Hiroshima is known to the world as the first city in human mankind to be destroyed by atomic bomb in 1945. But to the country of Japan, it is home to the warmest and kindest people you will ever meet. Our day trip to this historic city was a melange of emotions – optimism of its gracious citizens overpowering the grimness of Hiroshima Peace Memorial site.
We boarded early morning Shinkansen bullet train from Kyoto as per our plan. We reached Hiroshima railway station at about 8 am in just two hours! JR Pass is must for any one planning trip to Japan and our journey from Kyoto to Hiroshima was for free with the pass.We bought a day trip pass for Hiroden streetcar (tram) and boarded the street car to explore the city. We spent our day visiting its top attractions – Peace Memorial Sites, Hiroshima Castle, Miyajima Island and enjoying its local food and sake.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Peace Park
The first place we visited in Hiroshima was the Peace Memorial Sites and we started with the Atomic Bomb Dome. The Atomic Bomb Dome is the only structure left standing after the fatal bombing on August 6, 1945 which took a toll of about 66,000 people instantly and about 69,000 fatally affected. It was formerly a Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall and is now deemed World Heritage Site since 1996. The twisted metal of the dome and the rubble-strewn surroundings is left the same and is the symbol of the disaster.
After walking for about 10 minutes, we reached the Children’s Peace Monument that stands in memory of all of the children who lost their lives as a result of the atomic bombing. It is dedicated of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who died of leukemia from nuclear bombing radiation.Thousands of people all around the world donate cranes that they have folded in honor of Sadako and the others and are displayed here. The paper crane is a symbol of peace, which was her last dying wish.
We then visited the museum which provides information about the bombing event and hazards of nuclear radiations. Although informative, we left the museum with a feeling of sadness. Our sombre mood was lightened with a feeling of optimism when we visited the Cenotaph. The Cenotaph holds an “eternal flame,” and it is said that this flame will be burning until all nuclear bombs are eradicated. Hope floats…
Our next stop was the magnificent five-story Hiroshima Castle build in traditional Japanese style. Surrounded by a moat, the castle was first built in 1589 by legendary feudal lord Mori Terumoto. But it was again rebuilt after getting destroyed during the bombing. It is now converted into a museum on Hiroshima’s and the castle’s history and Japanese castles in general. Especially amusing was the section on how toilets evolved in the castle! The top floor is also one of the best spots in the city to see Sakura in the sprawling castle gardens.
Our next hop was Miyajima (officially named Itsukushima) which is a very small island near Hiroshima. It is short 10-minute ferry from Miyajima-guchi JR station. Because we had JR pass, the ferry ride was for free (otherwise, it costs 1600 JPY). In order to get to the ferry terminal, take the train (JR San-yo line) to Miyajima-guchi Station (27 min).
Miyajima is renowned throughout the country as one of the top three scenic spots especially for its beautiful autumn colors. The island is also sacred to the Japanese and hosts crimson Itsukushima Shrine, a World Heritage Site also known as Floating Shrine. The island also has tame deer roaming the island, a sacred animal considered to be friends of the gods.
The main attraction of the island is the massive torii gate that gets partially submerged in water during high tide. It is indeed a perfect sight to behold and photographer’s money shot!
There are several temples, pavilions and pagodas on the island and one is located on a hill to which one can walk or take a ropeway half way up. Unfortunately we did not have time to do this hike. We spent some time strolling the narrow lanes of Miyajima center which has cozy cafes, small shops which sell Matcha ice-creams, souvenirs.
We spent rest of our evening in Hiroshima Downtown area enjoying its famous dish, okonomiyaki. It is definitely one of the main attractions of Hiroshima for its eclectic variety of ingredients – egg, pork, squid, veggies, sauces, noodles all put together in a pancake!
Beyond day trip
If you have more than a day to visit Hiroshima, we recommend all Ghumrs to spend one complete day at Miyajima Island exploring its shrines at your own pace. Also, one should hike to Misen, the highest mountain on Miyajima island, 535 meters above the sea level. The other attractions include Hiroshima Museum of Art, Mazda Museum, Shukkeien Garden and Chuo Park.
Is it safe to visit Hiroshima
Many of our friends were curious to know whether is it safe to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The answer is resounding YES! The radiations levels are back to normal ever since 1945 in Hiroshima. The atomic bomb detonated in the upper atmosphere and most of the radioactive material never settled to the ground. In fact, just after the blast, there was a thunderstorm in Hiroshima within a month. It washed out most of the dangerous radioactive matter out of the atmosphere. The Peace Museum provides this information as it is quite common question in the minds of for most travelers.
People of Hiroshima
During our return journey from Hiroshima station to Tokyo, we met extremely polite grandfather with his grand-daughter. My wife picked his wallet and returned to him which he unknowingly dropped on the station. The elderly gentleman was grateful to my wife and thanked her profusely to the extent he offered her gift. When my wife refused, he said “You are our guests. We thank you for your good behavior and actions. Consider the gift as your return gift…”
We accepted his gift after lot of hesitation. Arigato Hiroshima! Indeed, the city is home to world’s nicest people.
For more offbeat locations in Japan, you can also explore beach town of Kamakura.