I confess that, as interesting as I thought Hiroshima would be, my primary motivation for heading there last weekend was for the Sake Festival.
Lorianne stayed over on Friday night and we got up stupidly early on Saturday to get a bus with Leandi and Ben. It’s a nice bus ride, and I slept through most of it.
We arrived late morning and managed to find our way, with the help of the hostel’s directions and our iPhones, from the train station to the hostel. We couldn’t check in yet so we dumped our luggage and headed back to the station.
We thought a bit of stomach lining was in order, so we managed to find seats at a little station Okonomiyake shop. Okonomiyake is a specialty of Hiroshima and Osaka (though I prefer Hiroshima style with its delicious soba noodles) and it’s sort of like a stuffed pancake.
I love watching them make it on the hot plate in front of you; I’m always convinced they are going to spill the fillings everywhere and they never do. It’s full of cabbage and noodles and sauces and general deliciousness.
Having carefully lined our stomachs with okonomiyake, we jumped on a train out to Saijo where they were holding the festival, paid our entry fee and entered the magical world of the sake festival.
At the door they gave us each a little sake cup and a list of all the sakes available, ordered by region. We spent the rest of the day walking around and sampling sake from all over Japan. I really enjoyed it (and not just because I was drinking sake with my awesome friends) but also because I learnt a little bit about sake.
I met a Japanese girl called Remi who made me try amaii (sweet) and karaii (spicy) side by side so I could decide which one I preferred, then, having established that I liked amaii, she took over ordering for me. In true Japanese hospitality, I had to confiscate my cup after a while, or I would have ended the night there, but she was lovely to chat to.
We left the festival, slightly fuzzy around the edges, and went back to officially check into our hostel. Lorianne, bless her, had been quite ill the night before and was a little worse for wear, so she fell asleep face down on her bed midway through making it.
Ben, Leandi and I, on the other hand, were sake-d up and wanted to party so we went into town and met Ryan, Justin and Erin. We spent the night dancing at Mac Bar, then decided that, since it was a beautiful clear night, we should walk home.
This was when I got my first glimpse of the A-Bomb dome. Standing next to the river in the early morning quiet and seeing it all lit up was a pretty moving experience for all of us I think. That was when it first hit me that the beautiful city I was in had such a sad history and it was a bit of a shock to see physical remnants of it.
The next day Leandi wanted to go back to the festival (what a champ!) with Ryan, Justin and Erin who hadn’t been the day before. Ben, Lorianne and I had breakfast with her (and some gaijin boys she found) then we headed to the Peace Museum.
It’s really hard to describe the experience of the museum, but it was truly amazing. I was most impressed with the balanced and rational way they presented it. There was no sense of self pity or blame shifting. It acknowledged Japan’s part in the war, and recognised the bombing as a result of being involved. The big focus of the museum is calling for a universal disarmament of nuclear weapons and it is really beautifully done.
The last section of the museum was about individual victims’ stories, and I was very very close to tears when presented with the evidence of the number of lives that were lost or ruined that day. There was a focus on Sadako Sasaki, of the thousand paper cranes, and in the gift shop (though it was more like a resource shop, it was great) I bought the picture book “Sadako”, which was a favourite of mine as a child, as a souvenir.
We were all a little bit emotionally stunned after that, so we went for a nice walk through the park then the shotengai. It’s a great city to walk through, and we all felt a lot better after a bit of exploring. We helped Lorianne buy a camera lens, then went to Okonomimura, which is a famous okonomiyake arcade and had some delicious food, then accidentally went to “indiket!” (indies + market) and watched some awesome buskers.
That evening, we met up with the others, as well as some random gaijin they’d picked up during the day, for some truly epic karaoke (nomi hodai and ice cream hodai?) then a bit of a boogie.
The next day we all split up a bit and I went with Leandi and Ben to Miyajima which is a really beautiful little island a ways out of the city. It’s famous for the big red gate, but it is also stuffed full of deer just wandering around the town. One ate my map, but luckily everything was well signposted.
We sampled the Hiroshima oysters (yum!) then went up to the top of Mount Misen where there are some cool shrines. It took a bus, two cable cars and a half hour hike to get to the summit but it was totally worth it. The view from the top was amazing.
We didn’t get to spend much time there, unfortunately, as we had a bus to catch but we took a few snaps before heading down and back to the city. We met up with Ryan and Justin and did a wee bit of shopping at the foreign food store in the station (yes! Curry! Coconut milk! Tim Tams!) before jumping on the bus.
Hiroshima was a really amazing experience; the perfect combo of sake festival and heartwrenching history lesson.