From Okayama’s gardens to Hiroshima’s Okonomiyaki-pancakes

Our plans were to go straight to Hiroshima. However, we were in the middle of the Golden Week, the only time of the year when Japanese get 3 days of vacation within a week, so everyone is traveling. For the first time, the internet told us “no accommodation available”, and we’re talking about a million-big city! We just managed to find two free dorm beds halfway to Hiroshima, in the town of Okayama. We decided to go and see what would happen next.

Turns out Okayama is famous for two things: peaches and it’s Korakuen garden, known as one of Japan’s three most beautiful gardens. After visiting Kanazawa’s garden, there’s just one to go and we’ll be officially “Japanese gardens aficionados”! The garden itself is beautiful and offers views on Okayama’s beautiful castle. We were also lucky to be there for the evening light-up! Other coincidence, we stumbled upon a curry festival with good food and live music 🙂

We used up our luck quota even more because a couchsurfer to whom Rebekka had written back in January, before we had even left for our trip, sent us a message saying that we could stay at her place in Hiroshima! We hopped on the train, got to Hiroshima, and took a cute old tram to the end of town to get to our host’s place. Turns out it is was a family-run ramen restaurant (with only one single dish: tonkotsu ramen)! And even one of Hiroshima’s most famous, as a random guy in the tram told us when he thought we were lost. Grandma, sister, uncle, cousin and brother, all spend part of the day behind the counter, from early morning to midnight! It was such a funny and cool experience to share a bit of their everyday life, and to eat their really delicious ramen… Twice.

Hiroshima is sadly infamous for other, obvious, reasons. We took a whole afternoon to visit the Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum. In the park, several monuments reminded us of the number of people that died here within a few seconds, almost 75 years ago. The Genbaku – atomic – dome stands, surrounded by colorful flowers, witness to the destructive power of one single bomb. Thinking what one bomb could do with today’s technology made us shiver… The park in itself is beautiful, but it is hard to be joyful in such a place. Still, a Hawaïan dance festival on the outskirts of the park made us snap back to reality and realise that life goes on.
The Peace Memorial Museum was another emotional place. The first part is mainly instructive, exposing facts, numbers, and explanations regarding the USA’s decision to use the bomb as well as the history of atomic weapons up to this day. The other part was very different, this time with testimonies of Hiroshima survivors or mothers that held their dying kids in their hands, coupled with pieces of burnt clothes kept by the families.

On our second day in Hiroshima, we took the ferry to Miyajima, a tiny island that hosts an old temple as well as one of Japan’s most photogenic spots: the floating torii. We swam through the crowds and grabbed one of Miyajima’s typical snacks, Momiji Manju (maple-shaped cakes stuffed with red bean paste or matcha, etc.), before heading for the hills. We passed some phlegmatic deers and climbed to the top of Miyajima. On the way, we had a cute bento box for lunch that our lovely host’s sister had prepared for us and were soon rewarded by beautiful views over the bay of Hiroshima.

We shall not forget to specify that while in Hiroshima, we had some Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima’s pride (and half of its restaurants). The specialty here is to mix the usual cabbage-based pancake with a portion of noodles and pile it all up! Looks messy, but it’s damn tasty!

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