Hiroshima was almost entirely destroyed in 1945, when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city, killing tens of thousands of people and injuring many more. Today, memorials play an important role for both the A-bomb survivors who still live in the city and the ancestors of those who died, as well as giving visitors the opportunity to pay their respects to the people who lost their lives. Although the events that took place here will never be forgotten, Hiroshima has since been rebuilt and has now bloomed into a flourishing modern city with great food, energetic nightlife and historic sights.
While most international tourists come primarily to visit the A-bomb Dome and Peace Memorial Museum, it’s worth spending a few days in Hiroshima to really get to grips with the city. Consider exploring the surrounding areas, too, where some of Japan’s most beautiful scenery can be found, including Itsukushima island, with its famous red torii gate floating in the water, and the island of Okunoshima, which is entirely populated by rabbits.
A haunting site since the events that devastated Hiroshima in August 1945, the A-bomb Dome, which is one of the only buildings to have survived the bombing, serves as a stark reminder of the horrors of war and of the way in which the events of the Second World War forever changed the world. The A-bomb dome is now listed as a World Heritage Site and can be found in the city’s Peace Memorial Park, which is also home to several memorials and monuments, such as the Flame of Peace, a fire lit in 1964 that will continue to burn until the world is rid of all nuclear weapons.
On the edge of the Peace Park lies the Peace Memorial Museum, where visitors can learn more about the events of World War II and the direct impact it had on Hiroshima and its people. The museum traces the history of Hiroshima before and after the bombing, through interactive exhibits, movies and photos. It’s a moving experience, particularly the section on victims and survivors, which details the severe burns and radiation sickness that people suffered, as well as the lasting health issues that have affected people in the city since the time of the bombing. You can rent English-language audio guides for the permanent exhibitions at the ticket desk for ¥400 (£3).
Shukkeien is the oldest Japanese garden in the city of Hiroshima, dating back to 1620 – although it had to be relaid after being hit by the A-bomb. It is a tranquil spot to escape the bustling city in a traditional garden setting, which features ornamental bridges, large koi ponds and tea cottages. The park is home to over 110 cherry blossom trees which are usually in full bloom from the end of March, while in November the autumn colours are particularly scenic. Aside from strolling around the gardens, tea ceremonies are held throughout the year in the garden’s authentic, purpose-built tea house. There’s a small entry fee of ¥260 (£2) per person to enter the gardens and the cost to participate in the tea ceremony is ¥600 (£4.60).
Located a 15-minute walk from the Peace Park and nicknamed the ‘Carp Castle’ by locals due to its proximity to Koi-no-ura (Koi Sea Shore), Hiroshima Castle is a must-visit sight in Hiroshima. Originally built between 1589 and 1599, it was also destroyed by the A-bomb, and the replica that stands here now was rebuilt during the 1950s. Today, visitors can explore the castle’s five-storey main keep and its grounds, or purchase feed for the carp swimming around the castle moat. The fifth floor of the castle serves as an observation platform, providing views of the city, while the lower floors house exhibits such as samurai weapons and armour, along with historical information about Hiroshima and the castle’s history. Entry to the main keep costs ¥370 (£2.85) and, while the castle is open daily from 9am, closing times vary based on the time of year.
A popular Japanese dish that is best described as a kind of savoury pancake, okonomiyaki is a Hiroshima speciality. There are over 1,600 okonomiyaki shops in the region, making it the unofficial okonomiyaki capital of Japan. Due to the addition of noodles, okonomiyaki in Hiroshima is different from the Kansai version that you’ll find in cities such as Osaka. You can try making your own Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki at the Okosta Cooking Studio close to Hiroshima station. During the class, you’ll have the opportunity to create okonomiyaki topped with squid, but there are also halal and vegetarian versions using soy meat to choose from, too. The experience lasts around two hours from start to finish and costs approximately ¥2,000 (£15) per person.
Hiroshima is known for being one of Japan’s top three sake-producing regions, with over 50 breweries situated in the prefecture. The Saijo district in Hiroshima is particularly well supplied with breweries, and is known locally as ‘sake town’. Seven out of Saijo’s eight breweries are concentrated on one street alone, Saka-Gura Dori, making it easy to brewery-hop from one to the next, sampling sakes en route. Located around 40 minutes from Hiroshima station by the JR San-yo train line, its breweries welcome visitors from around the world to try their various different products. Try the local special brew called gin-jo shu, which is a super-premium grade sake found in fine-dining restaurants throughout Japan. It’s possible to visit the breweries year-round, but the best time to go is October, when Saijo plays host to an annual sake festival, during which a special sake plaza is set up for the thousands of visitors to sample sakes from around Japan. Food stalls line the streets, with live music and entertainment performances also taking place.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site Itsukushima Shrine is located on the island of Itsukushima, more commonly known as Miyajima, just a 40-minute journey from downtown Hiroshima. The floating torii gate that marks the entrance to the Shinto shrine has become one of Japan’s most iconic images and is a must-visit attraction when spending time in Hiroshima prefecture. It’s easy to spend a whole day on the island exploring the shops and cafés, visiting the shrine and hanging out with the resident deer that roam the streets. Be sure to try some fresh oysters caught in the surrounding bay area and local specialty Momiji manju, a sweet sponge cake shaped liked a Japanese maple leaf.
Nagarekawa is Hiroshima’s nightlife and entertainment district, and its narrow streets are filled with bars, restaurants and karaoke rooms waiting to be discovered. Located near Hiroshima’s main shopping district, Hondori, start the evening’s entertainment at Molly Malone’s, a popular Irish bar, before exploring the area’s other drinking dens. Particularly recommended are Ofuko sake bar, where customers are fitted out in vintage kimonos; Mac Bar, a dive bar that accepts music requests from the thousands of CDs stacked on its shelves; and Tropical Bar Revolución, a friendly cocktail bar with city views from its eighth-floor balcony.
Hiroshima is home to one of Japan’s most vibrant kagura scenes, a form of traditional folk art dating back hundreds of years. Kagura performances are based on ancient stories passed down through the Shinto religion and feature live music and dance that was originally performed annually in local festivals as an act of gratitude to the gods for a plentiful harvest. The Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum in downtown Hiroshima schedules regular performances designed to welcome international visitors by including English subtitles, along with post-show Q&As and photo sessions. The performances last around 45 minutes in total, and tickets are reasonably priced at ¥1,000 (£8) per adult.
If you happen to be in Hiroshima during baseball season, buy a ticket on match day to watch the Toyo Carps, Hiroshima’s much-loved professional team. Baseball is Japan’s most popular sport and the team’s home ground is the Mazda Stadium, close to Hiroshima station. Watching a baseball game in Japan is a lively experience and a good insight into Japanese culture, where you can enjoy a cheap beer with the fans while cheering on the Carps. Tickets can be purchased from the stadium on match days from 11am and prices start from around ¥1,500 (£11.50) per ticket.