Of all the cities I have been to in Japan, Hiroshima is by far my favourite. Such a declaration is most often swiftly followed by a question along the lines of 'but isn't it depressing there?' There is no doubt that this city has a sad history, but I believe it is from such destruction that the people of Hiroshima can appreciate the beauty of living.
Most travellers make the stop in Hiroshima to reflect on the terrible events of 6 August, 1945 and most of those also venture beyond the city to the nearby Miyajima island to snap the classic photo of the red temple gate in the water. This is usually as far as they get before the remaining days on their JR Pass beckons them back to Tokyo before their flight home.
Given I have had the opportunity to stay here for a month, I've taken a much more relaxed approach to ticking off the major attractions. Instead, I have spent many afternoons and evenings wandering around the A-Bomb Dome in quiet contemplation, visited nearby Ninoshima island to satisfy my beach craving and have also had the special experience of being in Hiroshima for Obama's visit - the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima.
If you are planning on visiting Japan, then be sure to include Hiroshima on your itinerary. And for your visit to Hiroshima, here are some hot tips for young players from a seasoned veteran of the city.
1. Go to the A-Bomb Dome at night time.
Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, which is a true blessing for travellers. Visiting usually busy places during the evening or later into the night can be an incredibly special experience. While during the day you will find tour groups and Japanese school kids everywhere around this landmark, wandering around it at night will allow for a more peaceful contemplation of what this city promotes: peace. The Dome is hauntingly lit at night time, making it impossible not to recall images from post A-Bomb of the few structures left standing in the city.
2. Go for a run or walk along the river.
The name 'Hiroshima' means 'broad island' and the city is sliced by several rivers running towards the Seto Inland Sea. By virtue of this geography, the city is lovely and flat, with several paths that trace the banks of the rivers. Venturing even slightly north of the main tourist area (the dome and peace park) will lead you to a lovely path along the banks of the Ota River towards the large Central Park. From here, the reconstructed Hiroshima castle - a gorgeous, brooding, dark wooden structure - is just to the east and worth the wander around the moat. If you follow me on Instagram you'll know that I'm a keen runner and certainly advocate running as an activity to keep fit while travelling as well as a different way to see the places you visit.
3. Eat Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki and compare it with Kansai-style okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki is one of the tastiest things I've ever eaten in Japan - particularly Hiroshima's version. Both Hiroshima and the Kansai region (Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe area) lay claim to this dish, yet have different recipes. The name literally means 'what you like, fried' and combines an egg batter, cabbage, green onions, meat (usually pork) into a delicious dish - sometimes called 'Japanese pizza' - topped with the most delicious sauce, okonomiyaki sauce. While the Kansai-style okonomiyaki combines these ingredients into a sort of the omelette, the Hiroshima-style layers the ingredients and adds some noodles too (I prefer soba). My favourite part about the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is that at most restaurants you can enjoy your dinner straight off the teppan (hot plate) using a small spatula! Delicious. Make sure you try both styles so you can compare!
4. Climb to the top of Mt Misen on Miyajima
Mt Misen in the highest point on the island of Miyajima, a short trip from the city. The island is famous for the Itsukushima Shrine, comprising the floating 'torii' (gate) and main shrine built on the water. At high tide, the whole shrine appears to be floating on the water, which is quite stunning. Once you've visited the shrine, I suggest you hike up to the top of Mt Misen to experience the stunning views back towards Hiroshima. The hike takes about an hour, maybe a touch longer, following a stream and dotted with little stone stacks that probably have some meaning of which I am not aware. There is a cable car also, because Japan (they love their cable cars, seriously), but if you have the time the hike to the top is worth the effort.
Unlike Tokyo, which is the definition of 'bustling metropolis' with an impossible number of people, the intense Japanese-ness of Kyoto, or Osaka with its neon lights and separate sub-city hubs, Hiroshima is a perfect balance of people, buildings, rivers, greenery, bustle and reflection. Hiroshima has a certain vibe to it that seems to defy its sad history, it has an optimism and life that almost catches you off guard, making it my top pick on the classic Japan itinerary.