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Article by Caitlin and Sophie McCarthy
Hiroshima is a vibrant and modern city with a tragic past. Like a phoenix reborn from the ashes, it's been rebuilt into a picturesque city with wide tree-lined streets and modern architecture. Stepping into the street you can hear the ringing of streetcars reverberating through the air and smell sea salt in the air. At first glance, it seems like any other city in Japan. For some, however, the city cannot be separated from its dark history (and nor should it be), but the city offers so much more. From a thriving food scene to a wild nightlife. To a smattering of galleries and historical monuments. Let's get to know Hiroshima.
This iconic structure is a good starting point for those hoping to learn about Hiroshima's greatest tragedy.
On August 6th, 1945, Hiroshima—and the world—was forever changed by the first use of a nuclear weapon as warfare. At ground zero, only one building remained partially standing. This building, now known as the A-Bomb Memorial, has been preserved as a physical reminder of the horror that occurred on that day.
A short stroll along the river from the A-Bomb Memorial will lead you to the Peace Park. The main feature of the peace park is the large cenotaph with a burning flame. The flame is intended to burn until the last nuclear weapon is destroyed. In the park, you'll also find the Children's Peace Monument. It's dedicated to a young girl, Sadako, who passed away from leukaemia as a result of exposure to nuclear radiation. You may be familiar with the children's' picture book, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, which tells the story of her illness and her belief that if she could fold a thousand paper cranes she would get better. At the Children's Peace Monument you can see hundreds of thousands of paper cranes that children from all over the world have folded and sent to Hiroshima as hope for world peace. Walking through the colourful displays full of paper cranes is deeply moving, as we're reminded of the children who—like Sadako—don't know a world of peace.
Understanding the scale of the attack on Hiroshima can be bewildering. Within four months of the bombing, more than 166,000 people lost their lives. At the Memorial Museum, visitors can better understand the effects of the bombing. You're encouraged to explore individual stories—which are heartbreaking—that you'll never forget. As sombre as the museum's displays are, the overarching message of the museum is one of hope. Hope for a world without nuclear weapons. Hope for a world at peace.
Hiroshima had a long history before the bombing. Step back to five centuries ago with a visit to Hiroshima Castle. Historically, Hiroshima was a castle town. This means that the castle was both the physical and economic centre of the city. It was built in 1589 by Mori Terumoto, a powerful feudal lord at the time.
Like the rest of the city, Hiroshima Castle was destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945. The castle we see now is a faithful reconstruction of the original. The main keep is five stories tall and is surrounded by a carp filled moat. Inside the castle is a museum on the castle and Hiroshima's history. If history isn't your thing, make your way to the top floor of the castle where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city.
Don't miss out on this iconic dish while you're in Hiroshima. "Wait—isn't Okonomiyaki Osaka's thing?" I hear you cry. Well, the thing is, both cities claim the dish as their own. It's the Japanese equivalent of Australia and New Zealand fighting over who invented the pavlova. Both Hiroshima's and Osaka's versions of the dish are delicious, however, if you value your life, make sure to say you prefer the Hiroshima-style while in Hiroshima and vice-versa. Unlike Osaka-style style okonomiyaki, where all the ingredients are mixed before frying, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki involves layering all of the ingredients. Speaking of which, Hiroshima's okonomiyaki varies from its Kansai counterpart with the addition of noodles, making it a very hearty dish.
Choosing where to try okonomiyaki in Hiroshima may seem like a daunting task given the plethora of options available. We recommend RenRen for some twists on the classic dish. The classic Hiroshima-style aside, they also offer cheeseburger okonomiyaki, rice okonomiyaki (filled with rice instead of noodles), and a spicy jalapeno topped variation.
However, if you'd prefer to be overwhelmed with choice, then look no further than Okonomiyaki Town. Tucked away in downtown Hiroshima's shopping district you'll find Okonomi-Mura. Here you can choose from 25 okonomiyaki restaurants spread over three stories. Wander through and pick one that takes your fancy; there are no wrong choices in Okonomi-Mura.
Miyajima is well worth a side trip from Hiroshima. The island has a lot to offer, from its friendly 4-legged residents (deer) to the iconic 'floating' torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine, and the world's largest rice scoop.
The island is a short train & ferry ride from Hiroshima. Stay on deck during the ferry ride to enjoy the scenery, and try to catch the first glimpse of the floating torii gate. Soon after alighting the ferry you'll be greeted by Miyajima's local residents: the miniature deer. These cuties wander along the waterfront looking for snacks and deer feed is available for purchase if you wish to oblige them.
Once you've freed yourself from the deers, make your way to the main feature of the island, the UNESCO world heritage Itsukushima Shrine. Depending on the tide, you'll either be able to see the 'floating' torii gate or walk out to the 16-metre high structure. Either way, it's no surprise that it's deemed one of the top three views of Japan (along with Amanohashidate (link to article) and Matsushima).
CONSTRUCTION NOTICE: Renovation works started on the floating torii gate in June 2019. A completion date has not yet been announced, but the renovations are expected to take about a year.
If it's a clear day, take the time to go up Mount Misen. At 500m high, it's the tallest mountain on Miyajima and affords spectacular views of the Seto Inland Sea. The peak can easily be reached by the scenic ropeway.
The ropeway station can be found a ten-minute stroll from Itsukushima Shrine. From the upper ropeway station, the peak of the mountain is a further 30-minute hike. But if you're running short on time, fear not, the views from the ropeway station observatory are breathtaking. For the more adventurous (or thrifty), there are three hiking trails up the mountain. We recommend the Daisho-in course as it's slightly less steep and has amazing views.
Before hopping on the Ferry back to Hiroshima, make sure you check out one of the island's most unique features: the world's largest rice scoop. At 7.7 metres long and 2.7 metres high, it's hard to miss the enormous Shamoji (rice scoop) on display in the Omotesando shopping street. The scoop was constructed over three years, using wood from a 270-year old Zelkova tree. It went on display in 1996 to commemorate Itsukushima Shirine's designation as a world heritage site.
Now it's time to head back to Hiroshima. Get yourself dolled up because you're going on a date. For evening drinks, look no further than Bar Pretty Date. This 8-seater bar is a gem in the rough. Don't worry if you're travelling alone, because the hosts will make you feel welcome. Plus, in a bar of that size, it's easy to make friends with the people around you. Enjoy some well-deserved drinks (especially if you hiked Mount Misen), then go eat some more Okonomiyaki. When in Hiroshima, right?