“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
– St. Augustine
I can’t recall when my friend Stefan and I made plans to go to Hiroshima, but things weren’t looking too good when a strong typhoon was scheduled to hit Japan on the week we were scheduled to go. It was actually on Wednesday night (about a day before the typhoon was scheduled to hit) that we decided that we wouldn’t let the typhoon keep us from enjoying the long weekend. It rained all day Thursday and it wasn’t until while I was at work on Friday afternoon that my coworkers told me the typhoon was just north of Tottori, and was on its way out of Japan. After hearing that, I quickly whipped out my phone to check on the weather forecast for Hiroshima and saw that it would mostly be overcast in the mornings and sunny/above 30 degrees Celsius for most of our long weekend. I was okay with that.
Once I got home, I started packing when I received an email alert from the night bus we were scheduled to take, informing us that our bus had been cancelled. Granted, this was approximately 8 hours before we were to leave, but it was definitely discouraging. First a typhoon, then our bus… Regardless, Stefan had already booked his bus bound for Osaka, so we agreed to meet there, spend the night, and then take the shinkansen to Hiroshima the following morning. Needless to say, there was a senseless amount of rain pouring down in Osaka that night (the wake of the typhoon) which made me doubtful about the weather in Hiroshima. Regardless, we enjoyed drinks and company amongst friends who are moving to Tokyo, and eventually found places to spend the night in order to rest-up for the following day.
Stefan and I met at Shin-Osaka the following morning, where we found ourselves in a sea of people. There was a ridiculously long queue of people, waiting to purchase tickets for the shinkansen, so we went ahead and got in line. It took the better part of an hour, but we eventually got our tickets, some lunch, and then we were on our way!!
Although the shinkansen tickets were about $80 more expensive than the bus, we got to Hiroshima in a little less than an hour and a half. Once we arrived, it was a bit muggy and overcast when we had first arrived, but we managed to make our way to the hostel via the local tram/trolley without a hitch. We were a little over an hour early, so we couldn’t check in, but we were invited to wait in their living room area where we sat and chatted with an Australian and a Swiss girl about their travels so far. I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, so I was a bit groggy and anti-social, but it was definitely interesting to listen to what they had to say about their experiences in Japan so far. Before we knew it, we could finally check in! We quickly put our stuff away and headed out to explore the park the ladies had told us about, as well as grab some dinner.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park:
By midafternoon, the sun seemed to have burned through the clouds and there was just a beautiful stretch of blue sky. The park seemed quite large. Not only that, but it also seemed to be well-used (which is also a good sign). I was unfamiliar with the history behind it, at first, but I must say the beauty of it all captivated me. I found out later, that the park is also on an island, and that the bodies of water it sits on led out to the ocean.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is also the home of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (pictured in the distance, above), as well as the A-Bomb Dome/Genbaku Dome and the Children’s Peace Monument. After a bit of sightseeing, we went to a ramen shop for a quick bite to eat. From there, we decided that we would head back to the hostel to shower up and do some of our laundry, before heading out for some drinks with a local, later that night.
It was nearing dusk when we passed through Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park again. Now that it was a bit cooler and there were less crowds, we decided to get a closer look of the dome, itself. It was quite a bit eery and creepy to read and find out that the atomic bomb actually detonated approximately 600 meters above the dome. It’s also quite difficult to fathom how the building remained in-tact afterwards, however, it really is a meer shell of what it used to be. Not only that, but once radiation levels were low enough, they kept it as a monument and fortified it to last.
Nomihodai at an Izakaya and PP Side in Hiroshima:
For those that are unaware, nomihodai (飲み放題) is an all-you-can-drink form of the all-you-can-eat-buffet in the West. Unlike the west, however, Japan has perfected it by limiting the amount of time one can spend drinking (and/or eating). Guests are also highly encouraged to finish their drinks before ordering their next ones, in order to prevent customers from over-drinking. I’ve been in Japan for almost a year now, and this was my first time going to a nomihodai that wasn’t work-related in some shape or another.
At any rate, we met with a local Japanese guy who agreed to take us to an izakaya near the dense and popular shopping mall/district of Hiroshima called Parco. I still don’t think I’ve accustomed to Japan’s relaxed attitudes about smoking inside buildings, yet. It’s rather unappetizing when you’re at a restaurant and a person next to you is about to light up. That’s probably why I don’t frequent izakayas very much. At any rate, we had an extremely good time at the restaurant regardless of the smokers. (Should we blame it on the alcohol?) Hahaha. After stuffing our faces and guts with alcohol and food, and with it being a Saturday night, Shota took us to a local gay bar called PP Side which wasn’t too far from the shopping district (is that really a surprise?). Our friend, Sofara, who lives in Hiroshima (prefecture, not the city) recommended it to us as the best one to go to, so we had to check it out while we were there.
The bar was fairly dark, and not all the seats were filled when we arrived. The people that we sat at the bar with, however, took a very strong liking to Stefan. If you’ve ever met him, you would understand why. At any rate, the music in the bar was a bit low, which made talking to people easy, but also a drag because music should be at an audible level to pump people up, but maybe that’s just me. The music selection (when they played western music) was also a bit dated and strange, which only forced us to watch and ask ‘why?’ and/or interact with the people around us. A little after 11pm, there was a large influx of people that came into the bar, as well as a really young and attractive bartender named Kenji. After living in Japan for a while, and frequenting gay bars, the bartenders are often really attractive, and often drive business through a means of flirting with their customers. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t only exclusive to gay bars, as there are hostess clubs and girl-bars where men are drawn in by illustrious women to consume alcohol for conversations with young, attractive, and often flirtatious ladies. At any rate, the bar eventually became overcrowded, and we decided to call it a night. Overall it was a good experience, but I kind of felt sad because I felt Hiroshima’s gay scene wasn’t anywhere as prominent as Osaka’s.
Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum:
The following morning we had breakfast at a delicious bakery called Cafe Roti, near our hostel. After breakfast, we decided to go see to the Peace Memorial Museum, as it seemed highly recommended by everyone we had interacted with during our stay. To be sincerely honest, before entering I thought that the experience would be a mere recap of everything I had learned about the war through my studies of East Asian cultures, as well as in high school and documentaries on my own, but it was something completely different. I didn’t take as many pictures as I wanted to, but that’s mostly due to the fact that I had to stop about halfway through the museum and wipe the tears that were streaming down my face. I definitely wasn’t expecting to have such an emotional reaction to what had happened, but after seeing pictures of the victims (many of which were children), and despite our justification for the use of such a weapon on Japan, it was devastating to realize that so many countless, and innocent lives were lost in an instant. The museum wasn’t even biased in either way about the travesty, which was what fascinated me. Both sides were at fault, and because of that, this was the fatal result. Should you have the chance or opportunity to go to this museum, I highly recommend it.
After the overwhelming feeling of woe we got from the museum, we needed to cheer ourselves back up a bit so we did that by grabbing some ice cream and some boat tickets bound for Miyajima. The morning had been slightly overcast, so I believe that we truly lucked out on the weather clearing up (especially after the typhoon!!). On the short boat ride, we sat behind a cute little Japanese kid and his mom. He kept looking back at us and smiling. Stefan asked his (in Japanese) what his name was and he responded to us in English. It was the cutest thing! Hahaha.I believe the boat ride was about 20-30 minutes long and we had some great views as we putted along in the water. The day had gotten a bit warmer, and the sun burned through the clouds, allowing for the sea of blue sky to make our time on Miyajima all-the-more beautiful. Once we arrived on the island, the first thing we did was grab some lunch. I had anago for the very first time while I was there. For those of you who are unaware, unagi donburi (a river eel rice bowl) is my favorite Japanese dish, so I was curious to try anago (a sea eel). To be completely honest, anago doesn’t taste nearly as good as unagi does. Then again, it could just be me, or the the restaurant that prepared it. Oh well!Much like Nara City, Miyajima is rampant with wild deer. The picture above is of a deer that was literally chewing on my shirt. Thankfully, it didn’t rip it and stopped moments after I took this picture, but this just goes to show how wild, and sometimes bold, the deer can be.I don’t know how many times I mentioned it while we were there, but I kept telling Stefan that I wouldn’t mind living on an island like this. It would probably suck during times of typhoons and the tourist seasons (all-year round, probably), but it would be so great the rest of the time. Hahaha. The tide was fairly low when we had first arrived on the island, but the longer we stayed there, the lower it got. It was pretty cool to see, but I’ve also seen pictures of when the tide is in, and that would’ve been nice to see too.
I took a ridiculous number of photos while I was there, which would probably explain why my phone’s battery was draining the life out of my charger. In the end, I managed to get a few more photos of The Great Torii Gate and the surrounding area, including Itsukushima Shrine. It was already nearing dinner time, so despite our desire to explore the rest of the island, soon-after, we decided to make our way back to the hostel to shower up and get ready for dinner (Hiroshima’s okonomiyaki) with our local JET and friend, Sofara.
On our way towards the ferry, however, we saw this guy. He was with a group of others that wore the same type of samurai gear and appeared as-if they were giving a sort of performance, later on. They even had some gear and clothes for people to try on, but I was pretty sure it was going to cost them some money to try on and/or buy. A lot of foreigners seemed quite interested, however, most of the other Japanese people didn’t seem to bat an eye. I wanted to get a clearer photo, but I kind of like how all you can really see of this guy is his silhouette.
Anyway, Stefan and I made our way to the gift shop to buy our co-workers some omiyage (souvenirs, which are often region/local-specific pastries, treats, snacks and food). The damage this time around was only about 3,000 yen, but I only purchased omiyage for my co-workers at the Board of Education and one of my middle schools. At any rate, after the gift shop, we purchased our tickets for the ferry and made our way back to the hostel. On the way, however, we passed through a region of Hiroshima where it was pouring rain. Interestingly, once we got off at our stop, it was only slightly overcast. We truly lucked out!
Dinner, Drinks, and Pillowtalk:
We had plans to meet our friend Sofara for dinner, and he wanted to take us out in order to try Hiroshima’s okonomiyaki. The same night, Sofara’s friend, Masa, had also contacted him to see if he wanted to have dinner, and it all worked out in a way that we could all have dinner together (despite Stefan and Masa’s coincidental acquaintance with one another from the previous night). Hahahah.Dinner was awesome, and one of Masa’s friends also came to join us later. After dinner, we were all invited up to the rooftop of Masa’s building to enjoy the rest of the evening with some drinks and conversation. While on the way to Masa’s place, we stopped by a convenience store to grab some more alcoholic beverages. (The more I type, the more it sounds like I was drinking the entire weekend… which is true, but as one of the rare JETs that has a car and is practically required to drive for his commute to work, all of this drinking is extremely rare for me.) All and all, it was a really pleasant experience.Once we got to the rooftop it was almost as though we were having a picnic there, as he brought a blanket, pillows, a lawn chair, a lantern and a plethora of candles. It was really cool. The view was also pretty impressive as you could easily see the lights of the city, and even Genbaku Dome was easy to see. I can’t specifically remember what it was that we talked about, but we were easily up there for two hours, talking about whatever popped into our heads. Often times switching back-and-forth between English and Japanese.Masa invited us to a barbecue he was hosting the following day, but unfortunately, we were going to leave after lunch in order to get home at a decent hour. We eventually packed things up and brought stuff back down to Masa’s apartment where we chatted for a little while longer before I decided to call it a night and head back to the hostel.
Our Final Day:
It was really hard to believe that our last day in Hiroshima was finally upon us. Sofara joined us and we got breakfast at the same place we had breakfast the previous day because it was so delicious. After breakfast, we headed back to the hostel to begin packing. While there, I was in the living room area where I met a young man from San Francisco who was traveling through Japan on his own for two weeks before returning back to the States. He, too, was an English teacher and even brought up the consideration of moving-to and living in Japan to teach English, someday.
A young mom and her two sons were in the room with us, and she was surprised to find out that there were two English teachers staying at the same hostel as them. It turns out that they live in Kobe and her two sons are students at Hyogo Prefectural International High School (兵庫県立国際高等学校). I have to say I was thoroughly impressed by their English comprehension abilities, as one of her sons described to me, in English, aspects about his school and the variety of English teachers they have. Not to go completely off topic, but from the way they described it, this high school utilizes English as a lingua franca, as many of the English teachers at this high school are from a variety of countries and speak English in different accents; which not-only makes learning English a little more challenging, but also gives its students an edge on understand English from various regions of the world. I believe the kid told me that they had somewhere around 9 English teachers, each from different parts of the world. I was thoroughly impressed! Eventually, the mother and her kids were on their way south to Fukuoka in order to fly out to Malaysia and travel around and across southeast Asia for the summer. It’s students like these that inspire me on a daily basis to try to be the best English teacher I can be.
The last site for us to see before catching our train back home was Hiroshima castle. We truly lucked out on the weather, as there were nothing but blue skies all-day-round while we were there.Nothing top of the castle caught my eye as we were walking up to it, but it really didn’t seem much different from any of the other castles I had seen before. It wasn’t until I actually got up closer that I realized how immense and huge the castle really was. It was really visually captivating, even the wood in its appearance was captivating! I’m really glad we got to see it. Not only that, but if I squint hard enough, it almost looks like and reminds me of the castles from the old-school Super Mario Bros video game on the NES.
This was the final picture I took, which was taken from the top of the castle. Although we were able to spend three days in Hiroshima, I feel as though there’s still so much to see and explore there. I feel kind of sorry for the people who stayed at our hostel and were only in Hiroshima for a day or a night. They’re truly missing out on so much! I definitely want to go back there, someday, and perhaps stay for a little longer next time. Until then, I’ll be sure to keep this gem locked up in my memory vaults until I’m ready to explore it again.