May 07, 2012

Natsukashii Hiroshima

A Japanese word I love is 懐かしい (natsukashii). It roughly translates in English to 'nostalgic', but not many people use the word 'nostalgic' that often. Japanese people use 'natsukashii' all the time. Perhaps it's a cultural thing - in the western world, we like to focus on our futures, without really taking the time to consider our pasts. In contrast, Japanese society is strongly grounded in history and tradition. I think there's more of a tendency to contemplate what once was, and what now is. But anyway. That's enough philosophy for now...

I was 16 when I came to Japan for the first time, spending the winter living with a home stay family and studying at a high school in Hiroshima. It was an interesting experience - it wasn't easy. But for the past 4 years since then, Hiroshima has been on my mind. When I found out I'd been accepted into Kansai University, I knew I had to go back. And this weekend, I did.

Genbaku Dome, Winter, 2008
Genbaku Dome, Spring, 2012
The first thing we did when we arrived in Hiroshima on Thursday night was to hop on one of the city's quaint little streetcars and head to Okonomimura (Okonomiyaki village), parallel to Hondori. If you live in Osaka, you might be under the impression that you've already sampled the best okonomiyaki that Japan has to offer - at least, that's what the Osakans will have you believe. But I reckon Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is the superior of the two. The main difference between the regions is that all the ingredients are mixed together in the batter in Osaka style, whereas Hiroshima style is carefully compiled in layers, with a high concentration of cabbage and the addition of soba or udon noodles.
Hiroshima-yaki. Melt-in-your-mouth noodles smothered in tangy Hiroshima-brand okonomiyaki sauce.
There are loads of places where you can eat okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, but Okonomimura has to be seen to be believed. It consists of a few multi-storeyed buildings in which every single floor contains nothing but okonomiyaki restaurants, squeezed in beside each other. Chefs prepare the dish on long hot benches right in front of the customers, which is exquisite to watch. We went in the middle of Golden Week, so there were lines spilling out of the buildings. But the wait was worth it. Actually, I'm not even ashamed to admit that we dined there twice in one weekend.

Entrance to Okonomimura
Lines of hungry people waiting to feast on Hiroshima's famous fare
I know it's horribly cliche, but no trip to Hiroshima would be complete without visiting the Peace Park. I had to see the Genbaku Dome right away to confirm that I was really, truly in Hiroshima again. I don't think I'll ever forget the first time I saw it. From Hondori station there's this sense of anticipation - the signs say 'Genbaku Dome this exit', and you prepare yourself to see what you've already seen so many times in pictures and history books. But it's so different in real life. It's tangible, three dimensional, and hauntingly hollow. A true piece of history.

Genbaku Dome lit up at night.
We were fortunate enough to catch glimpses of Hiroshima's annual Flower Festival, held in the Peace Park during Golden Week. For such a poignant place, it had a fresh, spring-like, celebratory atmosphere. I bought a toffee apple and enjoyed it sitting on the riverbank, beneath the Dome.

Floating flowers
I love the bright colours of the origami peace cranes
View from the top of the Peace Park Memorial Museum - decorative peace cranes on the lawn
On Saturday, like true Japanese Golden Week tourists, we decided to go to Miyajima. Unfortunately, all those other Japanese Golden Week tourists had the same idea. Even more unfortunately, the island's crowning glory - the big red floating torii gate - was covered up in scaffolding, having been damaged in a recent storm. Such disappointment.

Not quite the World Heritage Site I remember...
But everyone knows the main reason to go to Miyajima is to play with the wild deer, anyway. Oh, and to eat the Momiji Manju cakes. Chocolate and cream filling are my favourite.

Me playing with a Miyajima deer 4 years ago! Why did I think acid wash skinny jeans were a good fashion choice?!
... And now!
Miyajima 5 storey pagoda. Also big, beautiful and red (suck on that, floating shrine).
After visiting old friends, my old school, familiar neighbourhoods, and using familiar transport (hello Astram line), Golden Week came to an end, and it was time to take the night bus back to Osaka. Revisiting Hiroshima was a very 'natsukashii' experience. As we pulled into Umeda at 5am this morning, and watched the sun rise up through the Sky Building, I thought to myself, Osaka is my new home in Japan. But Hiroshima will always have my heart. I can't wait to go back again.


  1. Hiroshima is now on my bucket list.

  2. I think the place you go in Japan first always steals your heart - I will never stop being excited about going to Osaka, even though I've lived in Kobe for much longer now.

    (I found your blog through a Google search for Shinsekai, btw.)

  3. Beautiful blog (blog is such an ugly word?). Wonderfully vivid description of the city and your connection.

  4. Oh I used to live in Hiroshima - I miss Okonomiyakimura so much...every hangover I was in there, getting myself so grub!

  5. hi^-^just found your blog over "vivanlostinseoul". is there any chance your high school was "sanyo girls' high school"? I was an exchange student there. Hiroshima will always be 懐かしい for me, too...

    1. Hi! Oh, that's awesome. =) My high school was Yasuda Girls' High School in Hakushima. What area is Sanyo Girls' High in?

    2. I think the area is Hatsukaichi. ---by the way, I was never brave enough to try the spicy tsukemen >.<