Getting To Know Hiroshima-ken

Warning: After reading this article you may be so overwhelmed by the amount of awesome in Hiroshima prefecture that you’ll never want to leave. So, if you’re hoping to travel outside Japan, or even to other areas of Japan, we  recommend reading this article after you’ve already taken those trips.

In order for new (and current) JETs to learn more about some of the major areas in Hiroshima-ken, the Block Leaders have generously compiled information about their areas, from popular events and local cuisine to sports teams and must-see places. Enjoy the tour!

Fukuyama:
written by Anne Awaya

Many can easily vouch for Fukuyama as a flourishing town. The bullet train from Tokyo stops in Fukuyama and the city boasts of entertainment complexes like Round 1 and Korona World. One can go bar-hopping through a variety of venues: dart bars, dance clubs, and izakayas. There is also a growing diversity of people in the foreign community. Beyond the city aspect, Fukuyama is full of peaceful small-town type retreats, traditional festivals, and local culture.

Claim to fame

Locals of Fukuyama are enamored with Tomo-no-ura, the “tide-waiting port town.” About a thirty minute ride from Fukuyama Station, Tomonoura is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. It is the setting of the famous Studio Ghibli film “Ponyo on the Cliff,” as well as a stopping point for the historical samurai figure, Sakamoto Ryoma. He ,led the overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate and helped to nationally unify Japan in the movement towards the Meiji Restoration by recognizing the need to identify Japan in an international context. Sakamoto negotiated compensation for shipwrecks in one of Tomonoura’s buildings.

Tomonoura has maintained its old ambience as a small fishing village and still has many charming Edo era houses. It hosts several festivals per year, including the Doll Festival in March, the Fireworks Festival in May, and the Fire Festival in July. There is a little island called Sensuijima that offers camping and a beach within a ten minute ferry ride of the town. Tomonoura also offers a hot spring, where people waited for the tide to turn in the old days. The hot spring is popular for its healing effects on cold sensitivity and other symptoms.

Main Event: Fukuyama Rose Festival

Fukuyama is the city of roses, which is celebrated every year at the Fukuyama Rose Festival on the second Saturday and Sunday of May. Each year more than 800,000 people attend this festival. 500,000 roses are displayed as a symbol of peace in commemoration of the Fukuyama bombings that occurred during World War II. Dozens of vendors and volunteer groups sell Hiroshima specialty products, handicrafts, rose goods, and festival foods. Events include a cut rose contest, parades, flower arrangement, a public rose wedding, and a rose concert put on by a semi-celebrity. There are also shows put on by local dance, martial arts, and choir groups.

JET Community

The Fukuyama JET community includes 17 municipal JETs (Fukuyama Board of Education,) four high school JETs, and five JETs in the Fuchu area. Informally, we like to gather at the park by the Fukuyama Art Museum on Sundays to play ultimate Frisbee or other recreational sports with mutual friends and locals.

The annual (or bi-annual) Fukuyama Film Festival is put on by the wider JET community, which includes the surrounding areas of Okayama prefecture, Onomichi, Mihara, and other Hiroshima prefectural areas. Each contestant submits a short film, to be entered in a contest that requires three elements: a specified prop, line, and setting. These requirements can lead to either horrific or hilarious results!

Local Culture

The NHK Center near Fukuyama City Hall offers a variety of classes including, but not limited to, martial arts like aikido, musical instruments like taiko and shinobue (traditional Japanese bamboo flute), and Japanese arts like tanka, haiku and shodo. There are also many non-Japanese dance, art, music, and other performing arts classes offered. In order to take a class you typically pay a fee for a 3-month period and a membership fee to the NHK center.

There is a Japanese class offered on Saturday nights in Fukuyama and another Japanese class offered in Onomichi on Tuesday nights. Please refer to the Globe newsletter on the first level of Fukuyama City Hall at the Citizens Consultation Division for more detailed information. The Citizens Consultation Division also has a wonderful CIR (Coordinator for International Relations), Nicole Shida, who can set you up with a FREE, private Japanese tutor. Since these tutors are volunteers, sometimes they desire an exchange of English lessons for Japanese lessons. You should establish this from the first meeting. Whether they are training you for the next Japanese language proficiency exam or simply a conversational partner, remember that they are a source of valuable insight into the world of Japanese society.

Hiroshima City:
written by Matt Nelson

This region ranges from the always busy Hiroshima city center to the small industry and farming heartland in the north and northwest (known as the Geihoku and Bihoku regions) to the mountainous regions in the west bordering Shimane and Yamaguchi prefectures.

An excellent starting point for exploring Hiroshima City is Gethiroshima.com. Some of the bigger tourist destinations include the Atomic Bomb Dome and Peace Memorial Park, and Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima. Other famous and not-so-famous attractions are Shukkeien Garden, the professional sports games (baseball, football, handball, and volleyball, among others), and Mitaki Temple.

For entertainment, there are art museums, classical music concerts and theatre, and smaller movie theatres playing independent films. Shopping needs are easily met at Aeon Mall (aka Soleil/Diamond City), which has several floors of excellent shops, nice food, and perhaps the best large movie theatre in the region. In addition to these, there’s the Nagarekawa area, which is the main entertainment district for adult fun.  For more rural adventures, walk around Miyajima or take a ferry to Etajima and go in any direction to find a quiet beach.

For food, momiji manju is infamous, but for a real treat go to Miyajima on Omotesando (the main arcade) and find the place that makes age-momiji (deep fried momiji manju) for the ultimate sin. There are many good ramen shops and a few excellent ones, but if you’re looking for a more local flavor you can try Hiroshima-style tsukemen (noodles that you dip into a sauce). Oysters are seasonal, so get them while they’re fresh (and fresh scallops are never a bad choice.)  If you fancy some food from home, there is probably a Western-style restaurant or bar nearby that can make something close to what you crave.

There is a substantial expat community of professionals, other English teachers, and Japanese who have lived abroad, so you can always meet someone interesting. Language partners and classes are easy to find and range from professional Japanese teachers to private exchanges. Use GetHiroshima.com or go to the Hiroshima International Center for more info.

Recommendation 1: Take the escalators up Mount Hijiyama (south of Hiroshima Station) and see the city from above. At the top are the Modern Art Museum and the Manga Library.  After you descend, you can hop over to the mall for the latest movies at the Warner-Mycal Theater.

Recommendation 2: Tokasan and the bigger fireworks festivals at Ujina and Miyajima are good times to get out and be seen in your yukata while munching greasy food and drinking something cold. Plan ahead because the heavy crowds can lead to slow commute times.

Geihoku and Bihoku are vast areas and mostly very rural. Communities tend to be isolated because the region is mountainous. A lot of the produce, rice, and dairy products you eat might come from these regions. Local flavors include yuzu (a citrus fruit), vegetables, and flowers. Lesser-known things to try are Koda beef (mostly in the small town of Koda) and fresh yamame (small river trout). More rural and natural than the coastal areas of Hiroshima, a trip through these areas via train, car, or bicycle can be very beautiful.

This area is perhaps best known for kagura, a type of storytelling performed through dance. Many of the small towns and villages in this area have local troops that have been carried on for generations and compete nationwide.

Other attractions include going for long rides through the windy mountain roads, hiking, and camping. In winter, skiing, snowboarding, the Yuki Gassen (snowball fight competition), and onsen are all big draws. This area is often overlooked during hanami season in the spring, but is a great place to go and see momiji in the fall.

Some communities often have Japanese classes available for free through the local government or community centers. Additionally, language partners here may not only teach you Japanese, but give you fresh produce and try to teach you an interesting hobby like flower arrangement, kimono-wearing, or music.

Recommendation 1: Kagura Monzentoujimura in Midori has an excellent three-story onsen with rotenburo (outdoor bath), several excellent dining choices, traditional gift shops, and a nice ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). This area is also home to the Kagura Dome, where kagura performances are frequently held in summer, sometimes for free.  The whole complex sits on one small street and is modeled after a 1950s Japanese neighborhood.

Recommendation 2: If you’re looking for a little nature, you can head out to Sandankyo, a long river gorge with crystal clear waters, wooden bridges, high bluffs, and mountains on all sides. It can be hiked in one day, but there’s also the more leisurely option of camping. Look for off-path trails for more serious hiking and to avoid crowds, especially during the hanami and momiji seasons. There are places to eat at the entrance, and a shack half way up the trail that has some food and beverages, but you can also bring your own picnic lunch. Make sure to check the bus schedule when you go to avoid being stranded.

Kure:
written by Rob Bailey

Claim to Fame:

Kure is a ship building city south of Hiroshima City and birth place of the Yamato battleship, one of the biggest battleships ever built. The ship was built during WWII, when Kure was home to one of the most important naval bases in Japan. The ship was sunk in 1945, but there is a museum in Kure dedicated to it, which contains a large, scale replica of the ship, as well as many artifacts recovered from the wreck. The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force also maintains a base here, and it’s not uncommon to see members of this force out on weekends in their uniforms.

Kure is also considered to be the birthplace of a food called niku-jyaga, a dish consisting of boiled potatoes, meat, carrots, onions, and konyakku.

Main Event:

The Kameyama Shrine Festival in early October is one of the biggest events in Kure. Men and women carry portable shrines around the city, while men dressed as demons walk around scaring young children (supposedly, the children who cry will grow up to be strong and healthy.) There’s also a “battle” in front of the shrine, where men try to enter the main shrine with a portable shrine while the demons try to keep them out. It’s fun to watch, but they take the fight pretty seriously so be careful to stay out of their way!

Other popular events in Kure include the Summer Fireworks Festival, the Food Festival, and a Thanksgiving Party held by local JETs in November.

Jet Community:

Kure is home to 13 JETs and numerous other private company ALTs from all over the world. With a strong social community beyond JET that includes many other foreign workers as well as Japanese locals, Kure is one of the most socially active places in Hiroshima-ken. We also have a co-ed touch rugby team called the Kure Ship-Heads, which is made up of ALTs as well as local Japanese. Practice is on Thursday nights and the team also competes in some tournaments with other local teams throughout the year.

Local Culture:

Kure offers its visitors beaches, hiking, beer gardens, restaurants, and nightlife to suit many tastes. Free Japanese classes and language partners can be arranged by the local International Center. Taiko drumming, hip-hop dancing,  and cooking classes are also available around the city. Outside central Kure, residents have the opportunity to take lessons in tea ceremony, flower arrangement, or the musical instruments koto and shamisen.

Visitors to Kure can take free English tours with a group of volunteers called “Let’s Enjoy Kure.” To join a tour, simply contact Ms. Reiko Inaba at lets [dot] enjoy [dot] kure [at] gmail [dot] com. Kure also has easy access via ferry to Ehime prefecture (Shikoku) and its famous capital city Matsuyama, which is ideal for a weekend away. Visit our facebook group page and join us for some good times: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=134712666305

Onomichi:
written by Dave Maat

Onomichi is located in the east of Hiroshima Prefecture overlooking the Inland Sea. Nicknamed “Japan’s hometown”, Onomichi is not well known amongst foreign visitors, but is very famous with Japanese tourists due to its picturesque views, the sakura in Senkouji Park, its many temples, and Onomichi ramen. Onomichi is also a popular destination for film buffs because the town was featured in Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story,” as well as three films by local filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi.

Claim to Fame:

Onomichi’s biggest claim to fame is its ramen. Onomichi ramen is characterized by its soy bean-based broth with a hint of fish paste, pork, bits of fat, and flat noodles. By no means is it healthy for you, but it makes for a very satisfying and filling meal. Ramen shops can be found all over town. To find one, simply look for the long lines of people stretching down the sidewalks at lunch time.

Main Event:

A must-do for visitors to Onomichi is the famous Temple Walk. This tour around the center of town covers 25 of Onomichi’s temples, including Saikokuji, with its enormous straw sandals hanging from the gate, and Jodoji, which is believed to have been founded 1400 years ago. This tour takes the better part of a day and is an excellent way to soak up the town’s atmosphere.

Onomichi has many festivals throughout the year, but perhaps the most enjoyable one is the Betcha Matsuri in November. Demons chase children and festival-goers, trying to hit them with special bamboo sticks. People hit by the demons are said to enjoy good health and to become smarter. Many parents offer their terrified, crying children to the demons so they can receive this boon.

Local Culture:

Due to its small size Onomichi does not possess the nightlife one would find in Hiroshima. That being said there are a surprising number of restaurants and izakaya open late in Onomichi. The town also has a rather strong bohemian feel to it and has some unique and eclectic establishments. One place to definitely check out is Chaida in the first section of the covered shopping arcade. The owners both speak English and serve up several varieties of chai at their shop, including chaida; a chai soda drink of their own invention. They can also offer all kinds of information on things to see and do in town.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.