We left Beijing behind and flew out to Osaka. Our first destination was a six hours train ride away however, so our first day in Japan was a very long one, spent mostly travelling. It introduced us to a few cool things though, and by the time we arrived in Hiroshima at night, we knew already that Japan was going to be one of our favourite places to date.
Over the last few days in Beijing, we had become used to the somewhat aggressive nature of the crowds and the constant attempt by everyone to push in front of you wherever you were. We had loved our time in Beijing, but it was a frustrating place to be when there are so many people about trying to get in front of you at all points. So when we arrived at Osaka Airport, and a Japanese airport staff starts asking everyone to form queues which were reducing by the second, we were already beginning to like this place! But we got introduced to the mayhem of Japan when we left the sedate, grey interior of airport customs, and a giant sliding door revealed the outside of Osaka airport, with it’s ‘in-your-face’ slogans and wacky designed signs, it was like being in a Japanese game show from the start, and we loved it! Even the process of changing currency was a bit crazy, with three different members of staff involved in the process, and two queues, all of which took under a minute. We were already feeling the pleasant friendly nature of Japan, as well as it’s efficiency in getting things done. It was brilliant. I don’t think I can put into words how excited we were to be in this place from the get go. It’s really hard to explain, but Japan had us interested and excited to be there from this introduction.
Once at Osaka train station, we got the famous Shinkansen (Japan Bullet Train), and this thing goes quick! (take a note Virgin Trains!). The seats were unbelievably comfy, and the journey was a nice one. I even got a first look at the famous Japanese toilets with it’s many options and gadgets on the side! We got to Hiroshima late at night, and called it a day after a long, tiring journey.
Originally, we weren’t planning to come to Hiroshima. We were only going to visit Tokyo and maybe do a quick trip to Kyoto, but after seeing and experiencing this city, I would say that if anyone were to come to Japan, they should put this place at the top of their list.
First off, Hiroshima is an unbelievably moving place. The place is where the first ever Atomic Bomb was dropped by the Americans towards the back end of World War II, at 8:15am, on the 6th August, 1945. It has slowly picked up the pieces of it’s tortured past however, and has re-invented itself today as a modern energetic city with great things going for it and lots to do, including a great food scene. It hasn’t forgotten it’s past however, and it’s this reason that we were here to learn more in-depth about the events which occurred seventy years ago.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was built to remember all those that had died due to the Atomic Bomb, as well as to help educate people on the effects of the bomb and to help call for world peace. It’s full of memorials and museums. I’ll just say that visiting the Peace Park was a very humbling and somewhat saddening experience. If we put all the politics aside for a second, all we could see was that a lot of innocent people died that day, as well as in the many months and years to follow due to the effects of radiation. The experience was very moving. And instead of anger and revenge due to the bomb, the message to come out of Japan post-war was for peace. To this day, Japan does not hold or produce nuclear weapons, and calls for each country to do the same each year on the A-Bomb anniversary.
We visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum within the park, where many damaged artefacts from that day are still kept, and information to educate the public on the bombing is displayed.
The devastation affected many families, and we learnt more about it when visiting a section about children who wrote stories about the day the bomb was dropped. ‘Children of Hiroshima’ is a picture and story book about their experiences on the day, and we sat and listened to all the sad stories. We also saw the many paper cranes at the Park, a tribute to Sadako Sasaki, a child who died due to radiation from the bomb, and is a symbol for the impacts of the bomb and for innocent victims of the war. The paper cranes came about when Sadako fell ill and was told she had no more than a year to live, being only twelve years old. She was told by a roommate in hospital about an old Japanese legend, that were she to fold a thousand paper cranes, she would be granted a wish, one that could give her a chance to live. So she started folding paper cranes in hope of this. Sadako exceeded her target, and continued folding cranes thereafter, as she never gave up hope of her wish to live becoming true. She unfortunately died not long afterwards, but her story spread, and people started folding cranes on her behalf, and they still do to this day. It’s a story of hope and of never giving up on life, and Sadako Sasaki and the paper cranes have become a symbol for this.
We went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, also known as the A-Bomb Dome. This building was the ‘Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall’ at the time of the bombing, and it was the only structure left standing near the bomb’s detonation point. The building has now become a symbol of peace, and a memorial to those who suffered as a result of the bombing. As I mentioned earlier, the visit to this park was very moving, and we left having learnt so much and feeling very touched.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around Hiroshima. Previous to the bomb, Hiroshima has a lot of history, and it’s the location of a fantastic former castle, Hiroshima Castle, which these days is a museum showcasing the history of Hiroshima prior to WWII.
As for the food, whilst wandering around in the city, we found a famous place called Okonomi-mura, where we tried out the famous savoury (Umami) pancake that Hiroshima’s famous for, Okonomiyaki, a layered pancake made from batter, cabbage, noodles, egg and sauce along with other optional ingredients, and it was good stuff. They make it in front of you as well which was cool to see.
Making Okonomiyaki live:
Other than just wandering the famous indoor street of Hondori Arcade and around the streets of Hiroshima (where we witnessed a wacky Japanese commercial being filmed!), one thing we loved was the gaming arcades, and we checked in a few times at one of the many ’Taito Station’ game arcades that they have in Japan. I’ve grown up playing video games, especially Japanese ones, so this place was perfect.
It had all sorts, from prize arcade booths, to casual games, to the crazy step dancing games, to the more serious video games. (My brother Jay would have a field day in this place, because they had some serious shooting games!). Somehow, Karina beat me at Mario Kart, which was probably because I had one eye in the camera all the time (she was taking this way too serious by the way :p), but it was a fun way to spend some time.
The thing about Taito was that people would come in their suits straight after work, sit down at a few game machines and have a play, then take off with their briefcases when finished. It was almost the equivalent of an after-work pint. Who said you need alcohol to de-stress hey?!
Filming of Japanese commercial at Hiroshima shopping mall:
While in Hiroshima, we made a day trip to Itsukushima, more famously known as Miyajima, an island about half an hour away from Hiroshima, and constantly voted as one of the top three most scenic spots in Japan. The island is famous for it’s shrines and temples, it’s hilltop natural beauty, and the many tame deer that roam the island freely, but Miyajima is most famous for the Itsukushima Shrine, with its brilliant orange ‘floating’ torii (a traditional gate that’s found at the entrance of a shrine) that sits on top of the water and appears to float on it. It certainly is very picturesque and is a sight worth seeing.
Roaming the island was cool, especially as you find yourself bumping into deer every minute or so. And we both got to try oysters for the first time ever, which the island is very famous for. They were ok, a lot of people were loving them but I don’t think we’ll be rushing back to have more anytime soon!
We had to move on from Hiroshima, but we’ll never forget our time there. Our introduction to the Japanese people, their culture, their kindness and their respect for one another was incredible. We had felt very welcome there, and it was a great start to our time in Japan. Next up, was our trip to Japan’s capital until 1868, the home of more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than anywhere else in Japan, and the place where I was given by far the biggest surprise and shock so far on our travels abroad: We were headed to Kyoto.