Say this city’s name and your thoughts immediately go to 6 August 1945, the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. Images of a city and its people devastated, destroyed.
Finally, this year, despite countless trips to Japan, I joined the pilgrimage to visit Hiroshima myself.
Hiroshima was everything I expected, and not.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial, widely known as the A-Bomb Dome, is an eerie shell. The Peace Memorial Park, that leads from the museum to the dome, with its eternal flame and monuments, is vast and gives a feeling of emptiness despite the crowds.
The Peace Memorial Museum is best visited either very early or late in the day to avoid the bus loads of surprisingly boisterous Japanese school children with their clipboards and worksheets.
There was no chance to study the well-displayed artefacts and history as I was pushed along by the sheer number of visitors.
I returned to the park later in the day and again the next morning to sit among the ghosts.
Then there is the Hiroshima of today. A relatively modern city with its post-war architecture, covered shopping streets, interesting laneways and, best of all, great oysters.
You see, my pilgrimage was not only to visit the Peace Park and Museum, but to eat as many oysters as I could. I was relatively successful but had not counted on so many restaurants being closed on Mondays.
Hiroshima has cultivated oysters for over 400 years and today provides 70% of the nation’s supply. The main season, and best time to eat oysters, is November to March but they are available year-round.
Oddly, for a bivalve fan, the oysters are not usually served raw. I had them breaded and fried, grilled in the shell, freshly vinegared, steamed with sake and in a hotpot. I was not offered a choice of oysters and I suspect that in June that’s all that’s available.
That said, the different cooking methods were all delicious. However, the plain grilled oyster with a splash of lemon had to be my favourite.
Hiroshima is much more than the obvious and if you intend visiting allow yourself time to explore.
I had amazing coffee at Obscura Coffee Roasters, found cute little wine bars with outdoor seating, wandered the back streets and took the train and ferry to nearby Miyajima Island. Not bad going in 48 hours but I could easily have stayed another day.
I totally fell for Hiroshima. I loved the look and feel of the city, their trams are a great way to get around, and the people I encountered were super friendly and not overwhelmed or jaded by tourism.
Go to Hiroshima for the past, but stay and enjoy this fascinating city for the present.