Hiroshima prefecture — known for its iconic floating red torii gate and Atomic Bomb Dome — drew a record high of over two million foreign tourists in 2016.
And 27,244 of them were from Singapore, a four-fold increase from 2012.
This figure is set to grow further, with SilkAir’s launch of the first direct flights between Singapore and Hiroshima in October last year, says Mr Hidehiko Yuzaki, Governor of Hiroshima Prefecture.
The flights are scheduled thrice weekly, on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
This reflects a sea change in the attitude towards Hiroshima city where people used to believe not even plants would grow for 70 years after an atomic bomb explosion nearly wiped it out in 1945, during World War II.
“Following the war, Hiroshima was rebuilt through the efforts of local citizens and it has since continued to achieve a remarkably rapid rate of development,” says Mr Yuzaki.
Hiroshima prefecture is now home to 2.84 million people (as of 2015), making it the 12th most populous prefecture in Japan, with a Gross Prefectural Product of roughly 11 trillion yen (S$0.14 trillion).
It is also the birthplace of brands that have become household names in Singapore, such as $2 retail chain Daiso and car manufacturer Mazda.
Located in the southwestern part of Japan’s main Honshu Island, Hiroshima is well-connected to nearby prefectures by shinkansen (bullet train).
But unlike Tokyo and Osaka, Hiroshima prefecture still retains an abundance of nature such as the Seto Inland Sea and gently sloping Chugoku Mountains, as well as its own history, says Mr Yuzaki.
It is this diversity, coupled with the unwavering spirit of the Japanese people, which makes Hiroshima so alluring to visit.
“I believe that it is the perfect place for everybody to experience ‘Japan as it really is’,” he adds.
Get close to nature and tradition
One of the most scenic cycling roads in the world is Hiroshima’s Shimanami Kaido, a series of bridges that connects the Setouchi islands.
“The 70km-long cycling road allows you to cycle above the sea, making it a truly unique experience,” says Mr Yuzaki. Bicycles are easily available for rent, with convenient pick-up and drop-off points along the route.
Cycling enthusiasts can sign up for Cycling Shimanami 2018, which will be held on October 28. The event saw seven participants from Singapore when it was last held two years ago.
Those who love the sea can go kayaking, which is a fantastic way to visit the famous scarlet torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
In winter, skiing is a popular activity due to Hiroshima prefecture’s generous snowfall. There are 13 ski resorts in the prefecture alone that offer snow activities and ski courses for the whole family.
Another highlight is Kagura, a traditional show where performers in dragon and demon costumes dance to the beat of taiko drums and other instruments. Visitors are also welcome to don the elaborate costumes weighing a hefty 20kg for commemorative snapshots.
Catch a Kagura performance at the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum Auditorium at Basement 1 (admission costs 1,000 yen or about S$12.50). Visit www.hiroshima-kagura.com for a list of the upcoming shows.
Many foodies are drawn to Hiroshima for its oysters, as the prefecture boasts the highest domestic production volume of these briny and plump molluscs.
Oysters in all iterations are aplenty along Miyajima’s food street, but they are best enjoyed when grilled. Mr Yuzaki says that the locals grill the oysters in their shells to attain an intense flavour and a firm texture.
Visit Osakikamijima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea where oysters thrive in a nutrient-rich combination of spring water and seawater. These are best enjoyed raw, with a squeeze of fresh lemons from the island.
Another must-try is Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, a layered pancake with cabbage, bean sprouts, soba (buckwheat noodles), meat and egg, topped with sweet sauce. The okonomiyaki found in Singapore is Osaka-style, which means the ingredients are mixed in a batter instead.
Don’t miss shirunashi tantanmen, which is dry noodles spiced up with Japanese pepper and hot red pepper, along with other ingredients such as sweet minced meat and onsen egg. Before eating, mix the noodles with the moreish sauce at the bottom of the bowl.
Hiroshima prefecture is also one of Japan’s three major brewing regions and where the National Research Institute of Brewing — the country’s only institution for studying sake — is located. It also plays host to an annual Sake Festival in October, held in “sake district” Saijo.
Upcoming stellar events
Plan your trip to experience Hiroshima’s colourful events and festivals.
From May 3 to 5, the spectacular Hiroshima flower festival will feature a parade of cars adorned with beautiful blooms along Heiwa-odori Avenue in Hiroshima city. Browse various wares from vendors lining the street and be entertained by stage shows along the way.
Next, herald summer with Toukasan from the first Friday to Sunday of June to honour the god of Touka Daimyojin at Enryuji Temple in Mikawa-cho, Hiroshima city. Also known as the Yukata Festival, festivalgoers dress in their yukata (summer kimono) to patronise hundreds of snack and game stalls that pop up along Chuo Dori Avenue and watch the parade of bon-odori dancers.
In mid-August, the Miyajima Water Fireworks Festival promises a visually stunning spectacle. Of the 5,000 fireworks launched, about 200 are launched from the water, against the backdrop of the grand 800-year-old torii gate.
Be awed by extra-large fireworks that can be seen from nearby cities, as they whizz, twirl and swoop in the sky, raining down in multi-coloured hues or taking the form of popular characters.
Memories to take home
Rather than amass a generic collection of keychains and magnets, impress your travel companions with your knowledge of Hiroshima prefecture’s unique souvenirs.
Enjoy piping hot momiji manju (maple leaf-shaped castella cake filled with red bean) at Miyajima’s Omotesando Shopping Arcade, then buy packaged ones from the vendors to bring back home. The sweet treats are also available in chocolate and cheese flavours.
Browse quality souvenirs such as handcrafted brushes for painting, calligraphy and make-up in Kumano-cho, where artisans there craft about 80 per cent of Japan’s brushes made with animal hair.
You can also shop for wooden hand-carved shamoji rice paddles and elegant pottery in Miyajima.
Those headed to the quaint Onomichi city along the Seto Inland Sea can shop for fragrant citrus fruits, Onomichi-style packaged ramen, debera (dried halibut), sturdy hanpu (canvas) products, local sake and even eau de parfum jointly developed by Onomichi and Shiseido.
Visit www.ononavi.com/souvenir_shop for a listing of Onomichi’s shops.
QUICK TRAVEL TIP
Getting around Hiroshima prefecture is easy with the Visit Hiroshima Tourist Pass. This round-trip pass enables visitors to ride the bus on major and express routes in Hiroshima prefecture, the Hiroshima Electric Railway Streetcar (all lines) and the ferry (Miyajima sea lane).
Each pass is available for three or five days, from 1,000 yen (about S$12.50). Visit www.hiroden.co.jp/en/e-vhtp.html for details and to purchase.
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