Hiroshima & Shikoku | Reflections

It’s pretty wild that we recently spent a few days of a road trip in Hiroshima. Knowing what transpired there less than 80 years ago, the progress that has been made in mending relations with the USA, and rebuilding the city itself is simply amazing – and yields some glimmer of hope for the future. The modern urban core of Hiroshima is now full of hip restaurants, sports arenas, and even boasts an impressive Science Center for kiddos. We actually had some of the best food of our month in Japan at one of Hiroshima’s omnipresent seafood bars, where an oyster cream scallop soup and raw half-shells would have made the trip worthwhile on their own. Andy also fell in love with the daughter of a tasty local hotdog vendor here, whom we spent the better part of a day hanging out with since they were so adorable together.

Before we made the obligatory visit to Hiroshima’s A-Bomb memorials, we sat Andy down for a little history session to prepare him for what he was likely to see. We were incredibly impressed with his ability to comprehend the gist of it all – that was a pretty heavy topic to explain to a 5-year-old. He proceeded to tell random people “wars are bad”, “bombs are no good”, and “I’m glad Texas and Japan are friends again” – giving both Japanese and American tourists alike an excuse to smile at cuteness for a second during an otherwise somber experience. Seeing the Atomic Bomb Dome firsthand was powerful, to say the least. Perfectly preserved since December 6, 1945, it was among the few building to survive the blast – only because it was directly beneath the detonation and its vertical walls were thus not exposed to lateral shockwaves. Multiple museums nearby tell the story well (often in graphic detail) and really help to understand one of the most pivotal events in history.

Hiroshima’s parks provide ample opportunity for reflection on the city’s tragic history and rebirth, with a stroll along Hiroshima Castle’s moats being among our faves. Near one of the castle’s gates stands a eucalyptus tree that miraculously survived the bomb. There’s also a top-notch Japanese garden at Shukkeien nearby, that even had a few cherry blossoms in bloom when we went.

From Hiroshima, we drove south towards the wilderness of Shikoku for a change of pace. What does Shikoku have to do with Hiroshima? As one of the least visited parts of Japan, Shikoku island offers even more opportunity to reflect in nature – and Hiroshima is one of the closest big cities from which to access it. As soon as you cross the massive bridges from Honshu (the main island of Japan) through Setonaikai National Park, most roads quickly turn into winding mountain paths. These routes are often closed for repairs (something we learned the hard way) and are barely wide enough for a single vehicle- which made for some pretty interesting maneuvering when drivers approached from the other way!

To experience traditional life on Shikoku, we rented a beautifully restored Akiya home on Airbnb. These abandoned rural homes (akiya) have made headlines in recent years, as Japan’s demographic crisis worsens and foreigners look for bargains among the millions of listings. The one we stayed at had those cool paper walls that immediately reminded us of Mr. Miagi’s house from Karate Kid. Sadly, they were no match for our preschooler- who managed to punch a couple of holes in them for us to patch up. The house also had something called a “kotatsu”, which is basically a heated table with a blanket around it to trap the warmth. While cozy for sure, such a thing wouldn’t be necessary if walls in rural Japan weren’t literally paper thin – Reddit has a thread on this that had us rolling on the floor laughing.

Our home base here was a mere stone’s throw from the clear waters of the Shimanto River, which is famous in Japan for it’s submersible bridges. It was still too chilly outside for kayaking but walking along the river’s steep gorges never got old. There’s a really cool 2-ish hour loop drive down there too, where we were became oddly addicted to roadside sweet potato shops. It sounds weird, but having a piping hot purple sweet potato on a chilly morning drive just really worked! Stargazing every night by the campfire with hot chocolate and a surprisingly good local whiskey, far from city lights, was an added bonus (as were the oversized coats in our Airbnb closet!).

For the last few days of our Japanese road trip, we headed way up into the mountains to a tiny little village called Otoyo. The setting for most homes here along the river’s cliffs was simply stunning, and we’re really hoping to get back here in warmer weather to kayak someday (apparently people go toobing here too!)

From our base in Otoyo, we drove to the end of the road at Nagoro Scarecrow Village- another reminder of Japan’s rural population decline. One of the few remaining residents (who we actually got to meet!) was so depressed by how lonely things had become in the village that she made hundreds of life-like scarecrows to occupy places that previously had people at them. They can be found packed into an old schoolhouse, waiting at former bus stops, planting rice in the fields, and even fishing in the river! A very surreal (and sad) experience.

The other major drawcard in this area are the “vine bridges”, which are shockingly open to the public. These tangles of vine span raging rivers from 50+ feet above them with huge gaps down to the rapids below – easily big enough for a kid to slip through. Andy wasn’t phased by it, but I had enough fear for both of us crossing over. Thankfully there was a bit of light-hearted humor nearby in the form of a statue of a small boy peeing in the river (which apparently local kids were known to do there previously). A fitting tribute to our little boy, who turned 5 years old that day and could hardly wait to see what surprises we had planned for him upon arrival in Osaka!

Dig these photos? Check out Tara’s work here!


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