Hiroshima is a big city. Well, compared to our previous stops both on Kyushu Island, this city on Honshu felt much busier with many more people in suits rushing past us on our way from the main bus stop to the streetcar stop outside Hiroshima Station. Yes, streetcars again! Fun transport and easy to know price – a flat rate where ever you go (within the city centre). At ¥160 (just over a pound) it’s cheap if you travel far. Our Airbnb was nearly 30 minutes from the main bus and train station but only a 10 minute walk from the Peace Memorial Gardens.
The first A-bomb
You can’t talk about Hiroshima without mentioning that the first atomic bomb was dropped here, killing around 140,000 people by the end of 1945. Nearly twice as many as in Nagasaki which happened three days later. The museum was partly under renovation but the east section still open to the public. It was busy, jammed full of people. Perhaps we shouldn’t have gone on the weekend with a public holiday on the Monday. It wasn’t as bad as our Summer Palace in Beijing experience though. Determined to read everything, it was possible to wade through the people and learn the horrors, and then wonder why you made yourself do that.
What was nice to see was a mention of the Nanjing Massacre in China. Nice is the wrong word, but I guess pleased that this event was recognised. The massacre was not indiscriminate killing (as the A-bombs are described) and one estimated guess is that more than 300,000 Chinese were killed. This event still causes difficult relations today. I had heard that the Japanese did not accept or simply ignored previous atrocities that Japan has carried out so it was pleasing, and a little surprising, to see it had been recognised, even if brief. There had also been a memorial to the Chinese who died in Nagasaki and here in Hiroshima, we found the memorial to the Koreans who died during the bombs (most of both were forced labourers).
But there’s so much more history than the event in 1945. Once the largest castle west of Kyoto now contains a museum devoted to Hiroshima’s pre-1945 history. The plain castle was built to unite five nearby villages and the city built up around it. Various daimyos controlled the castle and the land around it through the shogun era, but it was never allowed to grow too big as way for the shogun to keep control. It was however destroyed by the A-bomb and rebuilt but the museum inside was interesting and the view from the top was great. Wonderful breeze too, given the sweltering heat. The giant moat and large grounds were nice to walk around in and relax, even if it meant larger than average ants crawling on you.
Just 30 minutes south on a JR train and a 5 minute crossing on a JR ferry (and therefore free on the Japan rail pass) is one of the top three scenic spots in Japan. They love to rank things here. The island of Itsukushima, nicknamed Miyajima or Shrine Island, has been a sacred place since the 8th century. Today it is most famous for the torii in the sea, it marks the entrance to the shrine.
It was low tide on arrival. The gate was stunning and the whole setting with the shrine behind it and the mountains towering above was beautiful. However, high tide is supposed to be the best time to view, so instead of turning right on leaving the ferry we turned left, and headed towards Tutumigaura Nature Park.
A half an hour walk through blistering heat, past shrines and tame deer, and even through a road tunnel, we reached the park fronted by an amazing beach. I’m not really a beach person, I can’t sunbathe as I get bored, and I can’t swim because it’s usually too cold. However today was July 17th, the public holiday known as Marine day, where people apparently flock to aquariums and the seaside. The water was perfectly cold given the heat, and Mischa in with his fancy South Korean super drying hiking shorts just dived in. Not wearing swim appropriate attire, I aptly continued reading Shogun instead – and ate blue soda flavoured ice cream.
Making it back to the shrine and the torii gate at high tide after 4pm, the light was perfect and the view divine at the only shrine in the sea in the whold of Japan.
Oh, and on this island there are many deer, who know how to cross the road.
Our first bullet train in Japan
It was leaving Hiroshima that we jumped on our first Shinkansen. It was also very close to being the first train we’ve missed on this journey/adventure so far.
The JR pass prevents you from getting the direct commuter train to Tokyo (Nozomi and Mizuho), so the day before we had reserved seats on the Sakura Shinkansen to Shin-Osaka, then on the Hikari Shinkansen to Nagoya. The reservations are free and it’s advised if it’s a train leaving in peak times to reserve a seat just in case. If we had missed it, it wasn’t a big problem, we could simply get the next one – it still would have felt like a missed train though.
We gave ourselves an hour, more than enough time to reach the station via streetcar. Suddenly, with one of us a little ill, we had to leap off the streetcar and find a bathroom. Conveniently convenience stores are all over the place and usually contain bathrooms. Feeling better, we decide to take a bus the rest of the way to the train station as it’s quicker than the streetcars which stop often. I got the wrong bus stop, in which time we missed two buses, the second of which must have seen us running in the rain but did not wait. Ten minutes later the right bus turns up and we get on. It’s painfully slow in the morning traffic with many people getting on and off eating away at our precious seconds. With 7 minutes to go it drops us off round the corner from the station entrance. Running down stairs, through the underpass, up escalators and following the signs to the Shinkansen lines we flash our rail passes to the guards who wave us through and with a final run up the escalator to the platform we made it with two minutes to spare, just as the train is pulling up to the platform.
I had no time to take a photo of the wonderful Japanese bullet train that took us tward Osaka – but here’s us looking very relieved, and shocked, that we actually made it. And sweaty. Did I mention Japan is super humid in the summer.
To sumo, or not to sumo?
After our change in Shin-Osaka and passing through Kyoto, both places we’ll come back too, we got off in Nagoya, the fourth largest city. In July every year it holds the sumo tournament. The tickets were sold out online but door tickets for roughly £20 upwards are sold on the day. After hearing mixed stories of simply turning up and getting in to having to queue from 5am, we decided it was worth the effort to decipher the metro system (Google helped), decipher the ticket machines (asked a local for that) and walk in the midday sun to the Gymnasium by the castle where it was being held.
Not to sumo. The tickets were all sold out of course, and therefore so had our luck, all used up on catching our Shinkansen that morning. Whenever I’m feeling down, good food always cheers me up. We tried the local dish of kishimen – oishi-des! Then we jumped on a train to Matsumoto, towards the mesmerising Japanese Alps and a whole new feel of the country.
Complete Photos (Hiroshima)
Complete Photos (Miyajima)