✍️: Jan 📸: Erin & Jan
We got to see a lot of Japan, but I think we saved the best for last. I loved Hiroshima. The main draw for tourists like us is undoubtably the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Peace Memorial Park. And rightfully so. They are somber but necessary places to experience.
But the city is also eclectic coffee shops and intimate sake bars with incredibly friendly staff. It’s home to a baseball team with avid fans. Hiroshima’s okonomiyaki (fried-noodle pancake), unique even in Japan, can’t be beat. And at least one Thomas the Tank Engine bus ferries young students wearing matching hats.
Hiroshima is definitely the city we’d most want to visit again in Japan despite seeing its primary tourists spots.
Trollies & Thomas
You may have noticed that we (well, mostly me) are moderate train geeks. The shinkansen (bullet trains) of Japan are amazing. But just as cool as riding on nearly silent rails at 300 km/h (186 mph) is getting off the train to find a network of old trolley cars criss-crossing the city.
Hiroshima bought up the trolley cars discarded by the cities of Kyoto and Fukuoka during post-World War II reconstruction and held on to them. The city even runs a pair of trolleys that survived the atomic bombing.
A trolley ride will cost you a flat rate (180 yen when we were there) to go anywhere within city limits. Or you can get a day pass and ride as much as you like for 600 yen. (I kind of wish we’d done that, but hey … maybe next time.)
After we got off the trolley and walked a couple of blocks to our hostel, another “train” rolled down the street. A Thomas the Tank Engine bus. Hilarious! And what a way to get a kid excited about going to school.
Better than OK Okonomiyaki
If you’re in Japan and you tell people you’re heading to Hiroshima, chances are good they’ll say: “Try the okonomiyaki, it’s really good and different there.” Those people did not lie.
Okonomiyaki (pronounced “Oh-cone-oh-me-yaki”) is basically a savory pancake made with onions and a lot of cabbage — stay with us, people — along with bacon and maybe shrimp or squid.
Add a heaping pile of ramen or udon noodles (we recommend ramen), then fry it all on a flattop stove with seaweed, ginger, and bonita flakes. Finish it off with a topping of sweetish brown sauce (think Worcestershire sauce but thicker and sweeter).
Erin never met a pancake she didn’t like, but even she was hesitant. This was huge and didn’t look especially appealing. But we decided to try it at Mitchan Sohonten Hatchobori, one of the most highly recommended spots in town.
The place opened for dinner at 5 p.m., and when we got there at 5:15 p.m., the place was already packed inside with a line of 15 people out the door. (By the time we left, the line was maybe 40 to 50 people deep.) We were the only non-Asians there.
I gotta say, I was a bit overwhelmed by the plate that was delivered, and a bit apprehensive about how and whether I’d be able to eat more than a bite or two, never mind the entire meal. You might see a bit of that apprehension behind Erin’s smile.
It was delicious. So good, in fact, that we hit up a smaller okonomiyaki spot next to our hostel just five hours later to share another one. This is another experience that, if you’re in this part of Japan and don’t try it, should not be missed.
Sake with experts
We thought we’d sample some other local fare, and so we set out to find a sake tasting. We found a tiny, intimate bar called Flat Sake Bar, which had a friendly and knowledgable bartender.
He did a great job with his limited English and our more limited Japanese to make recommendations for us based on our tastes. I know next to nothing about sake, but each of those little glasses had different flavors and depth of character. Each was delicious, in its own way.
Finally … the Hiroshima Carp. I really hoped to catch a Japanese baseball game. A family friend played for the Carp in the mid ‘70s. And a baseball team that makes me think of Asian Carp (a nemesis of the Great Lakes back home in Chicago) is inherently funny to me. But we didn’t do our research, and by the time we got to Hiroshima, the Nippon Professional Baseball League was holding its All Star Break.
Fortunately, the day we decided to check out the stadium, it was open. There was what looked like a high school game wrapping up down on the field, so we got to walk right into the stadium and have a look around.
One of the more interesting things about the stadium were the two gift shops at the entrance. First you see a very typical baseball stadium gift shop filled with ball caps, jerseys, tote bags, T-shirts, foam fingers, etc.
Then … as you leave, you see another one. Much quieter and more reserved. Here you’ll find a room with more live plants than merchandise for sale. And that merchandise is what I can only describe as “baseball paraphernalia for the fan with discerning tastes.” The kind of thing you might find in the office of a corporate executive. And to get in and out of that gift shop, you walk through a miniature Japanese garden … inside a baseball stadium.
Thanks for it all, Hiroshima. (Next time, we’ll check the All Star schedule.)
Pro tip: If you’re planning a trip to Japan and don’t want to spend all your time in one or two cities, buy a Japan Rail pass. It’s available to tourists but you need to purchase it before you arrive in Japan. It could save you money if you want to quickly see several regions.
(And maybe you’ll get to ride a Hello Kitty bullet train.)