Most tourists to Japan don’t visit Hiroshima. Or at least they don’t visit the real Hiroshima. If they do bother to stop by, they’ll generally look in on the Peace Memorial Museum, munch on some sushi and take the bullet train back to Tokyo.
However, if you’re reading this then most likely you’re keen to see a different side. As an Expater, sure you want to learn the city’s history, but also its present.
Let my friend Toyo show you round.
I first met Toyo as part of a month’s stay in Japan. I’d upgraded from bland hotel rooms to luxury ryokan (traditional japanese guest houses) but I still felt I was missing out on the real Japan. Then Toyo took me on a tour.
If she’s not canoeing alongside crocodiles in the Amazon, wildlife spotting in India or climbing mountains in Japan, she’s probably the best person to show you a fresher, more invigorating side to the country.
Here she shares her perfect Sunday in her home city, Hiroshima:
“I start my Sunday mornings with yoga in the park. Shanti Yoga organises really good classes in the Peace Park. There is a lovely, welcoming atmosphere, the teachers are very experienced and the classes set me up for the day and motivate me for the week ahead.
For lunch, if I’ve got foreign friends in town we might go for traditional Hiroshima Okonomiyaki at Mikatsuki. Okonomiyaki means ‘grilled as you like it’ and is a pancake made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, meat and other toppings. It’s a bit heavy and as I’m well into my 30s now I try to go easy on it! Mind you, we have a rule in Hiroshima that you should never share a Okonomiyaki, unless you’re ordering it as part of a range of dishes to split in a group.
Otherwise if I’m not entertaining visitors I like to stroll through the park to a small restaurant called Uluru. It offers a fantastic selection of organic wines, really fresh vegetables from local farms and simple but unusual dishes that you just don’t find elsewhere in the city. The chef’s Okonomiyaki is made with a sauce using sliced dried bonito flakes and soy sauce. It’s really unique and people like me flock there for it. Uluru also offers luggage storage – very useful for friends who’ve come to Japan for just a couple of weeks but end up prolonging their stay and have nowhere to keep all their souvenirs.
My favourite place to spend the afternoon is at the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Perched on the top of a small mountain in Hijiyama Park, it offers amazing views of the city and is one of the best places to see the spring cherry blossom. The art collections are really diverse and it’s just the right size to explore in an afternoon. Hiroshima can get a bit congested and it’s nice to get a breath of fresh air, and feed my mind, as well as my lungs.
For supper, I often go to a bar called Good Time. It’s just round the block from my apartment and the hotdogs there are really good. I go here so much that the staff know me now.
I also love oysters and I recently went to a great oyster bar called Le Trouvere (First floor of Nakatsu Building, 7-28 Noboricho, Naka-ku, Hiroshima. Tel. 082-228-5660). Hiroshima is famous for its oysters and if you’re not from here, you need to give them a try. A hot pot with miso (Kaki-no-Dotenabe) is a traditional local dish, and other forms of fried oyster are also popular, but I like them raw with a splash vinegar too. The wine there is also very good, the place is stylish without being stuffy and the staff also speak English.
In Japan, there are many Michelin star restaurants, especially in Tokyo, but it can be impossible to get a reservation. Here in Hiroshima it’s easier, and it costs half price compared to the capital.
If I’m celebrating then I love a place called Nakashima. They serve a style of Japanese food called ‘kaiseki’ – a traditional, elegant multi-course meal. You won’t find better kaiseki than here in my view. The restaurant deserves its three Michelin stars, the food is beautiful and I love the fact that despite their prestige the staff are really friendly. Of course, you need a reservation, generally about two months in advance.
After supper I might head out to a SUnDAYS event. SUnDAYS organise really cool exhibitions and DJ sets all over Hiroshima, and not just on Sundays. There’s a rooftop party with some great music coming up next month which is in my diary.
Otherwise, for something more chilled out, I might take some sewing, knitting or crafts along to a bar. I work at a needle company called Tulip and we supply half of the world’s crochet hooks in the world. Foreigners often think we only drink saké and while I do enjoy the odd cup now and again, my friends and I are far more likely to go for a craft beer or scotch.
My oasis is a place called D-bar where I’ve been going for years. It’s off the tourist radar and there is no website as such. They have lots of kinds of whisky, superb cocktails and I love their scotch.
As a city focused on peace, there is a strong emphasis on mutual understanding and getting on with each other, or as we say in Japan, ‘mizu ni nagasu‘ (‘let it flow in the water’). I travel a lot, and I love adventure travel in particular, but Hiroshima is such a cosmopolitan city that I never get bored and with its peaceful spirit, it’ll always be home for me.