Taxis in Japan, we found, were beautifully clean, retro-sixties style monuments to kitsch, replete with head-rest doilies and cute seat covers. For our day trip from Kyoto to Hiroshima, we needed an early start, and our helpful host arranged a taxi. Our man was waiting as we emerged five minutes before the appointed time from the apartment. He was dressed in an immaculate uniform, complete with white gloves, and drove us smoothly to the station, dropping us off at the Shinkansen entrance. No agonising about the tip, of course, because in Japan you don’t tip.
We could go for a day’s outing to Hiroshima because, even though it’s about 225 miles away, the bullet train would take us there in less than two hours. We planned a further visit that day, so on arrival at Hiroshima, we took another train and a short ferry trip to the island of Miyajima We could see the Itukushima, a floating shrine, guarded by the Torii gate from the boat.
On arrival, a short stroll through streets where deer roamed freely took us to the remarkably orange floating shrine.
The shrine, which dates originally from the sixth century, though nothing from that era survives, is a World Heritage Site, and deservedly so. Its broad wooden platforms, supported by pillars, stand in the sea, and it’s thought that the original intention was to worship the island spirits. Even though we visited alongside lots of other people, and the inevitable school party, it was a peaceful, enlightening experience.
We moved on to look at some of the other shrines and monuments that are thickly dotted about the island. We didn’t have the opportunity to linger, as we only had a couple of hours, but it was enough to get the flavour of this unique place. Having climbed a short distance up Mount Misen, we arrived at the Daisho-in temple, where we were greeted by five hundred heads with little knitted hats:
Stoke City fans, possibly.
A couple of encounters with some scary guardians, more tame deer, and then time to say sayonara to this wonderful place.
We took the ferry and train back to Hiroshima, and headed out on a tram to the Peace Park. After the beauty of Miyajima, this was a sombre reminder of the other side of human nature. The first thing we saw was the famous “A-bomb dome”, the shell of a building very close to the epicentre of the explosion. It is a striking and effective monument, and reminded us of the Gedächtniskirche in Berlin, which has a similar purpose.
We spent the afternoon walking around the park, looking at the various monuments. We were particularly struck by the Children’s Monument, inspired by the story of Sasaki Sadako. On the day we were there, lots of schoolchildren took turns in singing and performing poems dedicated to peace. It was touching to see and hear.
We found that being English attracted attention from the kids. They wanted to practise, and many had worksheets to fill in, where they wrote down the answers to simple questions they asked us: what do you like about Japan? and so on. We were quite the celebrities for a while. Here’s me with some of my army of adoring fans:
The Peace Museum at Hiroshima is a must-see. The displays are heartbreaking, documenting in relentless detail the horrific effects of the bomb. We spent an hour or so there, until we were to meet up with a friend of a friend, with whom we were to see the main part of the city.
Hiroshima now is a modern, bustling city, with hardly anything pre-1945 standing. We did see the Bank of Japan, that survived largely intact, but nothing else. Big broad streets, some of them covered, made up most of the commercial district, but we weren’t there to shop. We were on our way to eat Okonomiyaki…
Our new friend has lived in Hiroshima for twenty years, and is a regular at the place he was taking us to. The dish is the local specialty, and, luckily for us vegetarians, is infinitely adaptable. A nondescript modern building – the Okonomimura – houses dozens of competing okonomiyaki establishments, all laid out in the same way: an L-shaped hot plate, behind which the cook stands, and in front of which you sit. Each of the stalls had room for maybe 10 – 15 customers. We went to the Hirochan, which is operated by a very friendly and obliging husband-and-wife team, who were happy to make a veggie special for us. The cook starts with a pool of batter on the hot plate, adds vegetables and other ingredients, noodles, sauces, turns it and flattens it until all is cooked, and then cuts it with a sharp spatula-like tool into smaller chunks. We ate with one of these straight off the griddle, though you can have it served on plates. Accompanied by an ice-cold beer, this was absolutely delicious.
We had a wonder through the streets afterwards, noting that, at the end of October, there were many Hallowe’en displays, so clearly that aspect of American culture has become a thing in Japan.
We took a tram back to the station, and arrived back in Kyoto late that night. Next: Kanazawa.
Big in Japan 5 by Dr Rob Spence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.