I visited the city of Hiroshima in western Japan from Wednesday, July 25-Friday, July 27, 2018, 684 km west of Tokyo. It was good timing because I enjoyed hot sunny weather while I was there and on the last day the weather forecast was predicting Typhoon 12 hitting the region and engulfing western Japan in strong rain and wind for the second time in the last month by late Saturday. It was my first visit there. I arranged everything through a travel agency in Tokyo because that was comfortable and convenient for me. I hate it when acquaintances boast about how they do everything themselves online with this app or that app and how they found bargains, bargains, bargains! Life is not a scheme.
Hiroshima is famous (or infamous) as the first target ever to suffer an atomic bomb detonation. That makes it a big tourist draw, a center for the international anti-nuclear movement and global pacifism. The city is organized and primed to host legions of international visitors. But Hiroshima is also an administrative center, and has been since the feudal era, because it sits at the junction of three transportation routes: river, sea and land roads. That made it a good location in feudal times as well as modern. During the Second World War the city boasted about 420,000 people, about half of whom had been evacuated to avoid bombing by August 1945. After the war it took until the mid-1950s to regain its wartime size. Today it is home to over 1.1 million people. It is still a major transportation point east-west, it is still the provincial capital, it is still a center of culture and education as it was before the war, and now it boasts a professional baseball team, the Hiroshima Carp and soccer team, Sanfrecce Hiroshima (Italian for “Three Arrows”). It is the largest city in the Chugoku region of western Japan.
When I arrived by bullet train at Hiroshima Station the first thing I noticed in station gift shops was Hiroshima Carp livery and accessories. (A souvenir shop in Japan features food and drink from the region - cakes, cookies, crackers, fruits, etc., more than mere toys, T-shirts and postcards. When Japanese buy souvenirs, “omiage,” they are buying something special from the region to take back to their friends and family to enjoy by eating.)
Getting there from my Tokyo home was unspeakably stressful. Unspeakable!! The bullet train departed from Tokyo Station at 7:10 a.m. Getting to Tokyo is about a 35-minute ride on the Marunouchi Subway Line from my apartment. My local station is a mere 8-minute walk away. Simple, right? But wait … when I left home at 5:30 a.m. it was already about 29°C outside, heading towards 36°C. That means by the time I reached my local subway station my clothes were already sweat through like a towel after a swim. I felt sick. I felt I would have diarrhea. I felt I would have to get off the train along the way, find a toilet, and risk missing my departure. (I reached Tokyo Station and immediately headed towards the loo. Fortunately, due to my familiarity with the station I already know where to find them.) I feared I was forgetting something at hone (I did - three things). I had a lot of fear. I feared my trip was in vain. I kept wondering, “What am I doing? What am I going to do there?” As the bullet train advanced westward I fretted more and more my decision to take a short holiday alone. Shin-Yokohama. Nagoya. Kyoto. Shin-Osaka. Shin-Kobe. Okayama. Fukuyama. Hiroshima. Of course, I had a plan. I had thought about the trip for weeks before departing. First thing, Tourist Office inside Hiroshima Station. Okay, check. Second thing, take a taxi to my hotel. Check. Once I was nested in my room at the Hotel Sunroute (comparable to a Holiday Inn) I felt a lot better.
A feature of Hiroshima is that it mostly lies south of Hiroshima Station on a river delta. During WWII and before this was even more true: the city occupied the river delta, period. I believe one reason for that dates from the feudal period when the castle was built (1590s) as a regional administrative hub. Hiroshima Station today lies northeast of the castle, and northeast is considered an unlucky direction in Japan. People were hesitant to settle in that district. To counter the unluckiness of it, the mountain slopes north of the station feature more than one large temple complex.
Today, because of how large the city has grown it has unavoidably developed north of the station. But it is still overwhelmingly focused on the south side of the station. That’s where most things are that people want to see and do. That’s how the bus and streetcar (“hiroden”) infrastructure is laid out. South of Hiroshima Station the streets tend to follow a convenient grid pattern, unlike Tokyo.
The Peace Memorial Park was practically directly across the street. I could see the iconic Atomic Bomb Dome from my room window. After settling in I got myself in order and went out for a full afternoon in the park. I arrived with a bus tour plan for the third and last day. I only had to plan my time for the first two days, Wednesday and Thursday. I did it. It turned out okay. Was my stress and worry in vain?
On my first day I noticed something very quickly. Unlike Tokyo, I never saw any police in Hiroshima. Tokyo is lousy with police. Police are everywhere. Patrol cars are easily visible on the streets, police on bicycle patrol, police manning neighbourhood police boxes (“koban”). But in Hiroshima I never saw any police. I didn’t see any pet dogs, either. Not one. No one out walking a pooch. Tokyo is lousy with pet dogs. I saw a lot of streetcars. I saw a lot of student groups, including in my hotel. Because they are on an official school outing they are in uniform and are wearing name tags. The ones in my hotel were junior high schoolers. Often when I spoke Japanese I was not understood. That might be just because my Japanese is so bad. But since I knew what I was saying and how to say it I wondered if, 1) the listeners were just confused by hearing a foreigner speak reasonable Japanese; or, 2) maybe I speak with a Tokyo/Kanto accent. If I do, I can’t hear it. I am unable to hear Japanese regional dialects, although I know there are several.
I wouldn’t mind revisiting Hiroshima. But in the mean time I have a list of other places in Japan I want to visit.
Bullet Train Tokyo-to-Hiroshima