Our favourite Japanese city...

Trip Start Jan 31, 2006
Trip End Dec 11, 2006

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006


For the trip to Hiroshima I thought that we should try the bento boxes which are as much a part of travelling in Japan as the bullet trains. According to our guidebook each station in Japan has different boxes and takes great pride in them. There are even enthusiasts who travel around trying them all and writing about them. Fiona and I didn't go that far but bought ourselves a box each from the selection at Kbe station to have on the train. Once on the train we unpacked our boxes and dug in - Fiona's was a beautiful little lacquer box which came wrapped in a little cloth to protect it. Mine was slightly more prosaic (plastic not lacquer-ware) but was still beautifully wrapped in paper and ribbon. Unwrapping the boxes really brought home to me how nothing in Japan to do with food is done hurriedly or without thought or care. The food inside was great too! Inevitably Fiona shied away from some of the unknown things (there are many ingredients and dishes in Japan that cannot be identified by sight or smell meaning that if you don't know what they are you either have to pop them in your mouth and hope for the best or leave them) but both of us really enjoyed the whole experience and felt much more Japanese for doing it.

To get from the train station to our hotel we had to take one of the many tramlines which criss-cross Hiroshima. Unlike most other Japanese cities, Hiroshima doesn't have a metro system and everyone gets about by tram. The tram arrived at the station on time (of course!) and we were soon rattling down the streets towards downtown Hiroshima. We'd found a very reasonably priced hotel which was right in the middle of the downtown area, just round the corner from the Peace Park. After arriving we decided to head back out and have a look around. We'd been given a map of Hiroshima by the hotel receptionist, but having looked at it we found that it wasn't just a map but was a complete guide to Hiroshima written by locals to show off their city. The guide was excellent and if you are heading to Hiroshima I would really recommend looking at their website, Gethiroshima, and getting hold of a copy of their city map.

We had a look at the map and Fiona spied a place to eat called Spud Love which, given Fiona's love of tatties, was soon top of the list of places to eat. Heading out from the hotel we strolled downtown along Peace Boulevard and soon found the potato 'bar' - to call it a restaurant would be a bit much given its size - and its co-owner, Spud Diddy. After a slow start (Spud Diddy was dealing with the plumber following a "small leak" and then the man from the brewery) things picked up with the arrival of our beers. Waiting for our beers did allow us to take in Spud Love's decor though, a style best described as 'British psychedelic' - think Union Jacks, lava lamps, bobbies helmets, glitter balls etc. After ordering a spud each we chatted away with Diddy who lived in Hiroshima with his Japanese girlfriend. We were soon joined at the bar by four Japanese women (Diddy had taught one of them English), a couple of Americans who were teaching English in the city, Diddy's girlfriend and a Japanese friend of hers. Given the size of Spud Love, with us and the 4 Japanese women inside the bar everyone else had to sit outside - not great given that the rain had started again. We chatted away with the Japanese women next to us giving them a few ideas for the trip to the UK they are planning for next year and some advice on which spud to order (they were very keen on Branston Pickle after trying it) . After the women had left - bizarrely they had been for dinner before coming to the bar thinking that the spuds would be more like snacks(!) - we continued chatting with Diddy, his girlfriend and her friend and knocking back the beers. After a highly amusing evening in which I tried on several wigs (see the photos for details), had my first half-pint of Sake and got thoroughly drunk, we staggered back to hotel (in the rain, of course) and fell into bed.

With yet more rain on our second day in Hiroshima we decided to look around the Peace Memorial Museum and the A-Bomb Dome. Obviously any first time trip to Hiroshima will feature a trip to the A-Bomb memorials and I'd certainly read about what happened to Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped, however, nothing really prepares you for the Peace Memorial Museum and what it contains. Before we went to the museum itself we went to the A-Bomb Dome which is the half destroyed ruin of the city's Industrial Promotion Hall, the only building directly beneath the blast to survive and a permanent reminder of what occurred 60 years ago. Between the A-Bomb Dome and the museum there is an eternal flame and cenotaph to the victims of the bomb, both pointed reminders of the fact that more than 140,000 people (most of them civilians) died when the bomb was dropped. Inside the museum there are two main exhibition spaces: in the first there is an explanation of the events leading up to the bomb being dropped and then how the bomb affected the city from a structural point of view; the second space details the human impact of the bomb. Unsurprisingly, although the first part of the exhibition was very informative, it is the second part which leaves the lasting impressions. There are photographs of the city right after the explosion and pictures of those that died and those that survived the initial blast. The more arresting exhibits were the clothes which had been donated by relatives of the dead and the every-day items which were affected by the blast. The power of the blast was incredible; we saw roof tiles which had melted in the heat, china dishes which had fused together and patterned cloth where the white parts had disintegrated because they had absorbed more of the light from the blast than the black parts. There were also some very distressing exhibits, the one I remember most clearly was the tricycle and tin helmet a 3 year old boy had been wearing when the blast hit. The boy died from his injuries but his father did not want him to be buried in a cemetery given how young he was, so his father buried him in the back garden with his helmet and tricycle. When the Peace Memorial Museum was set up in Hiroshima over 30 years later the father disinterred the helmet and tricycle so they could be put on display.

With the rain still pouring down and our mood understandably darkened by the museum, we called a halt to our sightseeing and went back to the hotel for a rest. We did venture out into the rain again though that evening for a very tasty pizza (Fiona), a ridiculously small burger (me) and some cold beers at the New York, New York bar in downtown Hiroshima.

Our last day in Hiroshima was blessed with glorious sunshine so Fiona and I decided to take full advantage by taking a trip to Miyajima Island. The island lies 20 minutes southwest of Hiroshima by ferry and is noted as one of Japan's most scenic spots. The good news for us was that our entire trip to the island was free - the train company runs ferries as well as trains.

As you head over to Miyajima the first thing you will see is the O-torii, a huge 53 feet high gate standing 500 feet out from the shore. The gate is made from tree trunks and is painted an orangey-red making it very hard to miss! Once on dry land the next thing you notice are the deer. We'd read about the wild deer in our guidebook but were not expecting them to be literally everywhere we looked. You'll see from some of the pictures that they wander around the town very nonchalantly posing for photos while attempting to relieve you of whatever food you have on you.

Our first thought on arriving was to head out for the cable car to the top of Misen-dake (Mt.Misen) and then walk back down to the shore to visit the Itsukushima Jinja temple (this is the temple for which the O-torii is the gate). However, after looking at the map and then walking through the town we managed to glimpse the cable car - a good 2-3 miles away on the other side of a very large hill... Our plans quickly changed and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours looking around the bottom of the island and the Itsukushima Jinja temple. The sun was beginning to set as we headed back across to the mainland which made for a very pretty view out over the water and back across to the island.

For our last night in Hiroshima we'd promised ourselves that we would try the local dish, Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a dish where noodles are added to a savoury layered pancake which is then cooked on an iron plate. The basic ingredients above the pancake and noodles (either udon or soba noodles) are meat (including bonito flakes which are made from pork), egg and cabbage, and the dish is traditionally eaten off the hotplate it is cooked on using a spatula. We decided to visit the city's best known Okonomiyaki place, Sintenchi Mitchan, and despite having to wait around 20 minutes for a table we weren't disappointed with the food. You'll see from the pictures that Okonomiyaki looks a bit like someone has chucked half the contents of a fridge into a wok and dumped it on a plate. I can assure you though that it tastes great and is actually put together very carefully. I had the Tokusei Deluxe which was the speciality of the restaurant and included shrimp and squid, and Fiona had Roon Roon Yaki (which means 'full of energy') which had corn, bacon and egg. Despite looking a bit odd Okonomiyaki is actually very filling and Fiona and I fairly rolled out of restaurant at the end of it all! Such a fantastic and authentic Japanese meal was a great way to finish off our time in Hiroshima.
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