Day 1: Hiroshima
Hiroshima is a city rich in culture, from historical monuments and museums to world-renowned cuisine and nightlife. A day in Chugoku’s principal city is not enough to see everything, but you can have a go!
Peace Memorial Park is a beautiful, yet somber green space, created to remember the victims of the atomic bomb in 1945. Listing names of all known victims, the cenotaph is a reminder of the scale of the atomic atrocity and its effect on the city. The Children’s Peace Monument is a symbol of hope within the park. Built in 1958, the monument commemorates Sadako Sasaki, a girl who developed radiation poisoning due to exposure from the atomic bomb. She believed if she finished folding a thousand paper cranes, her disease would be cured. Sadly dying before reaching her goal, her classmates continued the process in her honour. Cranes are associated with longevity in Japan, and the monument is now surrounded by paper cranes made by children from around the world.
The many cafes around the Peace Memorial Park area are the perfect place to grab a quick, on-the-go lunch. Don’t forget to try the local oysters. Grilled, deep-fried or raw. They are delectable and a local favorite.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is a short walk south of the park. Housing items from the aftermath of the bomb, it serves to remind of the immense destructive power of war. Cracked, melted watches, torn clothes and children’s toys are displayed beside gruesome photographs of the period. It’s such a huge part of Hiroshima’s history, and an important pit-stop for any visitor to the area.
The looming, unfinished structure on the opposite shore of the river is the Atomic Bomb Dome. Completed in 1915 by a Czech architect, it was the only building which remained standing near the bomb’s hypocenter in 1945. The dome has been preserved and registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and volunteers offer free tours here daily. If time permits, Hiroshima Castle, the tower of which had to be rebuilt after the atomic blast, is a short bus-ride away. It is now home to a Samurai history exhibit and traditional dance performances are held on Sundays.
Shukkei-en, the vast Japanese landscape garden, is a serene sanctuary in an otherwise bustling city. Originally owned by a local feudal lord, Asano Nagakira, the garden, too, was destroyed by the bomb. Some trees and plants survived and the rest has been re-cultivated. Literally translating to ‘contracted view’, this garden offers different views in different seasons. A curving path leads you through the trees and across the large pond. Surrounded by cherry blossom in Spring, it’s no wonder this place is a popular photoshoot area for weddings. Kimono-clad couples are a common sight.
Across the Sakae-bashi bridge, close to Shukkei-en is Hiroshima Station and a range of local eateries where you can pick up an Eki-Ben or bento box. Order an anago or saltwater eel donburi. Hiroshima is also famous for its savory okonomiyaki, Japanese pancakes, and Okonomi-mura has some of the best. Made to order in front of the customer, okonomiyaki consists of bean sprouts, eggs, bacon, layered with cabbage and soba noodles on a pancake base.
Shopaholics can venture into Hon-dori or Namiki-dori for fashionable gadgets or souvenirs. Momiji-manju, a maple-shaped cake with red bean paste, makes a sweet and special item to bring home.
Day 2: Miyajima
Getting from Hiroshima to Miyajima is easy, via the Japan Rail train to Miyajima Guchi. From there, the JR ferry will take you right to the pier and the ride provides a first glimpse of the vermillion gates for which Miyajima is famous, the torii. After disembarking the ferry, Omotesando shopping street is on your right. Here, you can take a look at the biggest rice scoop registered on Guinness World records. If you continue to walk along the seaside, the picture-perfect red torii gate will emerge. Snap a few photos and enjoy the company of the wild deer.
The gate itself, UNESCO site and Shinto shrine Itsukushima jinja, is only a stone’s throw away from here. It’s worth checking the tide schedule published on the Miyajima tourism website. At high tide, the shrine appears to be floating in the water, while low tide allows up-close encounters with the impressive 60-ton structure. The pier-like construction has a floating Noh stage facing the sea and another reserved for the emperor. Due to its sacred status, commoners were not allowed on this island except by boats traveling through the red torii gate.
A final monument for the morning is Senjokaku Hall, which also acts as a vantage point with a great view of the Satonaikai. The hall lies on the hill north of Itsukushima, a short walk from the torii gate. Commissioned by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, it was built as a place to chant sutras for fallen soldiers.
If you’re feeling adventurous, the afternoon is the perfect time to take a hike from Daisho-in, the Shingon temple at the base of Mount Misen, up to the summit. Grab something to eat at Omotesando first though, because the ascent takes about one and a half hours. This is believed to be the place where Kobo Daishi first practiced Buddhism in Miyajima. Rolls of metal wheels inscribed with sutra line the stairs. Spinning the wheels is believed to have the same effect of reading the scripture. Be sure to check out the cave en-route, which showcases images of the 88 Shikoku temples.