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Hiroshima Minato Festa: Two Sides of Hiroshima Bay

Festivals in Japan may occur in all four seasons, but let’s face it: outside the super-cool snow festivals in Northern Japan in winter, most of the liveliest celebrations happen in the warmer months, starting in spring. It’s almost as though the occurrence of festivals nationwide is timed with the opening of the flowers, with the first peak starting in April on account of sakura season and Golden Week. The city of Hiroshima held its own port festival, the Hiroshima Minato Festa, at two different venues over the weekend of the 16th and 17th of March this year, and with two days to party, I took the liberty of checking out one venue per day. While it was only mid-March, the cherry blossoms around Ujina Port were already beginning to bloom, making the festival site even more photogenic and the event itself all the more enjoyable.

The Ujina Venue

The first of the two festival venues—and the more prominent one where stuff was actually happening on both days—was the one at Hiroshima Minato Park, just a stone’s throw inland from Ujina Port. Access is as easy as getting on the #1 streetcar from Hiroshima Station or Hatchobori and riding it all the way to the terminus: Hiroshima Port Station. From there, one need only cross the street to arrive at the festival site.

The festival had only begun when I arrived, but a platoon of cosplayers had already gathered there for festival and sakura photoshoots. This was everybody’s chance to bump into their favorite anime, manga, or video game character, but I feel I can never say this enough times: COSPLAY IS NOT CONSENT! If you wish to photograph a cosplayer, please, please, please obtain permission before snapping, and when posting to the Internet, ask them if they consent to having their likeness shared on social media or blogs. Be that as it may, observe the picture above. I can justify a photo with cosplayers in it as a photo of the festival being photobombed by cosplayers rather than a photo of the cosplayers themselves. Even so, I made sure not to get anybody’s face in there, otherwise I would feel obligated to ask permission to use the picture. A picture like what you see above may be all right but point your camera specifically at a cosplayer and it would be bad form not to clarify your intentions.

Speaking of costumes, folks in costume that can freely be photographed would include this kagura troupe or anyone else who performed on stage during the festival, because they wish to be seen and consented to having pictures or videos taken of them before performing. Lots of spectators had gathered in front of the stage and every chair was taken, so all I could do was stand behind the seats, right by the tables where people stood and ate the festival food they bought. It was then that I was reminded of my hunger pangs, so I did some scouting around the food stalls to see what I wanted to buy. I must have spent close to an hour mulling over my options before finally pulling the trigger on my choice of lunch.

The most uncommon—yet delicious and authentically Hiroshimarian—food item I found was this box of oyster miso yakisoba, topped with three, crispy fried oysters. I brought this container back to the table where I was to chow down while watching the show, and when I finished, I left again to scour the area for a suitable, photogenic dessert. Eventually, I came across a stand selling chocolate-covered bananas, but they weren’t just your run-of-the-mill choco bananas: for a little more cash, this delicious, nutritious treat could be modified to look like a cute character. The character design changes all the time, but during the Hiroshima Minato Festa, the bananas were crafted to resemble the Minions from Despicable Me. My choco banana was assembled by a girl with acrylic nails so long she could join the X-Men; while making it, she accidentally nicked the side of my Minion banana with her rectangular talons. I had to ask to have it re-made, but she made the same mistake (albeit less noticeably) and I didn’t have all day, so I took my pink Minion fruit with me to the sakura grove on the east end of the park. After taking my photo of the banana amongst the cherry blossoms, I sat on a nearby boulder to devour my dessert, trying to avoid the one area damaged by Matsuri Wolverine.

Let the Games Begin!

It wasn’t just food at these stalls, for elsewhere in the park was a corner where stands featuring carnival games and the like were concentrated. Besides the usual shooting and fishing games, there was one truck from a pet salon with puppies inside, letting visitors pet them and—for only ¥500—experience what it’s like to brush their fur, brush their teeth, clean their ears, and trim their nails. Simply watching these furballs was good enough for me, but lots of kids with their parents stopped to pet these adorable pets. Elsewhere, there was a jumping balloon slide for children in the shape of a castle being watched over by a purple dragon. There was quite a long line to try this attraction and seeing so many kids have a blast on the thing almost made me want to join the queue, but I knew there were still many other things I had to do that day and the last thing I wanted was to let parents worry about a strange grown-up in the area.

Throughout the day, I kept searching the premises for cosplayers to photograph. At some point, I caught sight of a trio dressed as characters from Jujutsu Kaisen, but I kept losing them in the crowd. Finally, as they were on their way home, I tracked them down as they were taking a group selfie and offered to take their photo, first with their smartphone, and then with my digital camera. I scratched their backs, and they scratched mine; they were quite friendly and happy to make an appearance in this article!

Lots of events were happening at Hiroshima Minato Park that Saturday, but the one thing most visitors came to see was the Tyrannosaurus rex suit race held on the ground. They made an announcement over the loudspeaker to remind us all of when the races would start, so I made my way over there before the first race to secure an advantageous viewing point. Seeing all these men, women, and children in oversized dinosaur costumes raring to go head-to-head was quite a spectacle; some of the competitors were literally jumping with joy!

Moment of Joy: Cretaceous Commotion

When all the juvenile beasts were zipped up and ready to roll, the Kids’ Division of the race went off to a seamless start. Watching all these racers clumsily run in their inflatable suits was the pinnacle of silliness that day, and multiple races to cover the Kids’, Women’s, and Men’s Divisions, many hilarious moments were had that afternoon.

After each bout, the participants were all interviewed one by one, and almost every racer seemed to have a blast and was raring to give it a go next year. Since anybody who registers in advance can don a dinosaur suit and run like the extinction is upon them, I myself was inspired to look into racing at this event one day.

Floating Classroom

The port festival in Ujina wasn’t just confined to Hiroshima Minato Park, either. When I crossed the street back to the streetcar stop and walked through the ferry terminal building to the piers, I found a slew of cosplayers posing for pictures using Hiroshima Bay as a backdrop. At the pier on the leftmost side was the Hiroshima-maru, peacefully moored and open for touring. The tour was put on by the students and faculty of a local maritime technical college, a facility whose existence I didn’t even know. I was given a clipboard with a quiz paper and a tiny pencil before I boarded the ship, and told to answer the questions on the quiz while reading the informational plaques scattered throughout the rooms on board. The questions mainly concerned Japan’s imports and exports as well as the names of various aquatic vessels, and the staff on board kindly pointed out the answers for anyone who was stuck.

During my educational tour of the Hiroshima-maru, I got to see all the different rooms on the ship, including where sailors slept and showered. The quarters were cramped as expected, but I always found that and the constant ascending and descending between levels to be part of the excitement of feeling the routine of a sailor. I for one found the helm of the ship the coolest chamber, from which we could see other boats traversing Hiroshima Bay through the window. When I finished the quiz and survey on my paper, I handed the clipboard and pencil back to a student after disembarking, and received a free tote bag as a souvenir.

The Ninoshima Venue

The next day of the festival, I returned to Hiroshima Port to take a ferry to the second festival site on Ninoshima, which belongs to the City of Hiroshima. There was a free charter ferry exclusively operating on March 17th just for the festival, but the sign held by a woman in a lime green vest wasn’t that noticeable so I accidentally bought my ticket to Ninoshima before realizing my error and getting my money refunded. Some twenty minutes after boarding the charter ferry, I reached Ninoshima and awaited the shuttle bus that would take us to the venue. However, the line was so long and the shuttle van could only seat so many, so I opted to walk to the festival site at Ninoshima Rinkai Park in the rain, which wasn’t too heavy.

For those who don’t know, the first Baumkuchen in Japan was made on Ninoshima, and that tidbit has become this island’s claim to fame. Nowadays, Baumkuchen are made with modern technology, but that day, the Hiroshima Minato Festa on Ninoshima had a Baumkuchen baking experience that utilized a bamboo spit, which was more in line with how Baumkuchen was made a hundred years ago. Kids and their guardians who wished to participate got in line and took turns holding and rotating the spit while a worker added a layer of cake batter every now and then.

Besides that, there were also other fun attractions for younger guests, including a train-shaped bounce house, a target shooting game, a bouncy ball scooping game, and a miniature choo-choo train track that traveled through an inflatable tunnel. There was a grown woman driving the train, and she had to duck every time the train entered the tunnel, which I found hilarious. I even got a picture of it, but to save that lady some embarrassment, I won’t upload it and just let readers use their imagination.

The Hiroshima Minato Festa was also a perfect occasion for Ninoshima to showcase their newly refurbished facility, the Juchheim Reception and Exchange Center. It was slated to open in April, but had a pre-opening on March 17th during which visitors could check out all the pristine, state-of-the-art rooms inside. Upon entering, I placed my umbrella in the umbrella stand by the door, removed my shoes, exchanged them for a pair of indoor slippers, and made my way to the cafeteria on the first floor, which featured a European-style buffet to celebrate the pre-opening of the facility. For a measly ¥500 I was granted admission to the buffet and could pile up on as much food and tea that I could fit onto my tray and carry to my table. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on how you look at it) there were almost no free seats left in the cafeteria, but as we were told we could also eat in one of the meeting rooms upstairs, I carefully hauled my smorgasbord up the stairs to the meeting room pictured above. It was actually better this way because it meant barely anybody bothered me while I gorged on my meal, and the silence was broken only by the live entertainment I could hear outside.

I fully exploited this cost-effective opportunity by piling up on salad, Napolitan (Japanese-style spaghetti stir-fried in tomato sauce, veggies, and bacon), chikuzen-ni (chicken and root vegetables stewed in broth), spring rolls, potato stir-fry, shumai, Hamburg steaks, fried pork cutlets, nanbanzuke (pickled deep-fried fish), and naturally, steamed rice to down it all. It took me forever and a day to finish all this food and two cups of tea almost wasn’t enough for me to drink, but once I was done, I was good on food for the rest of the day. Several groups of people entered the room after me but finished eating and left before I did, but I had no qualms with taking as long as I did since it meant I could stay dry for longer. When I eventually finished my lunch, I had to pace back and forth inside the building to keep myself from throwing up, but grabbing all that grub was worth it. As soon as I felt ready to go, I slipped my shoes back on at the entrance and grabbed my umbrella as I exited the building to find that the rain had momentarily stopped.

Watching the performers on stage was a lot easier when I didn’t have to hold my umbrella and camera simultaneously. In the beginning, there were a lot of kids from local dance schools, but the afternoon really picked up when singer-songwriter duo Fuko and Karen took the stage. They sang a couple of their original songs but also covers of famous tunes, such as “Yasashisa ni Tsutsumareta Nara,” which was used as an opening theme song for the anime series Tamayura. Finally, they concluded by singing a song about Baumkuchen, which Fuko wrote and sang to commemorate the centennial of the first Baumkuchen made in Japan, which came about in 2019.

This whimsical song is titled “The Rumored Baumkuchen,” and speaks of the purported wonder surrounding the cylindrical confection. According to the urban legends in Fuko’s song lyrics, peeking through the center hole allows one to see the future, and peeling back the layers of the cake one by one can turn back the clock, thereby reversing the aging process. I was so moved by Fuko’s singing voice that after the show, I approached her table to check out the merch she was selling and inquire about her discography. What I like most about Fuko is how approachable she is as a person; she’s a locally famous singer, but not like, bodyguard-keeping-you-away type of famous, so she was easy to talk to. I then retreated to the pavilion to look up and listen to her albums and singles, and the next time I see her perform, I’ll be sure to buy one of her CDs.

The stage performances were coming to a close, and who else better suited to conclude the concert portion than the famed songster Issei Minami? Mr. Minami sang his usual numbers just like he does at Toukasan and other festivals, and every time he serenades the audience with his rendition of the Hiroshima Carp anthem, the spectators get pumped up and sing along with him. Alas, the time came for me to start walking back to the pier to catch the last free charter ferry back to Ujina Port, so I had to bid farewell to Ninoshima and tread quickly but carefully through the rain back the way I came.

I had more fun that weekend than I expected to have in little old Ujina and on Ninoshima, and that was only the beginning of a festival season that will get busier and more exciting as spring progresses. The Hiroshima Minato Festa reminded me of how seldom I visit and utilize Hiroshima Port, a fact about my life I hope to change even just a little this year. Whether it’s for a festival or any other reason, I suggest you also contemplate a trip by boat to maximize your interaction with the Seto Inland Sea and discover why Hiroshima is also dubbed a “City of Water.” May the wind be in your sails!

Written by the Joy in Hiroshima Team