Since we both find it interesting to visit historic WWII sites, Hiroshima was high on our list of places to visit in Japan. Most people visit Hiroshima as a day trip from Osaka, Kyoto or even Tokyo. Since we’ve been purposefully trying to slow our trip down, we spent 3 nights in the city. We had plenty of time to explore all the historical sites, and take a couple of day trips to surrounding areas.
Hiroshima – Then and Now
At 8:15 am on August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb ever used in wartime exploded approximately 600m above the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The bomb missed its target, the Aioi Bridge in the middle of Hiroshima, by approximately 240m. The detonation had a power of 16 kt of TNT. Buildings within a radius of about 1.6km were immediately destroyed. A subsequent firestorm caused by the blast ripped through 11 square km of the city. Approximately 70% of Hiroshima’s buildings were destroyed. 70,000 – 80,000 people were killed by the initial blast and firestorm (~30% of the city’s population). That number increased to over 140,000 in the following few months as more people succumbed to their injuries and radiation poisoning.
The Atomic Bomb Memorials
Most of the interesting sites in Hiroshima are located in or near the Peace Memorial Park. That includes the Atomic Bomb Dome building, one of the few buildings that was not totally destroyed by the blast and which has been left status quo as a memorial and warning. Various other memorials are scattered throughout the park, as well as the excellent Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Unfortunately, the main building is under renovation until 2018, so we only got to see a smaller version of the exhibit.
On a nearby side street, but seemingly ignored by most tourists, is a plaque marking the hypocenter of the explosion. 600m above this plaque is where the bomb actually detonated.
The City Today
Hiroshima today is a bustling, busy city with a population of roughly 1.2 million. It’s also a beautiful city with six rivers flowing through it and several large parks. There is some great food, including some good sushi conveyor restaurants and restaurants specializing in okonomiyaki, which the city is famous for. Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake – a weird combination of a basic flour and water pancake with some sort of meat, an egg, some vegetables, and noodles. Some restaurants will even cook it up right in front of you on a flattop, which is pretty cool. It looks like a hot mess, but tastes a lot better than it looks. This dish is available all over Japan, but the best ones are known to be in Hiroshima.
We also tried our hand at pachinko in Hiroshima. Pachinko parlours are easy to find in Japan, and pachinko machines resemble slot machines. But instead of slots, it’s a weird mixture of pinball and gambling. We tried playing it, but without much luck. In Japan, it’s illegal to gamble for money, so any “winners” can exchange their winnings for prizes in the parlour. Apparently, there are businesses nearby that will buy the “prizes” back from you, giving gamblers a way to effectively cash out. Very strange!
There are only so many reminders of death and destruction that we can take on our trip. Since we had a couple of days to explore the area around Hiroshima, we spent a day on the island of Miyajima. Only a short train ride and ferry away, it was a great place to do some hiking and see some amazing views.
The island is best known for the “floating torii gate”, said to be one of the three best views in Japan. At low tide, the gate is decidedly not “floating” and it’s possible walk right up to it. But stick around for a few hours as the water comes in, and you’ve got yourself a floating gate!
We climbed to the summit of Mt Misen, the highest point on the island. The views were amazing, and it was great to stretch our legs with some hiking.
We always joke that our trips have to include wine and tennis. On that point, Asia has failed us horribly. We haven’t visited a single vineyard since we left Australia. But when in Japan, do as the Japanese do. So we went to Saijo, home to 9 different sake breweries.
Neither of us are particularly big fans of sake, so we thought this would be a chance for us to develop an appreciation. While we did find some we liked, it will still rank below almost any type of wine and good beer in our list of alcoholic preferences. But at least we gave it the good ol’ college try!
Three days was the perfect amount of time to spend in Hiroshima. If you’re only interested in the Peace Memorial Park, sure it can be done as a day trip. But exploring the surrounding area was fun, and gave us a chance to see some smaller-town parts of Japan.