Completing the Circle: Hiroshima and Tokyo
We ended our visit to Japan by spending a day exploring history in Hiroshima before making a return to Tokyo to say goodbye. And while we were at it, we continued to stiff ourselves with as much Japanese cuisine and culture as we could get.
What We Did
Day 179 (1/17/17): Today we left the city of Kyoto bound for Hiroshima. We exited the train and found our apartment before heading out to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. We took our time, winding our way through the different memorials in the park, including the children’s memorial, the memorial cenotaph, and the peace flame. One of the most impressive and impactful parts of the park was the A-bomb dome, which is the skeletal ruins of the former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. It has been preserved in the original state it was left in after the bombing, and was one of the few structures in the area left standing after the explosion. After seeing the park, we went to lunch at a local restaurant specializing in okonomiyaki and teppanyaki. We stuffed our bellies and left our mark on the wall before heading back to the Peace Memorial Park to see the museum. We spent a couple hours making our way through the various exhibits on the explosion of the A-bomb before returning to the apartment. We spent the rest of the evening planning some of our future travel and playing euchre. We played eight games total (everyone was each other’s partner twice), and wouldn’t you know it, Adam won all eight of his games. It must have been the birthday magic. J
Day 180 (1/18/17): We packed up early and headed back to Tokyo. This time, we were staying in a hostel called Bedgasm a bit further outside the city center. We chose a hostel to give us an opportunity to meet other travelers on our way. We located it, dropped our bags off, and showered. Once we felt like humans again, we headed out to the Shibuya area again to explore some more of its many offerings. We started by going to one of Japan’s many basement “food courts” in the bottom of the Hikarie department store. We perused the many food display counters, selecting things to sample as part of our evening meal. After filling ourselves on the goodies at both the savory and sweet basement levels, we headed to the eleventh floor to get a good view of Shibuya all lit up at night. We could see Shibuya Crossing from up there and spent some time watching all the people milling around the streets and then swarming the road at the crossing like an army of ants. Our second stop was at Tower Records, a 10-story bright yellow music store selling everything from classic rock and oldies to K-pop. We found some new artists we liked by listening to the thousands of albums on each floor, sure to download their music when we got back to the hostel. Then, we wandered around the streets a bit taking in the crazy lights, getting a look at the “love hotels”, and just generally enjoying the chaos before we decided it was time for karaoke. We spent an hour and a half downing cocktails and belting out some classic American hits. After leaving the energy of the karaoke booth, we stumbled back onto the street, stopping to get the boys some late night drunk food at Taco Bell (go figure). We returned to our hostel and Katie, Justin, and I spent some time at the bar getting to know a few of our hostel mates and our hosts over a couple more cocktails.
Day 181 (1/19/17): Today we slept in a bit and spent some time in the morning lazing around the hostel. When we finally did get moving, we travelled back to Shibuya to enjoy our last sushi experience. We chose to dine at Genko Sushi, a restaurant very similar in concept and design to the Uobei. We were equally as satisfied with our meal and left feeling fat and happy. We stopped a clothing store called Uniqlo in Shibuya so Justin could check out some of their shirts (they had some VERY soft stuff). Then, Katie and Justin went home, while Adam and I continued on to the Toyota Mega Web Showroom. It was a massive two story, four building complex that was dedicated to all things Toyota. We spent several hours wandering through the showroom looking at their current vehicles, new technologies, concept cars, rally cars, and classic vehicle collections. They also had a lot of interactive activities such as virtual reality drives, road safety driving simulators, rally-driving games, vehicle test-drives, a moving theater show, and even a course for trying out their Winglets, which are Toyota’s version of the Segway. After we had absorbed as much as possible, we met back up with our fellow Nomads at the hostel and spent the rest of the evening relaxing.
What We Learned
- There maybe a little bit of copyright infringement going on in Hiroshima….. There is a professional baseball team in Hiroshima called the Toyo Carp, whose insignia bears a shocking resemblance to that of a certain rose-colored home-town team (see the pics to draw your own conclusions).
- When visiting Hiroshima, you simply must eat at a restaurant called Hassei. It specializes in okonomiyaki and teppanyaki cuisine and is AMAZING. It definitely has a hole-in-the-wall kind of feel, with the signatures of their many foreign and local patrons written on the wall. In fact, before you leave, they will even give you the marker you can use to immortalize yourself in this tiny spot in Hiroshima. On top of a terrific vibe, the place has incredible food. Adam and I ordered a scallion pancake with pork and cheese and the Hassei special with udon noodles. What we got was an unforgettable meal. Okonomiyaki is a savory Japanese pancake stuffed with a myriad of fillings including cabbage, pork, egg, noodles, cheese, scallion, fried batter, squid, and more. It is served on a hot iron cook-top set into your table and each guest is given a mini spatula with which to cut off little pieces for devouring. Both dishes had an incredible depth of flavor and is served with mayo, pickled ginger, and an okonomiyaki sauce, which tasted a bit like a mix between soy and barbeque. I am telling you…get some!
- Food courts are quite a crazy phenomenon here in Japan, and it is something you have to see to believe. Now, when I say food court, I am not talking about food courts you see in malls back home in the U.S. I am talking about entire floors in the basement of a department building where food is displayed for sale as if it was cosmetics or jewelry, complete with impeccably dressed attendants, free samples, and sparkling glass cases. We went to one in Shibuya that was divided into two floors; the lower level contained all the meats, fish, salads, and general savory meal-type options. The upper level focused on insane sweets, breads, cheese, and booze. Adam and I ended up getting five different grilled meat sticks, two eggrolls (I dropped the first one….whoops), two sushi rolls, tempura-fried shrimp, a half a bagel with cream cheese, and a chocolate quiche for our meal between the two floors. And that was in addition to the various samples we got walking around. It was something I enjoyed and have not seen anywhere else yet. However, when I was researching these food “departments”, I was under the impression that they were full of affordable options. And while the food there was definitely reasonably cheap for a meal, it was not as cheap if you were looking to mix and match between the various counters. I found this to be a bit disappointing because while I could get a good pre-made meal there for between 600 and 1000 yen, I would be stuck eating just that one item, rather than getting to try stuff from all over. We managed to find a couple of items that allowed this (such as the meat skewers, sushi rolls, and eggrolls which fell in the 150 to 300-yen range), but it was not very prevalent. Another thing that didn’t bother me, but you must keep in mind when visiting these places is that they are generally geared to be take-out food places, with a lack of seating to enjoy what you purchase on-site. You have been warned. All in all though, we found it to be a super interesting facet of Japanese culture that you must see.
- The Japanese LOVE karaoke, and for good reason. There are karaoke places all over Tokyo and we found them to be awesome places to visit for a night out with friends. There is nothing quite like belting out your favorite songs with amazing people. And a little liquid courage and an tricked-out microphone will have just about anyone on their feet singing a unique rendition of Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. There are several different chains and non-chain places to participate. Some of the most popular chains we saw were Big Echo, Karaoke-Kan, and Utahiroba (look for the pink smiley face with yellow hands), which we visited both times. The chains tend to be cheaper overall, but you get what you pay for as far as your booth. Some of the more expensive places have awesome decked-out booths and props and costumes you can utilize while you are singing the night away. They may also be a bit cleaner and devoid of cigarette smoke, but being on a budget, we were not going high class. We paid about $18-$20 per person for an hour and a half with unlimited alcoholic beverages, and it was worth every penny. And man, do they know their customer. You can pay for as much time as you want up front. Usually though, you will start with about an hour or half an hour even if you are just trying to get the experience. However, once the beverages start flowing and the songs keep coming, you will find it hard to stick to that original timeframe. Never fear, though, these places are counting on that and will call you when you are within 10 minutes of your end time to see if you really want to go home or if you want to add some more time to your tab (which may happen to you several times if you are like us). Once you really are finished, however, you just return to the front desk and pay for any over time you booked before going on your merry way.
- Our visit to the site of the atomic bomb explosion in Hiroshima was a spectacularly humbling moment. We visited all the memorials in the park as well as the museum. The museum was both interesting and horrifying, seeing the epic destructive powers of the bomb and the terrifying consequences its detonation had on the people of Hiroshima. People whose bodies and city were torn apart in a matter of seconds. Some of the pictures were too graphic to describe. However, what I was most impressed with was that the entire place never promoted or conveyed ill will towards the Americans or the allied forces, but simply worked on striving for peace in the area and peace for all humanity. This feeling was also reflected in the tranquility of the gardens and their memorials. It was a powerful message, and one that will be remembered.
- Karaoke was incredible. I had so much fun both times we went and am looking forward to doing as much of it as I can. Listening to Adam singing Johnny Cash, Katie singing Johnny B. Good, and Justin’s version Simon and Garfunkel, I was hooked. We also sung group versions of Friends in Low Places and our signature song, The Nights by Avicci before throwing in the towel.