In less than two hours and at speeds up to 285-km/h, Gordon Price travelled from Kyoto to Hiroshima on Thursday, via Japan’s Shinkansen “bullet train” line.
The destination was the Hiroshima Peace Memorial; the main draw here is the former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, now commonly called the Genbaku Dome, or Atomic Bomb Dome.
The building was the only structure left standing near the hypocentre of ‘Little Boy’, the first atomic bomb ever used in war, which dropped on August 6th, 1945. It delivered near-instant death to 70,000, with another 70,000 to later die as a result of radiation poisoning. Injuries and related horrors took many more, to say nothing of the tens of thousands to perish three days later in Nagasaki. Today, Genbaku Dome is a UNESCO Heritage site.
From the train, Gordon took many photographs of the urban world that has cropped up along the rail line (including the photograph above of sunset over Kyoto), with his usual engaging commentary.
Japanese cities are mostly low-rise suburban: tightly packed single-family houses interspersed with medium-rise apartments. The problem I see with my west-coast eyes: no landscaping and few street trees. There’s just no room. And that’s what distinguishes Kyoto: its setting. Surrounded by the five mountains – clearly preserved, with hardly any development – they define the city, which with its abundant shrines and temples seems pastoral by comparison.
I’ve assumed that every culture has as an icon from its past a version of the single-family home, usually captured idyllically in its literature: from Little House on the Prairie to Downton Abbey. When grouped in a farm town or village, the folk architecture in a pastoral setting resonates with beauty and meaning.
As we get closer to the core of the city, the greater the density, the higher the heights. Finally there is no architectural memory at all, except for kitsch. That sense of loss is what so many find alienating about urban environments, unless they too ultimately create their own unique sense of life and livability. And don’t omit the landscaping.