The thing about Hiroshima is this: you know what to expect. Everybody knows of Hiroshima, and the Peace Park, memorials and museum have to be a top priority for any visitor. But there’s also so much more to see: the beautiful boulevards, the trams, the parks, and Miyajima. Oh, and did I mention okonomiyaki? Not yet. But it’s a great place to visit, as I did in late 2011.
The centre of modern Hiroshima is dominated by the Peace Park. This sits, rivers on either side, in the centre of town, and it’s a rather beautiful place. The park is surrounded by memorials: the children’s memorial, the memorial to Korean victims, a memorial for Chinese victims, and more. And in the centre, there’s the mausoleum and flame. To the South lies the museum, which is exactly as distressing as you would expect and then some more. Plan a couple of hours to see it and recompose yourself afterwards, as it’s exceptionally hard to cope with.
On the other side of the park, to the North East, is the Genbaku-Domu – the nuclear bomb dome, or what’s left of one of the few buildings left standing after the attack. Heading past it, East, takes you into the city. A giant covered arcade runs a good half-way towards the JR station, ending around the giant Parco department store.
A bit of a walk to the North East lies the Shukkei-En garden – turn right at the art museum, and look for the gate. Complete with tea house, giant hungry koi and flying fish, it’s one of the prettiest Japanese gardens I’ve seen. Note that it closes relatively early, at 5pm.
Another must see in Hiroshima is actually outside the city. The island of Miyajima is home to a temple with famous ‘floating’ O-Torii gate shown at the top of this page – to get there, head by JR or tram (about 1h from West of the Peace Park, it’s a terminus stop) to Miyajima-Guchi, then jump on the JR ferry (this is free with a Rail Pass). It’s worth making sure you arrive around high tide to get the best view – tide tables are here.
On the island, the main sight is of course the temple itself. You can also pay a few hundred yen extra to see the ‘treasure house’, which isn’t really that interesting except that it lets you get a good look at the plaque from the previous O-Torii gate, which is appropriately massive.
In the town you’ll find tasty barbequed oysters for sale (400Y), and it’s worth visiting the giant wooden pagoda that overlooks the town – it holds some ancient paintings, a measuring stick used when building the gate (er, large) and some ridiculously large rice scoops the purpose of which was somewhat unclear – rice scoops seem to be *the* souvenir from Miyajima.
Besides the temples and town you can walk – or take the cable-car – up the mountain behind. I took the path up that starts near the cable-car station, and it was beautiful, but beware: at 2.5km this might not be a long ascent, but it is steep enough to be hard work in the heat. Near the top lies another temple, and then a viewing platform at the summit. Wild deer roam around attempting to nab food, and I also ran into a big-enough-to-be-frightening snake on the trail.
Food, Hotels and Travel
Getting to Hiroshima is easy; it’s on Shinkansen lines that head west to Fukuoka, Kyushu, and east towards Osaka. If you’re coming from Osaka, try to reserve a seat if you can – the reserved seats on these trains are ludicrously comfortable (I thought I’d wandered into Green Class by mistake).
I stayed in the Ikawa Ryokan, which is a great budget ryokan to the West of the Peace Park. It’s cheap (maybe £60/night with breakfast for a tatami room with bathroom), and very friendly. The only downside is that it’s a bit of a hike from the JR station if you arrive in rush hour and can’t fit on a tram. The owners speak English – are keen to speak English, in fact – and there’s free internet access.
Trams are the best way to get about besides on foot, and with only a few lines, most of which end at the JR station, they’re easy to use. Most journeys are 150Y (more to Miyajima-Guchi), pay with coins only when you get off.
Oh, and food: Hiroshima has all the usual stuff, but also, crucially, okonomiyaki (above): a kind of griddled cabbage pancake thing, topped with stuff (eggs, meat etc) and, crucially, udon noodles. Head to the multi-storey okonomiyaki building behind Parco, choose a booth, and stuff your face – it’s great food.