Last September a very good friend of mine came to visit me in Japan. We spent our time exploring together and our travels took us on a journey to Hiroshima and the beautiful Hiroshima Bay (our adventures in Miyajima I’ve already written about here). I’m sure that everyone is familiar with the name Hiroshima and the associated images and history that it conjures up. I too was slightly biased before visiting, imaging a place that was full of sadness and perhaps a little neglected. How wrong I was! Hiroshima is so much more than it’s history; thriving and harmonious.
The first thing I noticed about Hiroshima is how modern everything is (perhaps unsurprisingly so). Even the castle is a replica, built after the bomb was dropped in 1945. The grounds of which are like an oasis amidst the vibrant city and perfectly pleasant to stroll around for an hour or two. But the real attractions of Hiroshima, at least for me, were the peace memorial and park, the atomic bomb museum and most importantly the food.
I can’t emphasize enough the impact that seeing this city had on me. On first arrival it was like any other city; big, bright and bustling. The people were some of the kindest that I’ve come across in Japan and the city has an air of optimism and lightness that’s infectious. Wandering the streets is a pleasure and I instantly felt at ease here.
That said, it is impossible to get away from the connotations that spring to mind when we hear the name Hiroshima. And it is very difficult to visit this city without seeing the sites so associated with the horrors of war. As the first city to ever be destroyed by a nuclear weapon, there are stark reminders of the atrocities preserved for all to see. My easy-feelings changed after visiting these places. For me, it made Hiroshima more beautiful, but heartbreakingly so. I remembered the warmth of the people that had greeted us and the normality of the current surroundings and couldn’t shake the feeling that this amazing place was once subjected to such devastation.
Hiroshima atomic bomb dome is the remains of the only building to survive the atomic bomb blast of August 1945. It has been kept, exactly as it was left; crumbling rumble and twisted metal, as an ode to those who lost their lives in the bombing. The remaining city has been completely rebuilt with few signs left of the destruction of that fateful day, but instead poignant symbols erected to honor those that were lost. The grey day and the rain only added to the saddening atmosphere but perhaps made the messages of peace shine through even more brightly.
Visiting the museum is a must. Learning about what happened to this wonderful city, how it happened and the resilience of its people to rebuild. It was enthralling. I won’t go into details here, but I urge any of you visiting to Japan to make the effort to visit and learn and appreciate the history of Hiroshima.
Although, the point of this piece was to highlight the fact that Hiroshima is so much more than it’s history, it would have been madness if I didn’t at least mention the most significant aspect of the city, and the reason that most tourists visit. But, it’s true that there’s so much more to see and do here than expected. The food has to be top of my list. From the fattest oysters you’ve ever seen, to traditional okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancakes) stuffed with tasty toppings, to lemons the size of my face, Hiroshima is a culinary delight.
After visiting the bomb museum, my friend and I aimed for lunch. We knew we wanted to try Hiroshima’s speciality okonomiyaki and I had been told about a certain cafe; Momiji-tei, filled to the brim with manga-memorabilia whilst cooking up the most delicious squid ink pancakes. It’s close the ground zero plaque and tucked away on the top floor of what looks like an old apartment building. I seriously recommend that you hunt this place down! It’s the epitome of what you imagine when you imagine modern Japan. The waitress was so friendly (and dressed in a Sailor Moon costume-look it up if you don’t know what that is), the food was delicious, Dragonball Z was playing on the TV in the corner and they even moulded their ice cream into the shape of a bunny. It was an instant mood enhancer after a morning of heavy contemplation and a much needed pick me up to go out and enjoy the rest of what Hiroshima had to offer.
After lunch and with a free afternoon ahead of us, we decided to work off our okonomiyaki with a hike up Futaba-san to see the silver peace pagoda, built in 1966 to honour bomb victims, by the Buddhist sect, Nipponzan Myohoji, whose aim is to promote peace across the world. The trail took about 40 minutes and offered an eye-opening view of the city and further out to Hiroshima bay.
By this point our okonomiyaki lunch felt like a lifetime ago and so we started our search for sustenance . We freshened up at our hotel and aimed back into town after admiring the the view and polishing off a couple of Cosmos at our hotel’s Sky Lounge Bar. I’d been told that the seafood, particularly the oysters, were another must-try experience in Hiroshima and so we found an izakaya a few streets from our hotel, specialising in kaki-fry (deep fried oysters) and seafood tempura. We hit the jackpot. This izakaya was lively and cheap. Super cheap. We sunk back a few beers and stuffed ourselves on the most succulent seafood I’ve had in a while, the oysters were as big as my fists, and we spent ¥1600 each. Yes, really. Unfortunately the Cosmos and local specialty brew have clouded my memory and I can’t recall the name, but it was near the covered street market in the main part of town.
I left Hiroshima in total awe of this incredible city, the true kindness, patience and perseverance of it’s people made this an unforgettable trip. The perfect balance of heart-rendering remembrance with the vitality of a new and exciting generation was something that touched me deeply and I’m itching to go back.