When I think of Hiroshima, I think of rattling trams dinging their bells as they trundled down main streets. I think of a sunny, glittering bay filled with boats; a city intersected by canals, inlets and bridges. I think of escaping a freezing winter’s night by heading into a lively restaurant, windows dripping with condensation, smoky and fragrant, crammed with people eating hot Hiroshimayaki. It’s Hiroshima’s version of okonomiyaki, a cabbage-based pancake dish, with mayonnaise, sweet barbeque sauce and a frosty mug of beer (sorry, i’m getting distracted).
I had a great time waking up early to buy a can of hot vending machine coffee in a little backstreet. I loved playing vintage video games in department stores. I enjoyed the tiny studio we stayed in, shivering in our winter coats as we tried to figure out the characters on the heating remote. We sat on tatami mats, huddled under blankets, surrounded by supermarket sushi, instant ramen, and apple tea, enjoying Studio Ghibli movies on a laptop. These are the great memories I think of after having visited Hiroshima.
Of course, like many people visiting for the first time, the only thing I knew about Hiroshima when we stepped off the train was the dropping of the atom bomb and the aftermath. We were curious to see how the city recovered, what it looks like today, and to listen to the message of peace the city promotes. The Hiroshima Peace Park at ground zero (and the fantastic Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum), is the place to explore these questions. The museum is a must-see.
Standing strong at the north of the park are the skeletal remains of the incredible Atom Bomb Dome, surrounded by broken bricks and dry, crispy leaves. In 1945, it was the administrative town hall, located at the epicentre of the blast. Somehow, miraculously, the building still stands despite having been swallowed by the mushroom cloud. All around in the park were shrines and remembrances to the victims. The main stone cenotaph, looking down a quiet water feature, contains the names of all the victims. Another, dedicated to the children, has hundreds of paper cranes, and a statue of Sadako lifting a large crane above her head.
I was contemplating the city as we walked away from the Peace Park and wandered around in Ebisu-Cho, Hiroshima’s network of lively shopping streets. We bought some T-shirts, and explored some anime memorabilia shops. Skyscrapers shone down on us with neon billboards, taxis picked people up and dropped them off, businessmen filed into crammed trams on their way home after a long day. It was clear that Hiroshima is a city determined to move on from past tragedies, and move forward into the future. I recommend Hiroshima for everyone, not just to learn about its past, but also to explore this young, vibrant, up-and-coming place.