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I passed through Himeji on my way west and got off the train for a quick look around as it is one of the most famous of all Japanese castles. I have now seen many castles, but this is indeed one of the nicest. Sitting on a small rise above the town it is known as the Egret Castle due to its pure white appearance and is one of only a dozen or so remaining medieval castles. Inside, the castle is like all Japanese castles in that it is very well maintained and has a good selection of suits of armour, models of the old town and other arresting diversion. Unfortunately, due to the infrequency of local trains along this stretch of coast and not wishing to pay for the rapid and frequent shinkansen services I found myself with very little time here, and so only had time for a quick look around the castle and grounds, and did not get to see anything more of the town.
Twenty minutes from Hiroshima is the island of Miyajima, and just off the island's shores is one of the most famous icons of Japan and Shintoism, a red shrine gate. While the current gate is only around 130 years old, one has sat on this spot for over 700 years and there have been shrines on the island for well over a thousand years, the name Miyajima means island of shrines.
The classic shot is of the gate rising out of the sea; however this only happens during exceptionally high tides, and so most of the time the gate sits on the mud flats with a small stream flowing through it. This does mean, however, that it is possible to walk out to the gate and inspect it at close quarters. Miyajima is again one of Japan's biggest tourist attractions, and since it was still the national holiday weeks while I was there the place was packed with day trippers from the industrial cities to the east. Like Nara, one of the major attractions are the local dear, that are very tame and like to be fed by small children. There also the usual assortment of tourist shops and restaurants as well as ice cream shops.
It was a very hot and humid day (every day in summer is) limiting the amount of physical excursion, so I didn't explore the forested hills to any great extent, concentrating on just looking around the gate and associated temples. Even so I think I caught the sun a little too much and by mid afternoon felt rather tired so headed back to Hiroshima.
Hiroshima is infamous for one thing, and, unlike Nagasaki, still presents its horrific past in the form of the Peace Memorial Park. It is difficult to express such a place in text, but it is quite moving. There is a large museum, excellently done in multiple languages, which gives a detailed historic accounts of Japanese involvement in the Second World War and why the US felt it necessary to drop the bombs which ultimately killed over 350, 000 people. It talks about the brutality of the Japanese in Asia and the significance of Hiroshima as a military depot, and does not look for self pity, but instead talks of never letting such a thing happen again. This I felt was very enlightened, and find it hard to believe many countries in the world could do such a good job at expressing such terrible events in such an unbiased fashion.
After the war Hiroshima quickly rebuilt itself into a modern and well organised city, and become very prosperous, and while it is true to say that the mood of the city feels some what sad (although that could be through the eye of the beholder), away from the memorials, it is a nice city to walk around.
Of late the significance of Hiroshima has increased as reports have starts to talk of less Japanese school children being brought here, and the beginnings of serious calls for Japan to arm itself with a nuclear arsenal in response to North Korea. This has brought waves of criticism, for good reason, and I hope their non-nuclear policies are maintained - in recent years mobile missile defence shields have been set up all over the country, which are far stronger than anything the North Koreans can realistically send Japan's way