After leaving Kyoto, our next destination was Hiroshima, where we arrived fairly late in the day after making the most of our last day in Kyoto. We headed to our Ryokan for the night, a great little family run place called Sansui Ryokan, and then explored the neighbourhood to get our bearings and grab some dinner.
The next day was spent travelling along the nearby Shiminami Kaido cycleway, which is detailed in this blog post. We returned to town a little tired from the days riding, but decided to grab a quick dinner in one of Japan’s takes on fast food – a chain that specialises in Japanese style curry. Very tasty, and with a near limitless array of variations that can be chosen from. The day was completed with a gentle stroll through the downtown area of the city, which was coming to life as people made there way home from work or headed out for the evening.
The next day was a our final in Hiroshima, and our main one to actually see the city. One of the first things that struck us was that despite the cities tragic history, there are few reminders in what is a bustling city, with lush green parks and tree lined boulevards which make it a pleasant place for a stroll. Hiroshima’s past as the first city targeted by atomic bomb is never far from your thoughts whilst there, this is especially true at the Peace Memorial Park which is where we started our day. We began by visiting the Peace Memorial Museum, which tells the story of the 6th of August 1945 by exhibiting photos as well as the preserved belongings of some of the victims. It was a sombre hour or so, but it was interesting to learn more about what had happened here.
Also learning more about the story were (literally) thousands of school children, who packed the museum as well as the peace park in general. Out in the park it was our turn to be given a questionnaire to complete, the students spoke impressive English. The end of the questionnaire was normally followed by a photo and we didn’t escape, this presumably was to prove that they hadn’t just filled it out themselves!
After leaving the museum, we took a walk through the park itself, following a route that took us past the Cenotaph and the memorial flame and on to the Children’s Peace Monument where there is a statue dedicated to the children who died in the bombing. The statue commemorates the story of Sadako Sasaki, who believed that if she folded thousands of paper cranes she would be cured of her cancer caused by the radiation from the bomb. Surrounding the statue there are thousands of these cranes sent by children from all over the world.
From here we crossed the river and made our way to the A-bomb dome, the ruins of the former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. Although the bomb exploded metres above where it is located, it was one of the few buildings that stood in the aftermath, albeit just the buildings skeleton.
We next headed to the area around Hiroshima castle and spent some time walking in the gardens and relaxing before our late afternoon train journey to the nearby island of Miyajima. The island lies about 20km south of Hiroshima, and although this is possible by boat directly from Hiroshima, we decided to go with the more regular option of taking the train south to Miyajimaguchi and then catch the ferry over to the island itself. This also had the added benefit that the whole journey including the ferry was covered on our Japan Rail passes. We caught the ferry just at the sun was beginning to set, which made for a pleasant crossing.
Our hotel was located fairly near the ferry terminal, so we dropped our bags, and headed straight out to enjoy the last of the sunset before heading to dinner. The first thing you notice about Miyajima is that it is inhabited by a huge number of very inquisitive deer. They are seemingly trying to acquire a knowledge of the geography of the area, but whether this can be accomplished through ingesting maps remains to be seen! Still we learnt something that evening, deer eat anything.
Finding somewhere for dinner is not the easiest in Miyajima – it doesn’t have a shortage of eateries, but they are very touristy, and the sort of places we normally try and avoid. We decided to embrace it though, and finished our meal with a Sake tasting session. It was interesting to try, but I’m not sure either of us will be becoming Sake connoisseurs any time soon.
Although in Japan it seems that a fun night in a tiny bar hidden up a flight of stairs is never far away, the last place we were expecting to have one was on Miyajima. We were told that the island basically shuts down for the night once the last boats head back to the mainland in the evening taking most of the tourists back with them. So it was with surprise that on our way back to our hotel that we saw a familiar sight – a small sign with the only familiar letters being ‘bar’, and a staircase leading up from the street. Maybe it was the Sake talking, but it seemed wrong not to! What greeted us was a tiny (as usual) bar, that was really busy with a few tourists. There was also a big group of Japanese businessmen who seemed to be quite enjoying the beers, to say the least. They later told us that they were a group of tour guides who had missed the last boat – whether this was intentional or not was unclear!
The next morning we headed down to the waterfront to admire the view that the island is famous for, the submerged tori of Itsukushima Shrine. This is in fact where the island acquired it’s popular name – Miyajima translates to ‘shrine island’. We had seen it the previous evening, but at high tide when it is fully surrounded by the sea it is an impressive sight.
The perfect antidote to the night before came in the form of two packed cable cars to the top of the islands highest mountain, followed by a hike which meandered it’s way back down to the town. The views both from the cable car were spectacular and these continued as we made our way along the trail first to the collection of temples and shrines at Misen Hondo and then on to the summit of Mount Misen itself. After enjoying the views from the summit, we made our way back down to the town, and to catch the ferry back to the mainland, and onwards to our next stop, Osaka.