Visiting Hiroshima was one of my favorite parts of our trip to Japan. We spent two nights at the Hiroshima Washington Hotel which was in an excellent location. We were right by a huge mall with multiple arcades and a great gluten free restaurant. We were also within walking distance of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. We also were reasonably close to the train station (though not everyone might want to do the walk while dragging suitcases).
We arrived in Hiroshima around lunch time and walked from the train station to our hotel. After checking in, we set off to explore the museum and the various memorials surrounding the museum.
We started by heading towards the Atomic Bomb Dome. This building was located almost right at the hypocenter of the atomic bomb and has been preserved in the state the bomb left it. I could tell as soon as we got to the dome that this was going to be an emotional few hours. A tip if you plan to visit Hiroshima’s war memorials: bring tissues.
As our walk towards the museum continued we saw the Peace Bell, the Children’s Peace Monument, the Flame of Peace, and the Cenotaph for Atomic Bomb Victims. The Children’s Peace Monument is filled with colorful origami cranes and in the museum we were given postcards made from these cranes. Another tip: When you get to the Cenotaph, make sure you look through it towards the dome. You get a pretty cool view of the Flame of Peace and the Atomic Bomb Dome.
We made it to the museum and headed towards the first display. Initially you are greeted by a huge picture running along the wall of Hiroshima before the atomic bombing. Then you enter the next room with a similar image of the same location, but the city has been demolished. I won’t go into too much detail of all the exhibits as it is best experienced for yourself. We didn’t take any pictures inside the museum as it honestly felt a little weird to whip out a camera at such a somber place. That being said, it seemed you were allowed to take pictures in most places. We ended in an exhibit that showed diaries, clothing, and various items belonging to both survivors and those who were killed in the bombing. This is where my first tip comes in especially handy – bring tissues.
I have to say, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum does a fantastic job of being unbiased and showing how every side made mistakes during the war. The ultimate message that comes across is nuclear disarmament, not finger pointing. It was very educational and I would absolutely recommend it. I think it might be a bit hard for kids as it’s a lot of reading, but there are lots of pictures to look at so I think it would depend on the kid.
I would suggest having at least 3-4 hours to explore the museum and the surrounding area. Although, it ultimately depends on what type of museum goer you are. If you want to read literally every single thing the museum has on file, you will need a lot longer. If you are a super quick skim reader and don’t care to watch any videos or spend time looking at pictures, you probably wouldn’t need the 3-4 hours I suggest.
After our trip to the museum, we had dinner at Art Café ELK – a delicious gluten free spot with great people watching views. I will review this restaurant in a separate blog post though so stay tuned! Ried and I spent the rest of the evening walking around and exploring. The mall that Art Café ELK is in has lots of fun stores to window shop at (anime, clothing, etc.) and, after our trip to the museum, I was mentally and emotionally exhausted and needed to just walk around aimlessly for a while to process everything.
The next day we headed to Miyajima which I will not discuss here as it totally deserves its own post (definitely my favorite day of our whole vacation!). After catching the ferry back to Hiroshima that evening we ate at a fun restaurant called Hope Café. We wanted to try Okonomiyaki (kind of like a big savory pancake) and Hope Café had it! The restaurant is located on the 6th floor of a building right by the train station. It was a bit tricky to find but once you get off the elevator on the sixth floor, turn left and you’ll see the sign “Hope”.
At Hope restaurant you sit around a big grill and the chef makes your okonomiyaki for you. I explained to him (with some difficulty due to my lack of Japanese) about my gluten allergy and he brought out a bag of flour to clarify that that was what I could not have. I enthusiastically nodded and he proceeded to make me an omelet based version (Ried had a regular one) on a separate piece of foil on the grill (he used the same utensil to cook all of the okonomiyaki though). He did add a sauce on top which I believe was the “dashi” sauce. This is not supposed to be gluten free but I didn’t have the language abilities to ask for it without in time. I decided to eat it anyways because I wanted to try this local food! We both really enjoyed our meals and I didn’t even get sick the next day! Whether that was because the sauce wasn’t what I thought it was or God answered my quiet plea for no gastrointestinal issues, we’ll never know.
The environment at Hope café is super fun. It is in a building filled with tons of other similar restaurants that are all open to a main hallway (sort of picture an indoor alleyway). The Hiroshima baseball team (the Carps) were playing that night so the game was being broadcast on the TV and there were a bunch of local businessmen eating at the restaurant who were getting pretty into the game (and pretty drunk). The chef and all the restaurant goers were cheering loudly when the Carps won and the businessmen were friendly and laughed with us on our way out. We also signed our names on the wall of the restaurant which is filled with names of people from all over the world. As we left the restaurant, there were masses of people coming and going from the train station since the baseball game had just ended. We were surrounded by Carps jerseys and excited fans. We couldn’t help but also get excited that this baseball team we had never heard of before tonight won! We made our way back to some of the arcades in the mall by the hotel and finished our last night in Hiroshima off with some Mario Kart.
The next morning we had some time to kill and headed to Hiroshima Castle. It’s a beautiful building but doesn’t take very long to walk through. The grounds surrounding the castle are nice to walk around but I wouldn’t suggest going out of your way for this. If you have some extra time and aren’t sure how to spend it, head to Hiroshima Castle. Otherwise, don’t worry, this is a castle you can miss.
I honestly cannot say enough about how much I loved this part of the trip. Hiroshima is a great city with fun people and lots to do. I highly suggest making this a stop on your next trip to Japan!
Note from Ried: Hope café was not our first choice for gluten free okonomiyaki. We were told about a place called 仔ぐま that is better known for being gluten free. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed with no explanation when we arrived. We were unsure if we were just too late, or if they were closed for other reasons but this place was highly recommended so consider checking it out.