While downtown Hiroshima has all the hi-tech bustle you expect from a Japanese city, in mere minutes you can be sipping ocha in a teahouse beside a waterfall in a maple forest, or contemplating the misty islands of the Seto Inland Sea.
Pancakes, oysters and eel
A fan of okonomiyaki (below), Hiroshima’s signature dish of a griddle-cooked pancake with soba noodles, a mountain of cabbage, pork shreds, bean sprouts and a fried egg, with optional extras such as squid, shrimps and oysters? You’ll love Okonomimura, a four-storey labyrinth of 25 eateries that serve up the dish however you like it.
The city is also famous for oysters; oyster farming here started in the 1500s and its produce now accounts for 60 to 70 per cent of Japan’s total production. They are eaten boiled, fried, grilled, with rice, in stews or raw. Try them at Caffe Ponte on the bank of Motoyasu River, opposite the A-Bomb Dome, or on Miyajima Island, whose Omotesando street is lined with restaurants serving oysters and the island’s other delicacy: anago-meshi (conger eel and rice).
City of water
For a different experience, take in the sights of the City of Water – so called because of the six rivers running through it – via a sightseeing cruise. Go on the 45-minute World Heritage Cruise that’ll take you from Hiroshima Peace Memorial to Miyajima Island – both UNESCO World Heritage Sites – or take a 30-minute cruise past Peace Memorial Park, Central Park and other downtown sights. For something racier, hail a Gangi Taxi (below) from any of the 300 gangi (stone steps leading down to the rivers).
Well worth a visit is the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, which stands in Hijiyama Park, one of the city’s top cherry-blossom-viewing spots. Designed by Kisho Kurokawa (co-founder of the Metabolist Movement), the winner of the grand prize at the 5th World Festival of Architecture was Japan’s first public modern-art museum when it opened in 1989. Don’t confine your exploration to the building; head outdoors, where art installations – including Henry Moore’s colossal bronze Arch – dot the hillside
Kumano, a mountain town 20km east of Hiroshima, produces 15 million art, makeup and calligraphy brushes a year – that’s 80 per cent of Japan’s total brush production. Of its 27,000 inhabitants, 1,500 are brush-making craftsmen; all hand-make brushes the traditional way. Visit during the Brush Festival (September 23) and join in the celebrations of the fude (Japanese for ‘brush’).
Be sure to take a walk down Brush Avenue, which is festooned with 10,000 brushes. Kumano brushes are on sale at Hiroshima Shinkansen station, department stores and Fude-no-sato Kobo Brush Museum, where one of the world’s largest calligraphy brushes – 3.7m long and weighing 400kg – is on display.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Hiroshima is home to two of them: the skeletal ruins of the former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, better known as the Atomic Bomb (or A-Bomb) Dome, and the Itsukushima shrine (below) on Miyajima Island. The first is the city’s spiritual heart and is generally looked upon as a ‘symbol of making peace a lasting reality’. The latter, a bright orange shrine with a maze of covered walkways and a huge red torii gate rising out of the sea, is designated one of Japan’s three most beautiful views.