I had the privilege in the last couple of weeks to do a lot of traveling and meet many new people. I have to say, of all the beautiful and amazing cities I’ve visited this semester, Hiroshima has been my favourite (with many close seconds!). This may be in large part due to my extreme interest in World War II history, but there really was something magical about this city. The city acts as a representation of hopefulness with a mission for world peace. No matter where I went in the city I felt a sense of calm.
First, I visited Peace Memorial Park to see the A-bomb Dome and the Peace Museum. Both are very good at doing the best they can to help you visualize what that day would have been like in 1945. None of the museums ever seemed to place blame or hold resentment towards those responsible for the attack that day, instead the city focuses on bringing peace globally. This was quite a refreshing thought.
My favourite moment was visiting the Fukuro-machi Elementary School Museum. This is a very small museum located in an old school building that was used as somewhat of a hospital and recovery zone for a-bomb victims. Years after its use for this purpose, various writings on the walls and behind blackboards were found from people looking for their family members or leaving messages for loved ones, hoping that they were still alive. This experience was particularly powerful for me because I was the only one in the museum so I could really take the time to examine every character and let it set in. There was one other person in the building, an elderly employee who seemed very happy that I was there. He told me I was the first Canadian he had seen come into this museum and he gave me a small paper crane that a student from a neighbouring school had made in remembrance of the event. I was incredibly moved by the whole experience and felt very grateful for the opportunities I have in my life today.
Next, I visited Miyajima Island just outside of Hiroshima to see the famous Itsukushima Shrine and the various temples throughout the small island. I also hiked to the top of the mountain to see an amazing view of the surrounding cities. While I am not a frequent hiker, unlike many retired Japanese people (who were much faster than myself), I thoroughly enjoyed it.
However, what made this trip so amazing was the lovely people I met along the way. Instead of staying in a hostel, I decided to try Couchsurfing for the first time. Couchsurfing is an online community that connects travelers with hosts of a particular city. With this, I got to stay with a Japanese local and meet other surfers from the UK and Czech Republic. This was really great because I was traveling alone and I got to spend most of the weekend with new friends. I learned more about the city than I would have otherwise learned exploring it by myself. I got to try different local foods and see the city from a local’s perspective. I also got to swap travel stories with the other surfers, two of which whom just started a year and a half backpacking trip around the world. The Couchsurfing community has also connected me with a local Japanese girl from Nagoya looking to practice her English. We had a great time hanging out around the city and comparing her time in the United States and my time here in Japan. For me, this is what exchange is all about, experiencing new cultures and making connections all around the world. In my opinion, you learn far more from living in different countries and meeting new people with different perspectives than you might remaining stationary your whole life.
I am Couchsurfing again this weekend in Osaka and then I’m off to Tokyo. This will be my last trip of the semester since final exams are coming up, then in three weeks, I fly home. With so little time left, I am trying to enjoy my time and soak up as much as I can before I leave!