TRAVEL: Visiting Hiroshima

27 Jan

The name of this Japanese city is known around the world for the wrong reason. It’s a place where a historical “first” happened but also where a ruthless tragedy occurred — an entire city destroyed and tens of thousands killed within a matter of seconds. I’m talking, of course, about the first atomic bombing in history, which ultimately ended World War 2. The United States is the only country in the world to have used a nuclear weapon — on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and then three days later in Nagasaki.

But despite the mass devastation 68 years ago, Hiroshima now looks like any other small city in Japan. It’s also very charming, with a very walkable downtown core and quiet side streets with hodgepodge vintage shops, quirky rock bars and classy oyster restaurants.

The A-bomb dome at Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park.

The A-bomb dome at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park.

Transportation and accomodation

I arrived with a friend on a Willer Express bus, a private company which charged 8000 ($88) yen return for the five hour trip. Taking the shinkansen (bullet train) would cost about 19,500 yen ($215) return and would take an hour and a half each way.

We stayed at a fantastic hotel that I would highly recommend – Hotel Active. It was a small boutique hotel with modern decor and within short walking distance of downtown and Peace Memorial Park. The room was small but comfortable, except ours had a very tiny window that looked onto a wall. But the hotel offers a large Japanese and Western food breakfast buffet, free internet use, and a small sento and sauna for guest’s use. At 7500 yen ($82) a night, it was a great deal for Japan.

Food and drink

I was quite excited to try Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which differs from the Kansai region’s version mainly with the addition of thick yakisoba-type noodles. For both okonomiyaki enthusiasts or newbies, Hiroshima has a must-visit food destination. Okonomimura is three floors of small restaurants all serving up their variation of okonomiyaki. These are basically stalls where diners sit on stools around a large grill where the dish is prepared.

One of the many stands at Okonomimura.

One of the many stands at Okonomimura.

Essentially they’re all serving the exact same thing, so we chose one that looked popular. We had the “everything” okonomiyaki which had fresh, perfectly cooked shrimp and squid in it. And it was massive! We split one and it was more than enough.

The final product at Okonomimura.

The final product at Okonomimura.

The website has some hilarious and questionable descriptions of each of the stalls as well, such as “Each serving of our okonomiyaki is garnished with leaves of mint or similar and is a lighter meal than it may look. This wins us high ratings from lady customers.” and “Culinary capability like the Mighty Atom!” and “We insist on using only ingredients that you can trust – things that are chemically unpolluted, therapeutic wave-motion water, and so on.” If any of those piqué your interest!

Hiroshima is also famous for its oysters. We tried some at a cute oyster bar with white wine and prosciutto. We had them raw and they were absolutely massive! Too large to comfortably eat raw and quite fishy tasting but good.

The huge Hiroshima oysters on the left.

The huge Hiroshima oysters on the left.

We also found two small, fun bars. Rock’N Jam is a really funky rock bar filled with records, music memorabilia and neat old books and magazines. It’s perched on the second floor over a cute street and the seats by the large windows are great for people watching.

We spent Christmas Day night at Wonderful Joke, a karaoke bar that was a lot of fun. The bartender was dressed up as Santa, a few patrons were dressed in reindeer and Hello Kitty onesies and we sang some Christmas classics.

Sights

The city’s main attractions are within Peace Memorial Park. This centrally located park was ground zero for the bombing and where most of the museums and memorials are located. (Trivia fact: the term “ground zero” originated from the bombing of Hiroshima.)

The A-bomb dome stands at the north of the park, right on the river bank, and is the starkest reminder of what happened here. A government office building, the bomb exploded almost directly above it. It was the only building to remain standing in the area but everyone inside was killed instantly, burned alive. There was much discussion about whether it should be torn down, but it ended up being preserved as a reminder of the past and it is now a World Heritage site. It’s a sobering sight, impossible to look at and feel nothing. But it’s also hauntingly beautiful and can be seem from far stretches of the park, surrounded by leafy trees.

A somber reminder of the atomic bomb's devestation - the A-bomb dome in Hiroshima.

A somber reminder of the atomic bomb’s devastation – the A-bomb dome in Hiroshima.

The Peace Memorial Museum provides very thorough information on Hiroshima before the bomb, the planning leading up to the bombing, and the immediate and long lasting effects. It’s a very well planned and organized museum but also very overwhelming. The first building contains mainly videos, photographs, diagrams and military documents. The next sections contain more tangible proof of the destruction. Clothing, a children’s lunch box, tricycle, and other personal items on display are all burned black. Photos are shown of the burns and radiation effects on people’s bodies. It’s necessary to see but also very, very sad.

A photo of the epicenter of destruction with the A-bomb dome.

A photo of the epicenter of destruction with the A-bomb dome.

The Children’s Peace Memorial commemorates Sadako Sasaki and the many children that died. Sadako was two years old when the city was bombed and subsequently developed leukemia. She folded thousands of paper origami cranes in the hospital because of an ancient story stating that folding a thousand cranes would grant one a wish. She died at the age of 12. Her story touched many people and even now people bring paper cranes to the memorial.

Cranes for peace at the Children's Peace Memorial in Hiroshima.

Cranes for peace at the Children’s Peace Memorial in Hiroshima.

The National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims is another memorial site for the victims. The museum spirals into the ground to the Hall of Remembrance, a 360 degree view of the city after the bombing made out of 140,000 tiles — the number estimated to have died by the end of 1945, with many more dying afterwards from the effects of radiation and cancers. The hall also has an archives area with stories and photos from the survivors.

For more information on the many sites in Peace Memorial park, visit their website.

 

One Response to “TRAVEL: Visiting Hiroshima”

  1. Sarah February 1, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    Those oysters are INSANE! I love the photo and the story about the paper cranes. I think I saw a play about that little girl years ago. So terribly sad.

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