Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

nara: kasuga taisha shrine, wakamiya jinja shrine & kohfukuji temple   1 comment

Friday, August 4:  After I finish eating the Kakinoha-zushi for lunch, I get on the bus to explore some of the Nara temples on the outskirts of the main temples.

Kasuga Taisha Shrine lies in a wooded area southeast of the main temples of Nara.

sake barrels at entrance to Kasuga Taisha Shrine

Nara’s deer

Nara’s deer

The paths to the shrine are lined with lanterns, and thousands more are in the shrine itself.

gate to Kasuga Taisha Shrine

lanterns and deer on the pathway to Kasuga Taisha Shrine

Kasuga Taisha Shrine is a Shinto shrine established in 768 and rebuilt several times over the centuries.  It is the shrine of the Fujiwara family, a family of powerful regents in Japan.  The Fujiwara dominated the Japanese politics of Heian period (794–1185) by marrying Fujiwara daughters to emperors. In this way, the Fujiwara gained influence over the next emperor who would, according to family tradition of that time, be raised in the household of his mother’s side and owe loyalty to his grandfather, according to Wikipedia: Fujiwara clan.

Kasuga Taisha Shrine

The origin of Kasuga Taisha Shrine dates back 1,300 years, when Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto, Japan’s most powerful deity, was invited to the sacred peak of Mt. Mikasa, a beautiful mountain behind this site, after the transfer of the national capital to what is now Nara City. The shrine grounds were completed in 768 with four altars for the deity already mentioned, plus a deity working for nation-building and a deity of wisdom and fortune-telling, as well as a Sun Goddess revered in the Middle Ages.

lanterns approaching Kasuga Taisha Shrine

The shrine has always received respect from citizens of Japan, even after the capital moved to Kyoto.  Some 3,000 lanterns, stone or bronze, standing or hanging, were donated by worshipers since the Heian period in a show of their ardent faith.

Kasuga Taisha Shrine

lanterns at Kasuga Taisha Shrine

ema at Kasuga Taisha Shrine


There seems to be no end to the lanterns at Kasuga Taisha Shrine.

stone lanterns at Kasuga Taisha Shrine

There is even a dark room with lit lanterns at the shrine.

The ema at Kasuga Taisha Shrine show the lanterns and the deer encountered all along the way.

ema at Kasuga Taisha Shrine

With numerous rituals, the is a place of prayers for peace and prosperity for everyone on earth.

The Nagi (podocarpus nagi) pure forest in Kasuga Taisha was designated as a National Monument in 1923. It’s known for its spread of upright, dense evergreens with pointed, leathery, dark green leaves arranged on stiff, symmetrical branches.  The tree works very well as a screen, hedge, strong accent plant, or framing tree.

Nagi (pure) forest in Kasuga Taisha

Wakamiya Jinja Shrine is an altar dedicated to the Deity of Wakamiya.  The annual festival of Kasuga-Wakamiya-Onmatsuri has been held from December 15-18 continually since 1136. These religious rites, designated as Significant Intangible Folk Cultural Assets by the central government, include prayers for reducing the spread of epidemics or famines, as well as a gorgeous procession of people in traditional costumes.

Wakamiya Jinja Shrine

wishes at Wakamiya Jinja Shrine

Wakamiya Jinja Shrine

Wakamiya Jinja Shrine

Wakamiya Jinja Shrine

Nagi (pure) forest in Kasuga Taisha

Wakamiya Jinja Shrine is also surrounded by moss-covered stone lanterns.

moss-covered stone lanterns

After visiting these two shrines, I take another bus to the famous Kohfukuji Temple. The original structure was built at the behest of the emperor Shōmu in 726 to speed the recovery of the ailing Empress Genshō.

This used to be the Fujiwara family temple.  The temple was established in Nara at the same time as the capital was established here in 710. At the height of Fujiwara power, it is said the temple consisted of between 150 and 175 buildings.  Fires and destruction as a result of power struggles have left only a dozen standing.

Today a couple of buildings of great historic value remain, including a five-story pagoda and a three-story pagoda.

Kohfukuji Temple

The “Eastern Golden Hall” or Tokondo, a 15th century building north of the Five-Story Pagoda, has a number of Buddhist statues including a large image of Yakushi Nyorai flanked by three Bodhisattva, the Four Heavenly Kings and the Twelve Heavenly Generals, plus a beautiful seated image of Yuima Koji (the Indian Buddhist sage Vimalakirti) (Japan Visitor).  Sadly, no photography is allowed and I’m unable to find any postcards with the images.

Kohfukuji Temple

Kohfukuji Temple

At 50 meters, the five-story pagoda is Japan’s second tallest, just seven meters shorter than the five-story pagoda at Kyoto’s Toji Temple. Kofukuji’s pagoda is both a landmark and symbol of Nara. It was first built in 730. The pagoda had burnt down no less than five times before the 15th century. It was most recently rebuilt in 1426.

Five Story Pagoda at Kohfukuji Temple

The Three-Story Pagoda dates from the early 12th century and houses some important Buddhist paintings.

Three-story Pagoda

inside the Three-Story Pagoda

I use the bathroom on the grounds of Kohfukuji Temple, where I find these funny signs.

After visiting Kohfukuji Temple, I make my way back through the congregations of deer on the way to my hotel.

Nara’s deer

Nara’s deer

Nara’s deer

I take a shower at the hotel before going out for dinner because I’m soaked in sweat.  This heat and humidity in Japan is killing me!

downtown Nara

I head to Manna Indian Restaurant, luckily air-conditioned.

I enjoy Gobi Masala and a huge paan, accompanied by a cold beer.

Gobi Masala

I walk back under gorgeous skies to my hotel.

Nara at sunset

Back at the hotel, I have a 30-minute massage followed by a great night’s sleep. Tomorrow morning, I’ll head to Koyasan, which will be quite a convoluted trip.

Steps today: 18,075 (7.66 miles).

southwest of nara: toshodaiji & yakushiji temples   2 comments

Friday, August 4:  This morning, my second day in Nara, I take bus #70 for 20 minutes to two temples south of Nara proper: Toshodaiji Temple and Yakushiji Temple.

Toshodaiji Temple is the headquarters of the Ritsu Sect of Buddhism. It was established in 759 when the Chinese priest Ganjin Wajo (688 to 763), a high Buddhist priest of the Tang Dynasty, opened what was originally called Toritsushodai-ji Temple to help people learn the Buddhist precepts. He was invited by Japanese Buddhists studying in China to teach the Imperial Court about Buddhism. In 753, overcoming the hardship of losing his eyesight, he arrived in Japan during his sixth attempt to cross the ocean.

Toshodaiji Temple

The Kondo (Golden Hall or Main Hall) houses the principal seated Rushana Buddha, the standing Yakushi Tathagata statue and the standing Thousand Armed Avalokiteshwara National Treasure.

Kondo (Golden Hall or Main Hall) at Toshodaiji Temple

Thousand Armed Avalokiteshwara National Treasure

Photography isn’t allowed inside the halls, but below are three postcards of the Buddhas at Toshodaiji Temple.   Click on any image for a full-sized slide show.

The Kondo, from the 8th century (Nara era) at Toshodaiji Temple is simple, but elegant, as are most Japanese temples.

Kondo (Golden Hall or Main Hall)

The Koro (Multi-storied building) from the 13th century (Kamakura era) is also called “Shariden (reliquary hall) because Buddha’s ashes brought by Ganjin Wajo were enshrined here. In the Zushi (miniature shrine) within the building, the Kinki (golden tortoise) is enshrined. This is also a National Treasure.

Toshodaiji Temple

The Rye-do (Chapel), from the 13th century, was originally the sleeping quarters for monks and is an important cultural property.

Rye-do (Chapel)

The Kodo (Lecture Hall) is from the Nara era.  It is a building removed from the Heijo Palace and reconstructed, where the principal seated Maitreya Tathagata statue (important cultural property), the standing Jikoku-ten statue, and the standing Zojo-ten statue are enshrined.  It’s another national treasure. I don’t have any pictures of these magnificent statues, sadly, as photography is not allowed.

Kodo (Lecture Hall)

A path leads through Toshodaiji Temple to another leafy path.

walkway at Toshodaiji Temple

It’s a welcome relief to find some shade on this hot and sultry day.

path at Toshodaiji Temple

At the end of the path, I find a lovely moss garden with dapples and shadows.

moss garden at Toshodaiji Temple

At the far end of the moss garden is the Kaizan Gubyo, or the Grave of Ganjin, the Founder of Toshodaiji Temple.

Grave of Ganjin, the Founder of Toshodaiji Temple

Toshodaiji Temple is far from Nara proper and its crowds, so it is quite serene here.

Toshodaiji Temple

the Kondo of Toshodaiji Temple

On the way to the Kaidan (ordination platform), a garden of lotus blossoms beckons.

Toshodaiji Temple

Toshodaiji Temple has a few beautiful lotus blossoms, even in the heat of the day.

lotus at Toshodaiji Temple

lotus at Toshodaiji Temple

In looking at my map of these two temples, which are close to each other, I decide instead of taking the bus, I’ll walk to Yakushiji Temple.  Though the map says it’s only a half kilometer, it seems longer than that, especially in this heat.

Yakushiji  is the headquarters of the Hosso sect of Japanese Buddhism.  The actual founder of the Hosso sect is Jion Daishi, but much of the Hosso Sect descends from the “Yugayuishiki” (Yogacara) teachings of Hsuan Tsang (600-664), a famous priest in the T’ang era in China. He studied Buddhism for 17 years in India.  After returning to China, he translated 1,335 volumes of important Buddhist writings, and then taught them as well.

Yakushiji was planned around 680 by Emperor Temmu to pray for the recovery of his Empress from a serious illness. During the long construction period, Temmu died and his Empress acceded to the throne and was called Jito.  The dedication ceremony for enshrining the chief Buddha, Yakushi Nyorai (the Buddha of Healing or Medicine Buddha) was held in 697.  The entire compound was completed in 698 in the south part of Nara, in the Fujiwara Capital. Ten years later, the Capital was moved to the north of Nara (in 710) and Yakushiji was moved to its present site in 718.  It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yakushiji Temple

Yakushiji was burnt down and destroyed by fires, wars, or natural disasters several times.  The most damage was caused by the civil war in 1528.  Today only the Yakushiji Triad in the Kondo, the Sho-Kannon in the Toindo and the East Pagoda recall the grandeur of its original features.

Today, sadly, some major parts of the compound are under construction.

Kodo, or Great Lecture Hall, at Yakushiji Temple

Kondo, or Golden Hall, at Yakushiji Temple

Sadly, because no photography is allowed of the famous Buddha statues, I purchase a couple of postcards of the images.  Neither the postcards, nor any photos, could do them justice, as they are imposing and sit within the beautiful Kondo, or Golden Hall. Between the Buddha statues at Toshodaiji Temple and here, at Yakushiji Temple, I’m in awe.  These are truly magnificent pieces of art.

Postcards from Yakushiji Temple show the famous Yakushi Triad: the Yakushi Nyorai flanked by the Bodhisattvas of the sun and moon.  These are arguably some of the most beautiful statues in all of Japan.

The postcard on the left shows Yakushi Nyorai, a bronze statue (225 cm, or 7.4 feet tall) that is a National Treasure from the Hakuho Period (645-710); he is the Buddha of Healing and the Lord of the Emerald Pure Land in the East, who vowed to cure diseases of the mind and body.  He was already popular in Japan before the 7th century. He is also worshiped in order to achieve longevity. Though Yakushi Nyorai usually has a medicine pot in his left hand, this one does not.

The postcard to the right shows one of two Bodhisattvas – Nikko Bosatsu, who attends Yakushi Nyorai on the right side.  Gakko Bosatsu (not pictured), stands on the left side. Both are about 320 cm, or 10.5 feet tall. Nikko means the sunlight and Gakko means the moonlight.  They are impressive because of their twisted bodies, their graceful features, and the free flow of their robes.

Yakushi Nyorai is similar to the doctor of mind and body and Nikko and Gakko Bosatsu are the nurses.

“Pagoda” means grave in Pali, the ancient Indian language, and it was called “stupa” in Sanskrit.  Pagoda means the grave of Buddha.  Yakushiji is the first temple that had twin pagodas on its grounds.

Unfortunately, the original West Pagoda at Yakushiji Temple was burned down in 1528.  After the reconstruction of the Kondo, the West Pagoda was rebuilt in 1980.  The East Pagoda (not pictured), which miraculously survived the fire that destroyed Yakushiji in 1528, is the only surviving architecture of the Hakuho Period in Japan. Unfortunately for me, the East Pagoda is under renovation and is covered in scaffolding today.

West Pagoda at Yakushiji Temple

Buddha image at Yakushiji Temple

The Middle Gate stands between the South Gate and the Kondo, or Golden Hall.  You can see a hot wind is blowing.

Middle Gate at Yakushiji Temple

The Golden Hall at Yakushiji Temple is truly magnificent, especially with those spectacular Buddha statues inside.

Golden Hall at Yakushiji Temple

West Pagoda

Buddha at Yakushiji Temple

After my visit to both of these fabulous temples and their resplendent Buddha images, I catch bus #70 to return to Nara.  Back at the train and bus station, I search inside a big supermarket for kakinoha-zushi, which translates as “persimmon leaf sushi.”  The Nara region is famous for this delicacy.  I am able to show the name in Japanese to one of the supermarket employees, who points out the package.

Kakinoha is individual pieces of sushi wrapped in persimmon leaf, shown below.  You’re not supposed to eat the persimmon leaves. I sit outside on the front stoop of the supermarket with a bunch of other people enjoying this treat, although it’s a little awkward opening up the persimmon leaves and eating them while holding them on my lap.


After I finish eating, I’m on my way by another bus to Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Wakamiya Jinja Shrine, and Kofuku-ji. 🙂

nara: yoshiki-en, the great buddha at tōdai-ji temple, nigatsu-dō, & nara’s famous deer   4 comments

Thursday, August 3:  This morning, I take the 10:17 a.m. Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Kyoto, arriving at 11:54 a.m.  There, I get on the Nara Line to Nara Station (12:03-12:48). On the train, I sit beside a 34-year-old guy named Zachary who teaches grammar and literature to middle school students at a private school in L.A.  He’s going to Nagasaki to make some kind of presentation for the peace ceremony on August 9. We chat for the entire 45 minutes; in Nara, I disembark from the train and am off to find the Hotel Nikko Nara.

After dropping my bags at my hotel, which is a nice one right next to the train station, I stop to eat tempura and rice at a restaurant at the station.  There I meet a friendly and talkative Japanese housewife named Hiromi who asks if she can join me.  She tells me she’s from Yokohama and has come down here for one day to see two things, one museum in Kyoto and one in Nara.  She plans to return home late tonight.  She herself has no children but she asks endless questions about my teaching job and says she is embarrassed on behalf of all Japanese people for my misbehaving “I” class.

After lunch, I hop on Bus #2 at Nara Station and I hear a loud: “Cathy!!” I look around to find Christine from Luxembourg, who I met in Nikko last weekend. When we talked about our travel plans in Nikko, I knew that the only place we might intersect was in Nara, but never in a million years did I actually expect to run into her here.  What a small world it is sometimes!

She is on her way to Yoshiki-en, a garden that is free for foreign tourists.  I am on my way to the Great Buddha, but as the garden is on my way, we explore the garden together.  It is sweltering and humid, but we wander around, enjoying the shade offered by little pavilions along the way.  There are three unique gardens within Yoshiki-en: a Pond Garden, a Moss Garden and a Tea Ceremony Garden. The Moss Garden has a detached thatch-roof tea house.  In the Pond Garden, slopes and curves of the land remaining from the Edo period (17th-19th centuries) blend with the buildings. The garden is a suitable environment for hair moss (Polytrichum), so the whole area is covered with it. The garden, originally the home of the high priest of Tōdai-ji, was laid out in 1918.





Click on any of the pictures in the gallery below for a full-sized slide show.

After we explore the garden, I say goodbye to Christine and make my way to Tōdai-ji, walking through Nara-kōen, a park that is home to about 1,200 deer.  The deer are considered National Treasures.  In pre-Buddhist times, they were considered messengers of the gods.  The deer roam freely throughout the park and won’t hesitate to approach people if they think they can abscond with a few morsels of food.

Nara’s deer

Tōdai-ji, “Great Eastern Temple,” was founded in 728 as a resting place for the Crown Prince Motoi, son of Emperor Shōmu (r. 724-749). The temple was used as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan and grew so powerful that the capital was moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 in order to lessen the temple’s influence on government affairs ( Todai-ji Temple).  It is believed the temple was built to consolidate the country and serve as its spiritual focus, but its construction almost brought the country to bankruptcy, according to Lonely Planet Japan.

The temple is famous today for housing the famous Daibutsu (Great Buddha) in the Daibutsu-den Hall of the temple.

I first pass through an outer gate.

approaching Todai-ji

Once through this outer gate, I’m face to face with the world’s largest wooden building, Daibutsu-den Hall.  Unbelievably, this structure, rebuilt in 1709, is only two-thirds the size of the original.


The Daibutsu (Great Buddha) inside, originally cast in 746, is one of the largest bronze sculptures in the world.  At one time it was covered in gold leaf, quite an impressive sight for Japanese 8th century visitors.   The present statue, recast in the Edo period (1603 – 1868), stands 15 meters tall; the seated Buddha represents Vairocana, the cosmic Buddha believed to give rise to all worlds and their respective Buddhas (Lonely Planet Japan), and is flanked by two Bodhisattvas.



The Kokuzo Bosatsu, seated to the left of the Daibutsu, is the Bodhisattva of memory and wisdom.  Students pray to him for help in their studies, while the faithful pray for enlightenment. Standing to the left of the Daibutsu and the Kokuzo Bosatsu is Komokuten, a guardian of the Buddha.  He stands upon a demon (jaki), which symbolizes ignorance, and holds a brush and scroll, which symbolizes wisdom (Lonely Planet Japan).

A pillar with a hole in its base is supposedly the same size as the Daibutsu’s nostril. It is said that those who can squeeze through this opening will be granted enlightenment in their next life ( Todai-ji Temple).  I watch as a boy squeezes through the hole.  I guess he will have guaranteed enlightenment!

I always love to check out the ema at every temple, and I find this cute one at Tōdai-ji: “I wish my family won’t be angry at Matthias.  Hooray.”

Seated to the right of the Daibutsu is Nyoirin Kannon, one of the Bodhisattva that preside over the six realms of karmic rebirth.

Nyoirin Kannon

Nyoirin Kannon


Pindola was one of the sixteen arahats, who were disciples of the Buddha.  Pindola is said to have excelled in the mastery of occult powers.  It is commonly believed in Japan that when a person rubs a part of the image of Binzuru (Pindola Bharadvaja) and then rubs the corresponding part of his own body, his ailment there will disappear.


The Tōdai-ji grounds are quite verdant at this time of year.

Nigatsu-dō lies to the east of the Great Buddha Hall and up the side of Mount Wakakusa.  Nigatsu-dō (which translates to “The Hall of the Second Month”) is a beautiful hall that overlooks the city of Nara and provides a view of its ancient structures.  To get to it, I walk through peaceful neighborhoods lined with lanterns, a welcome relief after the crowds at Tōdai-ji.

I line up with other visitors along Nigatsu-dō’s balcony to absorb the views.


view of Nara from Nigatsu-dō

The original construction of Nigatsu-dō hall is estimated to have completed somewhere between 756 and 772. Nigatsu-dō was destroyed in 1667 due to a fire. Re-construction of Nigatsu-dō was completed in 1669. In 1944, it was chosen by Japan as one of the most important cultural assets of the country.  This sub-temple of Tōdai-ji reminds me of Kiyomizu-dera, which I visited in Kyoto in 2011 (golden pavilions, rock gardens, bamboo groves, and white-gloved train conductors).

I love all the lanterns at Nigatsu-dō.



Nigatsu-dō is quite majestic sitting high on the hill.


steps to Nigatsu-dō


Nigatsu-dō is best known for Omizutori, a fire and water ceremony on March 12 every year, where huge flaming torches are held out from the temple balcony. The next day, sacred water is drawn from a well under the temple, which is said to have healing properties. The ceremony has been held here without a break since the temple’s founding in 752 (Visit Nara: Nigatsu-do).


Sangatsu-do Hall is home to a small collection of Nara-period statues.

Sangatsu-do Hall

Sangatsu-do Hall

Tamukeyama Hachimangu is a Hachiman shrine, dedicated to the kami Hachiman, a divinity of archery and war.   It was established in 749.  Kami, spirits or phenomenon worshiped in the Shinto religion, enshrined here include: Emperor Ōjin, the 15th emperor of Japan; Emperor Nintoku, the 16th emperor; Empress consort Jingū, who ruled beginning in the year 201; and Emperor Chūai, the 14th emperor.

Tamukeyama Hachimangu

Tamukeyama Hachimangu

After leaving Tamukeyama Hachimangu, I make my way back to Tōdai-ji, passing a spiral sōrin, circling Kagami-ike Pond, and finally walking under Nandaimon Gate. Nara’s deer keep me company the whole way.

sōrin at Tōdai-ji

Kagami-ike Pond

Kagami-ike Pond

Kagami-ike Pond

deer of Nara

As I’m leaving Tōdai-ji, I walk through the Nandaimon Gate, a large wooden gate, rebuilt in the 13th century, watched over by two fierce-looking statues. Representing the Nio Guardian Kings, the statues are designated national treasures together with the gate itself.

Nandaimon Gate

Nandaimon Gate

Nandaimon Gate is impressive in its size and ancient grandeur.

Nandaimon Gate

The deer of Nara are everywhere!

Nara’s deer are having a rest near the main gate, undoubtedly perspiring in this sizzling weather.

Nara’s deer

After taking a shower back at my hotel, I go into Nara Proper to have a Pizza Margherita at the Mellow Cafe.

mellow cafe

On the way back to my hotel, I stop for an ice cream with a little deer on top.  It provides a bit of welcome relief from the heat

Tomorrow, I’ll explore more of Nara.

Steps today: 15,835 (6.71 miles)


miyajima: daishō-in temple & return to hiroshima   13 comments

Wednesday, August 2:  After visiting the O-torii Gate at Itsukushima Shinto Shrine at somewhat low tide, I take a break to walk uphill toward Daishō-in, a historic Japanese temple complex on Mount Misen, the holy mountain on Miyajima.  Including Mt. Misen, Daishō-in is within the World Heritage area of Itsukushima Shrine.

Mt. Misen sits in the middle of Miyajima Island.  The mountain was opened as an ascetic holy mountain site by Kobo Daishi in the autumn of 806 when he underwent ascetic practice for 100 days in the mountain. The fire lit by Kobo Daishi is said to have been burning for 1200 years.  The fire was used to light the Flame of Peace in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Daishō-in Temple is one of the most prestigious Shingon Temples in the western part of Japan. The Shingon, or “True Word,” branch of esoteric Buddhism, was introduced to Japan from China in the 9th century. Shingon involves trying to reach the eternal wisdom of the Buddha that wasn’t expressed in his public teaching. The sect believes that this wisdom may be realized through rituals using body, speech, and mind, such as the use of symbolic gestures (mudras), mystical syllables (dharani), and mental concentration (yoga). The whole is intended to arouse a sense of the pervading spiritual presence of the Buddha that resides in all living things, according to Encyclopedia Britannica: Shingon.

In the 12th century, Emperor Toba founded his prayer hall in Daishō-in. The temple had close links with the Imperial Family until the 19th century. Emperor Meiji stayed in the temple in 1885 (Welcome to Miyajima: Daishō-in).

Though I love the bright vermilion of many Japanese temples, I have a fondness for the wooden structures that look ancient and weathered and seem to blend in with nature.

The Niomon Gate serves as the official gateway into the temple. A pair of guardian king statues stand by the gate. Nio kings are believed to ward off evil, and are determined to preserve Buddhist philosophy on earth.

Niomon Gate of Daishō-in

Kukai, posthumously known as Kobo Daishi, is the founder of the Shingon sect. In 804, at age 31, he went to Tang, China, where he mastered profound esoteric teachings.  He is also well-known as one of the three greatest calligraphers in Japan.

Niomon Gate

lantern at Daishō-in

Lining the steps to the temple are the statues of 500 Rakan statues.  These represent Shaka Nyorai’s disciples. These images all have unique facial expressions. Besides the Rakan statues listed on the map below, there are other statues spread sporadically throughout the temple complex.

map of Rakan statues at Daishō-in


There are so many interesting things to see at this temple complex, even if I don’t know what many of them are.

water pavilion at Daishō-in


Shimo Daishi-do Hall at Daishō-in

Along the temple steps is a row of spinning metal wheels that are inscribed with sutra (Buddhist scriptures). Turning the inscriptions as one walks up is believed to have the same effect as reading them. So, without any knowledge of Japanese, a visitor can be blessed with enormous fortune by turning the wheels ( Daishō-in).

stairs and prayer wheels

The bell in the belfry was once rung to tell the time in the morning, afternoon and evening in the past. Now it is rung to start the time for worship.


Kannon-do Hall was established  to enshrine the image of Kannon Bosatsu, the Deity of Mercy.

Kannon-do Hall

A mandala using colored sand depicts the divine figure of Kannon Bosatsu, the symbol of mercy. The mandala was made by Buddhist priests from Tibet.

Kannon-do Hall

Bosatsu, or Bodhisattvas, are the ones who are undergoing ascetic training to attain enlightenment; they are committed to NOT becoming Nyorai (the highest deities of Buddhism who have attained enlightenment) unless all sufferers on earth are saved.  To show their determination, Bosatsu images hold various objects.

Kannon-do Hall

Maniden Hall is the main prayer hall where Sanki Daigongen, or the Three Awesome Deities of Mt. Misen, are enshrined.

steps to Maniden Hall

Worshipers pray at Maniden Hall for good health, longevity, and contentment in their daily lives.

Maniden Hall

Commemorating the current (77th) head priest’s succession, 1,000 Fudo myo-o, or Immovable King, images were donated by worshipers.

one thousand Fudo myo-o, or Immovable King, images

figures at Daishō-in

In the dimly lit Henjokutsu Cave are the sand and the principal Buddhist icons of the 88 temples of the prestigious pilgrimage route on Shikoku. Worshipers believe that they are given the same blessings as people who make the pilgrimage to all the temples on the route (Welcome to Miyajima: Daishō-in).

It is my dream to one day do the Pilgrimage to the 88 Sacred Places of Shikoku.

representations of 88 temples of Shikoku in Henjokutsu Cave

pond at Daishō-in

figure at Daishō-in

After leaving Daishō-in, I visit Itsukushima Shinto Shrine and the O-torii Gate once again, as I make my way back to the ferry.  This time the tide is higher (miyajima: itsukushima-jinja & the floating o-torii gate).  Then I return by ferry and train to Hiroshima.  At my hotel, I ask for a recommendation for a good okonomiyaki restaurant.  Hiroshima is famous for oysters and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes: batter, cabbage, vegetables and seafood or meat cooked on a griddle).  The local version, Hiroshima-yaki, features individual layers, and noodles as the key ingredient (Lonely Planet Japan).

The place recommended by the hotel is open air with no air-conditioning.  It is much too hot for me to eat in there.  I’ve been sweating all day and look forward to cooling off during dinner.  So I walk back up the same street and find the perfect (air-conditioned) restaurant.

diner for Hiroshima-yaki

Here I’m greeted by a very friendly waitress who speaks some English.  A baseball game is on the TV in the background, and she keeps cheering for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, the local baseball team.

diner for Hiroshima-yaki

It’s quite a process watching the chef whip up the Hiroshima-yaki.  I’m able to order mine with just shrimp.  I never want squid in these pancakes, even though squid seems to be the most common ingredient.

I have to say this pancake is one of the most delectable things I’ve eaten in Japan. Even though it’s huge, and filling, I have to eat every last bite. 🙂

After dinner, I stroll along the river in Hiroshima.

I see one last view of the Hiroshima A-bomb dome.

Hiroshima A-bomb dome

Hiroshima A-bomb dome

paper cranes for peace

Tomorrow morning, I’ll leave for Nara, where I’ll spend two nights. 🙂

Total steps today: 21,442 (9.09 miles)


miyajima: itsukushima-jinja & the floating o-torii gate   12 comments

Wednesday, August 2:  After leaving Senjo-kaku Pavilion, I make my way down to the water to see the “floating” O-torii Gate of Itsukushima Shrine.

In December of 1996, the World Heritage Committee official designated Itsukushima Shinto Shrine as a World Cultural Heritage site.  The area includes 431.2 hectares including the building of Itsukushima Shrine, the sea to the front, and the Mt. Misen Primeval Forest (Natural Treasure) to the rear.  This wide area covers nearly 14% of Miyajima Island.

The O-torii Gate of Itsukushima Shrine is designated as a National Important Cultural Property.  It is about 16.6 meters tall and weighs about 60 tons.  Its roof, thatched with Japanese cypress bark, is 24.2 meters long. The main pillars, 9.9 meters in circumference, are made of natural camphor trees, while the four supporting pillars are made of natural cedar. The present O-torii, which is the 8th since the Heian period, was erected in 1875.  The top rail of the torii has a hollow space, and stones the size of one’s fist are put inside as a weight (7 tons in all).  The gate stands under its own weight.

When I reach the shrine, it’s 2:20 p.m., still quite a long time until high tide at 6:42 p.m.  At least it’s not low tide (which was 11:46 a.m.), when it is the least scenic, sitting as it does in the muddy sand at low tide. Because the tide is still somewhat low, people are wading around by the gate.

first glimpse of the O-torii Gate at Itsukushima-jinja

The Miyajima deer are relaxing in the shade, a smart move as it’s in about 95 degrees F (around 35C) and very humid.

deer in Miyajima

Itsukushima Shrine is dedicated to the three Munakata goddesses, Ichikishima-hime, Tagitsu-hime and Tagori-hime.  These three goddesses are worshiped as deities of sea, traffic safety, fortune and accomplishment.

As I join the people wading near the O-torii Gate, I can see on the shore the shrine sitting on stilts in the sand.  The water will reach the shrine at sunset, during high tide at 6:42 p.m.

Itsukushima Shrine

I wade out to the O-torii Gate, enjoying the lapping of the slightly cool water on my feet and calves.

O-Torii Gate 2

O-Torii Gate 3

O-Torii Gate 5

O-Torii Gate 6

I make my way through the water to the opposite shore.

O-Torii Gate 10

O-Torii Gate 11

The map below shows my route so far.  I came from the ferry on the bottom left of the map, walked along Omotesando Shopping Arcade, went up to the Five Story Pagoda and Senjo-kaku Pavilion, and then made my way down to the O-torii Gate.  I know there are more temples to see in the hills to the right, so, I head in that direction.  I walk through Daigani Temple and then walk uphill to Daishoin Temple.  I will go through Itsukushima Shrine after visiting these shrines so it will be closer to high tide.

Miyajima Guide Map

I walk briefly through Daiganji Temple, which until the Meiji Restoration (1868), was in charge of the repair and construction of the Itsukushima Shrine.  It is dedicated to Benzaiten, the Goddess of eloquence, music, wisdom and wealth.  The statue below is a wood carving, but I’m not sure of whom.

figure at Daiganji Temple

You can read more about Daiganji Temple here.

Daiganji Temple

On the way to the path to Daishoin, I pass the Benzaiten statue and Itsukushima Shrine before heading uphill.

Buddha figure with Itsukushima Shrine in the background

I also walk past the Miyajima History and Folklore Museum, but I don’t go in.  The museum preserves the main house and part of a storehouse which formerly belonged to the Egami family, one of the most prosperous merchant families in Miyajima. On display are about 1,000 items of a wide range of Miyajima folklore materials, including ancient documents, paintings and woodcraft.

Miyajima History and Folklore Museum

I head uphill to Daishoin Temple, where I spend nearly an hour.  In the interest of keeping everything about Itsukushima Shrine in one blog post, I’ll write about Daishoin in another post.

I leave the Miyajima History and Folklore Museum at nearly 3:00, and, after visiting Daishoin, by 4:00, I’m back down to the Itsukushima Shrine.  I have to walk all the way around to the other side to get into the shrine through the entrance.

Itsukushima Shrine

deer near Itsukushima Shrine

Finally, I’m in the pavilion walkways of Itsukushima Shrine.  It’s the perfect beach shrine, with its open-air walkways.

Itsukushima Shrine

Though it’s now after 4:00, only an hour and a half from high tide, the water has still not reached the shrine, although some rippling pools of water are making their way up slowly.

Itsukushima Shrine 2

I love the lanterns swinging in a slight breeze in the pavilions.

Itsukushima Shrine

The shrine is known for its unique construction, displaying the artistic beauty of the Shinden style of architecture. First built in 593, it was remodeled into the present grand structure by a powerful figure, Taira-no-Kiyomori, in 1168. Its placement on the water, beautifully framed by the mountain in the background, is testimony to Kiyomori’s extraordinary vision and achievement.

Itsukushima Shrine

lanterns at Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine is composed of a main shrine, a Noh drama stage, music rooms, halls and several other shrines arranged around it.  All these structures are connected by corridors with a total length of about 300 meters.

Itsukushima Shrine at low tide

Itsukushima Shrine with the Five Story Pagoda behind

Itsukushima Shrine

After leaving the shrine, I can see O-torii Gate at Itsukushima Shrine.  It’s now about 4:20. Now the water is too deep for waders, so no one is in the water.

O-Torii Gate at higher tide

O-Torii Gate at higher tide

O-Torii Gate at higher tide

Itsukushima Shrine

ema at Itsukushima Shrine

The vermilion color of the shrine and of the O-torii is considered to keep evil spirits away. The shrine buildings are coated with vermilion lacquer, which is also efficient as protection from corrosion.

Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine

last view of the O-torii Gate

I have my last view of the O-torii gate at 4:30 p.m.  If I could only stay two more hours, I’d see the shrine covered at high tide, but I’m worried about catching the ferry back to Hiroshima, where my hotel is. It’s a shame I didn’t spend the night here.

It’s quite a long haul back to Hiroshima, first on a different ferry, larger than the one I took to get here, and then a long train ride back to Hiroshima.  In Hiroshima, I look forward to sampling Hiroshima’s famous dish: okonomiyaki, similar to Osaka’s but with noodles.

miyajima: the five-storied pagoda & senjokaku pavilion   5 comments

Wednesday, August 2:  From the Motoyasu Bridge Pier bordering Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, I take a 50-minute ferry ride to the island of Miyajima for 2,000 yen (~$18). The ride is quite pretty, with islands jutting up in green mounds out of the choppy Hiroshima Bay.

Hiroshima Bay from the ferry

on the way to Miyajima

Hiroshima Bay from the ferry

Boat from Motoyasu Bridge Pier to Miyajima

I checked the tidal information before I came, as it’s recommended to come around high tide to see the best view of the O-torii Gate at Itsukushima Shrine.  I’ve arrived at the island at 12:47 pm, and high tide isn’t until 18:42, slightly less than 6 hours from my arrival time.   I know there is no way I will stay that late as I must return by ferry to Hiroshima.  Maybe I will be able to see the tide rise high enough during the day to get some decent photos of the famous floating torii.

I had read you could rent bicycles on Miyajima, but I’m told by someone at Tourist Information that it’s impossible.  Apparently, the island is easily walkable, so I promptly set off on foot.

Today’s tidal information

I’ve heard all about Nara’s famous deer, but I’m surprised to find deer wandering the streets of Miyajima.  The deer here are wild, but we’re warned they may eat paper and cloth, especially tickets and souvenirs.

deer in Miyajima

I walk along the main street of the town, but turn inward to enter Omotesando Shopping Arcade.  As it’s after lunchtime, I’m hungry, so I keep my eye out for a restaurant.  I’ve heard that Miyajima is famous for its broiled or grilled oysters, so I’d like to find some of those.

beginning of Omotesando Shopping Arcade

Some of the deer seem to be looking for dining spots as well.

shopping deer

The arcade is shaded, luckily, as it’s extremely hot and humid.   I don’t know how I’m going to last very long in the heat today.  At least I hope to find air conditioning in a restaurant.

Omotesando Shopping Arcade

There are so many cute things I’m tempted to buy in the shopping arcade, but buying anything means I’ll have to carry whatever it is around for the rest of my week of travels.  As I only have a carry-on bag with me, and it’s already packed, I have to pass on everything.

I love the Japanese traditional Kokeshi Dolls, but luckily I already bought a small one at Hanazono-jinja’s flea market in Shinjuku.  It’s already in a box on its way back to Virginia.

Japanese Traditional Kokeshi Dolls

I decide to eat at this restaurant graced by a smiling deer.  The plastic foods on display show broiled oysters.

restaurant for grilled oysters

I enjoy my meal of Kaki-no-sugata Yaki, or broiled oysters in the shells, but I must admit the meal doesn’t fill me up.  Oh well, I’m planning to eat Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima’s famous dish, tonight, so I’m okay not to eat too much.  Besides, it’s too hot outdoors to walk around on a full stomach.

Kaki-no-sugata Yaki

I don’t really know where I’m going in this town, but I follow the road to the conspicuous Five-storied Pagoda and Senjokaku, also called Toyokuni Shrine.

The Five-storied Pagoda, built in 1407, enshrined Yakushi Nyorai Zazo, the Buddha of Medicine, as well as Fugen Bosatsu (Mercy Buddha) and Monju Bosatsu (Wisdom Buddha).

Yakushi Nyorai Zazo, the Buddha of Medicine, is said to have been made by Kūkai, also known posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi, 774–835.  He was a Japanese Buddhist monk, civil servant, scholar, poet, and artist who founded the Shingon or “True Word” school of Buddhism (Wikipedia: Kūkai).

upstairs to the Five-Storied Pagoda

From the hilltop where the Five-storied Pagoda sits, I can see the mainland and the town of Hatsukaichi.

view from Senjokaku pavilion

Senjokaku (literally “Pavilion of 1000 mats”), also called Toyokuni Shrine, is the largest structure at Miyajima Island. It’s basically an open-air hall that has ancient paintings hanging from its rafters.  Today many Japanese folks find respite from the searing sun on the pavilion’s cool and smooth floors.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a preeminent daimyō (powerful feudal lord), warrior, general, samurai, and politician of the Sengoku period, started construction of Senjokaku as a Buddhist library where people could chant Senbu-kyo sutras for fallen soldiers.

Hideyoshi is regarded as Japan’s second “great unifier,” bringing an end to the Warring States period (c. 1467 – c. 1603).  He died in 1598 and the building was never fully completed. Originally, Amida Buddha and two subordinate Buddhist saints, Anan and Kasho-sonja, were enshrined in the structure until the Meiji reformation, when the structure was converted into a Shinto shrine dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Senjo-kaku pavilion

Five-Storied Pagoda

From the hilltop, I can see some of Miyajima’s many shrines, most notably Itsukushima Shrine, home of the floating torii.

view from paintings at Senjokaku pavilion

Numerous votive picture tablets that had been hanging in the Itsukushima Shrine buildings until the Meiji era hang today on the walls inside Senjokaku.

paintings at Senjokaku pavilion

paintings at Senjokaku pavilion

Senjokaku pavilion

I love the airy feel of Senjokaku pavilion. I wander around here for some time, enjoying the shaded area with a bit of a breeze whispering through.  The multitudes of ancient paintings create an atmosphere heavy with history.

Senjokaku pavilion

Five-Storied Pagoda

Finally, I leave the pavilion and head downhill in search of the famous O-torii Gate.  On the way, I pass more friendly deer. It’s only 2:14, so the tide won’t be high enough yet to make the torii gate picturesque.

deer in Miyajima

I continue on to the beach, where I find people wading out in the water around the O-torii Gate.  At least it’s not sitting in mud at this point!

hiroshima   13 comments

Wednesday, August 2:  At 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb in human history was dropped on Hiroshima.  “The explosion decimated 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure. Three days later, a second B-29 dropped another A-bomb on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people. Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced his country’s unconditional surrender in World War II in a radio address on August 15, citing the devastating power of ‘a new and most cruel bomb'” ( Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Ever since I read the book Hiroshima by John Hersey, I’ve wanted to visit Hiroshima. When I lived in Korea from March of 2010-March of 2011, I only had a short break for the Lunar New Year in February; I went to Kyoto because it was the easiest place to get to from Busan, S. Korea. My first choice was Hiroshima, but in the short time I had, it didn’t seem possible.  Now that I’ve been to Japan, I know it would have been possible, but those years were my first years of traveling solo, and I didn’t want to overwhelm myself. Kyoto was wonderful, so I had no regrets.

When I planned my one week trip through Japan, I thought I’d have at least 1 1/2 days in Hiroshima because I assumed I’d be able to leave my apartment early on August 1.  However, since my company scheduled my apartment inspection for close to 3 pm, I didn’t arrive in Hiroshima until 8:40 pm, leaving me only one day in the city.

This Wednesday morning, from the brunch room at the top of Hotel Sunroute Hiroshima, I see a clean and beautiful city, sitting placidly in a bowl surrounded by mountains, with several rivers threading through. It’s impossible to imagine the devastation that occurred here nearly 72 years ago.  A beautiful blue-sky day beckons.

After breakfast, I head out directly to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, sitting just catty-corner from my hotel.

view from Sunroute Hiroshima

Before the A-bomb, and after the Meiji Restoration, the event that restored practical imperial rule to Japan in 1868 under Emperor Meiji, Hiroshima grew to be the largest city of the Chugoku Region and one of Japan’s leading military bases.  During the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) the Imperial Headquarters (primary command center) was established in Hiroshima, with Ujina Port utilized largely for military purposes.  Each time Japan took military action, troops gathered in Hiroshima for dispatch to battle.  Military facilities expanded year after year.

Hiroshima was also a leading education city, boasting the only Higher Normal School outside of Tokyo.  Moreover, manufacturing growth between the world wars developed it into an industrial city.

Why did the USA choose Hiroshima as its first target? According to a plaque at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum: Evaluation of Targets: The Target Committee, comprising military personnel and scientists, evaluated potential targets from a military standpoint.  At the first meeting on April 27, 1945, criteria for target selection were developed, and 17 areas were selected for further study.  At the second meeting on May 11, 1945, after examining such issues as city size and topography that would magnify the effects of the blast, the committee shortened the list to four: Kyoto, Hiroshima, Yokohama, and Kokura.  They also agreed that psychological effects against Japan were of great importance.

It seems the city was chosen because it was a military as well as an industrial hub, and because it sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains which maximized damage from the blast.  It was very unlucky for the residents of Hiroshima, but, if there is a silver lining, at least the cultural treasures of Kyoto were not destroyed.

From Hotel Sunroute Hiroshima, I have a clear view down the Motoyasu River to the A-Bomb Dome on the right bank.

view down the Motoyasu River to the A-Bomb Dome

view down the Motoyasu River to the A-Bomb Dome

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park now occupies what was at one time the city’s busiest downtown commercial and residential district. The park was built on an open field that was created by the explosion. Every year on August 6, a Peace Memorial Ceremony is conducted by the Hiroshima Memorial Service Association, in addition to the Hiroshima Inter-Faith League and other religious groups.  The park is abuzz with activity today as people are setting up for the ceremony which will be held in four days. The ceremony is held to console the victims of the atomic bombs and to pray for lasting world peace.  A moment of silence is held at 8:15, the moment the bomb exploded over Hiroshima.

The Peace Memorial Park’s purpose is to not only memorialize the victims, but also to preserve evidence of nuclear horrors and to advocate world peace.

Sadly, today I find that the West wing of the The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is closed.  Only the newly renovated East Building is open today.

Inside the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, I walk along a curved wall that displays floor-to-ceiling black & white photos of Hiroshima before the bomb.

Photos of Hiroshima before the Atomic bomb went off

Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall before the blast

The video below shows black & white photos of Hiroshima before the A-bomb as I walk along the curved wall.  I’m sorry it’s a little shaky.

A single bomb indiscriminately killed tens of thousands of people, profoundly disrupting and altering the lives of survivors.  Through belongings left by the victims, A-bombed artifacts, testimonies of A-bomb survivors and related materials, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum conveys to the world the horrors and inhumane nature of nuclear weapons and spreads the message of “No more Hiroshimas.”  (From a plaque at the museum)

The time Hiroshima was hit

the A-Bomb Dome after the bomb exploded

After the A-bomb, the central columns of the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall Building remained intact, although the bomb exploded almost directly overhead.  In another room, I walk along another curved wall showing photos of the city after the bomb hit. This is so moving, it brings tears to my eyes.

aerial view of Hiroshima

In the center of the curved room is an aerial view of Hiroshima and a simulation of the bomb exploding.

aerial photo of Hiroshima

Below is my video of the aerial simulation of the blast.

The Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall (approx. 160 meters from the hypocenter) was completed in April of 1915 under the design and supervision of Czech architect Jan Letzel.  Noted for its unique green dome, it was primarily used for arts and educational exhibitions.

The atomic bomb exploded at an altitude of 600 meters, approximately 160 meters southeast of the Industrial Promotion Hall, instantly killing everyone inside the building, which was seriously damaged and completely burned out.

The East Building of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum includes exhibits of belongings left by the atomic bomb victims, and photos and other materials that convey the horror of the atomic bombing. There are also video recordings of atomic bomb survivors’ testimonies and special exhibitions.

According to the introduction to the museum’s English guide: “The East Wing—the newest addition—explains the history of Hiroshima City before the bomb, development and decision to drop the bomb, the lives of Hiroshima citizens during World War II and after the bombing, and ends with information about the nuclear age and efforts for international peace. Included in this section is a model showing the damage done to the city. It has some important letters exchanged between scientists and top leaders of that era talking about atomic development and predicted result of its use” (Wikipedia: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum).

Below are photos of some of the items in the museum with descriptions taken directly from the plaques.

Tricycle – 1,500 meters from the hypocenter: Sinichi Tetsutani (then, 3 years and 11 months) loved to ride this tricycle. That morning, he was riding it in front of his house.  Following a sudden flash, the heat rays burned Sinichi and his tricycle, leading to his death that night.  Thinking that little Sinichi would miss his home and could ride his favorite tricycle, his father Nobuo buried Sinichi’s body in the backyard of their house together with the tricycle.  In the summer of 1985, forty years later, Nobuo dug up Sinichi’s remains and transferred them to the family grave and donated the tricycle to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

Sinichi Tetsutani’s tricycle

Sinichi Tetsutani and his sister (?)


Human shadow etched in stone – 260 m from the hypocenter:  A person sitting on the steps to the bank waiting for it to open was exposed to the flash from the atomic bomb explosion.  Receiving the ray directly, the victim must have died on the spot from massive burns. The surface of the surrounding stone steps was turned whitish by the intense heat ray.  The place where the person was sitting became dark like a shadow.  Several bereaved families have suggested that one of their family members may have created this shadow.

Sadly, this is only a photo of the stone steps of the bank.  This was one of the main things I was interested in seeing when I came to Hiroshima; it must be in the closed West Wing, because it is nowhere to be found here.

Human shadow etched in stone

According to the introduction to the museum’s English guide, “The West Wing, which was part of the old museum, concentrates on the damage of the bomb. Sections include Material Witness, which shows clothing, watches, hair, and other personal effects worn by victims of the bomb; Damage by the Heat Rays, a section that looks at what happened to wood, stone, metal, glass, and flesh from the heat; Damage by the Blast, focusing on the destruction caused by the after shocks of the blast, and Damage by the Radiation which goes into details about the health effects suffered by humans” (Wikipedia: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum).

It seems that the stone steps from the bank must have been in the West Wing during my visit.

burned clothing

The Holocaust at Hiroshima (Ceramic Wall Painting Replica): The renowned painter Ikuo Hirayama was exposed to the atomic bombing on August 6, 1945 while working as a mobilized student at the Army Weaponry Depot.  Seeking refuge after the bombing at his birth place to Setoda-cho, he stopped along the way at Mt. Ogonzan and gazed in astonishment for several hours as all of Hiroshima became engulfed in flames.

The painting expresses images of eternal peace and of Hiroshima, an immortal phoenix reborn from its own ashes.

The Holocaust at Hiroshima

Wedding Costumes: Ms. Toshiko Iida (then 25) was exposed to the A-bombing together with her daughter, Makiko (then, 4), her son Kunihiko (then, 3), her father Chiematsu Shinnaka, her mother Fumiko, and her younger sisters Hiroko and Michiko, when she was at her parents’ home in Kako-machi, nearly 1km from Ground Zero.  The house had collapsed, trapping all of them under the fallen structure. However, they managed to get out of there and ran barefooted in desperation.  When Toshiko and her two children were stranded around the Sumiyoshi Bridge, they were rescued by a ship of the Akatsuki Corps right before evening, and the ship carried them to Miyajima Island. Afterward, they moved to their relative’s home in Yamagata County.  Although Toshiko was nursed there, her hair fell out and her body including her lips turned bluish-black as a result of the effect of the radiation.  Her symptoms worsened, from fevers to bloody discharge and necrosis.  She finally died on September 4th, followed by Makiko on the 5th.

These are the costumes worn by Toshiko for her wedding ceremony.  Since they had been relocated from their original storage place together with other items on August 5th, the day before the atomic bombing, they remained safe.

Ms. Toshiko Iida’s wedding costumes

A Young Girl’s Death from Leukemia – Sadako Sasaki: Sadako Sasaki was exposed to the A-bomb at the age of two but escaped without apparent injury.  She grew into a strong and healthy girl.  Nine years later, in the fall of her sixth year in elementary school, she suddenly contracted leukemia and was hospitalized in February the following year. She folded paper cranes continuously hoping they would help her recover, but after an 8-month battle with the disease, she succumbed.  Sadako’s death triggered a movement to build a monument to all the children who perished due to the atomic bomb, and the Children’s Peace Monument was erected in Peace Memorial Park with donations received from all over Japan.  Sadako’s story has since traveled around the world.  Now countless paper cranes are sent to this monument every year.

Sadako Sasaki

The Children’s Peace Monument stands in memory of all children who died as a result of the atomic bombing. The monument was originally inspired by the death of Sadako Sasaki. Sadako’s untimely death compelled her classmates to call for the creation of a monument for all children who died due to the atomic bomb.  Built with contributions from more than 3,200 schools in Japan and donors in nine countries, the Children’s Peace Monument was unveiled on May 5, 1958.

At the top of the 9-meter monument, a bronze statue of a girl lifts a golden crane entrusted with dreams for a peaceful future.  Figures of a boy and a girl are located on the sides of the monument.

The inscription on the stone block under the monument reads, “This is our cry.  This is our prayer.  For building peace in this world.”

Children’s Peace Monument

Below are some of the countless folded paper cranes, symbols of world peace, at the Children’s Peace Monument.

Paper cranes

Paper cranes at the Children’s Peace Monument are sent here by children all over the world.


Near the center of the park is a concrete, saddle-shaped monument that covers a cenotaph holding the names of all of the people killed by the bomb. The monument is aligned to frame the Peace Flame and the A-Bomb Dome. The Memorial Cenotaph was one of the first memorial monuments built on the open field on August 6, 1952. The arch shape represents a shelter for the souls of the victims.

Memorial Cenotaph

The Peace Flame is another monument to the victims of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, but it has an additional symbolic purpose. The flame has burned continuously since it was lit in 1964, and will remain lit until all nuclear bombs on the planet are destroyed and the planet is free from the threat of nuclear annihilation.

The Peace Flame

The Bell of Peace was dedicated as a symbol of “Hiroshima Aspiration: Let all nuclear arms and wars be gone, and the nations live in true peace!  May it ring to all corners of the earth to meet the ear of every man, for in it throb and palpitate the hearts of its peace-loving donors.  So may you, too, friends, step forward, and toll this bell for peace.”  ~ Dedicated September 20th, 1964 by Hiroshima Higan-no-Kai.

Bell of Peace

The Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound:  Here are laid the ashes of 70,000 unidentified victims of the bomb.  Being close to the hypocenter, numerous corpses were collected at this spot and cremated.

The Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound

Paper cranes also hang around The Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound.

In July 1955, as part of the 10th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb, the present memorial mound was constructed with an underground cinerarium through the leadership of the City of Hiroshima.  The ashes of victims excavated around the city were placed here.

The Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound

At the Cenotaph for Korean Victims: Among the 400,000 people who were killed or exposed to lethal post-explosion radiation, at least 45,000 were Korean, but the number is uncertain, because the population has been neglected as the minority. Additionally, 300,000 survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki returned to Korea after liberation from Japanese colonialism. The monument, beautified with Korean national symbols, is intended to honor Korean victims and survivors of the atomic bomb and Japanese colonialism.  The monument’s inscription reads “The Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the A[tomic]-Bomb. In memory of the souls of His Highness Prince Yi Wu and over 20000 other souls”, while the side-inscription reads “Souls of the dead ride to heaven on the backs of turtles.”

Cenotaph for Korean Victims

In December 1996, the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, soon commonly called the Genbaku (“A-Bomb”) Dome, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List as a reminder to the entire world of the horrors of the atomic bomb and a symbol of world peace.

The structure was scheduled to be demolished with the rest of the ruins, but most of the building was intact, including the the exposed metal dome framework at its apex, delaying the demolition plans. The Dome became a subject of controversy, with some locals wanting it torn down, while others wanted to preserve it as a memorial of the bombing and a symbol of peace.  Ultimately, when the reconstruction of Hiroshima began, the skeletal remains of the building were preserved (Wikipedia: Hiroshima Peace Memorial).

The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

As I cross a bridge over the Motoyasu River from Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, I can see the Atomic Bomb Dome on my left.

view down the Motoyasu River to the A-Bomb Dome

The Red Bird Monument is a literary monument dedicated to Mickichi Suzuki, a distinguished novelist of the Meiji and Taisho Period, who was born in Hiroshima City. In 1918, he launched the children’s literature The Red Bird, which gave birth to the first songs and fairy tales for Japanese children.  The monument, built in 1964, serves as a symbol of Hiroshima’s recovery from the atomic bomb’s devastation and the hope for world peace.

Red Bird Monument

another monument

The Atomic Bomb Dome

Fountain near The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

A-bomb Survivor Groups: Despite the unspeakably grim living conditions in Hiroshima after the bombing, residents rose from the ashes to rebuild their lives and toiled to bring their city back.  Help came as well from elsewhere in Japan and from overseas. The road to recovery was strewn with obstacles, but the Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law enacted in 1949 facilitated the gradual redevelopment of urban infrastructure.  Today, Hiroshima’s population has grown to more than one million.

Even as the city came back to life, many residents contended with severe physical and psychological problems caused by the bomb.  In 1957, the A-bomb Survivors Medical Care Law allowed the Japanese government to assist the A-bomb survivors.  This assistance has improved over the years.

Looking downriver at the A-Bomb Dome on the right

U.S. Investigation of A-bomb Illnesses: In November 1946, U.S. President Harry Truman ordered the creation of an organization to investigate the aftereffects of the atomic bomb.  In March 1947, the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) was established in Hiroshima.  The Nagasaki ABCC was established the following year.  A-bomb survivors had high expectations, hoping that the ABCC would treat their illnesses, but the ABCC performed only examinations and research.

view down the Motoyasu River to the A-Bomb Dome

Reading about the current situation regarding nuclear weapons is quite depressing.

Situations around the World regarding Nuclear Weapons: The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which includes a ban on all types of nuclear tests involving a nuclear explosion, has still not received the necessary ratification by America, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Egypt, Iran, and North Korea, and therefore cannot be put into effect.  In January and September of 2016, North Korea performed underground nuclear tests.

At present, international conferences are held once every two years to promote the implementation of the Treaty; however, there are no prospects for ratification by the necessary countries.

In October of 2016, the United Nations General Assembly First Committee adopted a resolution to begin negotiations towards enacting a nuclear weapons convention. The resolution, approved by 123 nations, discusses the catastrophic humanitarian effects brought about by the use of nuclear weapons and the danger caused by their existence. Negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention began in March of 2017.

However, this resolution is opposed not only by countries possessing nuclear weapons such as America and Russia, but also by countries such as Japan and Australia, and there are various issues remaining.


My time in Hiroshima is short, but its impact is powerful.  We’re lucky that we’ve survived 72 years so far without another nuclear attack, but I fear for our world as long as powerful and crazy men continue to control nuclear arsenals the world over.  I can only hope that the world never sees another devastating attack like the ones at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In the afternoon, I get on a boat near Peace Memorial Park, which takes me to the island of Miyajima.

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