Welcome to my new favourite place in Japan. Earlier this year Pedey and I spent an unforgettable week in Hiroshima. The weird thing was, we’d actually visited here before on our first trip to Japan back in 2011, and we didn’t really think much of it. Aside from visiting the A-bomb Dome, Peace Park and Museum, we just weren’t really sure what else to do. To be fair, we only had 24 hours then, so it was all a bit rushed. Fast-forward half a decade and we decided to give Hiroshima another go, and I’m so glad we did, because it was amazing!
I think the thing is, to fall in love with a place the conditions have to be right. Starting with where you stay. After a bit of searching on Airbnb I found the perfect spot; it was less than a kilometre from the main station and up a ridiculously steep hill (which we had to walk up, by the way!) but it overlooked the whole city including the surrounding islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Check out that view from the balcony!
Next up, to have the very best possible experience in a place you need the right people to show you around. Enter Bad Quality & co. Our friends Shuichi Nakagawa, Hirokazu Sato and Takuto Urushidani from the well-known Hiroshima car crew had arranged to meet up with us and show us around! Little did we know they’d actually arranged a full three days of awesome activities for us, starting with a very Bad Quality-style Hiroshima initiation involving this ridiculous 180SX.
Here Nakagawa-san (you might recognise his car) is throwing some stuff in the back to make room for us. He thought it would be a funny idea to pick us up in this, but I don’t think he realised just how low the car was going to ride with four people in it!
The driver, Hiroki, has just turned 20-years old and is one of the newer/junior members of Bad Quality. He kept laughing and apologising profusely as we banged and scraped our way through the city with sparks flying and other cars tooting at us. I’ve been in some low cars in my time but nothing like this!
Our first stop was SHOW Up Shift, which is the workshop in Hiroshima to come to if you’ve got a vision for a crazy modified car project. This extreme wide-bodied 350Z build was having the final touches put on it before the upcoming Wekfest Japan show!
Not pictured in the far corner is Nakagawa’s famous 180SX, which I didn’t take any pictures of as it was completely stripped out, including the engine. Nakagawa assured us that he hasn’t abandoned his beloved 180 just yet; instead he’s got a pretty wild new vision for what he wants to do with it, but he’s just waiting for the right time to put those plans into motion. At the moment he’s got enough on his plate with his current Porsche 997 project which you can check out here.
(It’s also worth noting that this photo was actually taken on a different day, hence the different clothes! We came here quite a few times but this was the only shot I actually took of the outside of the shop.)
While Hiroshima has plenty of cool cars to admire if you know where to find them, it’s also home to many famous attractions and some delicious local delicacies, and it’s absolutely customary to see/eat them all when you come here! So seeing as we hadn’t been to Miyajima Island before, Nakagawa and Sato-san decided to accompany us over there. Before we hopped on the ferry though, they told us we had to try some anago, also known as salt-water eel, so we came to this restaurant. I liked how the dish was served in these cool pots with wooden lids. Anago is really similar to unagi (fresh-water eel) – so fresh and delicious!
The boat ride only took about 20 minutes, and the views were stunning. I didn’t realise how mountainous and tropical Miyajima was! Only a small portion of the island is populated because of this, and around 2,000 people live here.
Miyajima is famous for being home to the Itsukushima Shrine, which has a large floating torii gate that you can walk out to at low tide. This is rated as being one of the ‘top 3 most beautiful sights’ in all of Japan, known as ‘Nihon sankei’.
Like Nara Park in Kansai, Miyajima is also home to many wild deer which just hang out lazily around the island. They’re so used to people (and being fed!) that they come right up to you and have zero problems with you giving them a nice pat. How cool!
The weather was definitely on our side during our Hiroshima visit; another thing that made it so perfect. It was particularly warm on this day, and the golden sand and clear water looked so inviting. I had to resist the temptation of taking off my shoes and socks and running down the beach!
The present shrine buildings date from the mid-16th century, but the original shrine was first built here around the 6th century. The whole complex is built over the water, and has an incredibly peaceful vibe to it. There weren’t many people there at all; one of the advantages to not visiting on the weekend.
For a coin donation you get to shake a large box and then pull a number out of it, which then relates to another bit of paper which tells your fortune. It’s called an ‘o-mikuji’. Nakagawa laughed and said “it says you will have a happy marriage!” Pheww, that’s lucky.
We spent a couple of hours exploring Miyajima, opting to skip the touristy souvenir shops and instead stop for some tea and Momijimanju – small maple leaf-shaped cakes with traditional sweet red bean paste filling. Yum!
After catching the ferry back from the island, our friend Urushidani picked us up in his extremely awesome and not to mention GINORMOUS bagged Toyota Hiace van and we headed back to central Hiroshima. We did a quick tour of Hiroshima Castle (which was poorly documented by my SLR as you’re not supposed to take photos inside) and then we went searching for some Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki!
I want this van so bad.
For dinner we decided to hit up Okonomi-mura, which is like a massive building filled with heaps of different okonomiyaki restaurants on different levels. I’d heard about this place being a bit of a tourist trap but it didn’t really have that vibe at all, it was actually really awesome!
Later on we actually went to a more local family-owned okonomiyaki place and it was even more delicious. It’s crazy how they eat it straight off the spatula from the hot plate – I couldn’t do this as it burnt my mouth! Basically we just ate okonomiyaki non-stop the whole time we were in Hiroshima.
A serious and not-even-kidding PRO TIP for dining with locals in Japan: Don’t eat too much at dinner. This has happened to me way too many times and I never learn my lesson. The reason for this is that ‘after’ dinner, it’s really common to go and eat more food. A classic example of this: we ended up going out for tsukemen straight after okonomiyaki. Seriously, Japanese peoples’ stomachs know NO bounds!
Stay tuned for Part 2 which features a cool night meet, a visit to Mikami Auto and AIMGAIN in Higashihiroshima plus a bit of gambling and an incredible secret oyster shack!
Update: Click here to read Part 2!