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Hiroshima Airport Vicinity in Springtime: An As-soar-tment of Fun Sites

I’ve taken the Airport Limousine Bus from Hiroshima City to Hiroshima Airport (HIJ) several times with absolutely no plans to fly, but that’s because the vicinity of the airport has so many charming sites that it warrants the occasional day trip. Outside of HIJ itself, there’s Sankeien, a landscape garden much like Hiroshima’s Shukkeien, Hiroshima Airport Hotel, the only accommodation adjacent to HIJ with cloud nine-level dining options, Hattendo Village, a hilltop park with a bakery where visitors can try making their own baked goods, and Hiroshima Prefectural Chuo Shinrin Park, which has some vantage points from which tourists have front-row seats to planes on the runway. As April marks the start of a new year in Japan and the pinnacle of spring, I knew there would be no better period to drop by three of the above sites and share just how much there is to do within walking distance of a humble airport like HIJ.

Glimpse Inside the Airport Hotel

It’s usually the locals (like yours truly) who show the sites to the visitors, but in the case of Hiroshima Airport Hotel, someone like me who lives in Hiroshima has no need to stay in such a facility so ironically, the only way I would find myself inside a guest room is to be invited by *drum roll* a tourist!

After a long chain of events helping these tourists with their troubles in Hiroshima City, it was rather late by the time I got to HIJ, and rather than go home after dining with them, I was offered the privilege of sleeping in one of the extra beds in the room. The mattresses were comfortable and the amenities were sufficient, but only so much can be said about the quality of the room, which is completely subjective. Both dinner and breakfast the morning after were served inside a restaurant called Kou (), which serves Hiroshima specialties in a fancy setting with top-of-the-line service. Most tables during dinnertime were somewhat isolated from each other, but when we could still hear a neighboring table’s chitchat, the restaurant staff accommodated our needs by relocating us to a tranquil and isolated room meant for larger groups.

I got myself a succulent fried pork cutlet meal made from Hiroshima-bred pigs, served with a side salad, some Japanese pickles, a small bowl of rice, a bowl of miso soup, another vegetable side dish, along with some sauce, crushed sesame seeds, spicy mustard, and a lemon wedge to modify the taste of my meat. My companions each went with something different from what I ordered: one got a fried oyster set meal paired with a glass of red wine (James Bond would disapprove) and the other had the conger eel on rice, which came with a cube of strawberry kudzu sorbet for dessert.

Moment of Joy: A Rare Treat

It wasn’t just the rare dessert itself that was the treat, but the opportunity to dine at such an exquisite place near the airport that made my night. The customer service throughout the duration of my stay—from the room to dinner and breakfast the next morning—exceeded my expectations in every facet. It definitely wouldn’t be unusual for a visitor to visit the Hiroshima Airport Hotel just for a meal, since it honestly was that good. It feels sublime to be able to speak from experience when saying that visitors to Hiroshima who fly into or out of HIJ won’t be disappointed when making a pit stop here.

Strawberry Buns Forever

The next morning, I enjoyed breakfast in the same restaurant, but at a different table with a view of the forest park outside. There were your standard breakfast foods like fruit, yogurt, eggs, miso soup, rice, and fish, but also the quintessential Hiroshimarian items like fried oysters, gansu (a deep-fried spicy fishmeal patty), and the classic Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. They even had a separate counter where a chef made omelets and French toast to order, which I enjoyed very much.

Unfortunately, I had to return to Hiroshima City after breakfast, but returned once again on the 13th of April to properly enjoy the other sites around HIJ, starting off with the bread-making experience at Hattendo Cafelie. They have a special strawberry-themed workshop that lasts through mid-April in which participants can make buns from strawberry dough as well as buns filled with strawberry-flavored cream. I made my reservation online beforehand and showed up just before noon, when the workshop would begin. The last time I had set foot inside this room was when I tried out this experience for the first time in 2021 in the middle of a pandemic, but in terms of aesthetics, not much has changed save for the harp in the corner of the room. I can only imagine what occasions that instrument would be used for and how amusing it might be to hear such wonderful music inside a bakery’s kitchen workshop, but I guess I won’t find out today.

Upon entering the culinary classroom, I sat at my seat where two balls of dough and a plain bun were waiting for me. Shortly after I was situated, the instructor told us how to shape the balls of dough into whatever shapes we wished to make. When splitting the dough, we were to cut off pieces by shaping our hands like kitchen knives (think of a karate chop) and sawing off one chunk at a time. Those chunks would then be rolled up into little balls by making cat paws with our hands (scrunch your fingers until you can see your fingernails while looking at your palm) and kneading the dough in a circular motion. After repeating the first and second steps to one’s heart’s content, one can attach the dough balls by pinching and slightly elongating ends of balls to be attached to each other. It took me a while to contemplate what to make with my plain white ball and strawberry-flavored pink ball, but upon deciding, I dashed to the sink to wash my hands and get cracking. My plain bread ended up in the shape of a goat and my strawberry bread was morphed into a literal strawberry with leaves, which only became apparent after drawing details with the chocolate pen provided. When I finished, I handed my masterpieces to one of the ladies who took everyone’s bread into the back kitchen to be baked.

In the meantime, I got started on assembling my cream bread, which was a rather easy task compared to the decorative buns I had just made. The bun that was to become the cream bread was already baked; all we had to do was poke a hole in it from the side using the scissors provided, then squeeze the cream from the tube into the hole. The cavity inside the bun filled up faster than anticipated, and though some of the cream oozed out of the bun, that could be remedied by wiping or licking (if you yourself are the intended consumer) off the excess cream.

The final segment of the workshop involved designing our own paper wrappers for the bread we had just made. Everyone was free to take a basket of markers and some new wrappers from a table near the entrance and draw whatever they wanted at their own tables. I was falling a little behind everyone else because I was too meticulous with my goat and strawberry buns (plus I had to be a cameraman), so I hastily drew some pictures I deemed appropriate for packaging my baked delights. Eventually, my goat and strawberry came out of the oven with the two buns’ colors looking similar to each other, and when I finished drawing on my wrappers, I stuffed my bread inside them, taped the wrappers shut, stuffed all three buns into my bag, and got out of dodge to let the next group into the workshop.

Unwinding at Hattendo Village

It was well past lunch time by the time I finished the bakery workshop, but as a man cannot live on bread alone, I began to look for suitable lunch options at Hattendo Village, in which Hattendo Cafelie is located. My stroll took me past a children’s playground, a new hut built by Hattendo for even more charming bakery workshops, and a pony stable. Marron the brown pony looked to be particularly peckish as he was sticking his head outside the fence to graze on some of the grass that was so close, yet so far.

On the other side were Sora no Eki Orchard and Tenku Café & Factory, but what caught my eye was the piece of art suspended between the two buildings. Apparently, a bunch of umbrellas are frequently hung here and change according to the seasons, so in April, the umbrellas were transparent pink with a strawberry seed motif. Quite a few people passed under this display so I had to exercise patience to snap a picture devoid of humans and ended up capturing a bird in flight over the floating strawberries instead.

As for my lunch, I first went to a food truck stationed outside of Sora no Eki Orchard and placed an order for a Sasebo Burger, a Nagasaki specialty that I was eager to try because I have to visit Sasebo to dig into the real deal. While that was cooking, I went inside Sora no Eki Orchard to see if they sold anything that could be paired with my burger, and sure enough, I found a pack of two baked yams, a healthier and more cost-effective alternative to fries! By the time I stepped outside with my yams, the Sasebo Burger had been assembled and was ready for me to pick up, so I gathered my food and sat at a sunny, vacant table right in front of Sora no Eki Orchard to devour my late lunch so I could power through the last part of my adventure.

Both items were hot (though the yams were sitting in a warming tray filled with scalding stones), and even in the midst of the springtime sunshine the piping heat of my food was still welcome. The location, the sun, the time of day, the people-watching, everything seemed so idyllic that day that I could have concluded my trip here by staying until sundown, but I knew there were sights to be seen that would outdo even this moment.

Front Row Seats to Takeoff

I knew that if I were to enter Sankeien at this point I wouldn’t have been able to see much by closing time, so I instead decided to see the nature outside that landscape garden. The surrounding Hiroshima Prefectural Central Forest Park is bigger, boasts more stunning views, and even lets one see across the pond into Sankeien, so there was no need for me to enter that garden in the first place. Visiting these parts in mid-April meant that I could see the last of the sakura, clinging onto their trees for dear life, as well as gorgeous azaleas with hues that seemed to pop out of their bushes.

I followed a path that wound around the back of the Hiroshima Airport Hotel, crossed a bridge that afforded a view of Sankeien on one side, turned right, and then crossed over a dam in the reservoir that led deeper into the forest.

From the other side of the dam as pictured above, I went right and continued along a secluded path which took me to a staircase; even just climbing halfway gave me this unmatched vista of HIJ’s control towers and the reservoir.

I indeed knew where I was going: to a spot I discovered some three years ago from which I got a clear, unobstructed view of HIJ’s runway where I could see airplanes landing and taking off. The hill had a bench where I could sit, rest my weary bones, and snack on the buns I made at Hattendo Cafelie. Each plane that passed by was a marvelous sight to behold, and I actually stuck around to take several photos and videos before finally calling it a day.

When it comes right down to it, staying or even just dining inside the Hiroshima Airport Hotel is worth it, and that combined with all the adjacent points of interest justifies a day trip from Hiroshima City. The nature in this area is bound to be gorgeous in any season, but I for one am partial to early spring for the seasonal flowers and fruits to be seen and tasted. If at all possible, I urge tourists intending on visiting Hiroshima to either fly in or out of HIJ (if not both), for the assortment of fun sites just a stone’s throw away from the runway will certainly start or end people’s Hiroshimarian itineraries on a high note!

Written by the Joy in Hiroshima Team