Our first night in Hiroshima, we did some work before heading to downtown for dinner, walking to a place called Sushitei Kamiyacho. This was among the best sushi we’ve had in Japan (at least as far as mid-tier/budget places go). The cuts of fish were excellent (especially the fatty tuna) and the rice was perfect. It also didn’t hurt that the service was warm and friendly.
After dinner, we went in search of an ice cream place called Polar Bear, only to discover it was closed that day. After wandering around aimlessly for a bit, we stumbled into Yagenbori and Nagarekawa. We quickly realized that these are Hiroshima’s red light district, something we didn’t even realize existed in Hiroshima.
Even though we’ve been to the seedy parts of Shinjuku countless times (for non-seedy purposes), it still is a surprise to see this in Japan. It still amazes me that the yakuza is able to operate out in the open, and I’m always fascinated by what I read when I happen to go down that rabbit hole on the internet. (For example, Hiroshima’s yakuza group is known as Kyodo-kai and once had a member on the city council.)
In any case, after wandering around there for a bit, we bought crepes from a street vendor, then perused some random shops. We ended up in Montbell, which is one of my favorite outdoor goods brands. While there, I noticed literally nothing was on sale, so I researched whether they had outlets, and we planned a visit for one of those on the next leg of our trip. That was pretty much it for that evening. Exciting, I know.
Our Airbnb in Hiroshima was once again quite small. If anything, the above wide angle photo makes it look larger than it actually was.
Given that we had paid more per night for this unit than the one in Kyoto, I was really nervous at this point that we’d be living for a month in a shoebox. (If you’ve read Part 1 of our Kyoto Report, you already know that was not the case.)
For our full day in Hiroshima, our priority was visiting the Peace Memorial Park, Museum, and A-Bomb Dome. We decided to save those for the afternoon, having read that they are popular spots for school groups.
Instead, we started that morning with a stop at Shukkeien Garden.
We did a lot of Japanese gardens this trip, and Shukkeien Garden was among our favorites. It offers a ton of variety, beautifully staged ‘scenes,’ excellent views, and just a wonderfully tranquil and relaxing setting. While it certainly lacks the grandiosity of a place like Shinjuku Gyoen, we enjoyed the more intimate setting.
It was also cool to feed the koi here. For 100 yen, you could purchase fish food at the garden, and the koi absolutely went crazy for the food. Here’s a video of Sarah feeding them:
Hiroshima Castle lacks the wow-factor of more imposing castles in Japan, in part because it was built on flat land and is partially concealed from the surrounding landscape by trees.
I’d never consider any castle in Japan an ‘under-the-radar’ attraction, since they’re all quite popular, but Hiroshima is not known for its castle, and it’s typically not a guidebook highlight.
While we also would not rank it among the elite castles in Japan, we did enjoy it.
The exterior architecture was nice, and we really enjoyed the castle’s museum. Many weapons were on display, and of particular interest was the (temporary) exhibit on firearms.
Displays about swords are fairly commonplace in Japan, but how the introduction of firearms into Japan transformed combat and fortifications is a fascinating–and less commonly explored–topic.
Following Hiroshima Castle, it was time to revisit Polar Bear for ice cream. We couldn’t read the sign that explained why they were closed when we visited previously, but we were hoping it was a temporary thing. We wanted ice cream enough to roll the dice.
Fortunately, Polar Bear was open, and we ordered colossal cones. It was actually gelato (even better!), and this was a rare generous portion of delicious gelato for a low price. It was so good that we started scheming about returning after lunch.
From there it was on to lunch at Hassei, a popular okonomiyaki spot. For those unfamiliar, okonomiyaki is often called a savory Japanese pancake, but that must be by people who have never had pancakes. Or, perhaps I’m making pancakes incorrectly.
I’d say is more like an omelet with noodles and a variety of other stuff. We’ve had okonomiyaki all over Japan, and it’s a consistently good dish that we recommend to other tourists. It’s fun to watch being prepared, has a crowd-pleasing taste, is highly customizable, is always cheap, and is very filling.
This last “strength” of okonomiyaki often comes back to bite us, and did on this particular day. It took all of our strength to waddle out of the restaurant and to the nearest 7-11 for some coffee. (In fairness, the huge portions of gelato we had immediately beforehand probably didn’t help.)
Japanese marketing knows just how to tickle my buying bone.
If I’m reading this correctly, the above BOSS coffee shirt is around $100, while the scarves are $400 and $1,000. If I knew how to purchase said items, they’d totally be mine.
Many 7-11 stores in Japan have seating nice seating areas (pro tip: they also have some of the nicest, feature-rich toilets you’ll find in any ‘public’ place), so we sat at one of those and enjoyed our coffee before heading to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. After incredibly moving experiences in Normandy and Pearl Harbor–and spending so much time in Japan–we felt like this would be a necessary completion to the ‘trifecta.’
The Peace Museum was incredibly well-presented, inspiring, and depressing all at once. It did a great job of expressing the bombing in a humanizing way. It told the story of various individuals whose lives were irreparably changed by the bombing, presenting not just their recounts, but artifacts of personal belongings.
This was all incredibly sobering, and it helped put faces on the catastrophic event. It’s one thing to see footage of the bomb going off, or even the rubble afterwards, but that’s still something of an abstraction in human terms.
I would love to see a museum (or slew of them) like this in the United States showing the actual consequences of war. A lot of people have a ‘rah-rah support the troops’ attitude, but it seems that few see the human toll of war–on service members, families at home, and civilians who get caught up in the conflict.
Even film, which does frame war in a dramatic light, often ends up glamorizing it with salient messages of ‘fallen heroes’ and the like. Many of us might be better served by seeing causalities through the lens of museums; perhaps that would give us pause and lead to a less hawkish attitude towards conflict.
Beyond that, the most interesting aspect–and biggest surprise–of the Peace Memorial Museum was just how deferential and unbiased it seemed. The rationales for the United States’ actions were presented and there was nary a statement of contradiction or value judgment as to those rationales.
Of course, it’s a peace museum with an explicit plea for an end to the development, testing, and use of any weapons of mass destruction; but the specific historic act is presented with far more neutrality than I would’ve expected.
My guess is that this is because the Japanese do not view bitterness as a way forward, and recognize their own reprehensible acts during and leading up to World War II.
It’s also interesting that Japanese and American leaders have done a certain dance around the issue, with our presidents avoiding visits to the city for decades; even on Obama’s visit, he still skirted around an explicit apology.
As a private citizen, I don’t have to do that same dance: I view the United States’ atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as war crimes. (Not like this is a bold statement or anything–most historians and academics view it as such.)
If I were Japanese today, only a couple of generations removed from the devastating act, I’m not sure how I’d view America or Americans.
This is not to diminish the attack on Pearl Harbor or any other atrocities that occurred or occur during the fog of war. There are no shortage of heinous acts other countries have committed throughout the course of history. All of these can serve as cautionary tales and lessons going forward.
As an American, I’m primarily interested in addressing our own mistakes. Reckoning with our own past indiscretions is something America seldom does, and if recent history has taught us anything, it’s that it would behoove us to do exactly that, lest the past repeat itself.
The main exhibit in the museum is largely a linear timeline of the war, and post-war development of nuclear weapons and strides towards peace.
The conclusion of this is surprisingly optimistic, with an emphasis on President Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima and how that bodes for the future. Given the ‘future’ we now inhabit, this optimism is a bit depressing.
Hopefully this all isn’t perceived as too “preachy,” but frankly, I don’t care if it is. I agree with the perspective that travel is a political act, and I think it would incredibly shallow to share our experience in Hiroshima without this commentary. It was the predominant discussion between the two of us during this leg of the trip, and it’s why most Americans recognize this city’s name.
We ended up spending several hours wandering the various exhibits in the Peace Memorial Park, and it was all incredibly moving. It’s also inspiring to see how Hiroshima has recovered, and has become a beacon for peace and prosperity.
Here are some photos I took while wandering around in the park that evening:
That night, we wandered around for a couple more hours, having an excellent dinner at Roopali Indian Restaurant, and just generally having a good time. It was an enjoyable evening, with one exception: the bicycles.
Our biggest complaint about Hiroshima was the bicycles. That might seem silly or nitpicky, but allow me a “brief” rant, as the number of bicycles that almost hit us over the course of only a few days was too many to count. The bikes became really tiresome by the end of our relatively short stay.
It was so frustrating that I was led to research bicycles laws in Japan (“hardly ever enforced”) and statistics about bicycle-related collisions (more deaths and collisions than much of Europe…combined). Apparently, I’m not alone, as many Japanese have strong negative opinions of cyclists. Later, I asked Japanese friends, “what’s the deal with bicycles?” They laughed at first, and responded that it’s a controversial issue in Japan, and basically confirmed what’s written in the above resources.
Of the cities we visited in Japan, our impression was that Hiroshima was a biking city, but without being a bicycle-friendly city. Meaning that there were a lot of bicycles, but without any infrastructure to support their use–putting them on sidewalks that were already bursting with pedestrians. In the rare cases when we did see bicycle lanes in Hiroshima, bikes almost exclusively rode on the sidewalk, anyway.
Again, it might seem nit-picky, but get back to me on that note after you’ve almost been hit by bikes around a dozen times over the course of a couple days. The bike problem existed elsewhere in Japan (it also annoyed us on occasion in Kyoto), but nowhere was it as pronounced for us as in Hiroshima.
To be fair to the cyclists, if I had a bike in Japan, I’d be reluctant to ride it in the road, too. Most roads are too narrow to accommodate modern traffic, and many vehicles drive with reckless abandon as if they are auditioning for Disney’s live action remake of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
With that minor complaint out of the way, we liked Hiroshima a lot. We had some great food, we learned a lot and had a humbling experience at the Peace Memorial Park & Museum, and had fun just wandering around and seeing how the city. For Americans, Hiroshima’s significance in our history is the most compelling reason to visit, but the city has more than enough stand-alone value to justify a visit on an extended trip to Japan.
Check out All Installments of Our Japan Trip Report for more on what we’ve done. If you’re planning a visit, please check out my other posts about Japan. I also recommend the Lonely Planet Japan Guide to help plan.
Have you ever visited Hiroshima? Did you visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park & Museum? What do you think of that experience? How many bikes almost hit you? 😉 Other thoughts about our visit to Hiroshima? Any questions or other comments? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!