I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of history is sketchy at best, and when it comes to Japanese history it’s pretty much non-existent.
I think Hiroshima is something of an exception to this though as most people around the world are fully aware of the fact it was completely destroyed, along with Nagasaki a few days later, by the atomic bomb in 1945. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial with its atomic bomb dome is one of the most iconic images of Japan for me and I imagine many others, so I’ve been keen to visit the ruins for some time.
I was joined by my mate Matt who happened to be travelling around Japan and seeing as we hadn’t seen each other for a couple of years we decided to write off the first day/evening in favour of lots of beers and okonomiyaki.
Now I’ve mentioned in the past that every Japanese city claims to be ‘the best’ at making a particular food and although my experiences are often underwhelming, the battle for the best okonomiyaki (sort of like a Japanese cabbage pancake) between Osaka and Hiroshima is a good one! Unlike the soba noodles in Nagano (which tasted just like every other soba noodle – bland), there are actually distinctive differences between the okonomiyaki in these two cities.
In Osaka all the ingredients are mixed together in a bowl and just spread evenly into a round patty on the hot plate; in Hiroshima however, the ingredients are layered up and stacked on top of each other one by one and they also add noodles to the recipe. Even for a cynic like me, the difference in style and taste is very clear.
We opted to try a couple of different stalls at Okonomimura – a slightly touristy but fun place which has some of the hallmarks of other Asian food markets. Of course by this I mean the second you walk into the place – which is essentially a massive building with over 20 stalls all serving the same food – you’re shouted at from all directions as people try to get your custom. Fun times.
So the setting was good, but how about the food? It’s not even close: Hiroshima wins hands down!
The Peace Park
As I mentioned before, perhaps the most iconic thing in Hiroshima is the Peace Park and the remains of the dome that was hit by the atomic bomb all those years ago. It’s quite unbelievable that it’s still standing after all this time and it really has to be seen to be believed.
I always try and learn about a country’s history when I visit and often it’s the most harrowing things that need to be explored. It was the same in Vietnam with the war museum and of course the Killing Fields of Cambodia. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that although I took pictures, I’m forever dismayed when I see people taking selfies with a huge grin on their faces at such places. It hardly seems like the time or place, but each to their own I guess!
Selfie gripes aside, it’s a very peaceful place to wander and there’s an interesting mix of tourists and locals around the park and the nearby museum. It seems many Japanese come here to pay their respects, and we saw a number of school trips which were presumably for educating kids on this important piece of their country’s history.
Oh yeah, we also visited the castle but it’s not worth writing about. Just read this and replace the word ‘Nagoya’ with ‘Hiroshima’.
The other iconic image of Hiroshima is that of Miyajima – an island just off the coast which is famous for its big red torii gate in the sea.
We took advantage of the one-day pass for ¥840 which included all day tram access and also a return trip on the boat over to the island which was quite good value. Aside from the big gate the other main attraction on the island is Mt Misen, a bloody high peak which seems even higher on a hot day like this one. The pass included a discounted return cable car ticket (down from ¥1,800 to ¥1,350), but we forgot to use it annoyingly!
The athlete in me (read: tightarse) might have suggested actually climbing the mountain – which is said to take 2 hours or so – on a cooler day, but we had to be quite quick as we’d got tickets for the Hiroshima Carp vs Chunichi Dragons baseball game that night at the other side of the city.
After breaking the world record for most people crammed into a small cable car (eight!) we finally arrived at Mt Misen with just a short 0.7km walk to the peak.
The views from the top of the mountain were pretty stunning and worth working up a sweat for. That’s what you pay ¥1,800 for I guess!
The final order of the day was to make it over to the wonderfully named ‘Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium’ (seriously) for the baseball game. After more than three hours, a load of beers and a 5-2 win for the home team we were still only half clued up on what had happened.
It’s the taking part that counts anyway!