Hiroshima may not be quite the tourist hotspot that Tokyo or Kyoto are, but the site of the infamous atomic bomb attack of 1945 still draws thousands of tourists year-round to this very day. While many come here to mainly learn more about the drop of the atomic bomb, and about WWII, Hiroshima offers so many other exciting attractions, and reasons to visit.
In the lines below, we’ll explore a bit of the city’s rich and fascinating history, and talk about the best places to visit in Hiroshima.
This article is a part of our extensive series on Japanese Culture and Online Japanese Lessons at Japan Switch.
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The City’s History
While many will recognize the city because of its dark WWII fame, the city of Hiroshima was actually an important military stronghold in Japan’s history long before. Originally a castle town founded in 1589, Hiroshima was a military hotspot during the country’s Imperial era.
Before the war, Hiroshima was also known as a transport center. With a population over 20o thousand strong, in the early days of the Showa period, Hiroshima was perhaps the most important cultural and economical town of the entire Chugoku Region.
Of course, an overwhelming 70% of the city was destroyed by the atomic bomb, at the end of the Second World War. However, Hiroshima has come a long way since the days of the atomic bomb. While the site of the bombing itself remains one of the most popular tourist attractions to this day, the city has been rebuilt, and modernized, offering lots of other attractions to visitors, as well.
What is the best time to visit Hiroshima?
Located in Japan’s southwestern Honshu region, Hiroshima enjoys a temperate climate, which means it’s pretty easy to visit year-round. If you’re looking to visit in the winter months (December through February), then you’re in luck, since the winters are typically mild in Hiroshima. While it will be notably chillier than in months, it’s more likely to rain a lot, and not snow.
Visiting Hiroshima in the winter is a good idea, if you’re looking to enjoy reduced costs, and fewer crowds at tourist attractions.
Of course, the best times to visit Hiroshima are during the spring and autumn. Not only is the weather at its finest, but you will land straight in the middle of numerous celebrations and festivals, and get to see the fabled cherry blossoms and plum blossoms of Japan (only in spring!).
Visiting during summer should be avoided, if possible, since the weather is hot, rainy and humid, making for a difficult combination.
Is Hiroshima safe to visit?
While some travelers worry about safety in Hiroshima, know that the city is completely safe to visit, even for solo travelers.
Getting To and Around Hiroshima
While there is an international airport in Hiroshima, it mostly links with other Asian countries, and not with Europe or the US. So probably, the best way to reach Hiroshima is by bus, train, or private car.
Most travelers will probably choose to travel to Hiroshima by train, as it’s more comfortable than the interregional bus (though a tad more pricey). If at all possible, opt for the Shinkansen (Bullet Train), as it’s the fastest way to get to Hiroshima.
Getting around Hiroshima is also easy and affordable - there are buses to take you to pretty much anywhere you need to go, with prices for a one-way journey starting at 160 JPY ($1.45 USD). You can travel by the city’s infamous electric streetcar, the Hiroden, which has been running ever since 1912 (and was even running three days after the bombing).
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13 Things to See in Hiroshima
Hiroshima is a great place to visit, regardless if you’re traveling solo, with a significant other, or even with kids. Obviously, the below attractions can be visited by anyone, in any combination, but for now, we’ll break them down into types of travel.
Best Things to Do in Hiroshima Solo
Hiroshima is a great attraction for solo travel. Since a lot of the things you will see here are themed around the war, the past, and death, it is a great place for some quiet introspection.
1. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (広島平和記念公園 / hiroshima heiwa kinen kōen)
With a view of the Atomic Bomb Dome at ground zero, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is one of the most visited attractions in the entire city (so expect crowds, if traveling in peak season).
Stretching out over an impressive 120,000 square feet, the park features several memorials and monuments dedicated to the atomic bombing of 1945. Most notably, of course, there are the remains of the Atomic Bomb Dome, which was one of the few buildings that were left standing, after the bomb dropped.
2. Peace Memorial Museum (広島平和記念資料館 / hiroshima heiwa kinen shiryōkan)
Keep in mind that the Museum has been known to take a profound emotional toll on visitors. However, it’s a profoundly moving experience, and one that should definitely not be missed. The Museum opened its gates in 1955, and consists of two buildings expanding on the events of the nuclear attack.
The Peace Memorial Museum focuses on the human tragedy of the atomic bomb, and showcases moving exhibits of toys, clothes, and other articles that survived the bombing (together with the stories behind them). It’s a difficult museum to get through, of course, which is also why we recommend visiting it alone, and taking the time to reflect on the past.
3. Hiroshima Castle (広島城 / hiroshimajō)
Another can’t-miss experience in Hiroshima is visiting the Hiroshima Castle. Located at the very heart of the city, the original Castle was destroyed during the nuclear attack, but was swiftly re-built in 1958, to such precision that for a newcomer, it’s difficult to spot the “new” building.
For many years, Hiroshima Castle was the backbone of this military stronghold. Here, you can learn more about the city’s history (both before and after the bomb), as the Castle houses numerous atifacts, both military and non-military.
Not only that, but Hiroshima Castle is a must for war-buffs traveling to Hiroshima, as it stands on top of the nuclear bunker from which the devastated city made first contact after the nuclear attack.
4. Hiroshima Flower Festival
If you’re traveling to Hiroshima in early May (during Golden Week, perhaps the single biggest celebration in Japan), then one thing you simply can not miss is the Hiroshima Flower Festival.
Typically attracting over 1 million tourists from all over the country, as well as abroad, the Flower Festival spreads out across the entirety of Hiroshima Peace Boulevard. The Festival is marked by music, dancing, parades, and of course, by towers, and monuments of flowers, arranged in complex styles.
Also during the Flower Festival, the sky lights up at night with candles adorned with messages of peace and hope from local community members. The Flower Festival’s joyous atmosphere is a great opportunity for some much-needed levity to your visit to this impactful city.
Best Things to Do in Hiroshima for Families
If traveling with small children, you may worry that such a war-heavy atmosphere might not be right for you. On the contrary - while it’s important to teach our children about our world’s tumultuous past, it’d be a mistake to assume war is all Hiroshima has to offer. There are numerous fun, exciting activities to indulge in in Hiroshima, which offer fun for the whole family.
5. Okunoshima Island (Rabbit Island, 大久野島)
If you’re in the area, it’d be a shame to miss Okunoshima, the infamous “rabbit island” of Japan. Believed to hail from the site of a poison gas lab, the island, which is only 4 km long, currently houses over 700 rabbits.
It’s a great location for bunny-lovers, one complete with a special vacation village, offering various fun activities like tennis, cycling, fishing (as well as accommodation). During the hot months, you can also enjoy the pools, or take a dip in the water, while during the cool months, you can relax in the hot springs of Okunoshima Island.
Stay for a few days, if you’re looking for a little peace, quiet, and a mental recharge, or just enjoy the day-trip to this fantastic rabbit island.
6. Shukkeien Garden (縮景園)
Shukkeien Garden should be on your top attraction list, regardless of which time of the year you’re visiting, but especially during the spring months. This beautiful garden, originally designed as a villa garden for Asano Nagaakira (one of the region’s feudal lords) in 1620, is the best place to view plum and cherry blossoms.
Designated as a National Scenic Spot, this contracted garden was originally based on the beautiful Xi Hu (West Lake) in Hangzhou, China, and was built by renowned tea ceremony master Ueda Seko. It’s a great opportunity to spend some quiet moments in nature with your little ones, and also a place to get some stunning pictures taken.
7. Kenmin-no-hama Beach
This 400m long beach is located on Kamikamagari Island, just off the coast of Hiroshima. This little island is well-maintained and not as crowded as one might initially expect. The beach is known for its clean, pure sand and water, allowing for a refreshing dip in the hot months. If yours is a beach-loving family, then Kenmin-no-hama Beach (literally Hiroshima Prefectural Beach) is a must. Here, you can take a dip in the water, but also enjoy the aromatic hot springs (great if visiting in winter), or the many water or land sports (such as badminton).
Also on the island, you can reach the observatory, which allows you to view the infamous clear night skies of the region. Though bear in mind, in order to do this, you’ll have to spend the night on the island.
8. Miyajima Water Fireworks Festival
Like the Flower Festival at the beginning of May, the Fireworks Festival is also time-sensitive. If you plan on witnessing this magnificent yearly display, we suggest scheduling your visit in late August, as that’s when the festival takes place.
The fabulous Miyajima Water Fireworks Festival is located on the strip of water between mainland Hiroshima and Miyajima Island. It sees over 5,000 fireworks erupt, and every year follows a distinctive theme of colors and designs. What makes the firework display particularly compelling is that, thanks to the festival’s unique location, the bright lights are reflected in the island’s clear waters.
Best Things to Do in Hiroshima for Couples
Of course, if you’re looking to take an extensive trip, and discover the many hidden gems of Japan, traveling with a partner may be advisable. Although not the most romantic of destinations, Hiroshima is a great tourist choice for couples interested in history, with a proclivity for pristine nature spots.
9. Sankei-en Garden (三溪園)
Sankei-en Garden is probably the ideal tourist attraction if you and your partner are dedicated nature lovers. Designed around the traditional "Chisenkai-yu" style, this immense garden takes you through three separate zones: mountain, country, and ocean.
Built around a central pond, Sankei-en Garden is the perfect destination if you’re looking for some tranquility in nature. Its dedicated mountain zone, offering a great view of the beautiful canyons and mountains of the Hiroshima region, is great for alpine addicts; while the ocean and country zones, offering mesmerizing scenic views ofSeto Inland Sea are perfect if you like to keep at ground level.
10. Kagura Monzen Toji Village
You might have seen displays of the traditional Japanese theatrical dance Kagura ( (神楽 (かぐら), during which dancers put on elaborate, deeply expressive masks, and wear traditional costumes, while dancing to the sounds of pipes and drums.
Kagura Monzen Toji Village is dedicated to the history and practice of this wonderful tradition. Every week, there are spectacles that feature professional dancers and actors enacting the ceremonial dance (believed to honor particular Shinto gods, and bring a fruitful harvest).
Also in the village, you can find entire halls and museums dedicated to the dance’s practice and history, complete with costumes and masks on exhibit. And if you’re looking to take a break from watching the exhausting dancing, you can take a relaxing bath in the village’s hot springs, or enjoy some nice seafood at the nearby restaurants.
11. Taishaku National Park (帝釈峡)
Taishaku National Park will probably eat up a full day, or at least a packed half-day of your traveling schedule, but it’s well worth it. Complete with lakes, clearings, and colorful bridges, Taishaku National Park offers a great opportunity to take in some scenic beauty, while also delving deeper into the country’s rich history.
The park is also home to the Taishakukyo Gorge, a group of carved stones, with unique markings around the mythical Hibayama Mountain. Here, the goddess Izanamino-mikoto, who was believed to have given birth to Japan, is said to be buried. Inside the National Park, you can reach the Hibayama tomb, one of the last remnants of a fascinating ancient religion.
12. Miyajima Island (宮島)
If you’re in the Hiroshima area, you can’t not take a day trip to Miyajima Island. Known for its infamous torii red gate, the Itsukushima Shrine, which seemingly rises straight out of the water. While the gate itself tends to be viewed as a stupendous photo op in these days of social media, it’s worth remembering that the island and the shrine played an important role in the development of Shinto religion in the area.
While visiting Miyajima Island, you can also hike to the top of Mount Misen, the highest peak of the island, to enjoy a breathtaking view. If hiking isn’t really your thing, you can chill on the island, surrounded by delicate sika deer (Japanese deer, 鹿).
Bonus: Toyokuni Shrine Five-Story Pagoda (豊国神社)
We’ve left one of the best for last, especially since the emblematic five-story shrine should be visited by anyone - couples, solo travelers, and families alike! Originally erected in the 15th century, the Toyokuni Shrine blends together elements of both Japanese and Chinese traditional design.
On the inside of the pagoda, you can view beautiful Buddhist paintings, and near the top of the pagoda, even some done in gold. With a whopping height of 27 meters, Toyokuni Shrine is not only a cultural trip, but also rewards travelers with a beautiful scenic view, when they reach the top.
If there's one thing Japan doesn't lack, it's temples and shrines. If you are interested in visiting more of these fascinating historical sites, check out our Ultimate Guide to Shrines and Temples in Tokyo to find out more!
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3 Foods to Try in Hiroshima
And because we know no trip to another country would be complete without sampling some traditional delicacies, let’s talk a bit about the best dishes the Hiroshima region is known for.
Because Hiroshima is located on Honshu Island, it stands to reason that a lot of the local specialty dishes would be seafood and fish-related.
I. Hiroshima oysters (広島かき)
Oysters are perhaps what the city is best known for, culinary-wise, at least. As the largest oyster producer in the entire region, it’s no surprise that oysters are widely available in a variety of recipes across the city.
In fact, the oyster trade is so big in the Hiroshima region that during peak oyster season (from January through the end of February), the city actually holds oyster festivals, where street vendors come out to sell various oyster delicacies to travelers. It’s also a great time to enjoy some beautiful street dances, and cultural shows.
Sampling the different oyster dishes of the region, you can choose from the following main recipes: steamed, raw with a special citrus sauce, called ponzu, grilled, fried in a tempura batter, and as part of a more complex miso pot called kaki-no-dotenabe.
II. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)
Not to be confused with the Okawa-style okonomiyaki, this sweet savory pancake uses a batter made of wheat flour egg, cabbage, and yam, as its key ingredients, to deliver a sweet, yet satiating flavor.
While the oyster may be the dish that Hiroshima is best known for, okonomiyaki shouldn’t be overlooked when sampling local cuisine, either. Although this particular pancake recipe is quite popular across the entire country, there is no single region that hosts more okonomiyaki restaurants than that of Hiroshima.
III. Anago meshi (あなご飯)
While the many oyster variations and the delicious pancake okonomiyaki may be more well known and instantly appeal to foreigners, locals of the Hiroshima region are also deeply besotted with and loyal to another dish - anago meshi. This tasty dish sees a plate of broiled conger eel, served on a bed of rice.
Typically cooked with saltwater or conger eel, the meat of the eel is then dipped in a sweet and sour soy sauce, before being laid out on the rice bed, for added, salty flavor.
Speaking of great food, there are many more unique dishes and food you can enjoy in Japan. Visit our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Nabe and Guide to Okinawan Food and Cuisine if you are interested in the great food Japan has to offer!
5 Tips for Planning your Hiroshima Visit
Now that you’ve got your tourist attractions and hopefully, your itinerary, better mapped out in your mind, here are some of our favorite tips for planning and enjoying your Hiroshima visit.
1. Get yourself a Rail Pass.
If you’re traveling to other regions of Japan, the Rail Pass may help you save a pretty penny, as you will be dependent on the country’s rail system quite a lot. It’s best to purchase this Pass before entering the country, through online (official) vendors.
2. Pack comfortable shoes.
While public transport in Hiroshima is highly affordable and efficient, Hiroshima is a good walking city. Furthermore, you miss out on a lot of lesser-known attractions and opportunities to discover the city if you’re always taking the bus, so pack yourself some comfy shoes, and get moving.
3. Purchase a Hiroshima Tourist Pass.
Transport in a foreign country is always a bit confusing, but for your Hiroshima visit, we recommend purchasing the Hiroshima Tourist Pass. depending on the type you choose (just for the city, areas nearby the city, or full prefecture), the Hiroshima Tourist Pass will cost between 1,500-3,500 JPY ($13.75-32 USD), and cover bus, metro, and tram lines.
4. Treat yourself to some tasty sake.
From Hiroshima Station, you can take the 40-minute train ride to the lesser known town of Saijo, which is known across the region as one of the best sake brewing destinations. So if you consider yourself a fine liquor connoisseur, make the day trip. It’s worth it.
5. Buy food at night.
You might not know this, but most supermarkets in the region tend to discount a lot of fresh produce after 8 PM, as they’re trying to get rid of it before it spoils. If you plan on spending longer in the Hiroshima region, shopping at night can really save you a pretty penny.
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