Friday, November 6, 2015

Don't Mention the War...

This is the next post of our Japan trip.  It took place in September but I only managed to write these notes a couple of months later.  For contemporaneous reports, take a look at Track My Tour -- a brilliant app that I used to ... well, track our tour.  Here is the link.

We only planned to be in Hiroshima for a day, the main reason... actually sole reason being to watch a baseball match between the local Carps and the Dragons.

A month before had been the 70-year anniversary of the dropping of the first A-bomb in 1945 but none of us really wanted to visit anything that reminded us of something as ghastly as that.  Personally I think it was the right decision based on how many people died in Okinawa with the main island the next stop for landings.  Could have taken years and killed millions more.  So horrible as undoubtedly it was, it brought things to a dramatic crashing halt.  

Missed in all the talk of the horros of atomic weapons is the fact that as our holiday went along we realised more and more that every building was at most 60 or so years old.  Dating from the end of the war and the occupation in fact.  Everything else had been destroyed.  Remember I said that the O-torii Gate in Miyajima was wooden and therefore on version #38?  Well everything pre-war in Japan was also built in wood and with the night bombing focussing on incendiaries, you don't need to think too deeply to wonder why very few old buildings in Japanese cities survive.  We discovered in fact that the wonderful Horoshima Castle was in fact 20 or so years old as the old one was incinerated.

The only building that survived the A-bomb in 1945 is today in the Peace Park with a memorial to that awful occasion.
However the replacement architecture for the most part didn't harken back to the old days, rather it took the post-war London G-plan type build to extremes.  Actually pretty ugly with of course exceptions.  Hiroshima of course was flattened but being a major port had been bombed solidly before as well so all the buildings were of the newer... er, uglier type.  Except the train station.

We were staying at the railway hotel run by Sheraton which was really new, updated and absolutely splendid.  The station, as many country wide so we discovered, was under renovation, construction, whatever.  It was huge with a multi-storey department store inside and another across the street.  In Japan railway stations are THE central point of any city... because everyone uses the trains.  And boy are they clean, efficient and affordable.

Stepping back from the bullet train (which comes tomorrow), transport in Japan seems great.  Indy told me it had got better (i.e. signs in English now) as a result of the football World Cup, before which no signs were in English.  But with a week rail pass and able to use everything from bullet train to local subway was a breeze.  The great thing is that the trains go everywhere, everyone uses them and did I say this already, they are very affordable.  It makes you wonder looking elsewhere when trains (in the UK for example) are so expensive and infrequent that if you build a lot, make them on time and clean, provide lots and lots of them AND make them affordable then people will use them.  Strange concept that others don't get.  They cut the service and put up the price so when people don't use them, they cut them again.  Makes no sense.  Anyway I am a HUGE fan of the Japanese train system and don't care who knows it!  If East Japan Railways needs an endorsement, sign me up.  As an aside I used to buy their Eurobonds in the past as they were AAA rated and always paid a little more coupon than some of their counterparts.

We traveled everywhere in Hiroshima on the smorgasbord of train offerings and found all of them excellent... even though it rained pretty solidly and had done so pretty much since we arrived in Japan... and tonight was the big game!

Zoom Zoom
Hiroshima is home of Mazda (zoom zoom) cars so the stadium is called Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium!  Fortunately it was just a few minutes away from the hotel.  Cat had got tickets for Viv and I (who decided to attend late) apart from the rest of the party and provided us with home team ponchos to stay dry.  This turned out to be a bit of a problem as the tickets were in the opposing team, the Dragons, enclave and as soon as we arrived in bright red, one lady in particular came up to us saying we couldn't come in dressed like that.  She even went to get a policeman who confirmed this but really kindly when we pointed out that it was tipping down with rain gave us a couple of blue Dragons' ponchos including her own to wear.

However the rain lifted a few innings in ... and yes in Japan they play in all weather conditions ... and the night became clear and we settled in to enjoy the game which has a few local rules that I think enhance the event rather than anything else.

First are the bands.  Yes bands.  Each team has its own bands, its own songs and chants and its own band leaders.  Everyone sings, claps and howls along.  By the 8th innings, we were joining in.  However rather politely they take it in turns only playing when their side is batting so there really isn't much competition for who makes the most noise.  I thought the Dragons had the better songs, chants and moves for yes it also includes a form of in seat dancing with everyone moving in synchronicity.  You have to see it!

Instead of a 7th innings stretch there is a loosing of thousands of balloons, tonight red for the Carps and blue for the Dragons.  At the end of a particular song, everyone cheers and lets loose.  

However with all this mayhem going on, the game itself was a close run affair ending in a very polite draw at the end of the 12th innings.  Local rules say the bands must stop at 10 pm because of the noise to allow people to sleep ahead of work on the morrow, and the game stops at the end of the 12th innings so nobody gets home too late!

So it wasn't that late an affair leaving us plenty of time to find an Okonami restaurant, the local dish of choice which is a pancake with very Japanese toppings washed down with local beer and of course sake!  

When they ask what you'd like, you say "Everything"
What a night!

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