We took our first overnight trip together to Hiroshima this weekend!
For those who aren’t aware, Hiroshima, like other prefectures in Japan, has a very rich old history. However, it also has a more tragic history as it was the first city over which an atomic bomb was detonated. The city is perfectly safe now, and you wouldn’t be able to tell that anything had occurred if not for the Atomic Bomb Dome standing as a reminder.
I had already visited Hiroshima twice while I was in college, so this was the third time for me. As for Taku, it was his first time visiting.
We left early Saturday morning by bullet train. While on it, we studied a guidebook, looking up the best sightseeing and eateries. We had decided to go around Hiroshima with no specific plan, but even so, we still had a basic idea of the places which we wanted to check out, mainly the Peace Park and the island of Miyajima.
We arrived a little over an hour later, and decided to check our bags at the hostel before beginning our sightseeing. After doing so (and having a lengthy conversation with the front desk women who shamelessly flirted with Taku), we started on our journey. We took a streetcar to the main shopping arcade, which is pretty close to everything. Shopping, restaurants, bars, and sightseeing were mostly concentrated in this area, which spanned in every direction for several blocks.
Our immediate observation was that there were foreign tourists everywhere. Fukuoka has its fair share, especially when one is near the touristy areas, but this was on a whole new level. Second was that compared to the fashion that one can see in Fukuoka, where everyone dresses like they’ve stepped off the pages of a magazine, Hiroshima fashion was rather…muted. Everyone was wearing black, grey, beige and the like. Lighten up Hiroshima-ites!
We spent some time walking around the Peace Park and viewing the various monuments. Taku was specially interested in the Memorial Hall, the design of which was created by a famous Japanese architect named Kenzou Tange. After thoroughly seeing our way around the park, we returned to the shopping arcade, which was so large and sprawling that it felt like a maze. After passing the same stores for the third time or so, we were convinced that the arcade just went around and around in an endless loop…
In the evening, we went out for Okonomiyaki, a Hiroshima specialty food that’s often described as a “Japanese pizza” in English. I don’t like that description, as to me, okonomiyaki is okonomiyaki. But if you need to have some sort of anglicization, there you are. It’s a layered dish basically consisting of a crepe, cabbage, bacon, udon or soba noodles, a fried egg, sauce, seaweed and ginger, but you can change the recipe any way you like and it will probably still be delicious.
Okonomimura, or Okonomiyaki Town, is a special section of the shopping arcade that has over a dozen different okonomiyaki restaurants. Thanks to my selective sharp memory, I found the same restaurant that my Japanese language teacher took our study group over six years ago during a college trip. It was equal parts delicious and nostalgic!
We went out for some drinks and arrived at back at our hostel around midnight. When we arrived, the front desk worker from before was sitting on the couch piss drunk with a second front desk girl we had met in the afternoon, along with a guy in a suit who looked to be about our age. They invited us to drink with them, but we were already exhausted, and went back to our rooms to take showers and change. However, we got hungry and decided to go to the convenience store, which meant having to walk past the drunk people in the lobby again…so we took our chances and went, but as soon as they saw us, they all invited us to drink again, and after we told them we were just going to convenience store, the young guy decided to come with us.
In the short time it took to walk to convenience store and back, we learned that he was only slightly younger than us, and apparently had a ton of money. He even whipped out his platinum credit card to pay for all of our stuff. Apparently he was some sort of businessman…of what kind, we’ll never know. He seemed to be quite a womanizer, and told us his master plan of infiltrating the hostel by getting with the female workers because he thought the building would be better suited as a love hotel…
We returned and entertained everyone with some friendly conversation, but they were clearly drunk and exhausted, and after a short while, we excused ourselves to prepare for our second day.
We decided to spend day two at Miyajima, the site of the famous Itsukushima Shrine and the ‘Floating Torii’.
We continued our “gourmet tour” as we called it, tasting some of the delicious things that the island had to offer, such as momiji manjyuu, small cakes filled with different flavors such as red bean, green tea, cream custard, and many many more. We also tried Anago Don, or saltwater eel over rice.
Of course, the main attraction of the island is the famous shrine and its majestic gate. As can be said of many famous landmarks, it’s one thing to see it on TV or in images, but actually standing before it is powerful and moving.
I was hoping that we’d be able to see the foliage, which is said to be rich and beautiful around this time, but it seems that we were still a few weeks too early. There were still a few changing trees that we could walk under and admire while hiking our way around the trails. There are also many wild (but fairly tame) deer who roam the island freely, creating a unique atmosphere where you can really feel and soak in the nature around you.
This was my third time visiting the city of Hiroshima and nearby Miyajima, but I still felt the same awe as when I first visited six years ago. This time was especially meaningful, as Taku and I were able to spend time away from our home prefecture, and I got to show him around one of my favorite places in Japan and share with him stories of my college days. We’re so lucky to have been able to take this trip together!
It feels great to be back home however, where the crowds are technicolor and the streets smell of pungent pork bone ramen.
I’m looking forward to our next travel opportunity!