Top 20 Highlights: Hiroshima
Hiroshima is a strange symphony of serene nature, enlightening spirituality and the pinnacle example of the horrors of humanity. For many people, the city is a vital inclusion on any Japan itinerary. Hiroshima and its surrounding region is full of worthy highlights which are split between the history rich city and the nearby mystical island of Miyajima. Here are 20 of the very best attractions Hiroshima has to offer.
In addition to cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, Hiroshima is considered one of the must-see destinations in Japan. Along it’s streets are many historical sites related to both the city’s ancient past and more recent horrifying event. Obviously, an enormous amount of attractions are associated with the event that brought Hiroshima to worldwide attention for all the wrong reasons.
1 – Peace Memorial Park
Undoubtedly this is one of the most significant highlights in all of Hiroshima. Located at the city’s former political and industrial centre, the Peace Memorial Park became the prime target for the allies to use the first atomic bomb in history during the Second World War. Following the city’s destruction, the area would be devoted to facilities that memorialise peace.
One of these is the Peace Memorial Museum. Inside are heart-wrenching exhibitions that show the utter devastation caused by the bomb, and the repercussion of it decades later. Visitors to the museum are likely to feel uncomfortable, as so they should. The museum serves its purpose of explicitly illustrating why such inhumanity should never reoccur.
Additionally, throughout the park are a few smaller memorials, such as the Memorial Cenotaph, an arched tomb dedicated to the victims of the atomic bomb. A stone chest under the arch holds the names of 220,000 victims. Further up the central walkway is the Peace Flame, which is intended to be extinguished once the world is free of nuclear weapons. Sadly, the flame has continued to burn brightly ever since it was lit in 1964.
2 – Atomic Dome
At 8:15am on 6th August 1945, the first ever atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima. The former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall was almost directly under the hypocenter of the explosion. Despite that – unlike the rest of the city – it avoided complete destruction. The skeletal remains and the rusted dome, which gives the building its name, is all that was left.
The people of Hiroshima decided to keep the ruins as they were, to serve as a tragic reminder of the devastation. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is also a harsh reminder of why the world should be free of nuclear weapons. Without doubt one of the most worthwhile and spine-tingling Hiroshima highlights.
3 – Mitaki-dera
Japan’s top highlights include a long list of temples, some of which are right here in Hiroshima. Built in 809, Mitaki-dera is a dedication to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. Hidden in the bamboo forests on the edge of Mount Mitaki, it’s a perfect detour to find some peace in the surrounding nature. An especially unique feature of the temple is a two-storey pagoda that was moved from Wakayama in 1951 to comfort the souls of the atomic bomb’s victims. In addition, there’s a stone statue of jizo, the protector of women, children, and travellers.
The temple grounds also have a small tea house that serves simple traditional foods. If you prefer to get back to nature, there are a number of trails behind the temple that lead through the bamboo forests towards the summit of Mount Mitaki.
4 – Hiroshima Castle
Hiroshima Castle is one of many reminders of Japan’s feudal era. The “Carp Castle” used to be the city’s physical and economic centre, as well as a vital point of power for the West of Japan. Similar to the rest of the city, it had to be fully reconstructed after the atomic bomb. Around the 5-storey castle is an outer moat, a scattering of ruins and a few other reconstructed structures, such as the Ninomaru (secondary defence wall). Within the castle, visitors can learn about the history of the castle and of others around the country. The upper levels also has a beautiful panoramic view of the city.
5 – Tōshō-gū Shrine
Tōshō-gū is one of many Shinto shrines across the country where Tokugawa Ieyasu – the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate – is enshrined. It was built at a significant location, just to the northeast of Hiroshima castle, the city’s former center. Legend tells that the northeast direction is unlucky, as its where evil spirits enter through the kimon or “demon gate”. Therefore, temples and shrines were placed to the northeast of important areas to protect them.
The shrine is home to a unique celebration that only occurs every 50 years: the Tōrigosairei. On the anniversary of Ieyasu’s death, huge crowds gather to take part in a special ceremony. Volunteers carry a 1-ton omikoshi portable shrine up and down the steep steps and along the nearby streets.
6 – Hypocenter
Despite looking pretty simple, it’s one of the most significant highlights in Hiroshima. Hidden down a narrow side-street, it’s easy to forget its importance. This is the hypocenter, the exact point at which the fateful bomb detonated 180 meters above the city. People will often leave behind offerings such as paper cranes as a sign of peace and collections of flowers for the dead.
7 – Shirakami-sha
The origins of the shrine known as “white god” began as early as the 16th century. In the past, ships would travel deep into the city that was built across large amounts of coasts and reefs. By doing so, they would run the risk of sinking due to the hazardous formations that lay beneath. Thus, to avoid a disaster, a series of white papers was arranged on a small patch of reef, acting as make-shift warning flags. Eventually these pieces of paper were replaced with a shrine to honour these little lifesavers and the countless number of ships they spared.
8 – Orizuru Tower
Orizuru Tower shares its name with the paper crane, a symbol of peace. Though the first floor is full of cafés and shops – some of which have a selection of Hiroshiman delicacies – the true highlight is the tower’s rooftop. The observation deck provides a spectacular panoramic view of the city’s expanses. On a clear day it’s also possible to spot the sacred island of Miyajima in the distance. Around the decks are reminders of the landscapes before and after the bombing, as well as the city’s recovery.
9 – MAZDA Museum
In 1920, the Mazda Motor Corporation was founded here in Hiroshima. The museum gives a view into Mazda’s history as well as a look at the technology of its cars and possible future developments. Unfortunately, the museum can only be seen as part of a guided tour which needs an advanced booking. During the tour, visitors can watch a real vehicle assembly line to watch the construction of their cars.
10 – Gokoku Shrine
Rather than just memorialising the victims of the A-bomb, Gokoku shrine remembers the victims of war entirely. The original purpose of the shrine was to commemorate Hiroshima’s victims of the Boshin War, which quickly changed following the Pacific War. Originally, 78 souls were enshrined at Gokoku. At end of the Second World War the number had risen to over 92,000.
11 – Shukkei-en
For those looking for something unrelated to the tragedies of the past, Shukkei-en is your salvation. Dating back to 1620, the “shrunken-scenery garden” is home to several carefully crafted mini-landscapes. The gardens beautifully mimic natural formations such as mountains, valleys, and forests. For the weary traveller there are also a few tea houses around the garden’s main pond for a chance to unwind.
12 – Assumption of Mary Cathedral
The Assumption of Mary Cathedral or the Memorial Cathedral of World Peace is a catholic church built as a tribute to the victims of war and the nuclear bomb. The church was constructed by Father Enomiya Lassalle, who himself was exposed to the atomic bomb. The church had the special distinction of a visit from Pope John Paul II during his tour of Japan in 1981.
For many, the little spiritual island of Miyajima is the sole reason for visiting this part of the world. Not only is it one of the very best highlights in Hiroshima, but also the entire country. 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 country’s most iconic images and considered one of the Three Views of Japan. The island also plays host to wild deer that roam freely and confidently walk amongst visiting humans.
13 – Itsukushima Shrine
Without a doubt the biggest highlights on Miyajima and Hiroshima alike are right here. Itsukushima shrine was significant enough to give the island its official name. It’s the entire reason Miyajima receives so much attention and is home to one of the most iconic images in Japan. The huge torii gate standing in the shallow ocean waters is famous throughout the world and is synonymous with Japan. Other buildings such as prayer halls and even a stage 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.
14 – Senjokaku Pavilion
Senjokaku or “pavilion of 1000 mats” was built in 1587 by one of Japan’s three unifiers: Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Its purpose was to provide a place to chant Buddhist sutras for Japan’s fallen soldiers. However, after Hideyoshi’s death the pavilion was never finished, though centuries later the pavilion would become a dedication to his soul. Indeed, the most notable feature is a vibrant five-storey pagoda which pre-dates the shrine itself.
15 – Mount Misen
At 500 meters, Mount Misen is the highest peak on Miyajima. The mountain trails have amazing panoramic views of not only the island itself, but the coast of Hiroshima and the scattering of islands deeper into the bay. Three trails lead up the mountain: the Daisho-in Course, Momijidani Course, and Omoto Course. The first of which begins directly beside the temple of the same name, which is also the shortest and most photogenic route. Depending on your fitness, it should take between 1.5 – 2 hours to reach the peak. Along the way you might run into a few curious deer and, if you’re lucky, wild monkeys.
Along the way are various Buddhist structures which belong to Daisho-in Temple. It’s believed this is where Kobo Daishi, the founder of the temple, first practised his new sect of Buddhism. They include the Reikado (Hall of the Spiritual Flame), where a flame lit by Daishi is kept within. It was also used to light the Flame of Peace in Hiroshima’s Peace Park.
16 – Daisho-in
Hidden at the base of Mount Misen, Daisho-in is one of the most significant temples of Shingon Buddhism and another of the worthy temple highlights in Hiroshima. 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 on the central handrail are inscribed with sutras (Buddhist scriptures), the turning of which is believed to have the same effect as reading them. Other highlights include the Kannon-do Hall, the Maniden Hall and a sand mandala made by Tibetan monks during their visit to Hiroshima. There’s also a cave filled with 88 icons that represent each Shikoku temple.
17 – Omotesandō Shōtengai
Omotesandō Shōtengai is a 350-meter long street full of 70+ shops that have some of the best opportunities to try some Miyajiman treats. Those include the finest seafood such as grilled oysters and sticky rice balls served with oysters or salt-water eel. For fish haters, maybe deep-fried momiji manju are more to your taste. The street is also home to a world record 2.5 tonne wooden spatula known as a Miyajima shamoji. Smaller ones are sold in various souvenir shops and are thought to bring good luck. The monster spatula was a commemoration for Itsukushima Shrine becoming a world heritage site in 1996.
18 – Daiganji
Daiganji Temple was built in 802 as a dedication to Benzaiten, the Goddess of music, wisdom, and wealth. Before entering, visitors first need to light incense sticks at the front of the main hall as a symbol of purification before praying within. If you are ill or in pain, many believe you can cure yourself by touching the same body part on the figure of Nade Hotoke.
19 – Tahoto Pagoda
The “Two-story Pagoda” built in 1523 was a Buddhist Temple that was converted into a Shinto Shrine during the Meiji period in 1868. The pagoda has some unique architectural styles, showing influences from Chinese and Indian cultures as well as Japanese. Additionally, it features different styles between the pagoda’s different floors.
20 – Shishiiwa Observatory
Obviously on a mountainous island, there are plenty of gorgeous viewpoint. Shishiiwa observatory stands on the peak of Mount Misen and provides perfect views of the surrounding area. It includes views such as Hiroshima Port, Itsukushima Strait, and the island of Akinada. There are also trail which lead across the mountain to point like the Reikado and Misen Observatory