The West

Poignant land
The torii at Miyajima Island. Picture: Darcy Harwood

Japan is a country that has been ravaged by devastation for decades but continues to rebuild.

Its beauty, human spirit and ancient history are etched on to every street and city. Indeed, if there is any word that is exhausted on our trip as we explore temples, castles and islands, it would be "kirei" - meaning "beautiful".

The beauty of Kinkaku-ji, otherwise known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, in Kyoto is apparent the moment you step into the gardens that surround it, transferring you back to when it was first built in 1397. Its elegance led a young monk to become so infatuated with the temple that he burnt it to the ground in 1950. However, the structure was accurately rebuilt, capturing the beauty that had stood there for almost 600 years.

For its serenity and picturesque views, Miyajima Island, an hour outside Hiroshima, is the highlight of the trip for me. Despite it being 4C and raining, nothing can distract from the beauty of the red torii (gate) of Itsukushima Shrine floating in the serene waters, inviting its visitors to explore the forests and villages dotted amongst the landscape. Cheeky deer wander the streets towards the shrine, a structure dating from 1168.

Standing in front of the torii provides you with a view of the mountains on Japan's main island which reach endlessly up to the sky. As the sun sets over the mountains and lights ignite the vibrant red torii, it's easy to see why Miyajima Island is one of the most photographed sights in the country.

We also visit Hiroshima Peace Park, where an elderly man approaches our group and asks to share his story. He tells us he had hoped that one day his English would be good enough to allow him to accurately convey his experience of August 6, 1945, when an atomic bomb was dropped on the city. As a survivor, Mito Kosei's story truly touches us. He tells us about the human spirit that is "alive" in Japan and of the Japanese people's ability to recover; how individuals from all different walks of life can join together and rebuild their broken city and broken lives.

The A-Bomb Dome is just one of the highlights in Hiroshima Peace Park. It once served as the Industrial Promotional Hall of Hiroshima until the atomic bomb was detonated directly above it. Aspects of the hall still remain intact and the A-Bomb Dome, as its now known, stands as one of the starkest structures within the park.

Crossing over the tranquil river to the remainder of the Peace Park, we reach the children's shrine which acknowledges the young lives lost. It was inspired by Sadako Sasaki, who was diagnosed with leukaemia at 10 years of age after being exposed to the radiation from the bombing. Believing in an ancient faith, Sadako began folding 1000 paper cranes in order that her wish to be healthy be fulfilled; sadly, she died before she completed them.

Standing in this shrine is one of my most valued life experiences: rows of cabinets are filled with paper cranes and colours of the rainbow shine as paper cranes spell "Peace", with children from across the world having finished Sadako's work for her.

Further down the park stands the cenotaph which frames the Flame of Peace, bearing the names of all known individuals who lost their life in the bombing. The cenotaph has not only become a symbol of the city's tragic past but of human strength and the ability to recover.

For me, the visit to Hiroshima Peace Park is an overwhelming experience, a defining moment in my life which makes me so grateful for the healthy life I live.

No visitor will leave without shedding a tear.

Darcy Harwood was one of our Young Travel Writers in 2010.

The West Australian

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