HIROSHIMA (two hours from Osaka by train) is a former castle town and the cultural, economic and political center of far western Honshu. Located on a triangular delta of the Otagawa River, with the Inland Sea on one side and the Chugoku Mountains on two sides, it has a population of 1.1 million people, and is the home of the Toyo Carp baseball team and Mitsubishi and Mazda plants and facilities.

Hiroshima is one of Japan's nicest industrial cities. It was rebuilt from scratch after World War II under the guidance of 30 city planners who made room for parks and wide green boulevards. Hiroshima boasts 700 well-tended parks, an ultra-modern electric transit system, 500 bridges, and streets and boulevards lined with sycamores, ginkgo trees and white and pink oleanders. On the southern side of the city is a small peak with a scenic road that twists and turns to the summit.

Hiroshima has a lively nightlife scene. Most of the city's 3,500 bars, restaurants and nightclubs are concentrated in the Shintenchi, Nagaregawa and Yagenbira entertainment centers. For information on events and club dates check out the local magazine Signposts. There is an tourist information office at JR Hiroshima Station. Visitors can get around by trams, buses and trains. The Hiroshima area is famous for oysters.

Websites:Hiroshima Convention and Visitor’s Burea Hiroshima Navigator ; Hiroshima Prefecture site kankou.pref.hiroshima Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO and JNTO Subway Map: Urban Rail Urbanrail.net Hotel Web Sites: Hiroshima Convention and Visitor’s Burea Hiroshima Navigator JapanHotel.net JapanHotel.net Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels (click hostels for good map and description of hostels) Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Hiroshima is on on the main shinkansen route and is accessible by air and by bus and by train from Tokyo (five hours) and Osaka (one and half hours) and other Japanese cities. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Hiroshima Castle was originally built in 1589 by Terumoto Mori, a feudal lord, and reconstructed in 1957. Known as rijo, "castle of the carps," it contains a good collection of swords, armor objects related to Hiroshima's history.

Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum contains works by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Dali, Henry Monroe, Magritte, Calder and Picasso. A ticket to the museum includes admission to Shukkeien Garden, a beautiful landscaped garden built in 1621 with attractive ponds and streams made from water drawn from the Ota River. Shukkeien means “shrink-scenery.” The garden is modeled on Xihua in Hangzhou, China.

Other Hiroshima Tourist Sights include a Holocaust Museum; a science museum, with a planetarium and hands-on displays; a zoo; a 45-acre botanical garden; an insect museum; a museum of contemporary art; and some shrines and temples. River cruises are available on the city's numerous waterway. On Okunoshima Island in Takehara is a poison gas museum with materials from Japan’s secret poison gas program.

Hiroshima and the Atomic Bomb

On August 6, 1945, a 10-foot-long atom bomb, code named "Little Boy," was dropped 31,600 feet above Hiroshima by American pilots in the Enola Gay . The 9000-pound explosive, fueled by less than ounce of uranium, exploded 2,000 feet above the Motoyasu River, in the center of the city, with a force equal to 12,500 tons of TNT. An area of 3.9 square miles was flattened.

The population of Hiroshima before the blast was 400,000. Three month later it was reduced to 140,000. About 80,000 were killed outright and many thousands died later, mainly of leukemia. But a surprising number survived. including some that were within a mile of ground zero. About 45,000 survivors remain alive in Hiroshima today.

On one side of the Motoyasu River is burnt-out skeletal dome of the Industrial Exposition Hall (A-Bomb Dome), the only central city building whose framework survived the explosion. On the other side of the river is Peace Memorial Park. Except for these poignant reminders of the devastating event, Hiroshima looks like any other modern Japanese city.

Among the building that survived the blast and were rebuilt is the Bank of Japan Building on Rijo. It was about a 1,000 feet from ground zero. Although the inside was completely destroyed and 42 people in the bank were killed, the bank reopened two days after the blast.

Hiroshima now is regarded as a symbol of peace. In addition to Peace Memorial Park, there is also a 100-yard-wide Peace Boulevard. Peace education is part of the school curriculum and every country that conducts a nuclear tests receives a telegram of protest form the city's mayor.

Atomic Bomb Dome (Genbaku Domu-mae Electric Railway Station) is Hiroshima's most famous landmark and the most vivid reminder of the nuclear blast. Resembling a bombed astronomical observatory, it was once the Hall of Industrial Promotion. Ground zero was just 160 meters east of the dome. No one inside survived.

The structure---built in 1915 and designed by the Czech architect Jan Letzel---is floodlit at night and fronted by thousands of origami cranes. It survived the blast as well as it did due to heavy use of steel and concrete in construction and because the blast took place almost directly above it and was spared some of the strongest shock waves and fireballs. Ironically the building is badly in need of restoration work despite repairs done in 1967, 1990 and 2003. Website: Wikipedia Wikipedia ;

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Peace Memorial Park (across the Motoyasu River from the Atomic Bomb Dome) occupies a triangular piece of land, where the Motoyasu, Han and Ota Rivers all come together. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was once the prosperous heart of Hiroshima and had 710 buildings. The rebuilt T-shaped Aioi-bashi Bridge was lined up in the sites of the Enola Gay bombardier who aimed the bomb.

Outside the museum is the Flame of Peace which is designed to continually burn until a real and continuous peace reigns over the whole world and the last remaining nuclear weapons are destroyed. Not far away is a simple concrete arch and a plaque marking ground zero of the blast.

Many people come to pray at the Memorial Cenotaph, which contains a "Books of the Past" with the names of all the known victims. In 2006, 5,350 names were added bringing the total to 247,787. Other memorials include the Statue of the Mother and Child in the Tempest; and the Fountain of Prayer. There is a clock tower, a bell and walkways where young Japanese couples go for romantic strolls on the weekends.

The Children's Peace Monument was erected by the boys and girls of Japan and dedicated to the world and world peace. It was inspired by the story of Sadako Sasaki, a child who survived but came down with leukemia and vowed to fold 1,000 origami cranes (a symbol of longevity) before she died. She only completed 644. Children in her school folded the remaining 356. Publicly surrounded the story inspired a wave of origami crane folding.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial was vandalized by an ultrarightest in 2005 and an arsonist in 2003, when about 140,000 paper cranes were set on fire and burned in about 10 minutes. A Japanese university student was arrested for the crime. He said he was frustrated by his inability to find a job. The monument now has a a series of eight gates created to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing. Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

Peace Memorial Museum (in Peace Memorial Park) contains a large collection of photographs of victims and damage, and objects that survived the blast such as scorched pieces of clothing, a burnt stuffed horse, and several watches that stopped at 8:15am, 32 seconds, August 6, 1945, the moment the bomb exploded. As of 2010, 60 million people had visited the A-bomb museum in Hiroshima. Of the 1.5 million people that visit the museum each years half are students and only 80,000 are foreigners.

The museum also houses life-size dioramas of ghostly survivors with shreds skin, burnt clothes, and blackened bodies, and audio visual presentations with newsreels showing shadows imprinted onto concrete by the intense heat from the blast and films that describe how radioactive "black rain" fell all over the city.

bomb shadows
Visitors enter the first floor of the East Building, where models, videos and photographs are used to describe what Hiroshima was like before and after the blast and give some history behind the tragedy. The exhibit points that Hiroshima was a military supply and command center, there was widespread use of forced labor and that city hosted a festival celebrating the capture of Nanking in 1937. Visitors walk upstairs to the second floor of the East Building where there are exhibits on the nuclear age and the peace and anti-nuclear movement. A corridor links the East Building with the West Building.

The West Building displays A-bomb artifacts and materials designed to convey what Hiroshima was like when the explosion occurred. The displays include a charred lunch box, burned student uniforms, bottles melted by the heat, shudders bent by the blast, fused utensils. shreds of cloths, black rain stains on a white wall and a human shadow left on a stone from a person sitting nearby, and paper cranes folded by a girl who died of leukemia at the age of 10, eight years after she was exposed to radiation in the blast. There are some shocking photographs, many of children, with horrible injuries.

cloth-apptern burns
A video theater shows films such as Hiroshima: A Mother’s Prayer and Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Harvest of Nuclear War in English and Japanese. Some of he most gruesome images are in these films. One scene shot in a makeshift hospital features a woman who was looking towards the bomb as it exploded. Doctors open one of her eyelids with tongs to reveal an eyeball that has been melted by the heat.

Many Japanese school children visit the museum and listen to first hand accounts to elderly survivors. In the basement of the museum is a massive card catalogue that lists the names of all the people who died in the Hiroshima blast, the cause of their death, and the names of the people who found the body. The ashes of 70,000 unidentified people are kept in solemn rooms within the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound.

The labels are in Japanese and English. Portable audio guides can be rented in several languages. The audio tapes provide more information and go into more detail than the labels. Websites: Peace Memorial Museum official site Hiroshima Peace Site ; Getting There: Wikipedia Wikipedia

Miyajima Island

Miyajima Island (40 minutes by tram and ferry from Hiroshima) is considered one of the three most scenic spots in Japan. Revered since ancient times as a nature worship site, the entire island has been designated as a "Special Historic Site" and "Special Place of Scenic Beauty."

Miyajima means "Divine Island." There is no cemetery on the island because an ancient religious regulation, observed until the Meiji Restoration of 1868, forbade any birth or deaths on the islands. Commoners were not allowed on the island.

Miyajima covers an area of 30 square kilometers. In the middle of the island is 1,600-foot-high, densely-wooded Mt. Misen, which can be reached by cable car or on foot. Near the summit is a temple founded in the 9th century by Kobo-Daishi, a famous Buddhist priest, and a walk-through rock tunnel, and platforms with an excellent views of Hiroshima Bay. At the temple there is a holy fire that is said to have been lit by Kobo Daishi himself in 806.

There are numerous other temples and shrines on the Miyajima Island. Built in 1587, the Pavilion of 1000 Mats boasts a five-story-high pagoda and an enormous main hall with timber pillars and ceiling paintings. Daoshoim Temple features 500 statues of Buddha’s disciples. The main building of the temple houses prayer wheels inscribed with the Hannya Shingyo sutra. There are some nice hikes on Mt. Misen, beaches, a seaside park and aquarium and virgin forests around Mt. Misen. Roaming the island are lots of remarkably tame deer and some tanukis. Monkeys hang out around the cable car station. Rickshaw rides are available around the town.

Also known as Itsuku-shima, Miyajima welcomes about 3 million visitors a year, including large school groups. Most are day trippers that arrive and leave using the two ferry lines but some stay overnight at hotels and 20 Japanese inns on the island. Some of the inns charge separately for lodging and meals, with the meals optional, partly in a bid to attract more foreign customers.

Websites: Miyajima Island Miyajima island ; Miyajima Tourist Association miyajima.or Map: Map: Miyajima Island Miyajima Island Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO Hotel Web Sites: Miyajima Hotels Miyajima Hotels ; JapanHotel.net JapanHotel.net ; Miyajima Hotels Directory Miyajima Hotel Union Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels (click hostels for good map and description of hostels) Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Miyajima is accessible by ferry from Miyajimagushi Pier which is a 15 minut train ride from Hiroshima. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Itsukushima Shrine (on Miyajima Island) is Miyajima's most visited scenic spot. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is made up of a main shrine, subsidiary shrines and Noh stages---all connected by galleries and corridors set on wood platforms that stretch out over the water. Sometimes after unusually high tides floors of the corridors are submerged by seawater.

The Treasure Hall of the temple contains 3,500 objects, including Buddhist Sutra scrolls, copied and decorated with pictorial designs in gold foil and rich colors by members of the Heike clan. The five-story pagoda nearby was built in 1407 and blends Japanese and Chinese styles

Ischikishimahime-no-mikoto was established in the reign of Empress Suiko (554-628) to honor the god of naval forces and navigation, and was enlarged under a feudal lord named Tairano-Kiyomori (1118-1181). The pierike construction was conceived with the island’s holy status in mind. Commoners were not supposed to set on the island and had to approach the island by boat.

The shrine was badly damaged by a Typhoon No. 18 in 2004. The cypress-bark roof of Haraiden hall was blow away and floor boards and vermillion-painted pillars were uplifted and tossed about by the wind and waves.

Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website

O Tori in the 19th century
O-Torii (offshore from Itsukushima Shrine) is a huge 50-foot-high camphor-wood gate set in the water that is perhaps the most photographed image in Japan after Mt. Fuji. Resembling a red-painted pi sign and situated about 200 meters from the shore, it looks as if it is floating on the sea at high tide. At low tide it looks like a large torii gate rising out of the mud. The main pillars are 10 meters in circumference.

The present gate was built in 1875 for the eighth time. The original was made in the 10th century during the Heian period. At night the torii gate is floodlight and sometimes a light and sound show is performed there. Some small ferries that arrive at high tide sail through it. It is said that the official way to enter the shrine was through the gate in the sea.

The view through of the gate from the water, with Mt. Misen in the background is regarded as one of Japan's "Three Best Views" along with the sandspit at Amonohashidate on the coast of Western Honshu and Matsushima Bay near Sendai in northern Honshu.


Iwakuni (20 miles southwest of Hiroshima) is an industrial city located on a delta of the Nishiki River in the Inland Sea. It's main that attraction is Kintai Bridge, sometimes called the Abacus Beads Bridge because of its shape. Originally built in 1673, this unique five-span bridge is 600 feet long and 50 feet wide, and 36 feet above the water at its tallest point.

Although the bridge---with its ingeniously constructed arches--- looks as it was designed to be beautiful and aesthetically pleasing the design is meant to be functional: namely to remain standing when it struck by high winds, tidal surges and river swells destructive typhoons. Walking across the bridge your view and perspective changes depending on where you stand on the humps.

No nails were used in its construction; the only metal objects are clumps of wires used as fasteners. In 1950 the bridge was washed away by a flood; in 1953 it was reconstructed according to its original design. A ¥2.6 billion restoration effort, involving 6,500 carpenters, laborers and specialists, was completed in March 2004.

Iwakuni is also famous for its albino Japanese rat snakes. There are regarded as good luck and can sometimes be seen crawling in trees or on the ground. The snakes are true albinos (white with pink eyes) and there are believed to be over a thousands of them and a special society has been set up to protect them. The first albino snake was recorded in 1733. No one is quite sure why there are so many of them here. The chances of an albino snake occurring in nature is roughly 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 50,000.

Iwakuni Castle was originally built in 1608 and reconstructed in 1962. The four-level donjon displays a historical collection of armor and swords, and offers good views of Kintai Bridge and the Inland Sea. There are few old samurai houses in the area.

Kikko Park, the site of the residence of a feudal lord, contains Kin-unkaku Pavilion, the Iwakuni Historical Museum (with an impressive collection of samurai armor), and Kikko Shrine. Cormorant fishing is conducted in the summer on the Nishiki river from June to August..

Websites: JNTO article JNTO ; Wikitravel Wikitravel Getting There: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet ;

Abuto Kannon (southernmost tip of Numakuma Peninsula in Hiroshima Prefecture) is spectacularly-set temple built on a rocky crag over the ocean. The view from the veranda is awesome but scary. The railing is only knee-high. The resident priests assure visitors that no one has fallen off.

Sometimes called the breast temple, it contains many breast-shaped votive offering from women who want to provide their children with lots of breast milk. The temple is associated with birth and fertility because it lies above a vagina-shaped rock formation and across from a phallic-shaped one. Abuto Kannon is 8 miles south of Fukuyama and can be reached by car, taxi or bus from there.


a Yamaguchi specialty
Yamaguchi (1½ hours by train from Hiroshima) used to be considered the "Kyoto of Western Japan--- because an early lord modeled the streets and buildings after their counterparts Kyoto. A town of 130,000, rarely visited by foreign tourists, it was the home of the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier for two months. Sights include the Xavier Memorial Chapel, an art gallery, museums, temples and shrines. The five-story pagoda at Rurikijo temple is a beautiful sight, especially when lit up at night. Sesshu garden at Joeiji Temple features a traditional Zen-style rock garden, During the Yamaguchi Tanabata lantern festival hundreds of lanterns are strung up in the shopping district. In July, the city host its version of the Kyoto’s Gion Festival. featured a dance performed in a winged costume that originated in Kyoto but is no longer performed there.

Websites: Yamaguchi Prefecture site Yamaguchi Prefecture Hotel Web Sites: JapanHotel.net JapanHotel.net Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels (click hostels for good map and description of hostels) Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet



fugu, a Shimonoseki specialty
Shimonoseki (at the southern tip of Honshu) is a port in southern Honshu with 250,000 people, and is a major crossroads and transportation hub with ferries to Korea or a suspension bridge across the Kanmon Straits to Kyushu. Sights include the bright orange Akama-jinju Shrine, 268-meter-high Mt. Hino-yam (with fine views of Kanmon Straits), an aquarium with a dolphin and sea lion show and whale house with a pro-whaling exhibition.

Shimonoseki’s Karato fish market is interesting. Thanks to its location between the Inland Sea and the Japan Sea, it has sold over 1,000 different species of fish as well as several species of whale. Many people say Shimonoseki has Japan’s freshest fish. The markets is new and spacious for a fish market. People relax on the roof which is covered with grass.

Shimonoseki is particularly famous for fugu, the expensive puffer fish whose poisonous organs have to be removed by a special procedure to keep the people who eat it from dying. About 500 fugu chef's live here. There is a bronze monument of a fugu in front of the fish market. There are even fugu pictured on the city's manhole covers. Every February people pray a good puffer catch before a special shrine and fishermen send the Emperor a fugu as a gift. A local tourist brochure reads: "In the past, eating fugu was an adventure risking one's life."

Shimonoseki has been the home of major whaling operation since 1899 when Japan adopted the “Norway method” of hunting whales with steam-fired harpoons. The city once was home to a shipbuilding industry that produced steel-hulled whale ships and a fleet of 40 whaling ships that ventured as far away as the Antarctic Ocean and returned with frozen carcasses. Now only two ships remain. The Whale Museum in Shimonoseki is closed. It is a large concrete blue whale. When it was open visitors entered through the tail, walked past exhibits and exited out the mouth.

whale sashimi
another Shimonoseki specialty
To give the local whaling industry a boost junior high school students are given tours of the last remaining whaling ships and a whale cooking festival, with tips on making whale burgers and whale capriccio, is held. Slabs of bright red whale are still seen in stores and markets. Whale restaurants offer fried whale tail, grilled whale tongue wafers, boiled blubber and whale sashimi.

Shimonoseki is getting more and more visitors from South Korea and China. The city is encouraging shops to accept South Korean money in a bid to attract Korean tourists on the ferry from Pusan.

Websites: Shimonoseki Sightseeing Guide Shimonoseki City site Wikitravel Wikitravel Hotel Web Sites: JapanHotel.net JapanHotel.net Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels (click hostels for good map and description of hostels) Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Shimonoseki is accessible by ferry from Korea and China and accessible by air, bus and train from Tokyo (six hours) and Osaka (four hours) and other Japanese cities. The Shimonoseki shinkansen station is two stations from downtown Shimonoseki. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Image Sources: 1) 11) Ray Kinnane 2) 5), 6), 7) Hiroshima Convention and Visitor's Bureau 3) 4) 8), 9) Gensuikan 10 Aomolife 13) Visualizing Culture, MIT Education, 14) Wikitravel, 15), 16), 17) Shimonoseki city site

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

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