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Hugh Cann has lived in Japan leading small group tours for 16 years, so we trust him when he says Hiroshima and neighbouring Miyajima is well worth a visit. He would rather you found more than 24 hours to spend there, but has managed to put together a varied itinerary for a perfect day with awe-inspiring island views, trademark Hiroshima snacks, elegant temples barely touched by tourists and a moving visit to the well-known memorial museum.
Unsurprisingly, Hiroshima evokes many emotions and not always in the way you might expect. Fortunately it’s a really convenient place to head to if you don’t have much time on your hands: take a sleek shinkansen (bullet train) from Kyoto and arrive in a little over an hour and a half, or travel for just over four hours from Tokyo. Frankly, there’s no excuse not to visit if you’re staying in Osaka or Kyoto! For those looking for a short excursion, here are 24 perfect hours in Hiroshima.
Hiroshima and Miyajima
Among Japanese people, Hiroshima is best known for Itsukushima (popularly known as Miyajima), the “Shrine Island”. A sacred place, it is still a pilgrimage for may people – the lion’s share of visitors you see there are Japanese nationals visiting and paying their respects to the Shinto gods. Miyajima is referred to as one of the Three Scenic Places of Japan and was once so sacred that only very few privileged or entitled people were even allowed to set foot on it.
How to get to Miyajima
Take a train (half an hour) or tram (45 minutes) from Hiroshima City and wave the hustle and bustle goodbye with a ferry trip across from Miyajima Guchi Port. Get the ferry in the morning to see mists draping the hills and valleys furrowing Mount Misen and the vermillion-coloured main shrine that stands out over the water. You can use the Japan Rail Pass on the JR operated ferry which has the benefit of gliding past the Great Torii gate off-shore, seemingly floating in the shallows.
What to see in Miyajima
Once landed, pick up a map from the tourist information counter in the ferry terminal building. Follow the street for shops and eateries and continue down the street past the Torii to the shrine entrance. After wandering through, perhaps stopping to pick up a commemorative stamp for your collection, spot an opulently decorated building with a series of red pillars at the front just opposite the exit. Known as the Treasure Hall, it’s a small museum with a lovely collection of art works, fabrics, weaponry and other artifacts from the feudal period.
Stroll up the hill to explore the gardens of 17-century Daisho-in, a Tendai school Buddhist temple, and take a right to follow the path through Momijigadani Park (go in autumn for splashes of vibrant reds and oranges in the trees). For a breathtaking view over the surrounding Seto Insland Sea, follow the signs to the ropeway, hop in a cart and float seamlessly over the trees, spotting the islands in the distance. Back on solid ground, pause while ambling back to the ferry port to visit Senjokaku Hall, the largest structure in Miyajima, and the striking 5-storied pagoda that appears almost gravity-defying next to it.
Hiroshima Peace Park
Hiroshima’s latter day reputation as a tourist destination is often based around a visit to Heiwa Koen or Peace Park, and its accompanying memorial museum dedicated to the event that finally put a lid on the hostilities of WWII. If you’ve made an early start, there is time to fit in a visit to Miyajima and the Peace Park comfortably in one day.
After taking the ferry back to the mainland, the most straightforward way to reach Peace Park is by tram – there’s one opposite the ferry port that goes to Genbaku Domu (Atomic Bomb Dome).
Most people are overwhelmed at the sight of the remains and the visit to the accompanying memorial museum. It is a sobering but important experience in my opinion, although understandably not one that everyone chooses to do. Take some time to see many significant memorial sites within the park and the extraordinary variation of trees.
Following the devastation of the city after the atomic explosion, any surviving trees were charred and broken or uprooted. It was feared that nothing would ever grow there again but when this news spread, donors from different parts of Japan and all around the world sent gifts of seeds and seedlings to plant and repopulate the park.
This makes quite a full day, but if you have time after the museum you might like to take a short walk to the castle to sit amidst the calm of the Hiroshima castle grounds. Alternatively, visit the beautiful Shukkei’en gardens, modelled on the famed West Lake Hangzhou garden in China and located behind the Prefectural Art Museum.
Food & drink
Japan is known for its gastronomic delights, and Hiroshima itself has its own foodie identity: famed for oysters and okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a very simple meal cooked on a hotplate in front of you, it’s commonly found in many towns and a cities in Japan, but differs in each region. Hiroshima okonomiyaki is prepared by cooking a wafer thin crepe which is then layered to your taste with shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, and meat, prawns, shellfish or cheese. In my humble opinion it is to die for!
Afterwards if you’re feeling like some English conversation, and a pint (or two), try Kemby’s, a spacious bar near the park with a menu largely designed for a “western” palate. For something a bit rowdier there is Molly Malone’s or Molly’s as the locals refer to it, an Irish pub further into the middle of the city.
Another 24 hours?
This is a 24-hour guide, so I might be cheating a bit with this add-on… It is possible to fit the main attractions of Hiroshima into a day, but if you have the opportunity to stay longer, or return, the Mazda Motor Vehicle proves a very interesting experience, perhaps followed by lunch of fresh oysters. Also of note is the lovely collection of art at the Prefectural Art Museum; take a break to sip tea in Shukkei’en gardens afterwards.
…don’t miss Mitaki Temple!
Above all though, if you have more time I would urge you to take a trip to Mitaki Temple. To my mind, it is one of the most gratifying temple visits one could make in Japan; I still visit at least three or four times a year for the calm it instills.
To get to Mitaki Temple:
• Take the train three stops from Hiroshima Station on the Kabe Line to Mitaki and walk along toward the rail crossing.
• Turn right and head up the hill bearing right at a temple
• Shortly afterwards, bear left following the divided road for another 150 metres
• Alternatively, there is a bus service (#22) from Hatchobori (in front of Fukuya Department Store) or Kamiyacho (opposite Sogo Department Store in front of Edion Electronics) which takes about 40 minutes and runs every hour or so.
After spending time in the temple follow the meandering path, flanked by quiet gardens dotted with statues, behind the temple and up to the hiking track. Trail past remarkable vistas and bamboo groves for 45 minutes to the top of Mount Mitaki. The reward is worth the journey with views that stretch across the city and beyond the Seto Inland Sea and its islands.
If you can imagine yourself peering over the top of Mount Mitaki, tucking into an okonomiyaki and learning about the history of Hiroshima, have a look at our Best of Japan self-guided adventure. To find out more, get in touch with our team.