Sacred Places

We took the bullet train to Hiroshima from Tokyo.

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It was a five hour trip, and I was still trying to settle into vacation mode, so I was a bit touchy. The train ride gave me a little time to reflect.

What was I doing?!

Up until the moment I found out about Cheating Bill, I had been in serious, multiple year-long, consecutive relationships from the time I was a freshman in high school into my early thirties. I had spent the past two and a half years as a single woman — with a few months of casual dating here and there — but for the most part, totally on my own.

And now, there I was, on a train speeding through Japan with this dude who had just walked into my life a few months prior.

What was I doing?

I had resisted Paul; looked for reasons for things to be wrong.  I tried to hide my burgeoning excitement about possibility beneath a cloak of idiotic reasons for not going the distance.  For instance:

He doesn’t like cheese.

He dresses like a teenager.

He’s a manchild.

(That last one particularly delighted my mother, as she loved to point out: They’re all manchildren.  Look at your father!)

In reality, what could possibly be so scary?

Rejection.  Failure.  Betrayal.  Dishonesty.  All of the things that had led me to this point, and that had kept me on my own for the last two years.  All of the past hurts — real and imagined — that had made me unwilling to fully commit to anyone or anything.

That was what was scary.

We arrived in Hiroshima and went directly to the Peace Museum.  It was pouring down rain — we’d arrived in the middle of a weakening typhoon.  But the weather was appropriate for what we were seeing.

The museum was serene; strange; unsettling.  It was peculiarly awful to be confronted with the evidence of destruction; it felt terrible and complicated to be an American.

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(A diorama of the city after the bomb was dropped.)

We made our way through the museum and out to the park, which we still wanted to see despite the weather.

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The bombed-out dome in the distance was one of the few buildings that were left standing after the blast.

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We made our way around the relics and monuments, making sure to take in the memorial to the thousands paper cranes story.

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If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s called Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.  It is a true story, written about a girl who was healthy after the atomic blast, but one day became afflicted with leukemia.  She tried to fold a thousand cranes, in the hopes that her illness would be cured, according to Japanese legend.

Sadako didn’t make her way through the thousand cranes she intended to fold before she died, but her family and friends pitched in, and now cranes are folded all over the world and sent to the Peace Museum.

(The boxes full of colourful scraps, above, are plexiglass boxes stuffed full of folded cranes).

We made our way out of the park, and were whisked to the ferry to the island of Miyajima.  The island is quiet and rural (and maybe a little touristy).  We were to stay at a ryokan (a Japanese-style inn) that sometimes hosted the Imperial Family, and that also boasted lovely onsen, or hot spring-mineral baths.

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We ate the delicious, freshly prepared, traditional Japanese food, and then we went down to the baths.  The baths were sex-segregated, and required that you scrub yourself within an inch of your life before entering the pool.  The women’s onsen was outside, in the cool rainy night, and as I soaked, I watched the little brook that ran alongside the property swell with runoff from the hills.

It was…perfect.

The next day we were on our own in Miyajima.

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There wasn’t a ton to see, save for the floating gate to the Shinto shrine; some deer; and a five-level pagoda.

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So we had ice cream.

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After stuffing our faces with noodles at lunch, we headed back to the inn to collect our bags.  Then we were off — back to Hiroshima to catch a train to Kyoto.

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