiki Market and the food floor at the Daimaru Department Store, which is essentially a foodie’s paradise.

In the afternoon I took the JR Nara Line train to Fushini-Inari Taisha, one of the most iconic sites of Kyoto. According to the official map, the shrine is made for “worship for the guardian god of abundant crops, businesses, prosperity, and family safety.” Many fox statues can be seen on the mountain since the foxes are considered servants of the god of harvest. The earliest parts were built in the year 711, before Kyoto became the capital of Japan. The most notable sights at Fushini-Inari Taisha are the orange torii gates, called the Senbon Torii (千鸟本居). There are approximately 10,000 torii gates along the main path up the mountain. The torii gates have the colour of vermilion, symbolizing the “life force and counteract spells”. The gates are given by worshippers nationwide and they symbolize “wishes coming through”.

In the evening I strolled in the Gion area again, revisiting the amazing views and some roads I missed.

Third Day: Arashiyama

In between my the second and third day, I took a day trip to Nara. On the third day, I got back to Kyoto around noon and set off to see the Arashiyama (岚山) area on the western outskirts of Kyoto, known for the famed bamboo forest.

My first destination was Tenryu-ji Temple (天龙寺), another UNESCO World Heritage site. This Zen temple was established in 1339. Profits from trading ships to China were used to complete its construction. The site consists of the Main Hall and the garden / pond. Previously on my trip to Japan I saw tea houses and halls with bamboo mattings that were closed off to the public. This was the first time where I can take my shoes off, step into the hall, and feel like I’m traveling back in time. One can take a walk that stretches around the pond and to the garden at the back as the path slopes uphill. The garden is known as the Garden of a Hundred Flowers, with a wide collection of trees, bushes, and herbs all together in one place.

There is an exit from the back of the garden directly to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Before going to the Bamboo Grove I contemplated on making a detour from the front of the temple and walk further along the southwest direction to see this stone monument for Chinese premier Zhou Enlai. I learned afterwards there is a poem by him inscribed on the stone. However, I was short on time in the afternoon and decided to save that for another time when I come back to Kyoto in the future.

The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is the most spectacular bamboo forest I saw in my life thus far. Even though the forest wasn’t too large by area, it was not possible to discern an end by peering through the bamboos, or even standing in the middle of the narrow path that cuts through the forest, shrouded by tall bamboos from either side. A few minutes into my journey into the forest, it was just the right of time of day for rays of sunlight to pierce the grove, creating an amazing effect.


At the end of the Bamboo Grove sits the Okochi-Sanso Villa, formerly the estate of a famous Japanese film actor. The admission includes a free cup of matcha tea and sweet at the end of tour.

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My plan was to go to Kinkaku-ji Temple. But unfortunately it closed right before I got there. In the evening I toured a narrow alley, Pontocho Alley. I’ve been close to it before but never walked on the alley before since it was narrow and easy to miss.


Kyoto is by far my favourite place out of all places I visited and will visit this year. Its rich history and cultural significance provide a nice break for anyone who want to escape from the present for a while. I feel in North America people live a hurried, fast-paced life everyday. It would be an amazing feeling to relax, read a book or otherwise, along the riverside or in some wooden house enjoying tea at the same time in Kyoto. Finally, of course, matcha is everywhere over there.