Hiroshima achieved notoriety when it was flattened by the first atomic bomb in 1945. It’s now a self-styled centre for peace and the vibrant city shows little evidence of previous horrors. Most of the city can be covered in a day, but Hiroshima is a great base for exploring Western Honshu and the Inland Sea, which has some of the most beautiful scenery in Japan.
History of Hiroshima
Founded in 1589, Hiroshima soon became a major port for trading on the Seto inland sea. Hiroshima was briefly the capital of Japan when the Meiji court was relocated there during the First Sino-Japanese war in 1894. The location on several islands in the Ota river (Hiroshima means “Wide Island”) meant that the city became a centre for both the Japanese military and the growing industrial economy.
This strategic importance lead to Hiroshima being chosen as the target for the first ever atomic bomb. On the 6th August 1945, the US bomber Enola Gay dropped the 4,400kg “Little Boy” over the city at 8.15am. 2kg of uranium exploded around 600m above the centre of Hiroshima, killing around 70,000 people instantly. A further 70,000 are estimated to have died from injury or radiation by the end of the year. The majority of the buildings in Hiroshima were made from wood, so much of the city was flattened by the blast.
An extensive programme of rebuilding after 1945 means Hiroshima is now the major city in the Chūgoku region of Western Honshu, and a great base for trips around the Inland Sea and onto Shikoku and Kyushu islands.
Hiroshima airport has flights from neighbouring countries as well as quick connections with other major cities in Japan. The city centre can be reached in under an hour by a limo bus that visits the major hotels and stations for a fare of ¥1300. Local services arrive at the smaller Hiroshima Nishi airport, just 4km from the city centre.
Hiroshima station is just outside the city centre, and has frequent trains from Kyoto, Osaka and Kumamoto. Osaka and Kyoto to Hiroshima is around 90 minutes by shinkansen, which makes a day trip very easy.
Hiroshima’s location on the Inland Sea means that ferries to other coastal cities and islands are another option if you have time to spare and prefer a more relaxed mode of transport.
Where to Stay
Central Hiroshima is fairly compact, so much of the main attractions can be reached on foot. Most of the hotels in the city cluster around the station which is convenient for visiting Hiroshima city centre as well as the wider area. If you plan to spend your time mainly in Hiroshima itself, the area around the Peace Park in the west of the centre is better for getting around on foot.
There is a well developed tram network that covers the city centre as well as the suburbs, so don’t be afraid to check out some of the ryokans on the outskirts of the city. The fare is paid to a machine as you get off the tram, and there are change machines on board if you only have larger notes. There are also local buses, ferries and safe cycle routes around the city if you fancy travelling under your own steam – many hotels and ryokans can organise bike hire for you.
Must See Hiroshima
A-Bomb Dome & Peace Park
Almost directly under to hypocentre of the atomic blast, the former Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall dome survived due to its reinforced concrete structure. The ruins of the building have been preserved and incorporated in to the Peace Park. The Peace Park features several moving memorials to victims of the bombing and is frequently the venue for concerts and performances.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
At the southern end of the park is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum which houses comprehensive exhibits of the lead up to the bombing, graphic displays showing the effect of the bomb on Hiroshima, as well as information on current nuclear weaponry still in commission. While not the cheeriest day out, the museum provides a strong counterpoint to the frequent glamorizing of warfare.
Shukkei-en and Prefectural Art Museum
This beautiful garden was built in 1619 by Asano Nagaakira, a master of the tea ceremony. It was faithfully reconstructed after the bombing and seeks to emulate several types os scenery in a small area. It’s a great place to relax and get away from the bustle of the city. Opposite the garden is the Prefectural Art Museum which is an impressive modern building housing both Western and Japanese art works. A combined ticket to the garden and museum costs ¥600.
The original Hiroshima Castle was destroyed by the bombing and what stands now is a reconstruction built in the 1950s. Entry to the main building is free and the tower costs ¥360 to visit. The castle has exhibits covering the history of Hiroshima up to the present day, and has English commentary available.
Hiroshima is famed for its okonomiyaki, a type of savoury crepe. This is often cooked on a hot plate in front of the diner. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is carefully layered with batter, cabbage, bean sprouts, fish, meat and noodles. Okinomi-mura behind the Parco department store has 25 stalls, each with their own version of okonomiyaki allowing you to try several types at once.
Home to one of Japan’s most iconic shrines, the island of Miyajima is well worth the trip. See our dedicated Miyajima page for more information.