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Father and daughter pass the time browsing through the Sunday paper on the train to Hiroshima.

Sunday, April 16

Exactly at six a.m., we were woken up by the electronically generated strains of Fur Elise coming from a loudspeaker in the neighborhood. This, we discovered, was a public alarm clock in place for the benefit of the many farmers in the district. It was an old tradition in the area. When my wife was a child, an air raid siren was used for the same purpose. The current version, equally loud, was more melodic but did the job equally well. Not having any work to do in the fields this day, we were able to go back to sleep for another hour or two.

My wife's mom made us a wonderful breakfast. The morning was bright, but the sunlight was diffused by a thick layer of haze left over from the previous day's storm. Today, we were going to the Itsukushima Shrine in southwest Hiroshima prefecture, one of the nihon sankey, the three most beautiful sights in Japan. The vermilion tori standing in Hiroshima Bay is the one image that most often symbolizes the spirit and beauty of the nation to the rest of the world.

Hiro river valley
The small town of Hiro nestled comfortably in a beautiful river valley.

In the daylight, I finally had the chance to look around outside and discovered that we were in a beautiful and deep river valley. Tall, green hills rose almost vertically from either side. We were quite near the river that a dam, not far upstream from us, had reduced to a mere trickle while construction was being done to strengthen the banks. During the monsoon season, the river would need to carry a great deal of water out to the ocean. The house was on a quiet side street of a residential neighborhood consisting mostly of houses widely varying sizes, ages and conditions. My wife told me that the population of the small district had increased by about a third since she was a child. (The neighborhood in southern New England where I grew up had grown by nearly the same amount in the same length of time.) Not to far away, I could see some small industrial buildings. Above and behind us, the narrow highway began its winding journey through the hills and canyons to Higashi (East) Hiroshima. Even on Sunday morning, a nearly equal number of cars and trucks shared the road. But, during the pauses in the traffic, the valley was almost perfectly quiet.

My wife's sister came by after breakfast to pick the three of us up and shuttle us to the train station in her husband's car. Both my sister- and mother-in-law's primary form of personal transportation were motor scooters. We waited at the station while she went back to her condo several blocks away to fetch her husband and children. I had seen them three years before at our wedding when they were about the same age as the pair in Osaka. But now, our nephew was thirteen and our niece was eleven. Like most kids their age, they were going through a phase when they were very shy around adults (particularly relatives) but, I am sure, more than made up for their diffidence when they were with their friends.

Soon, the seven of us were together on a crowded Sunday morning local to Hiroshima. The train was full of families heading into the city for various weekend activities. In the daylight, I could see the details of the busy coastline of Hiroshima prefecture passing by. There were long lines of docks and a multitude of ships. As we were passing through Kure, I could see the somber, gray hulls of a small feet from the Japanese Self Defense Force. Further along, giant cranes straddled cargo ships and huge warehouses rose on both sides of the tracks. But every so often, there was space for a broad, green park that had allowed room for an unobstructed view of the coast and the inland sea that separates the great island of Honshu from the smaller island of Shikoku.

Itskushima ferry
Passengers board the ferry to Itsukushima.

Ferry to the Island Shrine

The train nearly emptied at Hiroshima station, but a few more passengers boarded. We needed to travel several more stops before arriving at our destination, Miyajimaguchi. This small harbor town is where we would board a large, modern ferry for the fifteen-minute trip to the island of the shrine. Before getting our tickets, we stopped into a neighborhood convenience store to buy our picnic lunch. With the group of us descending on the compact store, I felt like I was part of a small but reasonably well-mannered invasion force. The shop afforded us a wide choice of possible meals and we left feeling comfortably stocked-up and headed across the street to the dock. We were able to buy our tickets and immediately board a boat that was getting ready to leave. We were under way even before we had settled into our seats.

Somewhere above the haze, clouds were occasionally ganging up on the sun and the surface of the narrow straight would turn slate gray. In the distance, I could see different parts of the Hiroshima coast shimmering under travelling spotlights of sunshine. I took a few minutes to explore around the boat and take a few pictures of the shrine in the distance and then returned to the table in the rear of the passenger cabin where our niece and nephew decided we should all sit.

Next: Attacked!




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