We wanted to go to Bread A Espresso again for breakfast but as we were leaving we realized it was closed. Not just Tuesday but Wednesday and Thursday as well. Disappointed, we found a suitable replacement nearby in NGS Coffee just around the corner on the main boulevard. It had an airplane motif (NGS is the code for the Nagasaki Airport) and sparse interior and we each bought a shortbread cookie shaped like an airplane. I had a hand drip from El Salvador and Jake had a latte, both of which were quite good. If I liked Nagasaki more, I would have gotten a sticker or button too, but I’ll find those somewhere else.
On our way back we stopped for a quick look at the Memorial to the 26 Martyrs (name). The cathedral (church?) is reminiscent of Gaudi and kind of looks like a person putting their arms straight up in joy. We collected our stuff from the hostel and walked to the train station, just in time to avoid a downpour. We had some trouble locating where to buy an ekiben but found a free pork bun sample for our troubles. We finally found a pork ekiben that looked okay and a salmon onigiri (of course) and boarded the train with a few minutes to spare.
I was excited because the 885 model was supposed to have really nice seats, and the green car did have a nice interior, with leather seats and wood tables, but I found the seats to be a little sticky. Unfortunately, we were at the back of the train going this direction, so even though all the seats face forward (they turn the seats around instead of the train, how clever), we didn’t get to look out the front of the train. Going the other direction, the glass between us and the driver’s booth turns clear, affording a great view out of the front window (and of the driver!). I turned around a few times to look because it was still cool, but we didn’t get the full experience. It’s okay because it was pouring and hard to see too much anyway. Even out of the side windows our view was pretty obscured. The train has tilting capabilities, so it doesn’t have to slow down much if at all around bends. Most trains tilt a little, but this is a little more noticeable.
I ate my bento on the train. It was pork and rice with some mushrooms and seaweed and was just okay, but it was the best of the selection in Nagasaki. We switched trains at Shin-Tosu again, where I grabbed a couple of onigiri on the way to the Shinkansen. There are different levels of trains, with the Shinkansen (bullet trains) being the fastest and stopping at the fewest stations. Limited Express trains, which stop at more stations but are still express trains, are the next fastest designation. We rode a Kamome Limited Express to and from Nagasaki. We hopped on the Sakura Shinkansen when it pulled in at exactly 12:01. We’re going to ride the Sakura the next few trips, and we actually have the same assigned seats three times in a row. The ride was smoother than the LE, and we sped along to Hiroshima.
We arrived at Hiroshima Station and walked 10 minutes to Backpacker K’s House, where we had booked a private room. We dropped our stuff as it wasn’t check-in time yet (check-in is at 3pm or sometimes later here), and walked towards west the Peace Memorial Park.
We stopped at Obscura Coffee Roasters, which has an (arguably) awesome no children policy, for some caffeine. Supposedly the best coffee in the city, my iced coffee was only okay (I think it was a cold drip coffee again), but the place was cool and they roast their own beans. On the spectrum of iced coffee, cold drip is below cold brew but above hot coffee poured over ice. I’ll write more about this at some point, certainly.
As we walked through yet another covered mall area in a city, Jake made an interesting point about Japanese fashion kind of being slow and copying the West and being their idea of western clothing. Even formalwear, with all the men in dark suits (and mostly red and blue ties) and the women buttoned up. I think it’s a bit more forward in Tokyo from what we saw. It would be interesting to ask someone about it.
We walked to the Peace Memorial Museum in the Peace Memorial Park, in the center of Hiroshima. The museum was so crowded. So many school groups. They were well behaved but still created a lot of crowding and made it difficult to see the exhibits. The main building is also undergoing renovations, so the exhibition was compressed into a space clearly too tight for the amount of information the museum is attempting to impart. I found the Nagasaki space much more powerful and evocative, although the museum here might be more emotional when the main building is open and there are less school groups. Although it may just always be like this. I found the optimism about nuclear disarmament overblown here, but most of the information about the war and bombing and aftermath were laid out and discussed similarly to Nagasaki. Two hypocenters and two museums in two days was definitely a lot. Jake and I both expected this one to be more profound, to use his word. It just felt more like a regular museum, with artifacts and a curated exhibit. Not as visceral or evocative. Jake put it well: this felt weirdly idealistic, which didn’t fit that well.
It wasn’t raining so we left the crowds at the museum and walked up through the Peace Memorial Park, passing the Memorial Cenotaph and the Peace Flame. The Memorial Cenotaph is a monument built by Kenzō Tange and is the main monument in the park. The Peace Flame was lit in 1964 and will remain lit until the last nuclear weapon is destroyed. So, it will remain lit until the world goes up in flames, probably (Although I guess then it will technically still be lit). We also saw the Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the Bomb. 20,000 Koreans who were forced laborers died in the blast and were only recognized/memorialized officially in 1970. As we approached the Children’s Peace Monument (a young girl who died of radiation poisoning holding an origami crane), though, it started to torrentially downpour and we were instantly soaked. We sheltered under a tree by the Atomic Bomb Dome, which is this apocalyptic husk of a building with a ruined dome across the river. The building was destroyed by the bomb but the skeleton of the dome remained, as did some of the walls, and it has all been preserved.
When the rain died down, we walked up towards Hiroshima Castle to try to get there before it closed at 5, and we were caught in another quick downpour. We waited in a tunnel and then resumed our walk and made it to the castle. Hiroshima-jō was originally built in 1591; it way destroyed but not incinerated by the bomb and has been rebuilt. We entered and found the interior to be much taller and more spacious than it looks from outside. There were cool displays of traditional housing and arms and armor, and when we climbed all the stairs to the top, there was a small walkway all the way around with a panoramic view of the city. The skyline is super ugly, even for Japan, but there were some nice trees with very red leaves and it was nice to get a sense of the scale. We didn’t make it to Shukkei-en, “shrunk scenery garden,” a landscaped garden nearby, in time to enter, but maybe tomorrow or the next day.
We were hungry, as we hadn’t really eaten lunch apart from snacking on the train, so we walked from the castle to Okonomimura, which occupies three floors of a building in the city center and has over 20 okonomiyaki counters that I think rotate. We chose one pretty much at random after being rejected from a couple. The whole place was pretty empty except for a few people off work early and some hungry tourists like us, but a lot of the seats were reserved for later in the evening. Okonomiyaki means “cooked how you like,” roughly, and it’s a savory kind of pancake made with wheat batter, cabbage, pork, egg, noodles (usually soba but sometimes udon) and a special sauce and toppings. Sometimes other meat or seafood is added. The Hiroshima style layers the ingredients on the grill, with a fried egg to top it off and a lot of sauce (the Hiroshima style is the original) while the Osaka or Kansai style, found around other parts of Japan, is cooked more like a pancake. I am partial to Hiroshima okonomiyaki so far. The one we had, just the simplest version, was delicious. It’s also really fun to watch it being cooked and then eat it right off the grill, or teppan. The cook cuts it into pieces with a wide metal spatula and you are given a smaller metal spatula to serve yourself pieces from the grill and further cut it up, and then eat it. It’s very fun but also very heavy. Next time, I’m going to order yakisoba, which I think is essentially Okonomiyaki without the pancake part.
Full, we walked around the corner to Polar Bear Gelato, which was a cute local gelato place that had almost run out by the time we arrived. I like places that serve a finite amount each day. Jake got an enormous cone of pumpkin gelato (which had a very mild taste) and I opted out of the remaining green tea or milk flavors and just had some of the pumpkin. Some local older women came in after us and polished off a double scoop (think a truly massive double cone of soft serve, but gelato) in less time than it took us to comfortably finish one.
We wandered around the shopping district a little and looked for a beanie for Jake, and we also stopped at another nail salon that sounded promising in the hopes of a manicure. Once again, we were told that they only did gel, not manicures. How fucking hard is it to find a manicure here? I’m surprised and honestly annoyed that I haven’t been able to find one. Maybe the only real letdown thus far. I think I’ll probably just stop wasting my time looking, at least until I get to Kyoto or Tokyo.
We were hungry again so we walked a couple of blocks to Koba Izakaya, a metal-themed bar run by a guy from Kobe named Bom who spoke great English and talked to us for a while, as we were early and the only people there. He’s lived here for 21 years and had this bar since 2002. He went to New York in 1998 on his honeymoon and wants to go back, but he also wants to go to Boise, Idaho, because there is some company there that does a lot of business in Hiroshima and whose employees spend time drinking in his bar. Who knew!Up a set of stairs above a gallery, the bar is covered in metal memorabilia and notes from people visiting saying this is the best bar in japan. The food was delicious and best of all, we got some much needed vegetables. We had a delicious salad with spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and bacon that was so good we ordered another one at the end. We also had some cucumber with miso, a bite of which Jake dropped on me, but luckily the cucumber slid right off my pants and no harm was done. We had smoked yellowtail, which was a delicious smoked fish, much lighter and more flavorful than something like trout, which we normally eat smoked. Lastly, we saw a lot of references on the notes hanging above the bar to the chili carbonara, so we ordered it, and were rewarded with a flavorful, spicy and pretty light spaghetti carbonara. We thought above ordering the Wagyu steak but decided to hold off. I got to try a Japanese whisky; the one I had tasted a bit like a blended Scotch, but was interesting. I also had a shochu poured over hot water, which the guy next to me recommended. I didn’t love it but was happy to try.
We walked back to the hostel, stopping at Family Mart and 7 Eleven for some mints and dessert, and put laundry in. I was a little worried because I was instructed to pour the provided detergent directly onto my clothes, but it turned out okay. I honestly could go a while longer without doing laundry, thanks especially to my Unbound Merino v-necks, which I feel I could wear day after day, but I’m happy to do a load when I have the option. I’m hesitant about unfamiliar dryers so I hung most of my clothes in the room as best I could and laid my pants flat to dry. We have a tatami-style double, where we laid our own beds out, and a shared bathroom.