Hiroshima: the sight of 80,000 horrors. On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m. the US dropped the bomb that led to the end of the war.
When first planning my trip to Japan, I put Hiroshima as a top destination to go. I’ve read about the bombing in books, watched documentaries and movies, but wanted to experience it for myself. In doing so I learned a lot more about what happened then what is told in books.
Getting to Hiroshima
Hiroshima is a 2.5 hour train ride from Osaka, Japan. From Tokyo it’s roughly 5 hours. As it’s on the main train line through Japan, there are several daily Shinkansen trains passing through, including trains eligible for the JR Pass, so it’s an easy city to visit, logistically. From Hiroshima station the Atom Dome take trams 2 or 6 to the Genbaku Dome-mae Station, or I just walked, as it’s roughly one mile.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
When arriving to the city I quickly dropping off my things at the hostel, Backpackers Hostel K’s in Hiroshima, and went straight to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
Inside the park is the A-Bomb Dome (otherwise known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial), which is famous for being the closest building to ground zero that survived. It is a haunting reminder of the devastating power of atomic weaponry.
In addition, I highly recommend visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, a 50 yen entry fee (about 50 cents). The museum contains hundreds of artifacts of the victims. I learned that a large portion of the victims were children that the were in the city working that day as part of the Student Mobilization Policy.
The Student Mobilization Policy was a “volunteer” government program that had middle and high school age students working in factories and other public works projects. After the government relocated the women and children away from city centers, which were targets of US attacks, the students joined the work program. Their purpose that day was to clear firebreaks in Hiroshima in case of a future attack. Wandering through the museum and reading story after story about various child victims I learned that many Japanese blame their own government for the attack. Had the students not been in the city that day, clearing useless firebreaks, those victims would have been home safe in the hills.
After this moving experience, I took a much needed break and popped into a restaurant to get an okonomiyaki lunch. Okonomiyaki is a savory Japanese pancake famous in both Osaka and Hiroshima that is made from batter, cabbage, and bean sprouts and topped with a wide variety of options.
The Hiroshima style is cooked with bacon, egg and noodles. I washed it down with a beer to enjoy this delicious late lunch. In addition to Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima is famous for oysters. I tried them later in my visit, they are absolutely amazing!
Miyajima and the Itsukushima Shrine
The Torrii Gate of the Itsukushima Shrine on the island of Miyajima is an iconic Japanese image. Rebuilt several times over its history, the present structure dates from the mid 16th century. Built on pier-like structures, during high tide the shrine appears to be floating on water.
Only a short train and ferry ride away from Hiroshima, I highly recommend the half day side trip while visiting the city.
Getting to Miyajima
With a JR pass one can do the trip for free, because the JR ferry that takes you from the shore to the island is included fare. You can also take a boat from the Peace Memorial, but this is not covered by the JR Pass.
From the Hiroshima train station take the JR Sanyo line to Miyajimaguchi station. Then walk to the ferry port and catch one of the half hourly ferries to the island. Pay attention to the tide schedule because while it’s neat to see the shrine when the water is low, high tide makes for the best photos.
The Itsukushima Shrine is a 10 minute walk from the island pier. The best shots of the Torii gate itself are taken from the east side before approaching the Shrine. My sunset picture, above, was shot at this angle! The shrine itself offers little in terms of views and can be skipped without missing much, if you’re not up for the entry fee.
The island is also know for the deer that roam around freely, so pay close attention when eating a snack or picnic or you might have an unwanted visitor! Most of the activities, buildings and shops on the island close around 5PM, so if you want to do any sightseeing besides the gate itself be sure to arrive with enough time beforehand.
Although there are hotels on the island itself, I don’t think staying on Mijajima would be worth a night’s visit. I was able to see plenty of the island with just a few hours stroll, and it’s easy enough to get to from Hiroshima in an afternoon.
I enjoyed my time in Hiroshima. Not knowing what to expect, I left with a deeper understanding of not only the attack but of Japan itself. It was well worth the time to visit.