“Broad Island”, “First city in history to be destroyed by an atomic bomb”
Coming to our last and farthest stop-over along this journey through Japan, we could not leave without visiting one of the most known places on earth, Hiroshima. Not because of a good cause though, but all the opposite, because of being the place of one of the world’s worst calamities humanity has ever committed: the atomic bomb that devastated the entire city and with it, the many thousands of innocent lives. This was the tip over point for the end of World War II. Such a fate was not alone, but similar happened in Nagasaki with the drop of a second atomic bomb. This later place farther southwest and in the island of Kumamoto was out of our plans and reach. Perhaps for another trip to Japan in the future, there are always so many reasons why to return, and among them, the many hundreds of islands and countless historical cities, villages and nature.
Coming from Kyoto, our previous main base is easy by bullet train, as I will further explain below under the transports section. This is starting to get so confusing that I am losing the sense of time and the days. It seems it was longer, however was just the previous day before coming to Hiroshima that we spent in Osaka, another of the main great cities and major gateway for reaching any place through Japan.
Do not expect a historic city with Hiroshima, as everyone knows, almost nothing was left standing after the atomic bomb, hence this is a completely new and modern city built from the ashes over the past 60 years, and to Japanese standards. This is, pretty much “ugly” blocks everywhere with dubious taste for architecture, however the neon lights and adverts all over the shopping and entertainment districts make its attraction. Of course over the past 10 years every new development have a better eye for taste in design so it is rapidly changing. However something really nice and for what every tourist come is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in the middle of the city (UNESCO listed), and the nearby and also UNESCO World Heritage Site listed Itsukusima Island, home to one of the most picturesque shrines of Japan.
Navigating around the city is really straightforward, and even more knowing that the main tram lines pass through every single tourist sight in the city, with a stop right by the Peace Memorial and Castle, and as last stop, the ferry terminal for the 15 min crossing to Itsukushima Island. Could not be any easier than this. Simply plan your sights in order (as I always usually do, see below) and enjoy your visit hassle-free. The trams are part of the city’s attraction, considered as a rolling museum. Basically it is the last and largest urban tram network in Japan, and while at all other cities the system was being scrapped, Hiroshima network was given the trams of every city.
Coming to the food subject, Hiroshima is known for okonomiyaki, a savory (umami) pancake cooked on an Iron-plate, usually in front of the customer. It is cooked with various ingredients, which are layered rather than mixed together as done with the Osaka version of okonomiyaki. These layers are typically egg, cabbage, bean sprouts (moyashi), sliced pork or bacon with optional items (mayonnaise, fried squid, octopus, cheese, mochi, kimchi, etc.), and noodles (soba or udon) topped with another layer of egg and a generous dollop of okonomiyaki sauce.
For more information about Hiroshima check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. As for Itsukushima, this is a great Wikipedia article. Japan’s currency is the Yen (JPY, ¥). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Hiroshima:
- Railway Station Mentioning here only as a starting/location point. It will be highly likely your main point of arrival into the city when coming by train from elsewhere in Japan. Right across the Enko River, east of the city.
- Hiroshima Castle Originally constructed in the 1590’s was the home of the daimyō (feudal lord) of the Hiroshima han (fief). Completely destroyed in the atomic bombing in 1945, was rebuilt in 1958 as a replica of the original, housing the museum of the city post World War II. Located in the north of the main island of the city, entrance fee of ¥400.
- Peace Memorial Park Dedicated to the legacy of Hiroshima as the first city in the world to suffer a nuclear attack when in August 1945, during the final stage of the Second World War, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There are many monuments scattered around, museums and gardens enough to keep you busy for a long period of the day.
-Hiroshima Prefecture Commercial Exhibition The most notorious building located north of the park across the river. Nowadays it is the Peace Memorial and an UNESCO World Heritage Site structure. This was the closest building to the epicentre of the bomb, barely meters away, and one of the very few structures to remain standing.
- Itsukushima Island Located south of Hiroshima on the bay. Reaching this place is very pleasant by tram to the very last stop, where you get on a short ferry crossing to the island. You could also go directly from Hiroshima port by boat.
-Senjokaku Hall The pavilion of the 100 mats as it translates, dates back to 1587 when Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the three unifiers of Japan commissioned it for the purpose of chanting Buddhist sutras for fallen soldiers. The building was never completed after the dead of Hideyoshi 1598, remaining without ceilings and main front facade ever since. A five story pagoda is next to the hall.
-Isukushima Torii The most representative of any in Japan, appearing in any travel guide. Located off-shore, it becomes inaccessible when at high tide, and as such, the postcard perfect image.
-Itsukushima Shrine Listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and major reason why to come here coupled with the city of Hiroshima. With roots going back to the 6th century, the current structure dates from the 16th, following an earlier 12th century design. One of the main characteristics of the shrine is that it has been built on pier-like structures over the bay so that it would appear to be floating on the water. At high tide this is a great sight on its own, while when low tide, you can walk to the torii along the sandy beach that forms and contemplate the entire shrine and Mount Misen. Entrance fee of ¥300 per person.
-Tahoto Pagoda Few meters west from the main Itsukushima Shrine, a small 2 story pagoda.
-Daisho Temple South from Tahoto Pagoda, it is the second major landmark in the island, a temple of Shingon Buddhism located at the foot of Mount Misen.
Hiroshima International Airport is 50 kilometres east of the city. While it has great links to major cities in Japan, there are only few international flights like these to China, South Korea or Taiwan. It might be the case if you plan to arrive by plane that you need to have a stop-over at Osaka, the nearest major airport serving the world.
By railway is perhaps the best option for any tourist should you be in a Japan tour and this city is in your agenda. First of all, when holding a Japan Rail Pass this makes it easier to move on any JR route as long as you do not take the fastest train type (the Nazomi) which is not included with the pass. Having this pass will save you money on the hundreds of £ and will give you entire flexibility. Saying this, the city is along the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen bullet railway line so it’s matter of really short times to Hiroshima from/to Kobe, Nara, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Yokohama and Tokyo. This railway line continues farther beyond Hiroshima and Tokyo, so it’s the most convenient in frequencies, comfort and overall time spent in the journey for moving across the country.
Once in the city, there are tram lines everywhere, countless urban buses and ferry. One of the tram lines goes all the way from the city centre crossing the Peace Memorial towards the last stop Miyajima-guchi for the Itsukushima Shrine and it’s a pleasant trip near the coast. The fare within the city is just ¥160, while the entire tip to Miyajima-guchi ¥280. Watch out when in the city for the streetcars numbers 651 and 652, these are the only ones to survive almost intact the atomic bomb and still run up and down as if museum pieces were. Holders of a Japan Rail Pass have included the ferry crossing between Miyajima-guchi and Itsukushima.
If you are staying at least 2 days in the city and plan on visiting Itsukushima Shrine then I strongly recommend you to get the 3-day Visit Hiroshima Tourist Pass which is available for ¥1000 and includes all buses, trams and ferry.
Hiroshima is a large city and very important to the world in both trading and tourism, hence a great choice of hotels of any kind. The good news soon stop when we come to the cost subject. Like anywhere else in Japan, hotels are some of the most expensive in the world considering value for money and what you get in return, specially microscopic size rooms.
As usual, a good and reasonable point to start your search would be checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, Hotels Click, LateRooms or Ebookers. It will take you longer than expected, be patience, and over all, make sure to know where the hotel you are intending to book is. Bear in mind by the dates we were here, peak of the holiday season the availability was decreasing by the days, so plan well ahead in time to avoid disappointments.
We stayed at the APA Hotel Hiroshima-Ekimae Ohashi, in 2-26, Kyobashicho, Minami-ku, literally next door to the main train station serving the city and as such, one of the best locations to be based. Meters away from the major transport hub where tram and buses meet towards anywhere across the city, yet still in a more secluded and quiet area. Once again as it’s been the case on any other hotel we’ve been at the other cities in Japan so far, quite nice and modern, well taken care and great friendly and helpful staff. APA hotel chain has a good reputation in Japan for this; and so was the nice breakfast buffet with a big choice of Asian and Western dishes. It worked perfect for us especially on the easiness to start our sightseeing during the day and returning late at night. Highly recommended to anyone and for sure will not hesitate in returning back to the same place.