Mention Hiroshima to anybody and they immediately imagine a city tragically devastated by the world’s first atomic bomb attack, in 1945.
The city’s memorials and iconic Atomic Bomb Dome are magnets for first timers, understandably, but there’s definitely more to this unpretentious city than its grim past.
The time we spent in Hiroshima was brief, so come on a short walking tour as we scratched the surface of a city that deserves a couple of nights, at least.
Sadly we gave it less than a day.
After checking in to the ANA Crowne Plaza we made a beeline for Peace Memorial Park, but the Shirakami-sha Shrine by the hotel got our attention, first.
The name of the shrine means “White God” and comes from the time when the location of it was vastly different to now. Before the growth of the Hiroshima Delta and land reclamation, there was a small white reef that poked from the water. It grounded many ships, so white paper and scarves were erected to warn off ships. When the land was reclaimed a small shrine was built, which was lost in the 1945 devastation. The current one – built in 1955 – is still a popular spot for locals and workers to stop, pay their respects, and get on with the day.
Shirakami-sha Shrine – 7-24 Nakamachi
Peace Memorial Park is situated by the Motoyasu River and stands on what was once the city’s commercial and political heart.
The Peace Memorial Museum is a two-building set-up that exhibits a collection of imagery, stories and items related to the horrors, damage and suffering caused by the atomic bomb. It’s a harrowing experience, to say the least, and listening to personal accounts sure brought a few tears to my eyes.
The Memorial Cenotaph is an arched concrete structure erected for those that died from the bomb’s initial blast or side-effects from the intense radiation. More than 220,000 names are registered in a stone chest beneath the arch.
Other notable sites are the Children’s Peace Monument, Peace Flame and the Rest House.
It’s difficult to ignore the Atomic Bomb Dome, which is the shell of the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall; closest to the hypocenter of the bomb. This UNESCO site is one of a handful of buildings in the city that survived the blast; a grim reminder of what happened on that very tragic day on August 6, 1945.
Peace Memorial Museum – 1-2 Nakajimacho
Our next stop involved a session of afternoon beers and grilled oysters at a nifty little resto-bar called Mercado de Hiroshima Antonio, just near the west entrance of Hondori Shopping Arcade.
The waiter thought it was a bit odd that we wanted to sit in the relatively chilly air at their only outside table, but we’d have it no other way. I mean, what’s better than sitting on a commercial shopping strip, surrounded by pachinko parlours and watching the world go by?
Mercado de Hiroshima Antonio – 1-5-18 Ote-machi, Naka-ku
There were just four things I wanted to do in Hiroshima in the very short time we had in the city. We’d done the Memorial Park, so it was time to progress with the remaining three – all food related, of course.
Ichiran Ramen is a joint specifically designed to efficiently feed solo diners, and not one word needs to be said as you’ve already ordered and paid for your food before taking a seat. Perhaps an arigatou, when you get your edibles.
What’s the procedure?
Once you step up to the restaurant entrance you approach the vending machine and feed it some cash. Next step is to choose your ramen, any additional toppings, side dishes and drinks. Hit the “Change” button and you get your change.
Grab the tickets that come out of the machine and then move to the other vending machine to choose your seat. This machine was out of order, so we just pushed open the door and grabbed a couple of seats. There are partitions between each seat, so if you’re more than one in a party, simply unlock and hinge the partition back. Voila, you have your own little nook to enjoy.
On each counter is another order sheet for you to fill in to customise how you want your noodle texture, the richness of the broth, type of meat and any extra toppings.
Next you simply put your first tickets and the order form down, push the “Order” button and a human suddenly appears (you only really see their hands) in the void in front of you. They grab your order, disappear for a while, then return with your goodies. They drop the bamboo blind and you get stuck into it.
The result – a pretty damn delicious bowl of ramen that’ll set you back at least ¥980, minus the extras.
Ichiran Ramen – Arc Building M2F 2-3-22 Kamiyacho Naka-ku
In the short time it took to get to the next food pit stop, we ducked in and out of the numerous, garishly-lit pharmacies along Hondori Shopping Arcade to seek out any flavours of Kit-Kat we were missing in our growing stash. It was getting big, believe me.
Hiroshima is known for its signature savoury “pancake” called okonomiyaki, which is so loaded with ingredients that, as you watch it being constructed, you wonder how the hell you’re going to eat it all.
The prefecture is reported to have over 2000 okonomiyaki restaurants, but there is the Okonomi-mura Village where about 25 vendors are dispersed over three levels in the Shintenchi district in the centre of town.
Taking your pick is a bit of a luck-of-the-draw experience, but I’m sure they’re all decent enough – with their own toppings and seasonings.
We were only wanting to share one okonomiyaki, and quickly learned many of the vendors only serve one per customer. The first guys that said “yes” were the friendly crew at Kazuchan.
The base of okonomiyaki is shredded cabbage, pork, noodles and eggs, but each vendor makes it their own. Our Kazuchan-yaki (¥1458) started off with pancake batter, cabbage, bean sprouts, spring onion, seasoning, egg, noodles, sauce, shrimp and squid and more spring onions. The initial mountain of cabbage wilts and reduces in size, so it’s less daunting in scale. Still, one was more than enough for two of us to get through.
Kazuchan – Level 3, Okonomi-mura Village, 5-13 Shintenchi
Our final stop for the evening was Bakudan-ya Honten, which is just around the corner from Okonomi-mura Village. So we’d sampled Hiroshima’s famous fat oysters and its legendary okonomiyaki, now it was time to try its tsukemen.
Bakudan-ya Honten is known for a couple of things, but it’s the Cold Hiroshima Noodles (¥648) that bring the hoards to this pocket-sized 10-seater. Tsukemen is effectively a soupless bowl of ramen, served alongside a smaller bowl of silky sauce to dip your noodles in.
Here at Bakudan-ya Honten the cold ramen is generously topped with shredded radish and spring onion, some cucumber, lettuce and chashu (braised pork). The dipping sauce – which is all about the chilli – comes in 100 levels of heat. Yep, 100. From 5 being “Ok it’s getting spicy” to 15 being “You’re getting closer to expert level” and 40 stating “From here on you’re on your own” – we went for a safe 10 – “It tastes good this spicy”
This was just enough heat for my fairly low threshold for red chilli; enough to taste all the other ingredients without overpowering them.
What shone for me in that sitting, however, was the karaage (¥381, four pieces). The coating on each chunk of fried chicken was perfectly seasoned and crunchy, giving way to juicy, flavoursome meat. A definite winner.
Bakudan-ya Honten – 2-12 Shintenchi
We thought paying ¥2400 each for the hotel breakfast buffet was a bit on the steep side, so we hit up Andersen Cafe for our final meal in Hiroshima before heading to the train station.
Had we arrived later, Andersen’s ground floor food emporium would have been in full swing, but the second floor cafe was our only choice for a speedy breakfast at 7.30am. It’s a rarity for places to open this early in Japan!
The breakfast menu is of the Euro variety – six choices covering the likes of toast with butter, a ham & cheese toasted sandwich, to English muffin and soup of the day – all served with salad, yoghurt and a drink.
The very petite French Toast Set (¥918) includes a fried egg, a little bacon and greenery. Twice the size would have satisfied my morning appetite, but I knew we’d be passing some kind of bakery at Hiroshima Station, before departing for our next stop – Miyajima.
Andersen Cafe – 2-2-2 Kamiyacho, Naka-ku