Hiroshima: A City of Hope and Peace
In my previous article, I discussed the beautiful and tranquil surroundings of Miyajima. Today we will stay in that same area as we go for a walk around Hiroshima City itself.
As the largest city in Japan’s southern Chugoku region, Hiroshima has for centuries been both a cultural and commerce centre for southern Japan, acting as the perfect gateway between Kyushu in the south, and Tokyo and Osaka to the north.
Whilst it is most famous internationally for the atrocity committed by the US military in 1945, Hiroshima today is a city of hope, of openness and ingenuity. It is the perfect template for how a determined and humble people can turn the site of one of history’s greatest crimes into something beautiful.
Hiroshima sits on the southern tip of Japan’s main Honshu Island, some 4 hours south of Tokyo by Shinkansen. It’s southern positioning, coupled with the inflowing waters of the pacific ocean, give it a more moderate climate than the likes of Tokyo or Osaka. However, it is also noted for its hilly areas. These areas can often be subject to blizzards in winter, as well as occasional flooding of the valleys down below.
For the most part however, Hiroshima has good weather throughout the year and the city has a vibe that is quite different from other parts of Japan. Past experience has given the people of this city a humility and kindness about them that surpasses even the tremendously high levels of hospitality one would come to expect all across Japan.
Also, from my own experience, I have found cities like Hong Kong, London and to a lesser extent Tokyo to be too busy, too crowded and too chaotic. Conversely, I have found in visiting places like the English countryside, Tottori Prefecture and rural parts of mainland China that the pace of life was too slow, too sedate and frankly, boring.
Hiroshima treads the line between these two extremes expertly. It is neither too big and crowded to be uncomfortable, nor too small and remote to be isolating. As far as cities go, it is very much in the “Goldilocks” zone.
So, what is there to do in this fine city?
Quite a lot as it turns out.
I’ve already mentioned the beauty and awesome spectacle of nearby Miyajima and its shrine on the sea. This world heritage site is but a 30 minute train ride from Hiroshima Station. But if you are feeling adventurous, why not go there by boat.
From the riverside in central Hiroshima opposite the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, you can take a riverboat cruise, along the river to eventually arrive at Miyajima. The cruise takes about 45 minutes and costs 2000 yen. Under 16s can enjoy a 50% discount.
If you’re feeling a bit more extravagant, or you want to treat that special person in your life to a night out they will never forget, then why not go for the full Hiroshima Bay cruise, taking in several other islands in addition to Miyajima and also including lunch or dinner with fine French cuisine. Prices vary seasonally, but for the deluxe dinner course you can expect to pay around 8-10,000 yen per person.
Of course not everyone has “sea legs”, as it were. For those who prefer the reassuring comfort of dry land, there are plenty of other attractions on offer in Hiroshima.
Hiroshima has in recent times becoming something of a regional hub for sports fans. The local J-League soccer team Sanfreece Hiroshima won the national championship a few years ago and their Baseball equivalent, the Hiroshima Carps continue to grow year by year. If nothing else, it’s worth making the time to take in a game, just to experience the unique atmosphere that only a Japanese sporting venue can offer. The quality of play on show may not be the best, but the passion, commitment and excitement of the fans is undeniable.
Hiroshima also has lots to offer in a cultural context. The previously mentioned Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a designated World Heritage site.
Central to the Peace Memorial Park is the Genbaku Dome (Atomic Bomb Dome).
This skeletal structure was the building closest to the detonation point of the bomb that remained standing, at least in part, after the explosion. The building to this day remains exactly as it was in the immediate aftermath of that day, as a constant and sobering reminder of the folly of nuclear weapons and of war in general.
Nearby, you will also find the Children’s Peace Monument. This simple and yet beautiful statue of a young Japanese girl, is in tribute to Sasaki Sadako. Sadako survived the bombing as a 2 year old, however she sadly succumbed to cancer and other complications of radiation exposure at the age of 12. Shortly before she died, she set out on a mission to gather 1000 paper cranes, a common form of Japanese origami, in the hope that this could cure her.
Sadly it wasn’t to be, but in her memory children from all over the world now learn of Sadako’s story at school. In turn, these children send thousands of cranes to Hiroshima every year, many with personalized messages. The statue is constantly surrounded by an assortment of cranes from around the world, which are replenished at regular intervals. The beauty this monument creates from such sadness really embodies the spirit of what makes Hiroshima such a great city.
Close to the Statue you will also find the Hiroshima Peace Museum, a highly educational and informative repository of information about the build-up to the bombing, the immediate fall out, and its long term effect on the city. From the museum, you can survey the cenotaph, complete with its eternally burning Peace Flame.
Of course one cannot journey to Hiroshima without sampling the local food.
Hiroshima offers excellent seafood, fresh vegetables and some very nice traditional desserts. However, it is most perhaps best known for its Okonomiyaki. This pancake like concoction, which mixes egg, cabbage, beansprouts, noodles and many other ingredients is as diverse as it is delicious. Osaka is also noted for its okonomiyaki, however there are some subtle differences between the two regional variations. Most noticeably, whilst the Osaka okonomiyaki has all of its ingredients thrown together simultaneously to create a gorgeously chaotic cuisine, the Hiroshima variant has all the ingredients layered in order. This gives a unique taste and texture to the dish. In addition, why not wash down your okonomiyaki with some fantastic Sake, courtesy of the nearby sake producers’ hub of Saijo.
So there you have it. Hiroshima: Japan’s friendliest city. Be sure to go and visit soon.