Japan Travel

Hidden Japan: Hiroshima’s History & the Magic of Miyajima

Back into civilisation.

Arriving back on Honshu and into the city of Hiroshima was like emerging from the wilderness. It all felt a bit strange to us to suddenly have a plethora of shops, restaurants, modern hotels and traffic after the serenity and simplicity of Kumamoto Prefecture. Still, it didn’t take long for us to adjust and very soon the shopping sensors were on high alert as favourite brands were discovered.

Hiroshima is a modern, pretty city with a prominent past. The devastation of the atomic bombing on August 6th, 1945 is a permanent scar on Hiroshima. The bomb decimated the city, killing half of the population and annihilating nearly everything within a 2km radius of the hypocentre. The preserved remnants of the A-Bomb Dome, the open spaces of the Peace Park and the frank Peace Memorial Museum are permanent reminders of what happened and why this kind of devastation should never happen again.

The cherry blossoms were at full bloom for our arrival in Hiroshima. As we walked along the riverfront, pink blooms lined the edge of the Peace Park and provided a beautiful setting for locals to sit and enjoy their own hanami (cherry blossom viewing parties). The river bank was filled with families, groups of teens, young couples and groups of elderly people – all enjoying the sunshine, the pink blooms and whatever array of picnic delicacies they had brought along with them. It was a magical atmosphere.

The good weather continued the next day as we set off across the water to Itsukushima, also known as Miyajima. With its iconic red gate – which appears to be floating on water at high tide – Miyajima is one of the most well-known images of Japan. It takes about an hour to get to Miyajima from Hiroshima (a train ride and then a ferry ride) but the journey is well-worth it. And the blossoms… they just get better and better if that is at all possible!! The view from behind Tahoto Pagoda was truly breathtaking. The pagoda itself appeared to be set amongst a sea of blossoms. You then looked down over the top of Tahoto to Itsukushima Shrine and the red gate below. It was absolutely incredible and I can completely understand why it is such a coveted place to visit, particularly in the cherry blossom season.

As usual, I spent too long taking blossom photos (I swear 80% of my photos are of flowers, which for anybody who knows me they will find that quite unbelievable as I don’t usually have much time for plants). This meant I had a mad dash past shops and food stalls to get to the ferry in time – not a good look to be late to the boat when you’re the group leader! It’s a shame because there are some amazing speciality food stalls on Miyajima. Most of Japan’s oysters come from this area, so having an oyster in some form (fresh, deep friend, grilled etc) is a must. They also serve a huge variety of different delicacies on sticks – both sweet and savoury – as well as momiji manju, or sweets in the shape of a maple leaf that are crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. They are often filled with sweet red bean paste, custard or chocolate.

Hiroshima itself is famous for its own kind of food called okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki literally translates as “the kind of food you like – cooked”. It’s a kind of savoury pancake packed with meat, squid, prawns, cabbage and the like. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki also has noodles and eggs in it and is kind of layered, not all mixed together as it cooks. No visit to Hiroshima is complete without at least one meal of Okonomiyaki.

Two days is a good length of time in this city as it gives you long enough to visit the Peace Park and its museum, as well as the A-Bomb Dome and Children’s Monument, plus half a day at least enjoying Miyajima. There is then still time for a spot of retail therapy too!

Make sure you include this lovely city on your next itinerary to Japan.

From Hiroshima to the ancient capital, Kyoto – the final stop on this Hidden Japan tour itinerary. Will the blossoms hold on for us?

Some photos from Hiroshima and Miyajima:

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