A Different Side to Hiroshima

For the worst of reasons, Hiroshima doesn’t really need much of an introduction. It's common to visit Hiroshima alongside Miyajima in a day or two as a trip from Kyoto / Osaka, visiting the Peace Museum and park but little else. However, Hiroshima isn't only the "city of the bomb", the truth is that it has a long history behind it and many other interesting things to do and see while there. Because I really love Hiroshima, I wanted to share some of the city's secrets for anyone who has a bit more time in the area!
Temples and shrines aren’t usually what come to mind when one thinks of Hiroshima, but it is true that there are still a few in parts further away from the city centre that survived the bombing and a few that were rebuilt. Hiroshima's most popular temple is Mitakidera, sitting at the edge of the city and at the start of the mountains, you have to take a short bus ride (or train ride) to get there but it is worth it. It looks especially beautiful in autumn!
I also did the Futabanosato Historical Temple Walk, a walk connecting many temples and shrines in northern Hiroshima city. It's not particularly breathtaking but it's nice to get to know the residential areas of the city. Of the route, Toshogu Shrine was my favourite, plus continuing the trail up the mountain accompanied only by little inari shrines until I reached the Peace Pagoda with views of the city. Fudo-in, the first temple, is also a National Treasure.
The Peace Pagoda is just there in the background...

Hiroshima Castle is another important site of the city. Built by Mori Terumoto, a powerful lord whose domain covered much of the Chugoku Region, a castle town formed around it and Hiroshima prospered as one of most important towns in the area with its ideal location on land and next to the sea. It eventually changed hands after the Battle of Sekigahara and was destroyed by the bombing, but has since been reconstructed. Hiroshima Castle is one of my favourite castles in Japan because it has great displays and historic information inside the museum.
The city also has two art museums, namely the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Prefectural Art Museum. I've been to neither because I'm not too interested in art, however I have heard good things about them (especially the contemporary one) and one of them is close to the castle.
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Shukkei-en is a traditional garden near Hiroshima Castle, completed around the same time (1620), it's a nice breath in the middle of the city. Hiroshima doesn't really look like a big busy place like Osaka or Tokyo and I always felt more calm walking around, but there still is a lot of concrete. I actually got lost trying to find the garden so I ended up doing a long round trip, but there are maps along the way that do point in the right direction and if you have Google Maps you shouldn't get lost.

I've already talked about kagura in another article, but it's worth mentioning again. Kagura is a form of traditional Japanese dance and it can be seen in Hiroshima every Wednesday. I was there last year and you really just have to stand in line at 5pm to buy the tickets that same day. It's still relatively "secret" so there aren't too many people. The show lasts a couple hours (1000 yen) and it's a great way to round up a visit to Hiroshima before leaving the next day. After the show you can try on the costumes yourself and meet the actors / musicians.
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As for food, I'd recommend lunch at Ichiran, a popular ramen chain in Japan, especially with people going solo. At the entrance there is a vending machine where you pay for what you want (there are pictures), the machine prints out a piece of paper and, after looking at a board displaying which seats were empty, you walk into the restaurant and sit down. The restaurant is a line of individual cubicles, each one having a wall in front and at both sides, giving every person a sense of privacy.
There'll be a sheet of paper waiting at the table that you have to fill in with your personal preferences of spiciness, amount of water and whatever else is customisable. It was only in Japanese though, so I circled randomly (the Ichirans in Tokyo have an English translation) and ring the button once you're done. A few seconds later someone from behind the counter will open the small curtain in front of you and take your sheet of paper and the ticket from the vending machine. You don't have to talk to anyone, that's mostly the point of the restaurant, I always enjoy the idea and try them out when I see one because I think it's fun.
Ah, and don't forget to taste the speciality of Hiroshima, okonomiyaki, for dinner that night too!
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With a bit more time you could visit a different city in Hiroshima Prefecture such as Onomichi, the Bunny Island, Takehara, the Sandankyo Gorge, Fukuyama, cycle the Shimanami Kaido, or Tomonoura.
Have any of you visited these places? What other "hidden" things do you recommend in the area?

Sam Lesmana