HIROSHIMA – A Briton who has lived in Hiroshima for more than 25 years and founded an incoming tourism business is showing foreign visitors the charms of the city – beyond its history as the site of the first wartime atomic bombing .
Paul Walsh, 53, founded JizoHat KK, an inbound tourism consultancy in the city, in 2018. Based in a coworking space in the Naka district of Hiroshima, he also operates GetHiroshima, an English-language site for foreigners and tourists.
According to Walsh, when he moved to Hiroshima in 1996, there were few places for foreigners to congregate. The internet wasn’t as widespread as it is today, and he recalls, “It was hard to find places I liked without making an effort.”
After about three years since arriving in Hiroshima, Walsh thought, “I’ve enjoyed the city enough. Maybe I should go to the Tokyo area. At that time, while posting information about Hiroshima on his website, he wondered, “Are there really no more interesting places?” He decided to find out.
Visiting various places with his wife, Walsh met many young people who were making the most of their hometown. He said with a smile, “Little by little, the city became more and more interesting, and eventually I became a big Hiroshima fan.
Since 2004, Walsh has produced maps featuring local restaurants and other locations. Around 2015, 50,000 copies were released each year and he continued to manufacture them until 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic. According to Walsh, many tourists from Europe, the United States and Australia “want to travel in a way that allows them to get to know the locals”, and restaurants play an important role.
“Japanese people are basically shy. Some people don’t talk to foreigners because they lack confidence in their language skills, but when they have a drink and can relax, they become very friendly,” Walsh commented.
He thinks “having a welcoming atmosphere” is more important than providing multilingual support. “If visitors can get to know the locals even a little, they become fans of Hiroshima and want to come back. I would like to create a chance for them to do so,” he added. .
Although Hiroshima is well known internationally, images of the atomic bombing, symbolized by the mushroom cloud that accompanied the devastation, remain strong. Walsh said that while some Americans visit Peace Memorial Park, they worry about what the Japanese will think of them if they hang out or drink in the city. “There are still people who cannot imagine what Hiroshima would look like today,” he said.
“I hope Hiroshima’s image will change from ‘tragic’ to ‘hopeful’,” he said.
Walsh also referred to the situation in Ukraine, which has suffered from the devastation of war, and commented: “Ukraine is in a difficult situation, but I think that if Ukrainians see Hiroshima, they will realize that it is possible to rebuild such a wonderful city. ”
(Japanese original by Akari Terouchi, Hiroshima Office)