Hiroshima is one of those places that, as an American, I felt I should visit. None of my family was involved in WWII campaign against Japan, but still, I felt a sort of moral obligation to visit and pay my respects to a place that was destroyed in a horrific way by my own country. It was a personal journey, and one I’m glad I made because it introduced me to quite possibly my favorite place in all of Japan.
The first time I went, I traveled 13 hours by slow train from where I lived in Shizuoka, taking in the remote countryside. It’s a beautiful trip, but long, and I spent most of it standing as the train along the more rural routes was mostly filled with grandmothers and small children. Around halfway through the trip I got a seat and apparently took a selfie of myself looking contemplative, because what else will a twenty-two-year-old do?
I did thirteen hours back and forth in a long weekend. That’s right, I only had twenty four hours to spend in Hiroshima (minus sleeping time), so I had to make the most of my time.
When Sora and I would hit Hiroshima, we’d have around the same amount of time I did on my first trip, and I more or less repeated the same itinerary for her. There is a lot to see in Hiroshima, and I do believe it’s worth a few days, but if you’re only spending the night before heading onwards, then this is definitely what you should do!
Hiroshima Peace Park & Memorial
How to get there: Take the tram bound for Miyajimaguchi from Hiroshima Station to Genbaku Dome-mae (16 minutes, ¥160). You can also walk, it takes 45 minutes or so.
There’s a lot of things about Hiroshima that I love, and there’s a lot of things that are incredibly important to see. Your first stop, and ours after unpacking our things, should be to head to the Atomic Bomb Dome. I’ve always done at sunset because it’s quieter and the atmosphere is, while somber, peaceful.
And really, that’s the most important thing to know about Hiroshima. It’s a city of peace. The dome and surrounding park all stand for peace and the hope that the event that happened to them never happens to anyone else. There are memorials situated around the park, each for different people and groups that were killed in the atomic blast. I worried that Sora would wonder why I was taking her to such a depressing spot on our first real stop in Japan, but I needn’t have worried. It’s one of those things you can’t really talk about. We walked the park in relative silence, visiting memorials and reading plaques. Really, it’s about being there and understanding what happened and the need for peace.
One of the most telling memorials is the children’s memorial, featuring 1000 paper cranes. There’s an eternal flame in the park as well, the fire illuminates The Dome when you look through the Cenograph that bares all the names of the victims. At the far end of the park is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (admission is only ¥50), which you can visit to learn about the bombing, the effects it had on the city and the people who survived, and support Hiroshima’s aims at world peace.
After we had finished and our legs were weary from walking and travel (we had come from South Korea that morning), we bought ice cream, Sora fell down some stairs, and we walked back to our hostel for the next morning’s jaunt.
How to get there: To reach the ferry port from Hiroshima Station, take the JR Sanyo Line to Miyajimaguchi Station (25 minutes, ¥410 one way, covered by the Japan Rail Pass). Alternatively, you can take tram line number 2 from central Hiroshima bound for Miyajimaguchi. The tram is slower, but costs only ¥260 one way (not covered by the Japan Rail Pass). You can take a boat from Hiroshima Peace Park as well, but it’s not terribly often and is quite pricey, so opt for the train or tram. Once at Miyajimaguchi, there will be plenty of signs pointing you towards the ferries to the island. There’s two companies and each costs ¥180, but if you have the Japan Rail Pass, take the JR ferry as it’s covered!
There are few places in this world I love than Miyajima. Technically the island not far off the coast from Hiroshima is called Itsukushima, but is rather popularly referred to as Miyajima, which translates to “shrine island.” And that’s because the main attraction of the island is the beautiful Shinto shrine and floating torii gate. Get up bright and early and jump on the train (or tram) and head to Miyajima, and trust me, go early, because this place can get packed. The island is as if you’ve turned back time. It has a distinctive Edo era look and has avoided any modernization in terms of architecture, which is a feast for the eyes and a wonderful contrast to Hiroshima’s neon.
The first thing you’ll see on your way to Miyajima are the giant torii gates that mark the entrance to the shrine. They were built out in the water and when the tide is high, appear like they’re floating. It’s one of the postcards of Japan without a doubt and though you can grab great pics from the ferry, there’s about 7,000 places to get snaps of the famous gates on the island. When the tide is low you may lose the floating effect, but you can then walk out to them because of the sandbar. Depending on what you want, check the tide tables.
You can pay to walk through Itsukushima Shrine (¥300 for temple entry, ¥500 for entry plus Treasure Hall), or just wander around it. Surrounding the shrine are tons of shops and cafes to bleed your pockets dry. One thing you should definitely get at the little maple leaf shaped cakes filled with everything from traditional red bean to strawberry to peach to sweet potato. They’re called momiji manju (もみじ饅頭) and they’re literally EVERYWHERE on Miyajima. They’re also delicious and the perfect little treat as you wander the island.
Speaking of wandering the island, DANGER WILL ROBINSON! Beware the deer. They run free and wild on Miyajima and they’re more than a bit brazen. Mind your pockets because they will get into them and eat whatever is in there. We watched helplessly as an Austrian tourist fought desperately to rescue his map from a deer who had no interest in giving it back. The deer won, btw. Sora decided she was actually Snow White and it started a long tradition of me loosing track of her and finding her with some sort of wild animal the rest of our trip.
There is a host of things to see on Miyajima. If you’re a big fan of temples, head to Daisho-in, which is tucked away in the woods halfway up a mountain. It’ll most likely be very quiet and the temple grounds are really beautiful.
I think we missed them, but look for the Dai-hannyakyo Sutra, golden prayer wheels that bring good luck to all that touch them. Also there’s Henjokutsu Cave which homes an “eerie collection of Buddhist icons related to the 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Shikoku.”
If you’re a hiking fan or want to see some killer views, you can waltz on up Mt. Misen or take the ropeway (¥1000 one way, ¥1800 round trip). If you head up there… beware of the monkeys. Don’t look them in the eye or they may attack. I’m not even lying.
Other highlights of the island include the pagoda, an acquarium, and plenty of trails to hike or rent a bicycle on. You could easily spend a full day here, but you’ll need to head back to the city to round off your 24 hours in Hiroshima. If you’re hungry, there’s plenty of places to eat on Miyajima, but I’d recommend heading back to Hiroshima, because there’s a regional specialty you need to stuff in your face.
Sometimes called a “Japanese pancake”, okonomiyaki is more like a omelet on steroids. It’s cabbage, batter, veggies (especially green onion), and meat or seafood. If you’re in Osaka, the ingredients are mixed together and cooked, and that’s the predominant version of the dish. However, I like Hiroshima style okonomiyaki (go ahead, fight me!), where the ingredients are layered and there’s a LOT more cabbage. In both versions it’s served with a sweet sauce like kind of like Worcestershire sauce if you had to acquaint it to something Western. The place we went too also had a spicy version, which was amazing and burnt my face off. The fact is, there’s tons of variants of okonomiyaki, and Hiroshima takes their mega cabbage pancakes seriously.
There’s a gazillion okonomiyaki places in Hiroshima, including an entire building with floors filled with restaurants just for the epic omelet-meets-pancakepizzathing. So get ready to chow down and head to Okonomi-mura (お好み村, 5-13 Shintenchi, Naka-ku,Hiroshima, 730-0034) where you’ll have your choice of four floors of okonomiyaki restaurants to choose from. There’s a handy English guide to each grill here, but we suggest heading to the 3rd floor and going to the grill with the red stools. I honestly have no idea what the name was (I was too concentrated on getting ready to eat my weight in pancake), but it’s right in front of you as you step out of the elevator. The ladies who run it are wonderful, will appreciate your stilted Japanese, and cook you a mound of food while also cheering on the Hiroshima Carps baseball game playing in the background.
Don’t go to Hiroshima in the summer. It’s hot, it’s muggy, and there’s frequent typhoons and rain storms that will make your stay miserable. It was rainy while we were there in September, but the worst of the season had past.
International ATMs can be found at 7-Elevens, also at the central post office by the train station.
Chuo Park is really lovely and is home to Hiroshima Castle, which was rebuilt after the atomic bomb blast. During cherry blossom season (late March, early April), it’s a mad house with hanami (basically cherry blossom viewing parties aka everyone sits on a picnic blanket, eats a lot, and gets drunk).
Hiroshima locals LOVE their baseball team, The Carps. You can get tickets rather easily and it’s a fun time. The Japanese adore baseball.
Another food item Hiroshima is known for is oysters! Slurp ’em up!
Where To Sleep
As with any city, there are lots of hostels in Hiroshima, and while we’ll do a full Between the Sheets review, we recommend Hiroshima Hana Hostel. Wanting to give Sora a bit of the authentic experience, I booked us the traditional Japanese room with futons and tatami. While I had a bed in my apartment in Japan, half the year I slept just like this because my air conditioner was in my living room. I love sleeping on futons, they’re comfortable and the tatami is wonderful on an aching back. This hostel is great, it’s close to the train station but far enough away from the hustle so it’s nice and quiet.
And that’s it! 24 hours in Hiroshima! Want more tips and suggestions? Just comment below and we’ll answer!