The following is a trip report for a journey I took in July, 2012.
After settling into the Sansui Ryokan, I went out to explore Hiroshima’s local rail network. It was a hot, humid afternoon, and the sun beat down as I walked along the tram route to Nishi-Hiroshima station on the Sanyō Main Line. Nishi-Hiroshima is a suburban station, with local trains running to Hiroshima, which also serve Miyajimaguchi (the ferry terminal for Miyajima Island). Local trains on this portion of the Sanyō Main Line run frequently (every 20 minutes during the off peak), and I didn’t have long to wait before my train to Hiroshima clattered into the station.
The train was a 3 car, mustard yellow 113 series EMU of 1960s vintage. Inside, the longitudinal seating was cracked brown vinyl. The maps on the wall were faded and only marked in Japanese characters and the train was not air conditioned. The character filled train rattled and clattered along the track, a far cry from the sleek, modern Shinkansen that had brought me to Hiroshima from Okayama. When I arrived at Hiroshima, it became apparent that JR West are the “poor cousins” of JR East and JR Central. They didn’t appear to have a local train that was under 30 years old, with most being 113 Series EMUs and 40 Series DMUs, either painted mustard yellow, beige or purple.
After watching and photographing for about 30 minutes, I decided to take an Akiji Liner Limited Express service on the Kure Line to Hiro. I had no idea where Hiro was, but it seemed as good a place as any to go on a hot afternoon. Another 1960s vintage EMU (this one a 103 Series – beige with a blue stripe) stood at the platform, and I boarded the train along with a handful of other people.
After departing Hiroshima and heading through the inner suburbs, my decision to take this train was rewarded with beautiful views of the Seto Inland Sea and nearby islands. The little train followed the coast, stopping every so often at a major station with more people leaving the train than joining. Although it was hot, and the train was not air conditioned, the windows were open and a fresh sea breeze blew pleasantly through the car. We arrived at the Hiro, an unremarkable little station with an island platform.
At Hiro, all remaining passengers quickly alighted and rushed across the island platform to a 2 car, 113 Series EMU. Not knowing (or really caring) where I would end up, I followed and the train lurched off 2 minutes later. It turned out to be a local service to Mihara, following the coast and stopping at each little station on its journey north. The views were still interesting, but it was becoming more industrial, with shipyards, storage facilities and even a nuclear power plant visible from the train.
Approaching Mihara station, the train traversed a series of concrete bridges and ramps to arrive in a platform in the centre of Mihara station. Standing in the opposite platform was a faded white, orange and red 117 Series EMU on a Sanyō Main Line Sun Liner rapid service. From Mihara, I took the Shinkansen back to Hiroshima, the unremarkable journey taking just over 20 minutes.
I arrived back at Hiroshima dusk and watched the trams performing their little ballet outside the railway station terminus for some time; one tram arriving into a dead end, another emerging from a different dead end to pick up passengers at the platform while yet another waited to take its place. By the time I moved on, it was dark, and I decided to walk back to the ryokan in the balmy evening. Not knowing the exact direction, I followed the tram line through the centre of Hiroshima.
Along the way, I was sidetracked. In a park beside the tram line, floodlit and silhouetted against the moon was the remains of a building. The building was brick, with a partially destroyed dome on top – a memorial of when a monster was slain, when the aggressor became the victim. It was building that was partially destroyed when the the Americans dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima at the end of WW2, now preserved as a memorial to that terrible day. By day it is poignant, by night, haunting.