Hiroshima; the unexpected city

Across the world, Hiroshima is known for being the target of the world’s first atomic bomb. The name instantly conjures up those black and white images of the mushroom cloud that hovered over the flattened city, almost exactly 70 years ago.

At 8.15am on 6th August 1945, the USA dropped the A-bomb (as the Hiroshians call it) which detonated 600 metres above the centre. The entire city was virtually levelled; the blast demolished almost everything in a 3km radius from the hypocentre. Nobody knows exactly how many people were killed, because the after effects of the bomb are still being felt, but around 140,000 had died by the end of 1945. So, we arrived on the bullet train with some trepidation. But seven decades on from the devastating event, Hiroshima is now a vibrant, buzzing city, with tree-lined boulevards and welcoming people.

All the sites commemorating those who lost their lives are pretty much directly below where the bomb exploded. We wondered straight to the Memorial Park, which is beautiful; full of poignant shrines and statues, dotted in between gorgeous trees and flowers. In the centre of the park is the eternal flame. The plaque explains that it’ll keep burning until all the world’s nuclear weapons have been destroyed. Just across the turquoise river is the A-dome. It’s one of the only buildings that remained semi-intact following the blast and it now stands, charred and hollow – a stark reminder.

However, although the events of seventy years ago won’t ever be forgotten, there is a positive and happy vibe in Hiroshima that makes it hard for you to be sad for long. As we left the Memorial Park, there was a guy on a bridge with a sign offering free hugs (we politely declined). The rivers that run through the city are all lined with cherry blossom and the locals seem to spend most of their free time picnicking in the sun.

On our first evening, we ended up at a rock & metal bar called Kobe, run by a guy called Bom (yes, that really is his name). He gave us some tips about where to eat and when he found out we were on our honeymoon he gave us free Sake!
He also showed us a rock magazine from the year I was born, featuring a blonde Ozzie Osbourne on the cover. Surreal.

Hiroshima’s most famous food is its own style of okonomiyaki. Imagine a noodle and cabbage pancake. I know – it sounds awful but it’s actually delicious! Searching for a well-reviewed place called Hassei, we came across another more ‘local’ eatery, where people were queuing to get inside. Once sat down at the counter (where you essentially get your own hot plate to finish your okonomiyaki exactly how you like it) we realised what the fuss was all about. If you find yourself in Hiroshima you must try this dish!

The Peace Museum opens at 8.30am and the next morning we were pretty much first in line. Although it’s totally harrowing and shocking, you feel compelled to read all about what happened to the city and the people living there on 6 August 1945. The photos and accounts from survivors are pretty graphic but the information is well presented and I’m glad we went. We were both pretty sombre when we left, and I couldn’t help thinking how and why did they rebuild everything? Seeing the photos and models of the area after the blast really hammers it home that there was literally nothing left. How is it that humans can be so unbelievably cruel to one another, yet also find the strength to move on and create something good following such a terrible event?

What you probably didn’t know about Hiroshima is that it’s surrounded by great places to visit and we spent the rest of the day at the nearby island of Miyajima. It’s a short bus-train-ferry ride away and is well worth it. The island is beautiful, with pretty beaches, green and wooded mountains and cheeky deer who love to pose for the camera! However the star attraction is the Floating Torii which marks the entrance to the Itsukushima-jinja shrine. The ‘gateway’ is completely surrounded by the turquoise seawater, and frames the mountains behind. We hiked up the island’s tallest mountain, Misen (530m), where you get a fantastic 360 degree view. It was boiling hot, especially for March and we were pretty sweaty by the time we reached the summit. However it was definitely worth it and we headed back to Hiroshima feeling very relaxed (absolutely nothing to do with the beer on the beach).

For a second night we attempted to go to the elusive Hassei restaurant, but ended up in a completely different place by accident! It served rather fancier food and there was a bit of an awkward moment when the waitress plunged her tongs into the serene-looking fish tank, picked out an unknown spiral shellfish and then minutes later presented it to us as our final course….! It was all a bit too much, but I suppose that’s what happens when you can’t speak Japanese and you have no idea what you’ve ordered! It was definitely a case of Lost in Translation 🙂

J & R xxx

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