Recently, a group of journalists from Malaysia were invited to travel around Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands. The trip also included a visit to Okayama and Hiroshima. Read the first part of the article here.
Our time in Shikoku, Japan was bookended by an overnight stay in Okayama and a six-hour dash through a few key attractions in Hiroshima. The visits to these two cities made up the Chugoku portion of our four-day media trip last December.
Considering that the region consists of five prefectures huddled in the westernmost portion of Honshu, Japan’s largest island, we barely scratched the surface. But it was enough to make it clear that Chugoku has much to offer if we care to look beyond the usual Honshu destinations such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
Okayama began as a castle town, and Okayama Castle continues to be one of the city centre’s most prominent features, but much of it, including the keep which was destroyed during World War II, were reconstructed about 50 years ago.
A replica lacks historical resonance, but the castle remains a handsome and imposing landmark. It is also known as Crow Castle because the outer walls of the keep are black.
The Asahi River separates the castle from another of the city’s top attractions – Korakuen, which has long been regarded as one of the country’s three great gardens. It is a mystery how this trio was picked, but the other two are in Mito and Kanazawa.
More than 300 years old, Korakuen was designed to delight the visitor as he strolls along its snaking path because there is something new to see at every turn. Unfortunately, we were there in winter, when the garden is not at its vibrant best.
A short train ride from Okayama city brought us to Kurashiki, whose prime draw is the Bikan Historical Area. Formerly a hub for the rice trade, the place has suffered little wartime damage and has kept many of its Old World characteristics, particularly the buildings. People come here for the ambience, the sights and shopping.
Two things stood out in our few hours in Hiroshima, and it was an odd pairing.
The first thing we did when we arrived in the city was to grab lunch and one of the must-eats, we were told, is okonomiyaki. Here is how the JNTO describes it: “Okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) is a dish made by mixing ingredients like finely sliced squid, shrimp, pork, beef and cabbage into a batter made from flour and grilling on a flat iron grill.”
Hiroshima takes pride in its version of okonomiyaki. It is claimed that the city has the most okonomiyaki restaurants in Japan. That is not difficult to swallow because we ate at Okonomimura, a building that had about 25 such eateries spread over three floors.
We next experienced a more sombre side of the city when visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the nearby A-bomb Dome. The museum’s displays are meant to convey the horrors caused by the atomic bomb that was dropped over Hiroshima in August 1945, while the dome is a grim reminder of the event.
A tourism leaflet calls Hiroshima a “city that prays for world peace”. Indeed, no other city has a more compelling reason for doing that.