Hiroshima

Hiroshima (広島) is an industrial city of wide boulevards and criss-crossing rivers, located along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea. Although many only know it for the horrific split second on August 6, 1945, when it became the site of the world's first atomic bomb attack, it is now a modern cosmopolitan city with excellent cuisine and a bustling nightlife.

Understand

Blessings of Peace, Chuo Park

Those expecting to step off the Shinkansen into a pile of smoldering rubble will be in for a surprise, as Hiroshima has all the ferroconcrete and blinking neon of any other modern Japanese city. Teenagers stream in and out of the station, where McDonald's and the latest keitai (mobile phones) await; hapless salarymen rush down Aioi-dori to their next meeting, casting a bloodshot eye toward the seedy bars of Nagarekawa as they pass. At first glance, it can be hard to imagine that anything out of the ordinary ever happened here.

Hiroshima was founded in 1589 on the delta formed by the Ota River, flowing out to the Seto Inland Sea. The warlord Mori Terumoto built a castle there, only to lose it eleven years later to Tokugawa Ieyasu after the Battle of Sekigahara, which marked the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate. Control of the area was given to the Asano clan of samurai, who ruled without much incident for the next two and a half centuries. Their descendants embraced the rapid modernization of the Meiji period, and Hiroshima became the seat of government for the region, a major industrial center, and a busy port.

By World War II, Hiroshima was one of the larger cities in Japan, and a natural communications and supply center for the military. Forced laborers from Korea and China were shipped in by the tens of thousands, and local schoolchildren also spent part of their days working in munitions factories. Residents of the city must have felt curiously blessed for the first few years of the war, as Hiroshima had been left largely untouched by American bombing campaigns; that was, however, intended to ensure a more accurate measurement of the atomic bomb's effect on the candidate cities, which had been narrowed down to Hiroshima, Kokura, Kyoto, Nagasaki, and Niigata.

2000 feet from ground zero, 1945

On 6 August 1945 at 8:15AM the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb dubbed "Little Boy" on Hiroshima. It is estimated that at least 70,000 people were killed in the explosion and its immediate aftermath. Most of the city was built of wood, and fires raged out of control across nearly five square miles, leaving behind a charred plain with a few scattered concrete structures. Corpses lay piled in rivers; medical treatment was virtually non-existent, as most of the city's medical facilities had been located near the hypocenter, and the few doctors left standing had no idea what hit them. That evening, radioactive materials in the atmosphere caused a poisonous "black rain" to fall.

In the days ahead, many survivors began to come down with strange illnesses, such as skin lesions, hair loss, and fatigue. Between 70,000 and 140,000 people would eventually die from radiation-related diseases. Known as hibakusha, the survivors were also subject to severe discrimination from other Japanese, but have since been at the forefront of Japan's post-war pacifism and its campaign against the use of nuclear weapons.

Recovery was slow, given the scale of the devastation, and black markets thrived in the first few years after the war. However, the reconstruction of Hiroshima became a symbol of Japan's post-war pacifism. Today, Hiroshima has a population of more than 1.1 million. Automobiles are a major local industry, with Mazda's corporate headquarters nearby. There are three excellent art museums in the city center, some of Japan's most fanatical sports fans, and a wide range of culinary delights most notably the city's towering contribution to bar cuisine, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.

Although many visitors, especially Americans, may feel apprehensive about visiting Hiroshima, it is a friendly, welcoming city, with as much interest in Western culture as anywhere else in Japan. Tourists are welcomed, and exhibits related to the atomic bomb are not concerned with blame or accusations. Bear in mind, though, that many hibakusha still live in the city, and even most of the young people in Hiroshima have family members who lived through the blast. As such, the average Hiroshima resident isn't likely to relish talking about it, although you needn't shy away from the topic if one of the chatty fellows around the Peace Park brings it up.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 10 11 14 20 25 28 31 33 30 24 18 12
Nightly lows (°C) 2 2 5 10 15 20 24 25 21 15 9 4
Precipitation (mm) 47 67 121 156 157 258 236 126 180 95 68 35

Source: Japan Meteorological Agency.

Unfortunately, most travelers experience Hiroshima during the worst weather of the year, in July and August, when days of heavy rain give way to brutal, muggy heat. Don't book accommodations without air conditioning if that's when you're planning to visit. Also note that in the latter half of September, warm and pleasant days are interspersed with typhoons powerful enough to wreck buildings (such as the one that nearly destroyed Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima in 2004) and keep travelers locked up in their hotels.

October and November are ideal, with less rain and cool, refreshing temperatures. The winter months are fine for a visit the weather is dry, with very little rain or snow, and the temperatures are rarely cold enough to keep you indoors. As elsewhere in Japan, though, a number of museums are closed from 29 Dec to 1 Jan (or 3 Jan).

April and May also have excellent weather. The cherry blossoms come out in early April, and the parks around Hiroshima Castle turn into a mob scene with hanami parties. For sakura with a bit more solitude, go for a hike on Ushita-yama, overlooking the north exit of JR Hiroshima Station (see Recreation).

Literature

Money

There is an international ATM in the lobby of the central post office, which is on your right as you exit the south side of JR Hiroshima Station. English menus should be available. International ATMs with English menus are also available at 7-Eleven convenience stores, which are open 24 hours in plentiful quantities throughout the city.

If you need to change money, the bank across the street from the station on the first floor of the Fukuya department store can handle transactions to and from most major currencies.

Orientation

Most visitors arrive at JR Hiroshima Station, which is a 25 minute walk from the Peace Park. If you arrive by Shinkansen, you will be at the north side of the station. There is an underground pedestrian walkway leading to the main side of the station (south exit), where all other trains arrive. Take the pedway and head upstairs; you will see the taxis, trams, and buses that lead to the city center. If you continue on the underground walkway, you'll reach an escalator that exits by a major bridge, with the station now behind you; you can walk to the Peace Park from there, branching right on Aioi-dori.

There is a tourist information office on the first floor of the south side of the station, and another on the second floor of the north side. Both are open 9:30AM-5PM daily.

Other visitors may arrive at the Hiroshima Bus Center (広島バスセンター) on the third floor of the SOGO department store, which is just down the street from the Peace Park. Coin lockers are available at both the Hiroshima Bus Center and JR Hiroshima Station.

Generally speaking, addresses in Minami-ku (Minami Ward) are in the station area, while Naka-ku (Naka Ward) covers the Peace Park and its surroundings.

Get in

By plane

Hiroshima Airport (IATA: HIJ) connects to domestic destinations in Japan. Both ANA and JAL offer flights from Tokyo Haneda and Sapporo Chitose airports. ANA also offers flights from Narita, Sendai and Okinawa. There are direct international flights from Dalian, Guam, Shanghai, Seoul, and Taipei.

Buses connect the airport to JR Hiroshima Station (48 minutes, ¥1340) and the Hiroshima Bus Center (51-53 minutes, ¥1340). There are also buses from the airport to Okayama, Onomichi, Iwakuni, Tottori, and other spots in the Chugoku region.

By train

Hiroshima is a major station on the JR West Sanyo Shinkansen line. It is roughly 40 minutes from Okayama (¥5500) and 90 minutes from Shin-Osaka (¥9710). Tokyo is four hours away via Nozomi (¥18,040) and five hours via Hikari.

If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you cannot use the Nozomi, so if you are traveling from Tokyo or Nagoya you will have to take one of the two hourly Hikari trains and change at either Shin-Osaka or Himeji to the Hikari Rail Star or Sakura. There are also a few Hikari departures from Nagoya in the morning that run directly to Hiroshima with no change of trains necessary.

Traveling overnight by train from Tokyo, you can take the 10PM Sunrise Izumo/Sunrise Seto train to Okayama, then take a Mizuho train to Hiroshima, arriving at 7:21AM. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can book a carpeted floor space on the overnight service at no charge. Otherwise you can travel in a compartment or room by paying the applicable room fee and surcharges. Once arriving in Okayama, Rail Pass holders must change to a Sakura at Okayama, arriving in Hiroshima just before 8AM.

Regular train services run through Hiroshima on the Sanyo Main Line (between Kobe and Kitakyushu), along with several local lines.

By bus

Long-distance buses arrive and depart from the north exit of JR Hiroshima Station, where there is a JR Bus counter, and the Hiroshima Bus Center in the city center. There is service to and from cities in Kanto, Kansai, Kyushu, Shikoku, and much of the rest of Japan.

The New Breeze overnight bus runs between Tokyo and Hiroshima. There are two nightly departures in each direction: departing from Tokyo at 8PM and 9PM, with both buses arriving in Hiroshima at 8AM the next day. The trip costs ¥11,600 one way, ¥21,200 round trip.

There are two overnight buses from Osaka the Sanyo Dream Hiroshima from JR Osaka Station and the Venus from the Namba bus terminal. Both cost ¥5700 one way, ¥11,000 round trip. One overnight bus runs from Kyoto between JR Kyoto Station and Hiroshima at (¥6300 one way, ¥11400 round trip).

Daytime express buses run from Osaka (about five hours each way), with five departures daily (¥5000 one way, ¥9000 round trip) and two from Kyoto (5 1/2 hours, ¥5500 one way, ¥10000 round trip).

Among the many discount bus carriers that ply these routes, Willer Express runs services from Shinjuku in Tokyo (from ¥6600 one way), and from Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe (from ¥3400 one way), with online booking in English available.

By ferry

Ferries dock at Hiroshima's Ujina Port, which also serves as terminus for several tram lines. Ishizaki Kisen operates daily service to and from Matsuyama in Shikoku, with some boats stopping in Kure along the way. The ride (known as "Superjet") takes 70-80 minutes to reach Matsuyama and costs ¥7100 each way. Slower ferries arrive in about 2 1/2 hours at a much-reduced cost of ¥3600.

By car

From the San'yo Expressway, take exit 29 for Hiroshima. Heading southwest on National Highway Route 54 will take you to the center of town; Route 2 is the major east/west artery, south of the city center. Confirm in advance that your hotel offers parking not all do, and public parking is both expensive and hard to find.

Hiroshima city map


Tram routes and stops

Get around

By tram

Green Mover bound for Hiroshima Port

Hiroshima has an extensive tram (streetcar) network, which is operated by Hiroden (広電). It's a slow but reliable way of getting around. The trams themselves are a mix of old rattle-traps and sleek, new "Green Movers" although they all run on the same lines for the same fares. There's no difference other than the smoothness of the ride. Because the trams were bought from other cities, you're getting a tour of Japanese transit history some have been in service for more than fifty years, and that might be an old Kyoto tram taking you through Hiroshima.

Most lines originate from JR Hiroshima Station, and run frequently during daytime and evening hours, approximately one tram every 10 minutes per line. Boarding and payment procedures vary by tram; however, the entrance and exit are clearly marked in English. (If in doubt, just follow the locals.) Pay as you exit. Change machines are usually available on board if you don't have exact change check near the front or back of the car. Trips within the city are a flat ¥160, save for one line that runs between Hakushima and Hachobori for ¥110; trundling out all the way to Miyajima-guchi (to catch a ferry to Miyajima) will set you back ¥280. One-day passes are available from the tourist office for ¥600 (¥300 children), or ¥840 (¥420 children), which includes the ferry to Miyajima.

By bus

Bus lines run through Hiroshima and out to the suburbs. Generally speaking, these serve areas more likely to be used by locals than visitors. Signs include English, and buses depart next to the tram depot in front of JR Hiroshima Station.

By metro

The modern Astram (アストラムライン) links the city center with the northern suburbs, although there aren't many tourist sights out that way. Trips range from ¥180-470 by distance, with departures every few minutes between 6AM-midnight. The underground station at the end of Hon-dōri, near the Peace Park, is the terminus in the city center.

By bike

Hiroshima is a great city for cycling. Most of the sidewalks are fairly wide by Japanese standards; the paths along the branches of the rivers offer a very pleasant ride, and if you're looking to test your legs, head up to the hills around Hijiyama Park. Many hotels will be happy to arrange bike rentals.

See

Map of Peace Memorial Park

Peace Memorial Park

A-Bomb Dome

Most of the memorials related to the atomic bomb are in and around the Peace Memorial Park (平和公園 Heiwa-kōen), reachable by tram line 2 or 6 to Genbaku Dome-mae. Coming from JR Hiroshima Station, you'll see the Peace Park on your left just before crossing the T-shaped Aioi Bridge, which is thought to have been the target of the bomb.

Once part of the busy Nakajima merchant district, this area was destroyed almost in its entirety by the bomb. Today, there are more than fifty memorials, statues, and other structures in the Park. Some will be obscure in their meaning; others are immediate and devastating. There is no entry fee, save for the Peace Memorial Museum, and access to the grounds is not restricted at night.

Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students
Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims

Outside the Peace Park

Chuo Park area

Hiroshima Castle

Hijiyama Park area

Other sights

Bridges in Shukkeien

Do

Festivals

Recreation

Know Your Carp

The Hiroshima Carp have no competition for the city's sports loyalty. Some key facts to get you up to speed:

  • The Carp own the color red in Hiroshima, but it wasn't adopted by the team until 1973, along with their Cincinnati Reds-style logo. Red is intended to symbolize a never-ending fighting spirit.
  • The 1978-80 Akaheru (Red Helmets) team was almost certainly the team's apex, setting league records for home runs and winning two championships.
  • The Carp's last pennant was 1991, giving them the longest title drought in Japanese baseball, but the 2013-14 squad reached NPB's Climax Series championship, spreading a new wave of excitement through the city.
  • Slugger Koji Yamamoto is Mr. Red Helmet, the team's all-time great (now retired). The cream of the recent crop is outfielder Shigenobu Shima, the Red Godzilla.
  • Cash has been a recurrent problem throughout the team's history, with local citizens pitching in to keep the team afloat on more than one occasion. Today, Mazda is the team's largest minority owner, but without a deep-pocketed sponsor like Tokyo's Yomiuri Giants or even Sapporo's Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, the Carp struggle to hang on to free agents.
  • The Carp's mascot, Slyly, bears a striking resemblance to the Philly Phanatic because he was designed by the same firm.

Work

Hiroshima features the standard array of English teaching opportunities, with branches of major eikaiwa like Geos, AEON and ECC as well as small, niche language schools. The Hiroshima International Center (see Connect) is a good place to make inquiries, as is a Saturday night at The Shack or Kemby's (see Drink).

Mazda is largest employer of foreign personnel in the area, due to their relationship with the Ford Motor Company in Detroit and their manufacturing plants in South America. Contract workers from Southeast Asia and the South Pacific are brought in by Hiroshima-based firms for industries such as shipbuilding, notably in the nearby city of Kure.

Some non-Japanese work illegally or under-the-radar as bartenders or sell jewelry in Nagarekawa, which motivates occasional visa crackdowns (see Stay safe).

Buy

Shopping in Hiroshima is dominated by a few huge department stores; in fact, trains deliver you directly into a fairly bland one called ASSE, which occupies the floors above the south exit of JR Hiroshima Station. Hon-dori (本通り), a covered shopping arcade in the city center, is the place to wander with a wallet you'd like to empty.

In terms of souvenirs, Hiroshima Carp memorabilia is the most widely found, although there's some spillover from the super-powered knick-knack engine that is Miyajima.

Eat

Okonomiyaki preparation
Okonomiyaki

Hiroshima is famous for its style of okonomiyaki (お好み焼き), which literally means "cook it as you like it". Often (and somewhat misleadingly) called "Japanese pizza", it is better described as a type of savory pancake made with egg, cabbage, soba noodles, and meat, seafood or cheese. It is grilled in layers on a hot plate in front of you and slathered liberally with okonomiyaki sauce, with optional extras such as mayonnaise, pickled ginger, and seaweed. It sounds and looks like a mess, but is very tasty and filling. To give you a sense of the civic pride involved here, the Hiroshima tourist information office offers a map with a whopping 97 shops serving okonomiyaki within city limits, and reports have several hundred more in the area. Micchan (みっちゃん) is the most famous of the Hiroshima- style okonomiyaki restaurants with long histories. It has a few branches in and around the center of Hiroshima.

Hiroshima style and Osaka style are the two competing types of okonomiyaki, and if you raise the subject of okonomiyaki with a local, be ready to state your preference between the two! Basically, in Hiroshima the ingredients are layered and pressed together while cooking, while in Osaka the batter is mixed together first, and the ingredients do not include soba noodles. According to local legend, both dishes originate from a cheap snack called issen yōshoku (一銭洋食) or "one-cent Western meal", which consisted of a wheat and water pancake served with scallions and sauce. Representing the other side of the pancake divide, Tokunaga (徳永) is the bext-known Kansai-style okonomiyaki restaurant in Hiroshima.

A row of excellent, informal okonomiyaki restaurants has sprung up on the second floor of JR Hiroshima Station (the ASSE Dept. Store). If you don't know what to order, ask for "niku-tama soba" and that will be all they need to know. There are Japanese and American chain restaurants clustered near the station, including Starbucks on the third floor (south exit), McDonald's on both sides of the station, a Lotteria burger shop in the underground plaza between sides of the station, a couple of sushi shops past the okonomiyaki joints on the second floor (south exit), yet another okonomiyaki shop on the second floor (north exit, by the shinkansen gates), and an Indian restaurant on the sixth floor (south exit), among many others. Most will serve until 10PM, though McDonalds stays open later.

Hiroshima is also famous for its oysters (available between October and March) and a maple-leaf-shaped pastry called momiji manjū (もみじ饅頭). (Momiji is the leaf of a Japanese maple tree.) Momiji manjū are available with a variety of fillings, including the more traditional anko (あんこ), red bean and matcha (抹茶), or green tea; it's also available in cream cheese, custard, apple and chocolate flavors. Boxes of momiji manjū are considered the quintessential Hiroshima souvenir, but Miyajima is the best place to buy it fresh.

Budget


Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Nagarekawa has the highest concentration of bars in Hiroshima the good, the bad, and the hostess but there are a number of good, quiet wine bars on Hakushima-dori, and plenty of foreigner-friendly pubs clustered around the giant PARCO building . Yagenbori-dori is full of bars and clubs that are spread across floors of the various high-rise buildings.

Sake enthusiasts should not miss the chance to visit the breweries of Saijo, particularly during the annual festival in October see above.

Some perspective for weary travelers

If you've lost your luggage, checked into a shoebox-sized business hotel that reeks of smoke, and had your stomach pumped after eating some bad eel, you still haven't had a worse trip than Tsutomu Yamaguchi did.

In August 1945, Yamaguchi was sent to Hiroshima on a business trip. With the job done, his co-workers left, but Yamaguchi realized that he had forgotten his personal seal for signing official documents, so he headed back into town to pick it up. That's when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Badly burned, deaf, and partially blind, he spent a night in the ruins of the city, and then found a railway station on the western edge of the city that was back in operation. He managed to catch a train home to Nagasaki, where as Yamaguchi explained to his disbelieving boss what had happened in Hiroshima the second atomic bomb was dropped.

In 2009, the Japanese government certified the still-living Tsutomu Yamaguchi as the first known person to have been at ground zero of both atomic blasts. A year later, Yamaguchi passed away from stomach cancer at the age of 93.

Sleep

Budget

For a short night before an early train, the cheapest digs in town will be to nap in the easy chairs at the two Internet cafes outside the south exit of JR Hiroshima Station (see Connect), or possibly a Nagarekawa karaoke box. You won't be the only one doing it, particularly on weekends. In particular, the brand new WiP Internet cafe on the southwest side of the station is a right gem, offering a 9 hour private booth nightpack for ¥2190, inclusive of shower usage and offers the rare option of staying in a separate non-smoking area.

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Mother and child, Peace Memorial Park

Hiroshima has a rough reputation among Japanese people from other cities, thanks largely to the yakuza movies that were filmed in town. In reality, though, it's much safer than any large Western city. As with most places in Japan, petty theft is virtually non-existent. Nagarekawa, the nightlife district, does have its share of prostitutes, sex clubs, and rip-off hostess bars, but to no greater extent than Tokyo or Osaka.

There have been a few surprise police raids on bars that offer dancing after 1AM, in accordance with a semi-obscure local law about public immorality that Hiroshima occasionally feels compelled to enforce probably in order to catch people who are in the country illegally. Japanese citizens are generally allowed to leave right away, but foreigners have been made to stand in line to have their paperwork checked. If you find yourself in one of these situations, just stay calm, show the police your passport, and you'll eventually be allowed to leave without any trouble.

Connect

Cope

Hiroshima is a safe and friendly city, accustomed to and eager to receive foreign visitors. The average English level among Hiroshima residents is relatively high for a Japanese city, particularly around the Peace Park. Directions to the major sights are clearly sign-posted in English throughout the city.

The Peace Memorial Park is a very popular school trip destination for Japanese students, and you may be accosted by kids working on school projects, asking you (in halting English) where you're from, what your name is, or whatever else their teacher has assigned them to ask. They travel in packs, so you should be able to see them coming from a distance and avoid (or engage) accordingly.

As mentioned above, visiting the sights related to the atomic bomb can be an intense experience. If you only have one day set aside for Hiroshima, you'll naturally wind up spending most of it at the atomic bomb memorials. For your own peace of mind, though, try to set aside time to relax and reflect in other parts of the city, such as Chuo Park or Shukkeien, both of which are only a short walk from the Peace Park.

Go next

Routes through Hiroshima

Hakata Shin-Iwakuni  W  E  Higashihiroshima Shin-Osaka
Yamaguchi Hatsukaichi  W  E  Saijyo(Higashihiroshima) Okayama
Yamaguchi Yoshiwa  W  E  Miyoshi Kobe
Yamaguchi Hatsukaichi  W  E  Saijyo(Higashihiroshima) Okayama


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, February 22, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.