Currency: Japanese Yen (¥)
¥1 = 0.75p. £1 = ¥133.1
Time Zone: GMT +9 (8 hours ahead of UK summer time)
1st – 2nd Oct
Having arrived prior to check-in we figured we would need to stow our luggage in the hostel and come back later to check-in. But fortunately our room was ready and we could wander straight in.
Once Bertha and Max were deposited we devised a plan of action. Before this trip I knew one thing about Hiroshima and I believe it is the same thing that many others associate with the city. We headed out by tram to get to the Hiroshima Peace Park and National Museum to learn more about the atomic bomb that flattened this city in 1945.
The peace park is centred around the spot underneath where the first ever atomic bomb explosion occured. At the south end there is a large museum dedicated to this event.
The museum contains a brutal depiction of the events of 6th August 1945, sparing no detail. Not only was this the first time an atomic bomb had ever been dropped but there were a number of factors that made the whole event that much more horrendous. The centre of Hiroshima was susceptible to fires with a large number of buildings being wooden. So to prevent a potential largescale fire, schoolchildren were sent to tear down buildings and create firebreaks. The day the bomb was dropped was no different and this meant the number of children amongst the 140,000 killed were disproportionately high. There had been a couple of air raid sirens that day and just before the explosion the all clear had been given, so people had crawled out of their bunkers and had begun tearing down buildings once more. When the bomb went off the incredible heat and force, caused by the fireball in the sky, flattened all wooden buildings within a 2km radius, including the bridges, thus trapping any survivors on many of Hiroshima’s islands to succumb to huge fires created by the blast.
The various exhibits had a number of personal stories of loss, some accompanied by very graphic detail and even photos. Later on there were stories of those who succumbed to the after effects of the radiation, including Sadako who became an international celebrity after being diagnosed with leukaemia. She began folding 1000 paper cranes in the belief this would bring her good luck and allow her to defeat her cancer. Unfortunately she did not survive. After her death her classmates wanted to raise money for a memorial. Word spread throughout Japan and eventually worldwide.
Towards the end of the museum there were stories of the ongoing efforts of the Mayor of Hiroshima to eliminate all nuclear weapons from the world. There were pictures of world leaders that had been to visit Hiroshima including a paper crane that had been folded by Barrack Obama with an accompanying letter.
Beyond the museum, the rest of the peace park is filled with monuments dedicated to the event, to survivors and to the quest for world peace.
The last bit of the peace park we saw was on the north side of the park. There is a concrete structure that had been a bank prior to the blast. Despite being only a few hundred metres from the epicentre, the building remained standing but suffered terrible damage. Many residents wanted it torn down due to the horrible memories attached to it, but in the end it was decided it would be kept as it was after the blast as a reminder to the world of the horrible devastation these weapons cause.
After all this we both felt very emotionally drained. It was definitely a must-see and I would imagine there will be a large number of people who have altered their views on nuclear weapons after spending an afternoon there, which is the primary objective of the park.
Once out the other end we headed in the direction of Hiroshima castle. You have to go a long way to get away from any evidence of the destruction caused by the bomb and unfortunately, the 15th century wooden castle was welll within the 2km radius and was therefore flattened. A replica now stands in its place and the grounds have been kept free of modern redevelopment.
The original castle has been rebuilt as a museum to ancient Hiroshima and the castle area.
At the top of the castle you are able to walk out onto the balcony for views across the city. The buildings you can see from the top will have almost entirely been built after 1945.
After our castle experience we went in search of food. We had a tourist map that recommended a place called Nagataya for Okonomiyaki (traditional Japanese noodle pancakes) that had English menus and veggie options. It all sounded too good to be true and on arriving there appeared to be no veggie options, according to the picture menu outside. There was also a bit of a queue and we were very close to walking away but a waitress came out and handed us the full menu and contained within were at least 12 options with varying levels of veggie suitability, from pescatarian to vegan. The queue was short, the prices were good and, most importantly, the food was delicious. Okonomiyaki are cooked in front of you on a big hot plate. They consist of noodles, a pancake and a bunch of different fillings/toppings. I had squid, shrimp and cheese, Kate had veggies, cheese and garlic chips. It was all quite the spectacle sat at the counter watching them get made.
After all that fun it was time to head back to the hostel to get our heads down so we could maximise our sightseeing before our train in the afternoon.
Our destination in the morning was a popular tourist destination a few miles south of Hiroshima called Miyajima. It’s an island famous for its shrine with a gate out in the water, accessible in low tide but that appears to be floating at high tide. We needed a train and a ferry and on the way into the island port we were gifted our first view of the shrine from the deck.
The island was rampacked with tourists. And of course a few deer, one of which nicked a bloke’s iced coffee but couldn’t seem to work the straw, so was about to attempt to gobble the whole thing before Kate prevented a horrible incident.
We had a walk around but we spent most of our available time in and around the shrine. It was a beautiful network of interconnected covered bridges with the piece de resistance being the floating gate out at sea.
We struggled to get any photos without huge throngs of people in the background until we found a small patch of sand. There were two middle-aged ladies there who very kindly agreed to take our photo but after her first apparently sub-par attempt, the other one gave some tips and together they absolutely nailed it
After our fun it was time to head back to the hostel to pick up our best friends, Max and Bertha, and head south to our final stop in Japan.
We stayed in our second Hana Hostel in Hiroshima. We got a last minute deal a couple of nights before that got us a private en-suite traditional Japanese room for less than we’d paid for some dorms. Like the ryokan it was tatami mats, rice paper effect window panes and futons. Unlike our ryokan we got great views, of bullet trains!
We didn’t spend much time in the hostel but, as with the previous Hana Hostel, couldn’t fault the staff or the location and it suited us perfectly for our short time in Hiroshima.