Hiroshima: A memorable experience

Hiroshima Peace Park | Photo credit: Flowizm

Hiroshima, the city of water and peace, is a modern and culturally-rich destination, and is much more than its Peace Memorial Park and a stepping stone to Miyajima.

Miyajima (literally “shrine island”), by the way, has been celebrated as a sacred island and one of Japan’s three most scenic views. It is most famous for Itsukushima Shrine, which, together with its large wooden torii (gate), stands in the ocean during high tide. Deer move around the island freely, and so do monkeys on top of Misen, the island’s highest mountain. The island becomes very romantic in the evening when the tourist crowds return to the mainland and only the visitors who stay overnight stroll the calm streets in their yukata and geta, enjoying the sight of the illuminated shrine. Miyajima is located about one hour and twenty minutes from Hiroshima.

The historic city of Hiroshima is not only blessed with a wonderful landscape and a diverse cultural heritage, but is also revered as a city that has witnessed some of the most ravaging days in history. It is known throughout the world as the first city in history subjected to nuclear warfare when it was bombed by the United States of America during World War II.

On August 6, 1945 at 8:15 AM local time, the United States Air Force dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, completely destroying the city, killing an estimated 260,000 people and injuring more than 160,000. It was then thought that the site would remain uninhabitable for decades, but in fact reconstruction began in 1949, and by 1974 the city had doubled its pre-war population.

Hiroshima today stands as an invincible spirit, which could not be curbed by destruction or death. It is this spirit that has breathed a new life into the city and made it a fascinating destination that arrests its tourists with a haunting tale. The places like the Atomic Bomb Dome or the Peace Memorial Park attract millions of visitors who come with a silent plea for peace.

The natural landscape of the city also contributes to the “Hiroshima Experience”. Traversed by six arms of the River Ota, the city extends into Hiroshima Bay in the pattern of a human hand. The azure coastline provides visitors with a number of picturesque locales, and the Chugoku and Shikoku mountain ranges serve as a picturesque backdrop.

A truly international city founded at the end of the 16th century, Hiroshima has become a bustling, affluent and prosperous city that stands proudly, and is amongst Japan’s most appealing destinations and each year is visited by travellers from all around the world.

Did You Know?

  • Hiroshima has a history that dates to 1589.
  • Following WWII, Hiroshima began to receive donations of streetcars from all over Japan. (After World War II, Japanese cities – like British cities – were anxious to get rid of their streetcar systems due to damage to the infrastructure, and so there were plenty of streetcars to give away.) Hiroshima rebuilt its streetcar system along with the rest of the city, and as such Hiroshima is the only city in Japan with an extensive streetcar system. Some streetcars that survived the war were put back into service, and four of these are still running today.

How to Get Here

Shinkansen bullet trains | Photo credit: Japan National Tourism Organization

Hiroshima is about 5 hours (894km) from Tokyo and the best way to get here from Tokyo is to travel on the Shinkansen bullet train.

If you fly into Hiroshima from anywhere in Japan, or elsewhere, you will arrive at Hiroshima Airport (HIJ). To get into the downtown area of Hiroshima from the airport, you can take a bus shuttle. There are bus lines that will take you to either the Hiroshima Shinkansen station or the bus centre in the city. The ride takes a little less than an hour.

Renting a car is also an option, and there are several car rental companies located at the airport.

Are there any Travel or Medical Alerts?

News from Japan National Tourism Organization

Following the British and Canadian governments’ ease on travel restrictions to Japan, on April 14, 2011, the US Department of State has reduced the travel alert to Japan only to the 50 miles radius of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which excludes major cities such as Tokyo and Yokohama, and Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda airports. As international organizations release clearer figures and assessment, the current situation has reached a reasonable safety level for international travelers.

Can We Visit Japan Today?

Yes. The majority of regions in Japan including popular leisure travel destinations are outside the areas affected by tsunami, earthquake and radiation, and received no disruption to infrastructure.  Everything in these areas continues to operate as usual.  The greater Tokyo area has already retrieved the usual condition, and there are no more periodical blackouts.  The other regions are unharmed, and safe and normal as before.

How is the Radiation Level?

NOT DANGEROUS! Except for the proximate areas near the nuclear power plants, there is no dangerous level of radiation detected in Japan.  Tokyo is not within radiation contamination concern area, located over 200km (124 miles) away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant facilities.  The radiation level in Tokyo is similar to that of New York City.  The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and other international organizations confirm that the radiation level in the atmosphere is within a reasonable safety level to human health. You can see daily updates on radiation level in major cities in Japan here.

Are Food and Water Safe?

Yes. There is no shortage of food or water, and products distributed to the public are all safe.

Is Public Transportation Working?

Yes. Japan’s sophisticated public transportation systems have been recovered to the regular service levels everywhere, except for the tsunami-affected regions.

Daily Updates

Since the 3.11 earthquake, Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) continues to release updates on its website, including radiation conditions, transportation, events and other travel-related information.

Japanese Yen

You do not need to arrive in Japan with Yen in hand. When you land at Narita International, or any other airport, there are exchange counters that offer better exchange rates than what you’d get abroad, as well as ATMs. Change enough money to last several days, since exchanging money is not as convenient in Japan as it is in many other countries.

Credit cards are widely accepted in major cities. Canadian or U.S. traveller’s cheques can be exchanged at major banks and hotels. Although traveler’s checks are something of an anachronism now that ATMs have come onto the scene, they’re still useful for Japan, where ATMs for foreign-issued cards are limited. All banks in Japan displaying an Authorized Foreign Exchange sign can exchange currency and traveler’s checks. Automated banking machines are widely available, but some do not accept foreign debit cards. Visitors should be aware that banking machines are not available 24 hours a day and may not be available on weekends.

Your bank can advise if you need a new personal identification number (PIN) for overseas access to your account. Credit cards and debit cards should be used with caution due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity. ABMs should be used during business hours inside a bank, supermarket, or large commercial building.

For locations of ATMs you can visit these VISA and MasterCard Web sites.

What will the seasonal weather be like?

Hiroshima enjoys a mild climate as a result of its position in the Seto Inland Climate Zone, as the city is sheltered by the Chugoku Mountains in the north and the Shikoku Mountains in the west.

The best time to travel to Hiroshima is in October. Many people like spring for the cherry blossoms but its unfortunate that many people also overlook the beauty of the Japanese fall. Spring weather can be unpredictable but October is generally quite mild anywhere you go. August can be miserably hot and it rains too much in June. There are often typhoons in September.

Although the summers (June-August) can be muggy, it’s still a pleasant time to visit. December through February-February can be cold. Spring (March/April) and autumn (September/October) are considered particularly good times to travel as spring in Japan is associated with cherry blossom viewing and autumn is the season for watching the trees turn beautiful shades of red, gold and yellow.

Getting Around

Hiroshima is a bustling city with a good infrastructure.

One legacy of Hiroshima’s destruction was the rebirth into one of Japan’s most navigable cities, with wide, open boulevards instead of older, cramped streets. The most convenient mode of transportation in the city is streetcar. Local public transportation in Hiroshima is provided by a streetcar system, operated by Hiroshima Electric Railway and called “Hiroden” for short. While many Japanese cities abandoned their streetcar systems by the 1980s, Hiroshima retained streetcars because the construction of a subway system was too expensive for the city to afford. Although streetcars in Hiroshima are now being replaced by newer models, most retain their original appearance. Thus, the streetcar system is sometimes called a Moving Museum by railroad buffs. Of the four streetcars that survived the war, two are still in operation (Hiroden Numbers 651 and 652).

Hiroshima is also served by a dense network of buses that connect different parts of the city with a regular bus service, which provide an inexpensive and convenient method of getting around the city. The buses in Hiroshima are operated from the Hiroshima Bus Center in Kamiya-cho.

As well, a network of rail and road ways crisscrosses the city to make it easy to travel across conveniently. The metro rails, or Hiroshima Rapid Transit System, connect different parts of the city in an awesome speed. Operated by the Hiroshima Rapid Railway Company, the metro rail runs for a stretch of more than eighteen kilometers, covering the major areas of the city. A major portion of the rail tracks run above the ground and only a little distance in downtown Hiroshima is constructed underground. The trains are specially built with a ring of rubber tyres running around them. With automatically sliding doors and high-speed trains, the metro in Hiroshima is a fine specimen of Japan’s success in technology.

Ferries are operated by JR Miyajima Ferry and Miyajima Matsudai Kisen to Miyajima. There is also a boat taxi service that runs along the ota-gawa channels into the city center. Hiroshima Port is the main passenger ferry terminal for Hiroshima, with service to Etajima, Matsuyama and other destinations. There is also an international ferry terminal which has service to South Korea, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

If you want to rent a car, free city maps are available from either the city tourism association or a car rental agency, but, investing in a handheld GPS system featuring turn-by-turn voice directions could be invaluable. GPS systems today also feature points of interest that are nearby your location, and many other features that will provide a level of confidence while navigating in a foreign country. To view a variety of GPS products and verify that maps are available, see Garmin.

What not to miss

World Heritage Site(s)

Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world. Currently, there are fourteen World Heritage Sites in Japan.

Hiroshima is known around the world as the city which was destroyed, on August 6, 1945, by the world’s first atomic bomb. Every year, millions of visitors come to the city to pay their respects in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and at the Peace Memorial Museum. The park, which was reconstructed in 1949, is home to many famous monuments and buildings, including the Children’s Peace Monument and the A-Bomb Dome. The ruins of the dome, which are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, have become the symbol of an international desire for peace.

Note: Be sure to pick up a Seto Inland Sea Welcome Card, available for free at city tourism offices. The card provides a 20% discount on admission to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Hiroshima Castle, Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum and the Shukkei-en Garden.

Situated around the epicentre of the atomic bomb explosion in Hiroshima in 1945, a complex of buildings and monuments has been erected in the Peace Memorial Park to commemorate this earth-shattering event. Central to the park is the only remaining city building damaged in the blast. It was formerly the Industrial Promotion Hall, but is now known as the Atomic Bomb Dome and has been inscribed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1945, the A-Bomb Dome was a government building in the bustling neighbourhood of Sarugaku-cho. which was levelled, save a few trees and telephone poles, and the Dome’s structural girders and brick walls. Today, the dome is surrounded by a fence, a lawn and sculpted hedges, and it is lit at night. An aura of that fatal day remains in the rubble at its base, and in its empty, exposed interior.

Also located in the park is the Peace Memorial Museum, featuring exhibits that graphically portray the horrible effects of the bomb on the city and its citizens. Between the museum and the dome stands the Memorial Cenotaph containing a stone chest, inside of which is a list of all those killed in the explosion or who subsequently died from the long-term effects caused by radiation. The Cenotaph also houses the peace flame, which will burn until nuclear war is no longer considered a threat to humanity. Other monuments in this solemn place include the Statue of the A-Bomb Children and the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound that contains the ashes of tens of thousands of unidentified victims.

It is a Japanese tradition to fold one thousand paper cranes when someone is ill or stricken by tragedy. The Children’s Peace Monument was built by her classmates and by children from 3,100 schools across Japan and nine foreign countries when twelve-year-old Sadako Sasaki died of leukemia ten years after the atomic bombing. The bronze statue is of a girl holding up a paper crane, and at the foot of the pedestal is a stone with the inscription “This is our cry. This is our prayer. For building peace in this world.” To this day, visitors leave thousands of folded paper cranes at this and other monuments in the park.

Hiroshima Castle Hiroshima’s original castle, built in the late 16th century, was totally destroyed in the atomic blast but has been reconstructed as a perfect reproduction of the original. The castle houses a museum detailing the city’s history and its’ historic feudal system. Originally built in the 1590s but destroyed in the atomic blast, Hiroshima Castle was reconstructed in 1958. Its five-story wooden donjon is a faithful reproduction of the original. There’s also samurai paraphernalia, models of old Hiroshima and the castle, and pictures of the past. The top of the donjon provides a panoramic view of the city.

Hiroshima can boast of having the first public art museum in Japan devoted exclusively to contemporary art. The Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art is housed in an interesting building designed by Japanese architect Kurokawa Kisho. The building is set high on a hill in Hijiyama Park, famed for its cherry blossoms and splendid city views. The museum contains the works of established and up-and-coming Japanese artists. For those not familiar with Japanese art, the museum has provided information books on the individual artists represented, written in English. There is also an outdoor sculpture garden. But save some time to visit Hijiyama, or Hiji Mountain, which is about 70 meters high and overlooks the city and the Seto Inland Sea. The area has been set aside as a park, and this is where the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art and the Hiroshima City Comics Library is situated. Hijiyama is famous for its cherry blossoms in the spring.

Hiroshima Museum of Art This private museum, housed in a round, modern building in the heart of the city, has a permanent collection of some 200 paintings, half by French painters from Romanticism to École de Paris and presented in chronological order. Included are works by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rousseau, Cezanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, Matisse, Chagall, and Picasso. Also on display are about 90 works by Japanese artists in the Western style from the Meiji Era to the present, including works by Kuroda Seiki and Kishida Ryusei.

Shukkeien Garden | Photo credit: Japan National Tourism Organization

Shukkei-en Garden, which means “landscape garden in miniature,” was first laid out in 1620 by Soko Ueda, a master of the tea ceremony, with a pond constructed in imitation of famous Lake Xi Hu in Hangzhou, China. Using streams, ponds, islets, and bridges, the garden was designed to appear much larger than it actually is and it is best viewed on a circular stroll. Like everything else in Hiroshima, it was destroyed in 1945, but to this day, it looks like it’s been here forever.

And just slightly away is a “must see” …

Miyajima, less than an hour from Hiroshima by train and ferry, has always been considered to be an island of the gods, and is the site of Itsukushima Jinja (Shrine), of the famous vermillion shrine gates in the sea. The shrine itself juts out onto the sea on stilts, and is a National Treasure as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was built in 593 but expanded to its current size in 1168 by Taira-no-Kiyomori, and has been maintained meticulously for over 800 years. At high tide, the shrine appears to sink into the sea, and it is thought to be modeled after Ryugu-jo, a mythical palace under the sea. The gates are about 200 metres from the shrine and can be accessed at low tide. The island also has several temples, one of which is on top of a mountain and is accessed by a ropeway. There are also beautiful beaches and a public aquarium.

The most famous bridge in Japan, Kintai-kyo, which is in Iwakuni approximately 45 km southwest of Hiroshima, was built in 1673. The Brocade Sash Bridge is composed of five gracefully arched spans. The bridge originally was meant for the use of samurai – all others were forbidden to step upon it.

Hiroshima after dark

Hiroshima has a comparatively less vibrant nightlife than Osaka and Tokyo, but one can easily find nice bars and pubs. Some of the mouth-savouring dishes of the region are Okonomiyaki and Momji manju, which is a combination of oysters and maple leaf shaped pastry.

Oysters from the Hiroshima region have been renowned for their flavour throughout Japan for over 400 years.

Sports & Outdoor Adventure

If you are the outdoors type, or even not, you may want to spend some time mountain climbing, hiking.
After visiting the Itsukushima Jinja on the isle of Miyajima, you can a trip to the top of 530-metre Mt. Misen. Or hike the trails of nearby Momiji Tani Park.

Hiroshima can boast of many famous outdoor areas, several of which are close-by. Sandankyo, while also the name of a district, is more specifically the name of a scenic gorge. There is a boat tour through the gorge to a 30-meter waterfall, and the quiet surroundings make the trip worthwhile. A few kilometres to the west, at an elevation of 1,341 meters, is the areas’ 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. So, if you have the time to go exploring … South-southeast of Hiroshima you may wish to visit Kure City, 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, this is the area you will want to visit.

And no doubt you have heard, or know, how popular baseball is in Japan. So you can take in a game and watch the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Home games are played at the Hiroshima Municipal Stadium near the Atomic Bomb Dome. Baseball is undoubtedly one of the biggest sports in Hiroshima, as well as throughout Japan, so seats for games are often sold out far in advance.

Local Customs and Etiquette

Greetings in Japan are very formal and ritualized. It is important to show the correct amount of respect and deference to someone based upon their status relative to your own. If at all possible, wait to be introduced. It can be seen as impolite to introduce yourself, even in a large gathering. While foreigners are expected to shake hands, the traditional form of greeting is the bow. How far you bow depends upon your relationship to the other person as well as the situation. The deeper you bow, the more respect you show. A foreign visitor (‘gaijin’) may bow the head slightly, since no one expects foreigners to generally understand the subtle nuances of bowing.

Saving face is crucial in Japanese society. The Japanese believe that turning down someone’s request causes embarrassment and loss of face to the other person. If the request cannot be agreed to, the response may be “it’s inconvenient” or “it’s under consideration”. Face is a mark of dignity and means having status with peers.

Gift-giving is ritualistic and meaningful. The ceremony of presenting a gift and the way it is wrapped is as important – sometimes more important – than the gift itself. The gift need not be expensive, but take great care to ask someone who understands the culture to help you decide what type of gift to give. Good quality chocolates or small cakes are good ideas. Do not give lilies, camellias or lotus blossoms as each are associated with funerals. Do not give white flowers of any kind as they are associated with funerals. Do not give potted plants as they encourage sickness, although a bonsai tree is always acceptable. Give items in odd numbers, but not 9. If you buy the gift in Japan, have it wrapped. Gifts are not opened when received.

If you are invited to a Japanese house, remove your shoes before entering and put on the slippers left at the doorway and leave your shoes pointing away from the doorway. Arrive on time or no more than 5 minutes late if invited for dinner. If you must go to the washroom, put on washroom slippers and remove them when you are finished.

Dining Etiquette

Wait to be told where to sit. There is a protocol to be followed. The honoured guest or the eldest person will be seated in the centre of the table the furthest from the door. The honoured guest or the eldest is the first person to begin eating. Never point your chopsticks. Do not pierce your food with chopsticks. Chopsticks should be returned to the chopstick rest after every few bites and when you drink or stop to speak. Do not cross your chopsticks when putting them on the chopstick rest. It is acceptable to ask what something is. Don’t be surprised if your Japanese colleagues slurp their noodles and soup.

If you do not want anything more to drink, do not finish what is in your glass. An empty glass is an invitation for someone to serve you more. When you have finished eating, place your chopsticks on the chopstick rest or on the table. Do not place your chopsticks across the top of your bowl. If you leave a small amount of rice in your bowl, you will be given more. To signify that you do not want more rice, finish every grain in your bowl.

Conversation at the table is generally subdued. Japanese people like to savour their food.

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