So last time, we covered the obvious draws of Hiroshima: the area in and around the Peace Park and the Memorial Museum. But as is apparent to anyone who travels from Hiroshima Station to the Park, Hiroshima is a big city with a lot more to see and do.
Your first port of call when visiting any large city is to sample the local dishes. Hiroshima has its own version of Okonomiyaki, known as – big surprise – Hiroshima Okonomiyaki. The main difference between the Hiroshima style and Kansai style is in the base: whereas the kansai style is built upon a batter mix filled with cabbage, the Hiroshima style is built upon noodles, typically the thin soba type. Hiroshima is a Mecca for this awesome and straightforward comfort food, culminating in the Okonomimura Building: 3 floors comprising of over 25 restaurants dedicated to Okonomiyaki. You can’t go wrong with any choice, but I can personally vouch for Hasshou on the second floor. Hasshou offers huge helpings as well as the option to switch out your soba noodles for udon (the superior noodle in this writer’s humble opinion).
Other foodstuffs you should try in the area is the aforementioned Hiroshima-style tsukemen (noodles and a spicy dipping sauce filled with goma sesame seeds), and ‘kaki’ (oysters pulled from the nearby Seto Inland Sea: there’s some good options in the train station building to try oyster as part of a set menu).
Looking for a souvenir or snack to bring back from Hiroshima? Look no further than Momiji Manju, a mini cake of sorts with the brown sponge cake shaped like a maple leaf and encasing a smooth mash of sweet bean paste. You can buy these everywhere, but if you’re looking for authenticity you can buy them from the Rest House in the peace park or from the many stalls dotted around the train station.
Easily overlooked within Hiroshima is Hiroshima Castle, an elegant reconstruction of the structure that once stood there, just north of the Peace Park. It doesn’t compare to castles like the ones in Himeji or Matsumoto, but the relative quiet makes the castle a good place to escape the crowds and regain some peace while strolling around the moat – except in hanami season, however, when the trees burst into a riot of pink and white petals and half of Hiroshima descends upon the castle grounds to revel under the canopies.
From Hiroshima Station, take a 30 minute train journey west along the coast and alight at Miyajimaguchi. From here, take the 10 minute ferry across the strait to Itsukushima Island (also known as Miyajima). This island has a wealth of things to see and do, most importantly (and recognizably) the ‘floating’ torii’ gate. The huge torii gate erected a good 100 meters out to sea does what all torii do – mark the entrance to sacred ground – and by being set out on the water, this torii gate marks the whole island as being sacred land. You can walk right up to the torii in low tide, but you’ll want to be here at sundown when spotlights set the vermillion ablaze against the darkening sky.
There’s a load of other things to do and see on Itsukushima Island while you wait for the sun to set. You first port of call should be Itsukushima Shrine, set at the head of the bay. Enter this Shrine at high tide if possible and you will see why this place is known as the floating shrine: the wooden pathways propped up on stilts seem like a maze of jetties and boardwalks, the sea sloshing under your feet as you explore the typical trappings of a Shinto Shrine.
There’s a cluster of other shrines and temples to explore within an easy walk from the main area. The premier temple is Komyoin. This temple has a vast wooden stage with commanding views of the strait and the mainland beyond. You can rest and relax here while enjoying the views. The other temple that you’ll spot tucked away in the hills to the south is Saihoin, also worth a visit in its own time if you’re good for time. It is also the gateway to the hiking route that leads up to the top of the island’s peak. Don’t underestimate this hole and come prepared with comfortable shoes and a drink, especially in hot weather! It will also take up two to three hours from leaving Saihoin to returning, so be sure you have the time. Your reward for reaching the top are breathtaking views of the Seto Inland Sea, renowned for how still the waters look. And indeed, the scattering of islands surrounding Itsukushima look like green gems reflecting in the calm pool of the sea.
During your travels around Itsukushima, you’ll undoubtedly meet the friendly locals namely the deer. Yes, deer roam freely around the streets of the island, desensitized to humans. DO NOT feed them. While you’re basically safe around the deer, and they are largely docile, feeding them can aggravate and embolden them, especially if there’s a whole group of them. Keep food out of sight.
A visit to Hiroshima and the nearby area will inevitably draw to to the Peace Park and the powerful stories it has to tell. Everyone should go there. But there’s so much more to see, to do, to eat. And engaging with the Hiroshima of today is just as important as engaging with the Hiroshima of the past: it makes you a living example that we can learn the lessons of our history.