Hiroshima is a city that has undoubtedly left a huge mark in world history, but what many people may not know is that Hiroshima is actually a large prefectural region, and Hiroshima City is its capital. This important prefecture has a reputation for being more reserved and the people more cautious than in any other Japanese region, but they’re very welcoming to tourists and eager to share the wonders of the area.
Hiroshima is the capital prefecture of the Chugoku area, the most western portion of Japan’s main island of Honshu. It is a hub of industry, with a fascinating history that goes back much farther than the 20th century.
1. Visit Miyajima
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Considered to be one of the must see wonders of Japan, Miyajima has a great deal to offer. The island itself is beautiful, known to be especially picturesque in the autumn months. You can easily get there by ferry from the mainland port of Miyajimaguchi.
The most famous sight to see on the island is Itsukushima shrine, also known as the floating Tori gate. This shrine is very significant to the Shinto faith, and is on most Japanese people's bucket lists. The gate is built on a sandbar, meaning that at high tide the water washes around the base of the gate, giving it the appearance of floating. At low tide you can go out and touch the gate for good luck.
But this isn’t the only sight to see on Miyajima. The island is packed full of classical Japanese architecture, shrines and an impressive five-tiered Pagoda. The island is also overrun with exceptionally cute deer. These little guys are always looking for a snack and are quite happy to be petted or to pose for a picture, but try not to feed them as the local government thinks they are getting a bit chubby.
2. Go to Rabbit Island
白石准 on Photozou
The super cute destination with a dark past. Many of you may have heard of the cat islands in Japan
, well Okunoshima is the rabbit island. Full of furry little bunnies who are ready and waiting to eat treats right out of your hands. A popular way to get the rabbits to interact with you is to lay down, put some rabbit friendly food on your chest and have the critters climb all over you.
It’s a very fun place to visit, but it wasn’t always that way. The reason the rabbits now own the island is that it used to house a chemical weapons factory in World War 2. The rabbits are descended from test subjects that were set free at the end of the war. You can visit the ruins of the factory and see how an island, whose economy was once fuelled by violence, is now empowered by cuteness.
3. Walk Around Peace Memorial Park
Pictured: President Obama and Prime Minister Abe. Photo by Pete Souza on Wikimedia.
You can’t talk about Hiroshima without mentioning the atomic bombing. Being the first sight of an atomic bomb in war-time has really shaped Hiroshima City’s identity. The city now believes very passionately in nuclear disarmament and peace between all nations after seeing the horrors of war. In the centre of the city is a park filled with artistic depictions of peace from all around the world. The most famous sights are the bell that can be rang to evoke peace, and the children’s monument dedicated to Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who died of radiation poisoning. She believed that folding 1000 paper cranes would make her wish come true, she wished to get better. Children from all over Japan still fold cranes for her and bring them to the monument.
4. Visit The Memorial Museum
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This museum is a powerful and intense experience. It is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, but it is a must see if you want to attempt to understand the ramifications of the atomic blast. The museum sits in Peace Park and houses information and accounts taken immediately after the bombing that were banned from being distributed to news agencies. The museum shows a very detailed presentation of what happened, not hiding any of the truth, no matter how it presents Japan or America.
5. Have A Sake in Saijo
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As you travel inland, Hiroshima becomes more mountainous. The mountain city of Saijo is a fantastic place to visit, and not only because of the temperate climate. Every Autumn the city has a festival showcasing all of the different sake breweries
in the area and visitors are encouraged to sample as many kinds as they are physically able to. Known to be some of the best sake in Japan, this is a must visit for sake fans.
6. Go to Yamato Museum
Hideyuki KAMON on Flickr
The city of Kure used to be Japan’s main shipbuilding port. One hundred years ago the city was the most advanced and prolific ship building port in Asia.
At The Yamato Museum in Kure city, you can see impressive models of all the ships ever built there. There is fascinating information about the development of the Japanese Naval forces and Japanese military history. The crown jewel of the museum is the recreation of the Yamato, known as the Japanese flag ship in WW2. The sight is a good place to visit if you want to learn more about modern Japanese history or see a side of the country not usually represented.
7. See Hiroshima Castle
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Hiroshima Castle is a slice of feudal Japan at the centre of an urban metropolis. The castle used to be an important centre of government for the region, ruled by the daimyo. The original was unfortunately destroyed in the atomic blast, but this replica castle is just as impressive.
You can climb the rather cumbersome stairs to the top and view a different wonder on each level. The castle houses historical artifacts and art, and from the top you can see the splendid sky line and castle grounds. In the ground you can visit a Shinto temple officially connected with the castle, and explore the castle keep.
8. Visit Fukuyama
メルビル on Wikimedia
Fukuyama is the 2nd largest city in the prefecture and has a lot to offer. The city has a much calmer atmosphere than Hiroshima City, but has all of the usual conveniences. You can experience Japanese city life at a slower pace, and see some of the gorgeous landscapes such as the Myōō-in Buddhist shrine, or go to Fukuyama Castle for a nice day out.
Fukuyama is considered to be such a beautiful place that the Japanese government used to take Korean delegates here in order to impress them and improve relations in the pre-industrial age. They would show them the castle, parks, and most of all Tomonoura.
9. Explore Tomo no ura
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Tomonoura is not just a beautiful island off Fukuyama City, it is and island full of stories. This island has acted as a muse for many great creators, and it is easy to see why with its traditional architecture and gorgeous waters. The island was the inspiration for the famous Japanese animated film; Ponyo. It was also where Hugh Jackman’s Logan takes shelter in The Wolverine, 2013. So if you’re a movie fan, or just want to see a peaceful picturesque island then this is the place for you.
10. Eat at Okonomi-mura
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Okonomi-mura is a self proclaimed Theme park based around Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima’s signature dish. Whilst this is also the signature dish of Osaka, the two types are actually very different. The Osaka variant adds all of the ingredients together and then mixes them, where as the Hiroshima variant layers them in stacks. This leads to a very different taste and texture.
Okonomi-mura is not actually a theme park but a large department store that specialises in Okonomiyaki dishes, there are over 20 restaurants to choose from, all adding their own signature flare to the dish.
11. Walk Around Mitaki Temple
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Miyaki temple is an off the radar, hidden gem. The fantastical looking temple is located relatively close to the centre of Hiroshima City but you would never be able to tell. It has such as peaceful atmosphere which matches the impressive waterfalls that give the temple its name. As well as scenic paths, beautiful nature and a striking temple, you can also find hundreds of cute Buddha images and statues in the area. Many of the statues have been dressed up or made to depict something about life in Hiroshima.
12. See A Game at Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium
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If there is one thing Hiroshima people love it is their baseball team, the Carps. The Hiroshima Carp’s can be seen all over the city, on book covers, on trains, and the carp uniform has even become a normal part of the prefectures fashion. If you visit in baseball season you will be hard pressed to find a shop not playing their musical theme.
To truly experience the city you should try to see a game at the Mazda Zoom Zoom stadium. Named after the company that provides the city with most of its industry, the stadium is a reflection of how passionate the Hiroshima people are about their prefecture.
13. Sightsee at Hiroshima Orizuru Tower
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After the atomic blast there was only one building in the main blast radius still recognizable, the Industrial promotional hall, now known as the atomic dome, or A-bomb dome. It has been preserved, rather than rebuilt, to demonstrate the destruction caused by the explosion. The perfect place to view this building, as well as the city of Hiroshima is from Orizuru tower viewing platform.
The tower has a whole floor dedicated to viewing Peace park and the centre of Hiroshima. Shutterbugs can’t afford to miss this photo opportunity.
14. Look Around Onomichi
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This charming seaside town was the location for the popular anime ‘Kamichu’, and lives up to its reputation of being a calm, yet attractive place. Here you will find some of the best hot springs and beaches in Hiroshima. The town has a lot of heart, and whilst considered to be small and unassuming by the Japanese, for many tourists it will be the authentic Japan you have been searching for.
15. Relax at Shukkei-en Garden
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This traditional Japanese garden has gone through great lengths to create a zen atmosphere, but also add some wonder. The garden is filled with Shrunken Scenery, which is where it gets its name from. It has ponds, pagodas and a bridge, all miniaturized. Built in 1620 the garden’s tiny features were supposed to compliment the traditional tea house, and add to the beauty of the area. It is a site for those who would like to see some of Weird Japan.
Hiroshima is a great prefecture to explore, and whilst the atomic bomb is an important part of its history there is a much richer culture and history to be found here.