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,
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.
There is much more to see in the countryside surrounding Hiroshima than one might imagine. While there are that must-see places in Hiroshima City proper, such as Peace Memorial Park and Itsukushima Shrine, outside the city lies a wealth of natural treasure. This is not so much due to the city's relatively small size, but more to the abundance of sights in Hiroshima Prefecture.
The most popular destination associated with the region is without question Miyajima. A pleasant one hour ride west along the coast brings you to the port where ferries cross over to this beautiful, albeit heavily visited, island. The island's Itsukushima Shrine, originally built in the late 6th Century and rebuilt in 1146, is legendary. The unusual torii, or shrine arch, stands out in the water and is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful sites in all of Japan. After inspecting the other architecture of the area, including the five-story pagoda, a trip to the top of the 530-meter/1,739-foot Mt. Misen is recommended. Or hike the trails of nearby Momiji Tani Park. Among the many other sights and attractions here not to be missed is the Miyajima Oyster Festival, which is held every February.
Sandankyo & the Coastline
If you are going to be in the western reaches of the prefecture, you may also want to consider visiting some of Hiroshima's famous outdoor areas. In Ohtake City, Mikura-dake, a group of three peaks, the highest of which is 702-meters/2,303-feet tall, provides pleasure for campers and rock climbers alike. Deeper inland, toward the rugged, forested and rural area known as Sandankyo, you will encounter some of the most splendid natural scenery in the prefecture. Sandankyo, while also the name of the district, is more specifically the name of a scenic gorge. There is a boat tour through the gorge to a 30-meter/98-feet tall waterfall, and the quiet surroundings alone make the trip worthwhile for many. A few kilometers to the west, at an elevation of 1,341meters/0.8-miles, is Hiroshima prefecture's tallest peak, Osorakan-zan. In the winter, the area provides some good skiing opportunities, as well as a number of fine hot springs.
The Hiroshima coastline is perhaps the most jagged in Japan, blessed with hundreds and hundreds of islands. Before hitting the coast, start by visiting the peaceful maple tree park and two-story pagoda at Mitaki Temple, then continue on to Hiroshima Kannin Marina, where you can take a peaceful stroll while enjoying the scenic waterfront. Southeast of Hiroshima City, you may wish to visit Kure City, location of the Kure Maritime Museum, and by extension into the Inland Sea, the Ondo and Kurahashi areas. West of these quasi-islands are Etajima and Ogaki. If you are looking for quietude, nice beaches or great seafood restaurants, this is the area you will want to visit. Or, for an even more remote atmosphere with similar characteristics, the twin islands of Shimokamagiri and Kamagiri about 10-kilometers/6.2-miles to the east are recommended destinations.
Due east of Hiroshima City is the area appropriately named Higashi Hiroshima (east Hiroshima). The city of the same name is home to Hiroshima University and some of the nation's most-acclaimed sake (rice wine) breweries. If you are around in October, you will not want to miss the Saijo Sake Festival, where over 700 varieties can be tasted. But even if you are a teetotaler, there is still much to see in the way of historic buildings and parks, such as Minagasuigenchi with its 335-meter/1,099-foot tall wisteria trellis, and 7-kilometer stretch of waterside cherry trees that attract visitors from all around the region. Fudoin Temple is also a great place to view the cherry blossoms when they bloom in April.
South of this area, along the coastline, is Takehara, a region rich with ancient buildings and coastal islands. In Takehara City itself, there is a famed preservation area that dates back to the Edo period (mid-19th Century). This area and the several museums here could easily occupy you for a day. Otherwise, ferries to some of the islands may make for a wonderful diversion. Ohzaki-kamijima and Ohzaki-shimojima, located north and south, respectively, are highly popular destinations offering not much to do but relax. Then, on your return trip to the city, stop back in Eastern Hiroshima at Kaki-den to enjoy some fresh, delicious oysters.
If island hopping turns into a hobby for you, there are plenty more to explore. Starting at Onomichi, the coastal region northeast of Takehara, where you can enjoy the Onomichi Betchya Festival, you can cross the Onomichi Bridge and follow a highway that runs through a handful of major islands all the way to Ehime Prefecture (parts of this new highway are still under construction). Your first stop is Mukaijima, famed for its high annual rainfall, which provides for lush scenery, and its scrumptious seafood. From there, you will pass to Innojima, another island famed for seafood, as well as its castle and lovely flower parks. Next stop is Ikuchijima, famous for, what else? Seafood. But do take a trip to the absolutely exquisite Kosan-ji Temple located in Setoda-cho. Onward to Ohshima, where you will find Ohyamajumi Shrine (a national treasure), several great museums, such as the Ohmishima Art Museum, and a number of quiet parks. The last two islands before Ehime, are Hakatajima and Ohshima. Both have roads that allow you to circle the islands and appreciate their unadulterated natural beauty.
Sea sick? Try the mountains. Hiroshima has plenty of them. But prepare yourself for a slower pace of life and a particularly rural setting. Miyoshi City is not attractive per se, but it is conveniently located off a major highway junction, making it a great place to launch your adventures into the countryside. But before you head out, stop in at the Miyoshi Becken Beer microbrewery to have a brew made with the areas incredibly pure water. And where will you go from there? Kimitason, Funoson, Sakugison, Mirasaka-cho and Kisa-cho are all quaint valley villages that make for great day trips. Or simply grab a map, pick a point and go! It is hard to imagine a destination in the Hiroshima countryside that does not have its own unique charm.
Hiroshima Convention & Visitors Bureau (+1 81 82 261 1877/ http://www.hcvb.city.hiroshima.jp/e_navigator/course/index.html)
Hiroshima Tourist Navigator (+1 81 82 513 3389/ http://www.kankou.pref.hiroshima.jp/foreign/english/index.html)
JTB Sunrise Tours (+1 81 75 341 1413/ http://www.jtb.co.jp/shop/itdw/info/e/hiroshima/hiroshima_miyajima1day.asp)
Aqua Net Hiroshima (+1 81 82 240 5995/ http://www.aqua-net-h.co.jp/sekaiisan_course_english.html)
First Flying (+1 81 82 233 3123)
As one of Japan's major tourist destinations for foreigners and Japanese alike, Hiroshima possesses a wealth of options to keep everyone entertained. From somber history to outdoor tranquility, there is much to explore.
World Heritage Sites
Hiroshima's two internationally famous "World Heritage Sites" are the city's major tourist attractions. The first is the Peace Memorial Park and Atomic Bomb Dome, set in beautiful green surroundings in the central city and dedicated to world peace. This is the site of the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony held each August 6th in memorial to the victims and survivors of the 1945 atomic bomb attack. The ceremony is attended by guests from all over Japan and the world. That evening, Peace Park comes alive with music groups and the Lantern Floating Festival, where wishes are written on colorful paper lanterns and then floated down the Ota River, giving the impression of a sea of bright lights.
The second World Heritage Site is Itsukushima Shrine at Miyajima, also classified as one of the "three most scenic spots" in Japan. The shrine and its gateway, which stands farther out in the waters of the Seto Inland Sea, are the focal point here, but Miyajima is also a wonderful spot for taking in the seasonal colors or hiking up Mt. Misen for a view of the Seto Inland Sea and the many nearby islands.
Festivals are as much a feature of Hiroshima life as they are elsewhere in Japan. Summer equates to fireworks, a popular form of entertainment in any Japanese city, but the sheer number of ports and rivers here makes fireworks festivals an integral feature. Among the biggest and most attended fireworks displays is the Miyajima Suichu Hanabi Taikai. The seaside port town of Onomichi is also famous for its Sumiyoshi Festival. Other city summer festivals include Tokasan, the Kaki Matsuri and the Yukata Matsuri. For both of these events, one of the main streets is closed to vehicles and used instead for dance performance and as a place for groups of young girls to walk around displaying their colorful yukata (summer robe) fashions.
Another favorite summer pastime for Hiroshima residents is baseball. The regular Hiroshima Carp games at the Municipal Baseball Stadium can be heard all over the city, as excited fans cheer their home team. The baseball stadium also doubles as a performance venue that was the site of the opening ceremony of the 15th National Culture Festival in 2000.
Also related to sports, Hiroshima's Big Wave and Big Arch are certainly the largest and newest facilities for large events. Both were constructed in time to host the Asian Games in 1994. The Big Arch stadium now hosts a variety of events, such as home games of the local J-League Soccer team, San Frecce. The Big Wave complex has a 50-meter/164-foot indoor swimming pool, which doubles as an ice skating rink in winter. Another large sports and event venue is the prefectural sports facility, or Green Arena, which regularly hosts live concerts. Away from the city, the construction in recent years of a new international airport in Higashi Hiroshima has led the way for significant development in that area. One such initiative is the sprawling Hiroshima City Forestry Park, a haven for cyclists, runners and recreational walkers or picnickers.
While you may not imagine Hiroshima to be much of a skiing paradise given its southern location, you may be surprised to learn that there are over 30 ski fields in the prefecture, many of them an easy 90-minute drive from the city center. Sundays in January and February see even the smallest of these become packed with skiers and snowboarders from as far away as Kyushu.
For art lovers, the city is home to the Hiroshima Museum of Art, the Prefectural Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art. The latter is a striking new facility atop Mt. Hijiyama, and well worth the visit not only for its fine exhibitions but also its park-like surroundings and city views. The Prefectural Art Museum is located downtown right next to the Shukkeien Garden, a beautiful Japanese garden that can be enjoyed by the whole family, and a great escape from the bustling city.