Our first stay in Hiroshima was planned mostly to give us a full day to explore Miyajima Island, it wasn’t until we were sitting on the Shinkensen from Tokyo that I started wondering how I would actually feel wandering around Hiroshima. It’s a city with a relatively recent history and scars that undeniably reflect the hostility that existed between Japan and the West. Would it feel awkward, would the Hiroshima locals be resentful of foreigners?
I needn’t have worried, the city is focused on making the world aware of the horrors of nuclear war but it’s in the name of peace and ensuring that it can never happen again. I will admit to a few quiet tears, it’s an emotional place to visit and it makes the full extent of what the human race is capable of inflicting on one another all too real. We found the the people of Hiroshima without exception to be friendly, welcoming and helpful. I’d really encourage you to visit the city and take this Hiroshima self guided walking tour around many of the highlights and must see spots. The city is flat and quite compact so most people will easily do the whole thing on foot however if you’re short on time or prefer less time on your feet then Hiroshima has an excellent tram system and taxi’s are readily available. I’ve started and ended the tour from the station, this is the arrival point for most visitors and there are a number of hotels in the area. If you aren’t in the station precinct you can pick up the tour from your nearest point.
So first things first, before you leave the station, or at your hotel, I’d suggest you pick up an English street map. They’re readily available, free and it’s much more convenient to have a printed version in your pocket than to be continually pulling out your phone or tablet.
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Getting there: From Hiroshima stations it’s an easy 15 minute walk 1.2 kilometre in a north east direction to the beautiful gardens of Shukkeien, our first stop.
Shukkeien means shrunken scenery garden and it is as if all the elements of the landscape have been reduced to fit into the space, there are hills and valleys, lakes and forests all beautifully proportioned. The history of the gardens dates back to 1620, just after the completion of Hiroshima Castle. Although the gardens suffered extensive damage in 1945 from the atomic bomb it also served as a refuge for victims. The garden was rebuilt shortly after and reopened to the public in 1951. Entry to the garden is Y260 and should not be missed, especially during blossom season.
Getting there: From the gardends it’s only a 10 minutes walk (850 metres) to the grounds of Hiroshima Castle.
Make your way around the moat edge and and the castle ruins to appreciate the castle from all it’s angles. The original castle was built in 1591 for Terumoto Mori, a feudal lord but being so close to ground zero it was completely destroyed by the atomic bomb blast in 1945. This faithful recreation of the donjon was built in 1958 and the castle site was designated a National Historic Site in 1953.
Getting there: As you head south from the castle in the direction of the peace park you will pass Gokoku Shrine still within the castle grounds. It’s only around 400 metres and will take less than 5 minutes to get there, it’s directly on the route through the park so you can’t miss it.
The original Gokoku Shrine was established in 1869, the first year of the Meiji period to honour the victims of the Boshin war. The shrine was moved from its original location to the site of the current baseball stadium in 1934, and to the current site within the Hiroshima Castle grounds in 1956. All Gokoku Shrines are Shinto Shrines to worship those who died in war, the Hiroshima Shrine enshrines 92,700 souls including those who died in the city from the atomic bomb. This is the most popular shrine in Hiroshima to celebrate the New Year (Hatsumode) and shichi go san sai (a celebration for children aged 7, 5 and 3), the Hiroshima baseball team also visit each March to pray for a successful season.
Atomic Bomb Dome
Getting there: Walking a further 15 minutes (1.3 kilometres) mostly through parks and green space will have you at the Atomic Bomb Dome.
Although it’s located at the epicentre of the devastation from the atomic bomb, the dome is believed to have survived to the extent it has because the bomb detonated directly overhead. Significant work goes into maintaining the safety and appearance of the dome exactly as it was and it’s become a symbol for the ‘Peace City’ of Hiroshima.
Getting there: Walking west and over the bridge from the Atomic Bomb dome, it’s only around 400 metres to the northern end of the Peace Park.
The park itself is quite large and you’ll want to allow a couple of hours if you plan to go through the Peace Museum too. In addition to the museum you’ll also find the clock tower, a peace bell, the childrens’ memorial and the flame of peace within the park. The promenade along the river is a popular gathering place and during our spring visit it was a popular location for Hanami parties.
Shopping and food
Getting there: Heading back east then north towards the station there are many shopping arcades and restaurants. If you’re running short on time there are plenty of tram stops along this route too.
You’ll find pretty much anything you want through this stretch from the more traditional arcades to high end fashion boutiques. At some point on your trip I’d definitely recommend ordering Hiroshima okonomiyaki, admittedly I’m a big of a fan and from time to time make my own okonomiyaki at home but not in this style. The local version is quite different to what you’ll order in the rest of Japan, it’s even more filling with the addition of a generous serve of noodles and is cooked in layers rather than the batter of the more familiar Osaka style or Tokyo’s Monjayaki. You’ll find several spots to try this local favourite cooked on a griddle in front of you along this route, there’s also a whole floor of places to try virtually opposite the station.
If like many visitors to the city you are arriving and leaving through the station, you are only planning on staying a couple of nights, or you plan to make a day trip to visit Miyajima Island, then the station precinct is a really convenient place to stay.
We’ve stayed in the city a couple of times, the first time at the ANA Crowne Plaza near the Peace Park and the second at the Hotel Granvia Hiroshima just outside the station. If we were there again we’d go back to the Granvia, it’s so convenient to drop off and collect your bag and the staff are extremely accommodating. I think this was the only time in Japan when we asked them to hold our bags until check-in time and they offered us our room immediately. The rooms are very nice and the area around the station has plenty of shops and restaurants.
On the opposite side of the station is the tram hub so you can easily get anywhere from there but it’s a flat and compact city so walking is an easy and the preferred option for us.
We really enjoyed our day walking around Hiroshima city, being built almost entirely in the late 1940’s and 1950’s its styling is simple and quite different to all of the other cities and towns we visited in Japan but we found the people great, the history very interesting and the city is a lively metropolitan space.
We hope you have the chance to take the Hiroshima self guided walking tour, if you do please let us know your favourite stops in the comments below. If you visit during cherry blossom time try to allow a little extra time to enjoy the sakura at the garden and hanami parties around the castle moat and the riverbank within the Peace Park.