Hiroshima

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Hiroshima City is on the east coast of Japan. But more important than this geographical feature is its location at the mouth of a delta. The majestic Ohta River meanders down from higher elevations and branches out sometimes only to converge again across the city, before eventually spilling into Hiroshima Harbor, resulting in distinctly divided sections of the city.

The area that visitors first become familiar with is the Hiroshima Station area, a bit northeast of the city center, even though the addresses of many of the businesses here indicate "south ward." As you might imagine, this busy area features many businesses intended for tourists and travelers--hotels and shopping centers with many eateries interspersed between them. Directly in front of the station is a tram, the primary form of transportation to the center of the city.

Hiroshimas geographical center is comprised five districts. The first, Nagerakawa, is neon central. Here the signs of bars, restaurants of all classes, and sundry entertainment establishments set the swarming streets aglow. During the day, shoppers may be out in throngs, particularly around Mitsukoshi Department Store and Midorii Tenmaya. Hondori is the district due west of here, and just south of the tram stops for Kamiya-cho, Tate-machi and Hacchobori. Actually, Hondori is the name of the arcade that runs through this section, leading you to correctly assume that there are many shopping opportunities to be had here. But apart from the PARCO and Fukuya shopping centers that act as anchors for smaller shops--Iena, Spick and Span, St. James, and Hybryds to name a few--there are also a number of swank drinking spots--qoo, for example.

Hacchobori and Nobori-machi form the district just north of the tram stops listed above, as well as the Ebisu-cho and Kanayama tram stops. Since you are still in Hiroshima central, the area is busy, but not quite as fast paced as those previously mentioned. Tokyu Hands is the major shopping center here, though an abundance of restaurants is the areas main draw. South of Hondori arcade lies the district formed by Fukuro-machi and Naka-machi. This region is host to a number of hotels, including the famed ANA Hotel. It is also replete with stylish clothing shops, such as Stereo Type and Factory, as well as small restaurants and miscellaneous shops. To the immediate south is the famed Peace Boulevard that leads to Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum. The final district of Hiroshima central is Kamiya-cho, just west of the other four, where shopping opportunities are innumerable. With Sun Mall, SOGO Department Store and others ready to serve you here, you hardly need to go anywhere else.

Concentrically surrounding these central districts are less busy, but certainly no less important areas. Slightly north of the Kamiya-cho and Hacchobori region lies Hakushima and Kamihacchobori. There are a few hotels here--Hacchobori Shanty and Sun Hotel Hiroshima, to name but two--but the main attraction is the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum, adjacent to Shukkeien Garden. About a block west from here is the small but distinctive Hiroshima "Carp" Castle. Another area worth exploring is Hijiyama. Located southeast of Hiroshima central and south of Hiroshima station, it is famous for the park of the same name that occupies its center. Others come for the shopping opportunities, made possible in large part by Saty, and the revitalized feel of the area. Even farther south from this area, and located along the harbor itself, is Ujina. Couples frequent this area, which offers places to stroll and numerous dinner cruises that depart from the docks.

West of the central district, Nishihiroshima begins to shed a little of the ultra-urban feel. Here you will find dozens of miscellaneous and family-run stores, as well as the charming Hiroshima Kannon Marina. The characteristics of Tokaichi and Funairi, located just west of Peace Park but east of Nishihiroshima, are somewhat similar in that the pace is slower than that of central Hiroshima, even though the area is nevertheless quite active and busy at times. This is due in no small part to the tram line that runs through it, directly north to Yokogawa Station, a stopping point on the JR line just west of Hiroshima Station. This area is, as you might imagine, a cluster of activity and business. There are no hotels here, but the eating and shopping opportunities may bring you to this part of the city for a day. Continue following the JR line west from Yokogawa, and, after passing numerous other stations, you will arrive at Itsukaichi, the western extreme of Hiroshima City. In the West Ward, Alpark shopping center is perhaps the biggest attraction, a shopping complex with many specialty stores, its restaurants and drive-in movie theater. Moreover, the more relaxed atmosphere gives a feeling of relief from the downtown area.

History of Hiroshima

Hiroshima's past is rooted in Japans medieval times. Like many pastoral settlements, the five fishing villages then known collectively as Gokamura entered the history books through military action. They became the regional base for a local warlords--largely successful--grab for local power in the 12th century. In order to establish a trade port with China on the only coastline available to him, Kiyomori--head of the Taira clan--started what would become a long succession of engineering projects to dredge the shallow bay and otherwise develop the river delta. To appease the local gods, Kiyomori commissioned Itsukushima Shrine, which, though reconstructed many times, still hovers over the mirror waters of the Bay at high tide. By the time of Kiyomoris not so heroic death, naked and feverish in a palace apartment, he had taken part in one of Japans most infamous legacies, the age of the shogun, or military strongman.

Nearly 400 shogunate years passed before the region again made news. Although the Taira clans power had long since waned, warlords continued to rule the Hiroshima area. In a series of campaigns in the mid-1500s, Mori Motonari defeated neighboring rivals and unified their domains under his own clan in the area known today as Chugoku. Then, in 1589, Motanaris grandson, Terumoto, relocated the Mori headquarters and commissioned a castle to be built near Hiroshima Bay. This so-called "Carp Castle" was occupied by Terumoto in 1593.

With a new castle and lord, the settlement was renamed Hiroshima, or "Wide Island," and began to acquire accruements befitting its status as a castle town. Artisans and traders, and in later years scholars and teachers, turned Hiroshima into a center for Confucian schooling. Bridges helped connect the towns islands into a single entity, which started to resemble todays layout. Canals and wharves provided routes from markets to the Seto Inland Sea and attracted commerce from the countryside. The towns strategic position at the confluence of the Sanyo Highway, Ogawa River, and Seto Inland Sea also earned it recognition as a military base.

Hiroshimas Renaissance continued under the administration of the Asano clan until the Meiji Restoration. The castle town was incorporated as a city in 1889. Five years later, during the Sino-Japanese War, Hiroshimas strategic importance was such that Imperial Headquarters were temporarily relocated there, and the city hosted a special session of the Imperial Diet. If only briefly, Hiroshima had become Japans de facto capital.

In the decades that followed, Hiroshima grew to become the countrys sixth largest city. But at 8.15am on August 6, 1945, the citys growth as a leading military and commercial center came to an abrupt halt. 'Little Boy,' the US atomic bomb carried by the Enola Gay, exploded some 590 meters above the bustling entertainment district near the heart of present-day Hiroshima. The horrific effects of that bomb are well documented and presented at Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum, a must-see lesson in modern history.

Numbers are hard to verify--one mass grave in the Park contains the burned remains of some 10,000 unidentified victims--but roughly 80,000 people are believed to have perished as the bombs immediate after-effect. Another 60,000 died from burns, radiation and other horrors associated with atomic weapons. Even today, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, based in Hijiyama Park, continues to study the after-effects of the bomb among survivors and their families.

Precious little history--monumental or otherwise--survived the devastation. The city has been rebuilt in the modernist, international style of glass, steel and concrete, of which the Pacela Shopping Arcade may be the best example. What few pre-World War II sites remain tend to be scattered outside the city center, in the surrounding hills and vertiginous islands in Hiroshima Bay. Temples, shrines, and cemeteries continue to hold on in the regions lush countryside. Within the city itself monuments stand in for the original, preserved and labeled for posterity, though often seemingly ignored in the bustle of this commercial city.

Speculation was that nothing would grow in Hiroshimas soil for at least 75 years after the bomb, but soon after the blast oleanders--now the citys official flower--started to bloom. Today, oleanders are planted along the citys streets to commemorate the citys post-bomb rebirth. Hiroshima now bills itself as an international "City of Peace." August 6, the commemoration of the atomic blast, has been declared a day for international peace and a nuclear weapons-free world, in hopes that similar tragedy can be avoided.

 

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