Hiroshima trail running: Ushitayama and Futabayama

Looking south to Hiroshima Bay from Ushitayama
It has taken me some time and distance to be able to write about this run as we were only in Hiroshima because we were fleeing the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011. How paradoxical it was to wind up in Hiroshima, synonymous with the atom bomb and the effects of radiation; but luckily for us friends had offered us shelter for a couple of weeks. I spent most of the time trying and failing to get the authorities and institutions in the city to respond to the crisis, in particular to support the evacuation of children in areas of eastern Fukushima with high levels of radiation. Most are still there in areas that should have been evacuated. Running was a surreal but necessary antidote to the stress and fear of this time, a bubble of normality and beauty....and the gift of temporary forgetfulness.

Ushitayama behind the Ota river and its running path
Hiroshima, like most Japanese cities and towns, is surrounded by hills and mountains and some even poke their heads above the rising tide of buildings within the city itself, protected by their steepness and instability. The horseshoe ridge between Ushitayama and Futabayama is one such survivor, just two kilometers from ground zero and ranged above the Ota river, once full of the bodies of the burned, now the placid companion of joggers and dog walkers. To be in Hiroshima is to inhabit this double identity, the glib present and an inescapable history. It's in the fabric of the place, and literally still, the soil. Sometimes it is necessary to forget for a while, but it is a shame that in 2011 the administration were unable to make the link between Hiroshima's history and the immediate need of Fukushima's children.

A wild boar-proofed flower bed at the top of Ushitayama
I left our accommodation by the river, crossing the busy dual carriageway and ran up through a park with it's incongruous "English Rose Garden" and up a dusty track between signs warning of Inoshishi, wild boar. Signs of their rummaging mastery of this island in the concrete were everywhere at the path side. How quickly the air beneath the trees, their tangled roots and the need to push against gravity worked their everyday magic, the weight of what was happening falling away as my mind was forced to concentrate on balance, co-ordination and finding my way along unknown paths.

Looking east from the ridge

Looking south across downtown Hiroshima
Someone had adopted the top of the hill and made a shelter and flowerbeds. What a nice haven this must be for people living below with little space and no garden. It looks as if people people walk up here and take in the space, free for an hour or two. Over a couple of runs I realized that a ridge formed a semi-circle, with some kind of temple structure on a hill at the far end. I went back and made a circuit of it.

Futabayama crowned by the Peace Pagoda
Futayaba's cemetary and Peace Pagoda with ground zero beyond
As I reached the small area of flat ground near the top of Futayaba I was alarmed to see a big German Shepherd dog jumping up at a man. He was wearing a padded arm and was training the dog to attack. Why? Who was he? An off-duty policeman and his dog, or someone injecting some power into his life through control? A potent symbol in any case, especially next to the ethereal structure only meters away.

Futabayama Peace Pagoda which is in the form of a large Stupa
Dropping into the streets again the schools were emptying, ordinary life unaccountably continuing as if Fukushima was a different country far away with no common history. It can't be understood, but at least there is the consolation of the hills and the simplicity of good food. In Hiroshima that can mean Okonomiyaki like this small local specialist cafe that we found.

Hiroshima City were not yet providing accommodation for evacuees, so we had to move on. I returned to exhibit my collaborative portraits of Fukushima's children at the invitation of the organisers of the annual Peace exhibition and met and drew some Hibakusha  (atom bomb survivors). There I also met activists whose dedication and compassion showed another side of the city.

More on the stupa:
My blog on living in Fukushima: