Hiroshima City is on the east coast of Japan but more important than this geographical location is its location at the mouth of a delta, where the majestic Ohta River meanders down from higher elevations before branching out, sometimes only to converge again, across the city, before spilling into Hiroshima Harbor. The result is a city that is naturally divided into geographically distinct sections.
The area that visitors first become familiar with is the Hiroshima Station area, a bit northeast of the city center, although the addresses of many of the businesses here indicate "south ward." As you might imagine, this busy area features many businesses intended for tourists and travelers, including hotels and shopping centers with many eateries interspersed between them. Travelers with expensive tastes and a budget to match should consider checking-in to the
Hiroshima's geographical center is comprised of five districts. The first, Nagerakawa, is neon central. Here the signs of bars, restaurants of all classes, and sundry entertainment establishments set the swarming streets aglow. During the day, shoppers may be out in throngs, particularly around
Due west of Nagerakawa, and just south of the tram stops for Kamiyacho, Tate-machi and Hacchobori is Hondori. Actually, Hondori is the name of the arcade that runs through this section, leading you to correctly assume that there are many shopping opportunities to be had here. But apart from the PARCO and Fukuya shopping centers that act as anchors for smaller shops (Iena, Spick and Span, St. James and Hybryds to name a few) there are also a number of swank drinking spots, such as
Hacchobori and Nobori-machi form the district just north of the tram stops listed above, as well as the Ebisu-cho and Kanayama tram stops. Because of its location in Hiroshima central, the area is busy, but not quite as fast-paced as those previously mentioned.
South of Hondori arcade lies the district formed by Fukuro-machi and Naka-machi. This region is host to a number of hotels, including the famed
The final district of Hiroshima central is Kamiyacho, just west of the other four, where shopping opportunities are innumerable. With
Hakushima & Kamihacchobori
Concentrically surrounding these central districts are less busy, but certainly no less important areas. Slightly north of the Kamiyacho and Hacchobori region lies Hakushima and Kamihacchobori. There are a few hotels here, including
Nishihiroshima & Itsukaichi
West of the central district, Nishihiroshima begins to shed a little of the ultra-urban feel. Here you will find dozens of miscellaneous and family-run stores, as well as the charming
Continue following the JR Line west from Yokogawa and, after passing numerous other stations, you will arrive at Itsukaichi, the western extreme of Hiroshima City. In the west ward,
As Hiroshima is not a particularly expansive city, most of the hotels are located in reasonably close proximity to each other. That means the urban scenery is quite similar no matter where you choose to stay, but you will find the hotels themselves may vary quite dramatically in architecture, style of rooms, facilities and more.
Part of the Minami-ku district, the area around Hiroshima Station deserves special treatment, since many travelers will prefer to stay in this central location.
At the very top of the line for accommodations in Hiroshima is the Grand Prince Hotel Hiroshima. There are a handful of very fine hotels in the city, but this one is something special. Its serene waterside location on a small island in the harbor provides guests with the sights and sounds of the surrounding marina, as well as easy access to cruises. The rooms are spacious and comfortable with expansive views. It simply surpasses all others.
Hotel Sun Route Hiroshima, is another upper-end option available in this area, and though it is actually a business hotel, the size of its rooms and convenient location close to Peace Park and other tourist attractions make it perfectly suitable for leisure travelers. Or for those who want to hit the town as soon as they arise, the Hiroshima Ekimae Green Hotel is right outside of Hiroshima Station, and offers low-cost accommodations catered towards business travelers.
Perhaps the closest rival to the Prince is the Rihga Royal Hotel Hiroshima, a larger, comparably luxurious hotel located in the middle of the city. With an astounding 35 floors (enormous for Hiroshima), the views can hardly be described as less romantic, and its convenient location may make it more desirable for many. The inner-city sights of Hiroshima are all within walking distance or a quick tram ride. As the bus center is right next door, access to destinations outside the city is also greatly simplified.
Moving slightly down in scale, there is the ANA Crown Plaza Hotel Hiroshima. Recall the service you receive on Japanese airlines? That is the same kind of treatment you get here, and as it is an "international" hotel, the staff members can speak English quite well. You also get very spacious rooms, especially the singles, for the price you pay. Now add to this fine facilities, including a sauna, fitness center, pool, restaurants, Internet connections, restaurants and more, and you may have the "best buy" in Hiroshima for accommodations.
The Kokusai Hotel is another rather famous hotel in the middle of the city, famous in part because you cannot miss it. The rotating sky lounge on its roof provides a romantic venue for dining, and the facilities are first-rate, making it an extremely popular place for weddings and parties. Oriental Hotel Hiroshima is another enormous city hotel with splendid views from the upper floors (they go up to 23). Rooms here are sufficiently large but the main draw is its location on "Peace Boulevard," only a minute's walk from more entertainment than you can probably handle. The Mitsui Garden Hotel is also comparable in terms of price, size and location. One notable difference is that it has a room designed specifically for wheelchair guests.
For an inexpensive option, try Hotel 28 Hiroshima, whose amenities include both baths and a sauna at a great price. If business is your sole purpose in coming to Hiroshima, and you rely on Internet access, however, then you may want to try one of the many business hotels in the area.
Highly respected tourist hotels abound in Hiroshima. In the Hotel Grandvia Hiroshima, rooms are spacious and attractive, and you need not leave the hotel for entertainment; besides nine restaurants, a bar and a lounge, there are also karaoke rooms.
Business travelers, of course, will find a nice array of accommodations in this part of town as well. One highly recommended choice is the generically named Hiroshima Business Hotel. Guests can relax in the huge open baths, while there is even a private "family bath" as well. An even more inexpensive option for travelers on a budget is the comfortable, no-frills Kinokuniya Hotel, which even offers residency rates for guests stayed 30 days or longer.
Rooms in Hiroshima can be scarce during peak travel and holiday periods, so advance reservations are recommended. However, for those who prefer to wait until arrival to make bookings, the information center at Hiroshima Station can assist in locating accommodations and actually make reservations for you. The staff there also provides additional pertinent information regarding the city and can help arrange your onward travel plans.
Hiroshima Prefecture has been nicknamed "mini Japan," and rightly so, for it sports the best of everything Japan has to offer. When it comes to food, Hiroshima is a virtual gold mine of culinary delights.
The city's location right on the Seto Inland Sea makes it a haven for seafood lovers but Hiroshima's specialty from the sea is without a doubt oysters. The month of February is devoted to oyster festivals (kaki matsuri). These are held both in the city and in every seaside town, where one can savor cheap, fresh oysters at outdoor stands. The famous tourist island of Miyajima is also a mecca for oyster lovers, with many shops specializing purely in oyster dishes. A visit to Miyajima must also include a stop in at one of the momiji manju shops, where one can try maple leaf-shaped sweet-bean cakes served warm with tea. The most famous momiji-manju maker in Hiroshima is Nishiki-Do. A box of their cakes makes a great gift.
If the Nagarekawa scene does not suit you, try some of the options in other parts of Naka-ku, such as the more relaxed and spacious restaurant-bar atmosphere of Sam's Cafe 13 or Kemby's, two hangouts popular for their great American/Mexican-style menus and range of imported and local beers. As with any city in Japan, there is never a shortage of places to wile away your time snacking on local goodies and choosing from an array of sake types and vintages at places like Tsukiakari, one of Hiroshima's best-loved yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurants, where diners can grill right at their tables. And speaking of sake, Hiroshima is also home to the Saijo Sake Festival, where every October crowds throng the Higashi-Hiroshima town of Saijo to sample sake from its famous breweries.
Staying with local specialties, a trip to Hiroshima is not complete without getting a taste of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (literally meaning "as you like it"). This inexpensive dish is often described as "Japanese pizza." It is a doughy mixture filled with various meats, seafood and vegetables, cooked in front of the customer (or by the customer) on a hot plate at the table, and served with its trademark okonomiyaki sauce. It is eaten throughout Japan, but the addition of soba (buckwheat noodles) or udon (rice noodles) to the filling is unique to Hiroshima, hence its fame. In fact, a whole section of the downtown area has been designated Okonomimura (okonomiyaki village), a large building bursting with four floors of okonomiyaki shops.
For a more substantial meal, diners are spoilt for choice. In the Pacela shopping complex alone, four floors are devoted entirely to restaurants, offering anything from authentic Indian cuisine to high-class Japanese kaiseki-ryori, cheap Italian and all-you-can-eat buffets. Even a fine night of gourmet French cuisine is available at such formal hot spots as Restaurant Ogawa.
Located on the North side of Naka-ku, Hacchobori is just one of the many parts of the central district that you'll want to check out if you're hungry. If you're a beer lover, don't miss Heiwa Koboh, which features two beers brewed in-house, as well as a selection of others, along with a host of Japanese and Chinese specialty foods, such as Oden and spring rolls. If you have a large group, Neko Matagi can accommodate groups of up to 50 people, and has a large, continually changing menu to match its equally impressive selection of beer and cocktails. For a local taste, Mitchan has several branches dotted around the city that offer a wide variety of options for okonomiyaki.
Hiroshima is infamous for the speed at which new eateries and bars appear and disappear. Even monthly publications have trouble keeping up to date with all the changes. The Nagarekawa district is a prime example of this, though this area is dedicated far more to drinking than dining. A maze of narrow backstreets filled with tiny, hole-in-the-wall snack bars and other adult entertainment, Nagarekawa is a navigational exercise in itself but it is worth all the wrong turns when you stumble across such popular nightspots as Jamaica, Snappers, Cross, Mac Bar or Twisters. Chokotto-Ya is a particularly tempting option if what you're looking for is food and drink, with as many as 150 local varieties of sake and a three-story izakaya (Japanese pub) that serves simple, unpretentious food.
Whatever your preference, you are guaranteed to find an array of tempting places to satisfy your palate in Hiroshima.
Hiroshima's past is rooted in Japan's medieval period. Like many pastoral settlements, the five fishing villages, then known collectively as Gokamura, entered the history books through military action. They became the regional base for a local warlord's largely successful grab for local power in the 12th Century. In order to establish a trade port with China on the only coastline available to him, Kiyomori, head of the Taira clan, started what would become a long succession of engineering projects to dredge the shallow bay and otherwise develop the river delta. To appease the local gods, Kiyomori commissioned Itsukushima Shrine, which, though reconstructed many times since, still hovers over the mirror waters of the Bay at high tide. By the time of Kiyomori's not so heroic death, naked and feverish in a palace apartment, he had taken part in one of Japan's most infamous legacies, the age of the shogun, or military strongman.
Nearly 400 years of the shogunate passed before the region again made news. Although the Taira clan's power had long since waned, warlords continued to rule the Hiroshima area. In a series of campaigns in the mid-1500s, Mori Motonari defeated neighboring rivals and unified their domains under his own clan in the area, known today as Chugoku. Then, in 1589, Motonari's grandson, Terumoto, relocated the Mori headquarters and commissioned a castle to be built near Hiroshima Bay. This so-called "Carp Castle" was occupied by Terumoto in 1593.
With a new castle and lord, the settlement was renamed Hiroshima, or "Wide Island," and began to acquire accruements that were befitting its status as a castle town. Artisans and traders, and in later years scholars and teachers, turned Hiroshima into a center for Confucian schooling. Bridges helped connect the town's islands into a single entity, which started to resemble today's layout. Canals and wharves provided routes from markets to the Seto Inland Sea and attracted commerce from the countryside. The town's strategic position at the confluence of the Sanyo Highway, Ogawa River and Seto Inland Sea also earned it recognition as a military base.
Hiroshima's Renaissance continued under the administration of the Asano clan until the Meiji Restoration. The castle town was incorporated as a city in 1889. Five years later, during the Sino-Japanese War, Hiroshima's strategic importance was such that Imperial Headquarters were temporarily relocated there, and the city hosted a special session of the Imperial Diet, briefly making Hiroshima Japan's de facto capital.
In the decades that followed, Hiroshima grew to become the country's sixth largest city. But at 8:15AM on August 6, 1945, the city's growth as a leading military and commercial center came to an abrupt halt. "Little Boy," the US atomic bomb carried by the Enola Gay, exploded some 590-meters/0.4-miles above the bustling entertainment district that is near the heart of present-day Hiroshima. The horrific effects of that bomb are well documented and presented at Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum, a must-see lesson in modern history.
Numbers are hard to verify (one mass grave in the Park contains the burned remains of some 10,000 unidentified victims) but roughly 80,000 people are believed to have perished as a result of the bomb's immediate after-effects. Another 60,000 died from burns, radiation and other horrors associated with the atomic bomb. Even today, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, based in Hijiyama Park, continues to study the after-effects of the bomb among survivors and their families.
Precious little history, monumental or otherwise, survived the devastation. The city has been rebuilt in the modernist, international style of glass, steel and concrete, of which the Pacela shopping arcade may be the best example. What few pre-World War II sites remain tend to be scattered outside the city center, in the surrounding hills and vertiginous islands of Hiroshima Bay. Temples, shrines and cemeteries continue to hold on in the region's lush countryside. Within the city itself monuments stand in for the original historical structures, preserved and labeled for posterity, though often seemingly ignored in the bustle of this commercial city.
Speculation was that nothing would grow in Hiroshima's soil for at least 75 years after the bomb but soon after the blast oleanders, now the city's official flower, started to bloom. Today, oleanders are planted along the city's streets to commemorate the city's post-bomb rebirth. Hiroshima now bills itself as an international "City of Peace." In commemoration of the atomic blast, August 6th has been declared a day for international peace and a nuclear weapons-free world, in hopes that similar tragedy can be avoided.