After visiting Tokyo, Hiroshima seems to be a very quiet city. There’s a lot less noise, less people, less cars, less activity… We’re far from the constant noise and the crowd of the Japanese capital. So I decided to visit Hiroshima and Miyajima, an island very close to Hiroshima. I heard a lot of good things about Hiroshima, and I wanted to see what the city looked like. Indeed, visiting Hiroshima and Miyajima was very interesting, and I recommend all the people who go to Japan to spend a few days there.
Hiroshima is known worldwide because of the atomic bombing committed by the Americans on August 6th, 1945. It’s estimated that the bomb killed between 100 and 160000 people. We’re not even counting the second atomic bombing which occured three days later in Nagasaki. After the bombing of Hiroshima, there was no trace of human life found within a radius of 500 meters (1640 ft.) of the bombing!
Before the atomic bombing, Hiroshima was a peaceful town of 340000 inhabitants. After the bombing, not only hundreds of thousands of people died, but also the city was almost entirely destroyed! Everything had to be rebuilt! Even the old historical buildings were rebuilt! In 1949, Hiroshima was proclaimed a city of peace by the Japanese parliament. Nowadays, visiting Hiroshima is mostly the opportunity to have a glimpse of the disastrous state of the city after the bombing, and the rebirth of Hiroshima thereafter. Hiroshima is now a place of commemoration but also a symbol of pacifism in Japan.
As I said, Hiroshima is a lot quieter than Tokyo. There are a lot less people, and it’s enjoyable to have a walk in the city. In fact… Keep an eye open! A lot of locals get around by bike, and ride on the sidewalk! You have to be careful! However, unlike the Frenchies, everyone, drivers and pedestrians, respect the red lights. Often, you’re not even crossing the street yet and the cars stop just to let you go!
Hiroshima is a city known for its okonomiyaki. What’s that? It’s a Japanese dish quite hard to describe. I’d say it’s a mix between a pizza, a pancake and a Japanese omelet. Yeah some kind of pancake stuffed with various ingredients : meat, cheese, egg, vegetables, etc… It’s often served in dedicated restaurants, and the chef cooks your okonomiyaki right in front of you. It’s not bad per se, but it’s a very greasy and heavy dish! Anyway, it’s time to explore Hiroshima. Let’s see what to do…
A garden you cannot miss in Hiroshima, Shukkei-En. It’s sooo beautiful, I really recommend to go there. It was built in 1620 and represents various green spaces in miniature. It’s very close to the point of impact of the atomic bomb, so the garden was severely damaged in 1945. It then served as a refuge for the victims of the war. It reopened in 1951, after long renovation works. It’s 260 yens (2 euros) to get in.
The Hiroshima castle is also interesting to see. It was originally built in 1590 but like many old buildings, it was destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945. Therefore it’s a replica, completely identical from the outside of the old castle. It was rebuilt in 1958. The castle, which is surrounded by gardens, is now a museum of the history of Hiroshima before World War II, but it also relates the history of samurais (Japanese warriors).
In the castle, we can admire old objects, samurai costumes, katanas (Japanese sabers), old documents… Some of them date back to the 17th century! It’s interesting but some parts of the museum are in Japanese only. And it’s forbidden to take pictures inside the castle, except in specific parts (three parts actually, one of them being the last floor). So here we are, visiting a 5-floor castle-museum. On the last floor, we have a view of the city. It’s 370 yens (3 euros) to get in the castle.
The Genbaku Dome
The Genbaku Dome is symbolic of Hiroshima. Indeed, after the atomic bombing, the city was almost completely destroyed. The Genbaku Dome was one of the very few buildings which wasn’t destroyed after the bombing, although the bomb exploded just 150 meters (490 ft.) away (the dome resisted because it’s made of concrete when almost all the other constructions were made of wood). After the bombing, the Japanese government decided to keep the dome, but works had to be done. Before the bombing, the dome was an industrial exhibition hall. It’s now a symbol of peace. The dome is UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Take some time to have a walk in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. It’s a beautiful park, and although it’s a bit crowded, the park is quiet. You’ll find several monuments there. First off the Memorial cenotaph, an arch-shaped monument for the victims of the atomic bomb. There’s also the peace flame, lit on August 1st 1964, which will be put out only when all nuclear bombs on the planet will be destroyed.
Don’t miss the Children’s Peace Monument. It’s a monument in memory of the children who died after the bombing, especially Sadako Sasaki. Sadako Sasaki was two-years-old when the bombing occured, but she survived. Several years later, she had to be hospitalized because of her leukemia. This is when she decided to make origami (paper cranes). According to a Japanese legend, if you make 1000 of them, you can make a wish. Her wish was not to die. Sadako managed to make more than 800 origami… before passing away! Sadako Sasaki is the child we see on the monument.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum exhibits the history but above all the consequences of the damages caused by the atomic bomb. In the museum, we can see documents, photos that are really hard to watch, archives, videoss too… The kind of musems where you don’t bring your kids! It reminded me of the war museum in Ho Chi Minh City.
Be prepared, there’s no censorship, you’ll see burnt bodies, bloody faces… You won’t leave the place unshaken! The first floor and the basement are free, but you have to pay if you wanna see the second and the third floor (200 yens or 1.60€). For your information, Barack Obama went to this museum on May 27th, 2016, and they exhibited origami made by the former US president, and pictures of that day, when he was there.
I took advantage of my visit of Hiroshima to go visit Miyajima, an island located a few kilometers away from Hiroshima. People told me it was a peaceful island, very beautiful to see, close to Hiroshima. So I decided to go visit Miyajima, and I spent a full day there.
Miyajima is really not far from Hiroshima, you can get there in 45 minutes from Hiroshima. It’s a small island full of tourists (Japanese and foreigners), and it can be visited quickly. On site, like in Nara, a lot of deers walk around freely, it’s surprising at first but you quickly get used to it. In Miyajima (also called Itsukushima), there are a few things to see.
The floating torii
Probably the most photographed spot in Miyajima, and even in Japan, the floating torii. It’s the most famous and the most popular spot. The floating torii is actually a gate between the laypeople world and the sacred world, and it’s the symbolic entrance gate to Itsukushima shrine. It was first built in 1168, and it’s been renovated on a regular basis since then. 16-meters (52 ft.) high and weighing 16 tons (3500 pounds), it’s still here although numerous natural disasters took place in the past in the area. You won’t see the floating torii the same way depending on the moment you’re admiring it. Indeed, at low tide you can walk and reach the torii by foot. At high tide, the torii appears to float on the water. Immediately after the floating torii, you can visit the Itsukushima shrine. It’s 300 yens (2.50€) to get in.
Get on top of Mount Misen
Here’s a good way to stay active, climb Mount Misen, which is 530 meters (1730 ft.) high. It’s about a 2.5 kilometers (1.5 mile) hike, perfect to strengthen your thighs! During the hike, you’ll see several signs asking to keep an eye open because of the vipers in the area! Once you’re on top, you’ll have a nice view of the surroundings. Actually, if you’re too lazy to get on top by foot, there’s also a cable car. It’s 1800 yens (15 euros) the two-way trip, or 1000 yens (8.25€) the one-way ticket.
Other landmarks in Miyajima
There are other things to do in Miyajima. The Daisho-in temple is a Buddhist temple which was built in the 9th century. Few foreign tourists visit it, however it’s a beautiful one. There’s also the Senjokaku shrine, but you have to pay 100 yens (less than one euro) to get in. If you like museums, there’s the Miyajima History and Folk Museum. I’m not into museums so I didn’t go, it’s 300 yens (2.50€) to get in. There’s also the public aquarium of Miyajima, it’s 1400 yens (11.50€) to get in. Finally, take some time to have a walk in Momijidani Park.
I really liked my stay in Hiroshima and Miyajima. A city and an island who seem to be really quiet after visiting Tokyo. You’ll find below some travel tips if you plan to go there.
Hiroshima and Miyajima travel tips
- Wanna go to Japan? Check the visa policy here. Most Western countries can stay up to 90 days visa-free.
- Check my Japan travel guide : all the things to know before you go.
- Don’t go to Japan without a travel insurance!
- Find cheap accommodation on HotelsCombined.
- How to get to Miyajima? It’s very simple. From the Hiroshima JR train station, take a JR Sanyo Line train and get off at Miyajimaguchi. It’s a 30-minutes ride. Follow the signs then ’til the ferries terminal, and take the JR ferry. It’s a 10-minutes ride, and it’s free with a Japan Rail Pass.
- How many days in Miyajima? To me, a full day in Miyajima is enough. Some people stay half a day, others think one day is not enough and they stay two or three days. It’s up to you, I spent a full day there.
- How to get around in Miyajima? It’s a small island, you can easily get around by foot!