World War II. The atomic bomb. A city I’ve read about in my school history textbooks. That was all I knew of Hiroshima. Despite its violent past, the city is now one that promotes peace. I wanted to visit this city — to learn about its past, and to appreciate its present. And so, my family and I planned a trip to Japan just to see Hiroshima.
The city of Hiroshima is located in the Chugoku Region on the western part of Japan’s largest island, Honshu — along the coastline of the Seto Inland Sea. It is the largest city in the region, and the capital of the Hiroshima Prefecture. The city became known during the second World War when the first atomic bomb was dropped over it on the 6th of August, 1945. The effects were devastating and the entire city was destroyed over a 2 kilometer radius. It took years to rebuilt the city again, but it rose above the ashes — historical monuments and castles were reconstructed, and a Peace Memorial Park and Museum were built as a reminder of that fateful day, and to deliver the city’s message of peace to the world.
My family and I visited the city in early December — at the tail-end of the autumn season where we could still witness the red, yellow and orange leaves on the tree-lined boulevards; and the beginning of winter where it was… well, too cold.
Getting to Hiroshima
We arrived in Japan via Fukuoka, the capital of the Japanese island of Kyushu — on an overnight direct flight on Air Asia. The flight took about 6 hours or so and we arrived in Fukuoka Airport early in the morning. From there, we hopped on a taxi that brought us to the Fukuoka’s main Hakata Station (you can also hop on the airport bus that would ferry you to the Domestic Terminal that has a subway service to the station).
At the Hakata Station, we claimed our pre-bought 5-Day JR West Hiroshima – Yamaguchi Area Pass: EMCO E-Ticket from KKday at the Shinkansen Ticket Counter — for only JPY11,200 (~MYR422/US$100), the pass allowed us unlimited access to the entire Hiroshima and Yamaguchi rail (and certain bus) network. And that included our Shinkansen Bullet train ride from Fukuoka to Hiroshima return (it costs about JPY9,000 per way so imagine how much we have saved for the 5 of us)! The pass is a really great option to get to and around the Hiroshima area. It wasn’t too difficult getting a seat on the non-reserved part of the Shinkansen, and we were whisked to Hiroshima in just a little over an hour.
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It was about 10am when we finally arrived in Hiroshima on the Shinkansen. The Hiroshima Station is huge (so we got a little bit lost) — and because our check-in at the AirBNB was only at 4pm, we decided to leave our luggage at the locker area in the station, and return later to pick it up (it costs from JPY400-1000 per locker depending on size). And then we went to look for the Hiroshima Sightseeing Loop Bus (also known as the Hiroshima meipuru-puru), which is a great way to get around the city because it is also included in our JR West Rail Pass!
Atomic Bomb Dome
The loop bus has a few routes and stops at main attractions around the city, so we had a quick tour of Hiroshima before alighting the bus at our first stop for the day — the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this building was one of the only few buildings that remained standing after the atomic bomb hit the city in 1945. At the time, it was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall — and even though it burst into flames killing the people inside instantly; the thick outer walls and the exposed steel dome still stood. Despite its dilapidated state, it now serves as a memorial and a reminder to the atrocities of the bombing.
Just a short walk from the Atomic Bomb Dome is the Hypocenter of the Atomic Bomb, that went off 600 meters above the exact spot. There is just a small plaque in the alley marking the spot.
Lunch: Hiroshima Oysters at Ekohiki
It was almost midday at that time, so we decided to stop by a pretty popular restaurant right at the end of the alley for lunch. It is called Ekohiki, and is known for their Hiroshima oysters — which is a must-try when in the city! Hiroshima supplies over two thirds of all of Japan’s oyster production, so you basically can have oysters wherever you are in the Hiroshima Prefecture. We chose Ekohiki because of its close proximity to where we were that day, and because they served their oysters in many different ways. We ordered the grilled oysters for JPY600~MYR22, the deep fried oysters for JPY700~MYR26, and a special sake steamed oyster cocktail for JPY1300~MYR49. We also ordered the sea eel and grilled pork lunch sets. Everything was so delicious!
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Another short walk from our lunch place brought us to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Located in the center of the city, the large 120,000 square meters park was built over an open field that was left behind by the 1945 atomic bomb explosion. It is now a beautiful park with tree-lined walking paths and spacious lawns; and dotted with memorials dedicated to the victims of the bombing. We passed by the Children’s Peace Monument built to commemorate a child who died of leukemia due to the atomic bomb radiation — Sadako Sasaki, as well as the thousands of other child victims of the atomic bomb. There’s also the National Peace Memorial Hall that has records of all the victims of the bombing; and the primary museum in the vicinity — the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
Located in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum consists of two buildings that documents the history of Hiroshima, the subsequent nuclear bombing that took place in 1945 during World War II, and the aftermath. Opened in August 1955, it is Hiroshima’s most popular destination — it was packed with visitors and lots and lots of school kids during my visit. I have to admit that it was difficult and extremely overwhelming walking through the exhibits of all the suffering — the pictures and descriptions are heart-wrenching and upsetting, and so visual and so real. Some people came out visibly shaken. Entrance to the museum cost JPY200 (MYR7.5).
Our Hiroshima Airbnb
And then it was 4pm, and time to head to our Airbnb for check-in! We booked a place that was next to the famous shopping area of Hondori — so while mum, sis and I went shopping; my dad and bro could just chill at the apartment. What I also liked about the apartment was that it was in the city centre, and only about a 15-minute walk from the museum. It also has two huge rooms, complete kitchen facilities, a comfortable living area, and a large balcony — a good enough space for the 5 of us. The host named it the “Sora Guest House“. Only downside though, was that 5 flights of stairs we had to climb up!
Entrance was via a door passcode — and after settling our parents down, my sister and I made our way back to Hiroshima Station to collect our luggage. We took the Hiroshima Electric Streetcar from the Kamiyacho-Higashi stop (a 1-minute walk from our accommodation) to the station and back. It cost us JPY180 (MYR7) per way.
Dinner: Okonomiyaki at Okonomimura Hiroshima
We took an evening rest before heading out for dinner that night. I wanted to bring my family to another specialty dish that is popular in Hiroshima — the Okonomiyaki. I read that there are many famous okonomiyaki restaurants in the city, but if there is one place where you’ll be spoilt for choice, it’d be the Okonomimura Hiroshima. The place is an entire building of 3-floors filled with small okonomiyaki stalls, each serving their very own version. Located near the Hondori Shopping Street, it was a quick walk from our accommodation.
And boy did we have difficulty choosing which stall to eat at. In the end, we choose a stall right at the end that had a few customers already. It is called “Suigun” and serves their okonomiyaki with bacon, and has an English menu. I ordered the special okonomiyaki that cost JPY1,400 (MYR53) and it was so fun watching the chef make my dish from scratch over the open grill, and then serving it to me on the grill itself! The okonomiyaki was huge, messy, and oh so delicious. What a way to end our first night in Hiroshima.
And then it was our second day in Hiroshima. Today was about getting to know the ancient and historical part of the city. The night before we bought some groceries at the nearby Family Mart; and in the morning, I helped mum prepare a simple breakfast at our Airbnb — Japanese ramen, onsen eggs, and sandwiches. After filling our tummies, we took a lovely morning stroll towards our first destination of the day (about a 20-minute walk from our accommodation) — the Hiroshima Castle.
We entered the Hiroshima Castle grounds via the castle’s second entrance — and after crossing the moat, first visited the Ninomaru building. It is a long storehouse that has exhibits of its reconstruction. From there, we walked through the grounds (that has a shrine and other ruins) towards the Hiroshima Castle, also known as the Carp Castle. The original building was built at the end of the 16th century — however, the one standing now is a replica constructed in 1958 after the original castle was destroyed in the atomic bombing in 1945. The castle is 5-storeys tall and is currently a museum that showcases the history of the castle and the city of Hiroshima. The highest floor offers beautiful 360 degree views of the city that was developed around the castle. Entrance to the keep costs JPY370 (MYR14), but the grounds are free to roam.
A 10-minute walk from the castle brought us to the Shukkei-en Garden. Located next to the Hiroshima Prefectural Museum, the garden dates back to 1620; and though it suffered extensive damaged during the atomic bombing, it became a shelter for the victims. It reopened again in 1951 after renovations were completed.
Shukkei-en is probably not as huge as many of the Japanese gardens I’ve visited around the country — but it is still equally as beautiful, with creative thought put into every part of the garden’s landscape. There is a pond in the center of the garden, and the small pathway around the pond goes up and down its miniature valleys and mountains. Shukkei-en is beautiful in autumn. Entrance cost JPY260 (MYR10).
Lunch: Tsukemen at Bakudanya
From the garden, we decided to hop on the Hiroshima meipuru-puru loop bus for another round of sightseeing around Hiroshima. We took a different route that brought us sightly further out of the city center; and then we made our way around and ended up on the other side of the Hondori. We were going to have lunch at a restaurant in the area that serves the tsukemen noodles, called Bakudanya. Bakudanya is small and cramped, with 10 counter seats on the ground floor, and two tables on the first.
Just like the famed Hiroshima oysters and okonomiyaki, Hiroshima has a specialty ramen called the Hiroshima Tsukemen. It is served as a dry (and cold) noodle dish topped with chashu pork meat, egg, bamboo shoots and vegetables; and it comes with a separate bowl of cold, thick and spicy dipping sauce (a mixture of chilli, chilli oil and sesame seeds). You can choose your level of spiciness too — and it ranges from 0 to 100! I can’t take too much spice, so I went with a 3 and it was just right; mum chose a 10 and it wasn’t spicy enough for her (she should have just gone for 20 or so). Despite the cold weather, I enjoyed the cold noodles; my parents however, preferred the hot version that is called tsukesoba. My brother ordered an extra serving of yummy chicken karage too. A bowl of tsukemen cost JPY763 (MYR29).
Hiroshima Hondori Shopping Street
And then we went shopping! The Hondori Shopping Street is a long covered stretch lined by shops and restaurants on both sides, just like all the many shopping streets you can find in all the cities of Japan. The ladies spent the rest of the afternoon shopping, and just as I predicted — my dad and brother preferred to head back to our accommodation to rest and relax.
Dinner: Wagyu Yakiniku at Taka-Chan
We met up again for dinner — and for our last meal in the city, we wanted to look for some meat! Since it was too cold to walk very far, we decided to hunt for a place near our accommodation, and found this pretty packed restaurant at one of the side streets called Taka-Chan. We saw on the menu (all in Japanese with bad English translations) that they served yakiniku wagyu beef (Japanese bbq), and we were sold! We had a little difficulty ordering at first, but we ended up having the most delicious (and melt in the mouth) wagyu feast. From random cuts of meat to ox tongue; and even some wagyu sashimi and yukhoe (raw beef tartare) — we were a very very happy family! Oh, and the restaurant also serves a pretty good bottomless glass of lemon sour. I can’t remember exactly, but I think our meal cost about JPY10-12K (MYR400-450), which is pretty reasonable considering all that wagyu we had.
We had a lovely, and very insightful two days in Hiroshima. It’s amazing how the city has managed to rise from the horrors of its past to become what it is today — peaceful, thriving, and beautiful. I’m glad I got to learn about its history and its recent past; but just a little upset that I couldn’t book a place to see the Mazda Museum (so make sure you reserve a tour early)!
Early the next morning, we were packed up and ready to head on to our next destination… and the next adventure! Read about my overnight trip to the wonderful island of Miyajima here!