Confession time: I am that tourist. The one who goes to a famous place and comes away without seeing its most famous sites.
“What did you think of the cathedral?” It was early in my time in France, and we had just returned from a trip to Rouen.
“What cathedral?” I asked. Given the head shaking that went on after this display of ignorance, I knew I’d missed something major.
Later I looked it up and learned that Notre-Dame in Rouen is famed for being the tallest cathedral in France, for its three towers, each in different styles, and for having been captured in a series of 30 paintings by Monet.
I have no idea how we missed it. Likely we were too busy arguing over where to eat lunch, or looking for a working toilet.
But there was no way we were going to leave Japan without visiting the A-bomb Dome and Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. My husband, who is far better versed in current events and recent history than I, was keen to visit the site that commemorates the destruction of a single act of nuclear warfare. And I must admit to a certain curiosity: what would the city so famous for that tragedy be like today?
The museum was everything you might imagine it to be. An imposing space with curated stories of so many lives lost and touched by the bomb, impressively documented with photographs, clothing, remnants of everyday life. It was dark, both literally and figuratively. And as someone with an overactive imagination, not to mention a fear of enclosed spaces, I was uncomfortable. The suffering of fellow humans, no matter how historically significant, makes me want to flee.
Outside, I watched a group of schoolchildren visiting the site. I wondered how it was for them, as young Japanese, whether they felt touched by the events of the past. Or if, as for children around the world, the tragedies of previous generations are too long ago and far away to seem relevant.
As for Hiroshima today, it is a modern city much like others in Japan. But it has a bit of a vibe, and a popular street-food culture. Which we enjoyed sampling for lunch. Like okonomiyaki, a delicious pancake of cabbage, noodles and oysters prepared and eaten directly off the grill.
For our two nights in Hiroshima before flying out to Okinawa, we stayed in a grand old lady of a hotel next to the main station. It was somewhat impersonal, as big hotels often are, but a welcome break after our previous nights in traditional Japanese accommodation. There was a breakfast buffet at the main restaurant, called ‘Dish Parade’, and the star of the place was this cute little cat robot. The robot acted as a busboy, moving slowly up and down the aisles with blinking eyes and friendly music as people put their empty trays on it. Until it became so overloaded it went into sleep mode and someone came to clear the dishes and reboot it.
I loved watching this funny little robot, and the way people interacted with it. To me it somehow captured all the contradictions of Japan, from intensely modern to heart-warmingly human.
What kind of tourist are you?
I too am capable of missing the Main Act when travelling, though this is more to do with hating big crowds. We loved Rouen, and I can see how you could well have missed the cathedral when there’s so much else to do. You’ll have to go back though … I can see that visiting Hiroshima must have been quite hard in many ways, but it looks as though they long ago picked themselves up and dusted themselves down. I wonder what I’d have thought about your hotel? I can’t quite cope with all the Hello Kitty type twee-ness, but as you say, it’s just one facet of an intriguingly complex nation.
I know what you mean about the crowds, Margaret, and the Hello Kitty side of Japan. I found myself smiling at it most of the time, as it seems so ironic in contrast to everything else. Glad to know I’m not alone though. We will definitely go back to Rouen and visit the cathedral one of these days!
Thank you for another fabulous post, and pictures! I loved the cat-bot too. I want one! As for what kind of tourist…I’m contrary and really hate doing what everyone else is doing. I did visit Notre Dame de Paris, eventually and mostly for the gargoyles, but the bulk of my time in Paris was spent trying to live like a local. I think I’m a very bad kind of tourist. 😀
Oh, Meeks, I think you and I are soul sisters! I am way more interested in seeing what dogs people are walking than doing the tourist stuff. And that cat-bot! ❤️
lmao – yes! High Five, Sister. 😀
You’re right, Hiroshima has a definite vibe. I liked it enormously. And it was interesting to see so many groups of schoolchildren being shown around the memorial park. Such a moving place…. I’m definitely a main act tourist if I’m there but increasingly we seem to stay in the countryside and enjoy soaking up local atmosphere rather than ticking off the sights, and I don’t feel I’m missing out. Must be an age thing… 😄
Age is probably part of it but so is being out of the loop on city living. We are not used to the urban life these days, and even in law-abiding Japan, the crowds, noise and traffic were hard to take at times. Glad to know you also felt that vibe in Hiroshima. A surprisingly cool city!
I think I am a mix tourist. Some things I go to see, some things I miss. There is only so much one can do and see!
Those robot cats, sorry to say, were not a big hit with my son in a Korean restaurant in Montreal. Having the most annoying little voice ‘Here’s your meal!’ which continued to talk until you unloaded your food and pressed Done was, to us, very impersonal. And you’re supposed to tip? (Apologies. Rant over!)
How did i miss this, Dale? 🧐 The robot cats sound completely different in your local Korean place. I don’t think I’d have wanted them to replace the staff, but this one was a funny complement to it. Agree with you on the mix — I can really get into certain things and completely skip others.
Happens to the best of us!
Complement, OK. And I suppose this was supposed to be but we’re not fans. 😉
I can imagine that the memorial would be quite moving. I remember visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem and it was quite a difficult experience. During our recent trip we visiting a Human Rights museum in Santiago that went through the experiences of people during the Pinochet era and it was also very moving. I find these museums important but you can only take it a little bit at the time. (Suzanne)
Agree, Suzanne, small doses are better (especially of such horrific human experiences). But important to keep the memory of the victims alive. Hiroshima will remain in my memory along with some of the Holocaust memorials in Germany.