Written by Nguyen Manh Quoc Trung
Hiroshima is a city with a history, and it is not a pleasant one. For the past half a decade, the city has gone through hardships unlike other cities in Japan. Going to Hiroshima, one could not help but be submerged into the history that is part of every building, piece of scenery, and person in the city. Visiting Hiroshima is to learn not only about the traumatic memories that never quite fade, but also the townspeople’s efforts to rebuild, restore, and return to the normal life they once had.
1. Hiroshima Peace Park
Being one of the only two cities in the world ever to experience the horror of the atomic bomb, a trip to Hiroshima would never be complete without a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, or Peace Park. Located right in the city center, it can be accessed very easily from Hiroshima Station. Its most popular attraction is Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, dedicated to documenting the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in World War II. The rectangular-shaped museum houses an extensive collection of photos, materials, and media related to the bombing of Hiroshima and with the aim of conveying the horror and destruction of the atomic bomb, including belongings left by the victim, accounts of first-hand eye-witnesses and survivors. It is usual for visitors to leave the museum shaken and in tears – the level of details and the willingness to display every piece of information related to the disaster will make you feel like it is you who have just escaped from the terror, and therefore gaining a better understanding on what the people of Hiroshima had to go through 75 years ago.
Other attractions in the Peace Park include the A-bomb Dome and the Children’s Peace Monument, both located in the Peace Park and within walking distance from the museum. When the atomic bomb exploded above Hiroshima, the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, with its signature dome, was one of the only buildings left standing, and was converted into the A-bomb Dome as a symbol of the Japanese will and spirit in the face of disasters. On the other hand, the Children’s Peace Monument is built to commemorate the thousands of child victims in the bombing, especially Sadako Sasaki, a girl suffering from radiation poisoning who believed that if she could fold one thousand paper cranes, her wish of a world without nuclear weapons will be granted. On top of the monument is a statue of a young girl holding a paper crane, and every year thousands of strings of paper-cranes are sent here in memory of her and the child victims.
2. Downtown Hiroshima
While not really a destination, downtown Hiroshima is especially busy at night, filled with shops, restaurants, and shopping centers which main feature is Hondori Street, a pedestrian arcade. While not so different from other cities’ downtown areas, Hondori Street is worth visiting to see how bustling Hiroshima city’s center can be, and of course, to enjoy Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki, one of the region’s most famous specialties. Okonomimura (usually translated as Okonomiyaki Village) is a small area located on the eastern end of Hondori Street that is wholly devoted to the signature dish. With okonomiyaki restaurants lining up the whole street, it is recommended to simply take a break from your journey and have a bite in one of the busiest areas in Hiroshima.
The island of Miyajima is not exactly close to Hiroshima and therefore should be included as a side trip. Located an hour from Hiroshima and has to be accessed by ferry, Miyajima is most famous for Itsukushima Shrine’s giant Torii gate, which at high tides is surrounded by water and seems to stand mightily in the middle of the sea. The island’s main attraction is no doubt the Itsukushima Shrine, a huge shrine constructed right above the water level to give the illusion that it is “floating” during high tide. The shrine complex is one of the largest in Japan, and worth a visit just for the experience of being lost in an immersive wooden structure full of pillars, gates, and Shinto imageries.
Miyajima can also be enjoyed on foot through the island’s many walking paths, giving visitors access to various big and small temples, beautiful Momiji (red leaves) scenery during autumn, and of course, the chance to encounter wild, but friendly, deers.
The photos in this article are taken by and belong to Nguyen Manh Quoc Trung.