Hiroshima is a strange symphony of serene nature, enlightening spirituality and the pinnacle example of the horrors humanity is capable of. For many people, a tour of Japan would be incomplete without stopping over in Hiroshima. The city’s incredible historical relevance, mystical spirituality and national significance makes it obvious why its worth a stop over. For many of us, time is of the essence. As many things as Hiroshima has to offer, the city’s biggest highlights can be all be seen in a relatively short amount of time. Here’s how you can fit a perfect exploration of Hiroshima and its spectrum of sites all within 2 days!
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The city of Hiroshima itself is worthy of an entire day. Amongst the city limits are a handful of historical sites from the ancient to the terrifyingly recent. Most of which are relics and dedications to the event that brought Hiroshima to worldwide recognition for all the wrong reasons.
The good news is that for the most part the majourity of attractions are within a comfortable walking distance. You could theoretically walk the entire route in around 2 and a half hours. However, taking some form of transportation between certain steps would be easier and much more time efficient.
Peace Memorial Park
This is undoubtedly amongst the biggest and most important highlight in Hiroshima. The Peace Memorial Park is located at Hiroshima’s former political and industrial centre. Thus it became a prime target for the allies to use the first atomic bomb in human history. Four years following the Earth-shattering explosion, the city voted not to redevelop the area. Instead, devoted the site for facilities which would memorialise peace.
The Peace Memorial Museum is much the park’s centrepiece. Within its walls are incredibly heart-wrenching exhibitions that demonstrate the utter devastation caused shortly after the bomb’s detonation, and the repercussion of it decades later. Visitors are likely to feel uncomfortable and perhaps distressed whilst observing the exhibitions, as so they should. The museum serves its purpose of explicitly illustrating why such inhumanity should never reoccur.
The rest of the park has expanses of open spaces with a number of smaller memorials placed throughout. One of which is the central Memorial Cenotaph; an arched tomb dedicated to the victims of the atomic bomb. A stone chest beneath the arch holds the names of each victim, its numbers beyond 220,000.
Further up the central walkway is another memorial with hopes that it will have no purpose in the future. The Peace Flame was lit on 1st August 1964 with the intention of being extinguished once the world was free of nuclear weapons. Sadly, the flame has continued to burn brightly ever since, and for the time being, it appears it always will.
To next stop:
The Atomic Dome is visible from the Peace Memorial Park. Continue walking north passed the Peace Flame until you reach the riverbank. Along the way you’ll also pass other smaller monuments such as the Children’s Peace Monument.
At 8:15am on 6th August 1945, the first atomic bomb in human history was dropped on Hiroshima. The former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall was almost directly beneath the hypocenter of the explosion. Unlike the rest of the city it was able to avoid complete destruction. Today the skeletal remains and the recognisable rusted dome which gives the building its name is all that stands as a reminder of the terrible tragedy.
Rather than demolishing the remains, the citizens of Hiroshima decided to keep them as they were, as a tragic reminder of the unrelenting force and utter devastation that resulted from the bomb. The UNESCO World Heritage Site also functions as living evidence of why the world should be free of nuclear weapons and the never-ending hope for peace.
To next stop:
The hypocenter of the bomb drop is within walking distance from the Atomic Dome. Head east by following the road that leads over the bridge to the next street beside the Atomic Dome.
Despite the lack of adornment to this next stop, its most definitely worth a short detour. Hidden down a narrow side-street and memorialised with only a small plaque, its easy to forget the significance of the location. You’ll be standing at the hypocenter of the explosion, the exact location where the fateful bomb detonated 180 meters above the city before completely eradicating it. Paper cranes will often be left beside it as a sign of peace along with a collection of flowers left for the dead.
To next stop:
Walk north along 1 Chome-5-25 Otemachi (the street the hypocenter is on) until you reach the main road. Your next stop should be on the right-hand side.
By now, you could do with some time to decompress and reflect. Luckily, the Orizuru Tower serves this exact purpose. The tower is named after the paper crane, a symbol of peace. The entire first floor of the tower is full of cafés and shops to peruse, some of which sell a selection of Hiroshiman delicacies.
The true highlight is on the observation deck on the towers rooftop, providing spectacular panoramic views of the city’s expanses. On a clear day it’s even possible to spot the sacred island of Miyajima in the distance (more on that later). Around the observation decks are reminders of the landscapes before and after the bombing, as well as the city’s recovery.
To next stop:
This is one of the few steps that require some form of transport. There are a number of options available that use a combination of buses and trams, though one option is more efficient and has the closest drop of point. You can take a 17 minute bus from Kamiyacho bus stop on bus number 22 to Seiganji-mae bus stop before taking a short walk to the temple.
Mitaki Temple is a dedication to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, which dates back to 809. Placed against the edge of Mount Mitaki to the north-east of the city, it’s a perfect and necessary detour to find some inner peace and solace amongst the surrounding nature. One defining feature of the temple is a two-storey pagoda that was relocated from Wakayama in 1951 to comfort the souls of the atomic bomb’s victims. Other such monuments include an innumerable stone jizo statue; the protector of women, children and travellers.
For those wanting relief from the war, the temple grounds include a small rustic tea house that serves simple traditional foods. Additionally, a number of trails behind the temple lead through bamboo forests towards the summit of Mount Mitaki. However, if you’re hoping to fit in every Hiroshima highlight in a single day, you better give the hike a miss.
To next stop:
You’ll need public transport to get back to the city. Though there are many options, this is the most direct with the least amount of walking between stations. From Mitaki Kan-nonbus stop take bus number 22 towards 三篠町三丁目 bus stop before transferring to Misasamachi-3-Chome bus station then transfer to the サンハイツ線 line in the 広島駅 directionto Godo Chosha-mae (Hiroshimashi) bus station. Otherwise Google will be your friend on this one.
Rather than solely focusing on those lost as a result of the A-bomb, Gokoku shrine is a dedication to those that died in war entirely. When originally constructed in 1868 to commemorate Hiroshima’s victims of the Boshin War, the commemoration extended to those that died in the Great East Asian War, otherwise more commonly known as the Pacific War. Originally 78 souls were enshrined at Gokoku which extended to over 92,000 following the end of the Second World War.
To next stop:
You’re in the grounds of the castle already, congratulations!
Hiroshima Castle is one of many representations of Japan’s feudal era. The Carp Castle formerly acted as the city’s physical and economical centre, and a vital point of power in the Western side of Japan. The castle had to be fully reconstructed following the devastation of 75 years ago. Surrounding the 5-storey castle is an outer moat, a scattering of ruins and a few other reconstructed structures, such as the Ninomaru (secondary defence circle). Within visitors can educate themselves on the history of the castle as well as others found around the country. The upper levels of the castle also provides another spectacular panoramic view of the city.
To next stop:
Shukkei-en is less than a 10 minute walk away. Head east along the road closest to the castle’s eastern exit.
For those looking for something completely unrelated to the tragedies of the past, here is your salvation. Called the “shrunken-scenery garden“, the grounds are home to several meticulously crafted miniature landscapes. Dating back to 1620, the gardens have been carefully cultivated to represent mountains, valleys and forests, as well as attempting to mimic a number of natural formations. For the weary traveller there are also a number of tea houses surrounding the garden’s main pond for an opportunity to unwind.
To next stop:
Shirakami-sha is only about a 25 minute walk away, which isn’t too much slower than taking transport. If not, then there are a number of buses running that way. They include numbers 6, 21, 25 and 26 from the nearby bus stopsShukkeien or Teishin Byoin.
The origins of the shrine known as “white god” began as early at the 16th century. Hiroshima was constructed upon a delta, encroaching its was across coasts and reefs. In the past, ships would venture deep into the city, running the risk of sinking due to the hazardous formations that lay beneath. Thus, a collection of white papers were arranged upon a small patch of reef protruding from the ocean to prevent such a disaster from happening by acting as make-shift warning flags. As the city continued to expand, the white pieces of paper were replaced with a shrine to honour these little life-savers and the countless number of ships they spared.
Though the tragedies of war are certainly a big draw for visiting Hiroshima, there’s one destination which attracts more attention than any other. For many, the little spiritual island of Miyajima is the sole reason for venturing to this part of the world. Officially, the island shares its name with the home of the island’s star attraction. The giant red torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine standing in the middle of the ocean is one of the most iconic images the country has, and considered one of the Three Views of Japan. The island also plays host to a litany of wild deer that roam freely and confidently saunters amongst visiting humans. If there was any destination worth a day trip, it has to be to Miyajima.
As far as travelling across the island is concerned, there is no public transport and next to no vehicles. Either way they’re unnecessary, as most of the attractions are a stone’s throw away from each other.
Getting to Miyajima
The island is located in northwest of Hiroshima Bay, just an hour or so outside of the city. To get there you have two options, by using a train and a ferry or by a direct boat.
By train and ferry:
You have two train options to take towards the ferry port. The fastest route is along the JR Sanyo Line towards Miyajimaguchi Station for a breezy 25 minutes. This is the expensive option at ¥420 each way, though it’s covered by the Japan Rail Pass. Your second option is to take the slower and cheaper (¥270) tram along line number 2 from central Hiroshima towards Miyajimaguchi Station. The Japan Rail Pass does not cover this option.
From Miyajimaguchi Station there’s just a short walk to the ferry port where you have two companies to choose from: JR or Matsudai. It doesn’t matter which you pick, they both take 10 minutes and cost ¥180 each way. The only difference being that the Japan Rail Pass is valid for the JR ferries. Regardless, both companies depart frequently towards the island.
By direct boat:
There are also ferries that connect Hiroshima directly to Miyajima. A ferry departs from Hiroshima Peace Park once or twice every hour which takes about 45 minutes and costs ¥2200 and ¥4000 for one-way and round trips respectively. Alternatively, a more frequent ferry leaves from Hiroshima Port for a 30-minute journey at ¥1900each way.
Stretching 350 meters and lined with a succession of 70 or so shops, Omotesando Shotengai is the best opportunity to dine on some Miyajiman delicacies. Those include grilled oysters and sticky rice balls served with oysters or salt-water eel. For the seafood haters amongst you, perhaps deep-fried momiji manju are more to your liking. These little maple leaf cakes are also for the sweet-toothed as they’re filled with sweet red bean.
The shopping street is also home to a world record. Wooden spatulas known as Miyajima shamoji are sold in the varying souvenir shops, which are thought to bring good luck. The street is also home to the largest one in the world weighing 2.5 tons. It’s a special commemoration for the nearby Itsukushima Shrine gaining worldwide recognition as a world heritage site in 1996.
Hokoku Shrine, more commonly known as Senjokaku or “pavilion of 1000 mats“, dates back to 1587 and was commissioned by one of Japan’s three unifiers: Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It’s purpose was to provide a place for chanting Buddhist sutras for Japan’s fallen soldiers. Sadly, following Hideyoshi’s death the Pavilion was never completed and centuries later would be dedicated to the soul of Hideyoshi. Next to the pavilion is a vibrant five-storey pagoda which pre-dates the shrine itself.
We’ve arrived at the highlight of Miyajima, the islands namesake and the whole reason this little island receives so much attention. The shrine is the owner of one of the most iconic images Japan has to offer. The enormous torii gate standing in the shallow ocean waters is a truly iconic image throughout the world, and is synonymous with Japan. It has the unique feature of appearing to float above the sea as the rising tide pulls into the bay.
The gate itself isn’t the only drawing factor. The shrine consists of several buildings, prayer halls and even a stage which all appear to float above the ocean during high tide. At low tide the ocean drains out of the bay, allowing visitors to wander close to the torii gate.
Daiganji Temple was bulit in 802 as a dedication to Benzaiten, the Goddess of eloquence, music, wisdom and wealth. The same deity grants riches and good fortune. Visitors should light incense at the front of the main hall as a symbol of purification before praying within it. Many believe that if you are ill or in pain, you can cure yourself by touching the equivalent body part on the figure of Nade Hotoke; a Jizou-sama who looks after children, travellers and the underworld.
The “Two-story Pagoda” was built in 1523 and stands at 15.6 meters high. It was during the Meiji period in 1868 that the Buddhist Temple was converted into a Shinto Shrine. The architecture style of the pagoda has Japanese influences as well as from Chinese and Indian culture. It also has the unique feature of sporting different architectural styles between the different floors of the pagoda. During the spring the surroundings of the pagoda blossom with a sea of white flowers.
Hidden at the base of Mount Misen, Daisho-in is one of the most significant temples of Shingon Buddhism. This is where the religion’s founder, Kobo Daishi, began practising his form of Buddhism. The stairs leading towards the temple allow visitors to perform their own Buddhist ritual. Spinning metals wheels placed on the central handrail are inscribed with sutras (Buddhist scriptures), the turning of which is believed to have the same effect as reading them.
Some worthy highlights within the temple grounds are Kannon-do Hall, the Maniden Hall, a sand mandala constructed by visiting Tibetan monks, a tea-room and a cave filled with 88 icons each representing temples of Shikoku.
Mount Misen is the highest peak on the island at 500 meters, and allows for spectacular panoramic views of not only the island itself, but back towards the coast of Hiroshima and the scattering of islands deeper into the bay. There are 3 different trails that lead up Mount Misen; the Momijidani Course, Daisho-in Course, and Omoto Course. The Daisho-in course begins directly beside the temple, which also happens to be the shortest route as well as the most photogenic. Depending on your fitness, it should take between 1.5 – 2 hours to scale its peak. You might also share your journey with a few curious deer that wander through the forest covered mountain-edge. A rarer sighting would wild monkeys, though its very unlikely these days.
Along the route are various Buddhist structures belonging to Disho-in Temple, as it is believed this is where the founder of the temple first practised his new sect of Buddhism. Such structures include the Reikado (Hall of the Spiritual Flame), the flame of which was first lit by Kobo Daishi. It was also the flame used to light the Flame of Peace in Hiroshima’s Peace Park.
A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible. My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.