“Hiroshima has redefined itself as a city of peace, a lesson for all humankind, and a community of unrelenting spirit.” The Culture Trip
You cannot be in the Western region of Japan and not visit Hiroshima, the location of the world’s first Atomic Bomb. We took a day trip to the historical city from Osaka’s Shin-Osaka Station as it’s only a 1 ½ hour on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train).
Hiroshima is a serene place, a poignant reminder of a terrible wartime event, we learnt about it in history lessons and it was surreal to actually be there in person. What happened when America launched the first of two A-bombs on 6th August 1945 (a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later), is well documented. The events leading up to the detonation, the immediate devastation and the aftermath in the years that followed is meticulously explained in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum. An upsetting but nonetheless interesting place, the museum houses artefacts salvaged from the blast including damaged personal belongings and harrowing photographs.
Seventy-four years ago the lethal uranium bomb (known as Little Boy) exploded nearly 2,000 feet about the city instantly destroying most of the buildings and indiscriminately killing 70,000 people (the bomb in Nagasaki took a further 40,000 lives). The Genbaku Atomic Dome, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was one of the few buildings near the epicentre of the blast that was not completely destroyed. Today the dome’s preserved shell is one of the first things you encounter as you make your way towards the Peace Memorial Park. We encountered a bomb survivor here, in utero at the time of the explosion, he now tells his family’s story in words and pictures translated in several languages.
The Peace Memorial Park commemorates those who lost their lives, the long centrally located Pond Of Peace leads to the cenotaph which is engraved with the victims names. The Peace Flame will burn until all of the world’s nuclear weapons have been destroyed. As you look through the cenotaph you can see the Peace Flame and Atomic Dome perfectly framed, to the side the Japanese flag flies in the wind.
The Children’s Peace Monument, which was surrounded by school children while we were there, was constructed in 1958 in memory of Sadako Sasaki. Sadako was a two-year-old bomb survivor who suffered radiation poisoning then developed leukaemia aged eleven. Legend has it that Sadako decided to fold 1000 paper cranes as the ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by the gods. She believed by completing the task she would recover, unfortunately she died before reaching her goal but her school friends completed the task. Origami cranes, a symbol of longevity and happiness, are still being folded today and colourful versions are available to buy as souvenirs.
Other sights to see in the city include Hiroshima Castle (Hiroshima-jō) also known as Carp Castle that was rebuilt in 1958 after being destroyed by the bomb. Miyajima Island (Shrine Island) is famous for its Itsukushima Jinja Shrine, a red torii gate that appears to be floating in the sea at high tide. We didn’t have time to go here on our day trip but overheard other tourists saying that it’s no longer like the photos, it’s now faded and the paint is peeling off so I didn’t feel we had missed out.
Today Hiroshima is about promoting peace, a cosmopolitan city that has rebuilt itself and it’s hard to imagine the destruction and suffering that went on here, even when you see it for yourself.
Top Tips for visiting Japan
- Purchase a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) for use on the trains available in 7, 14 and 21 day denominations. Purchase online before your trip and pick up upon presentation of your passport at the airport when you arrive. We bought the Green pass (first class) where you can reserve seats in spacious carriages for easy and comfortable travel. Using the JR pass is easy, just show your pass to the guard at entry and exit points rather than using your green tickets in the machine. Be aware that trains are ALWAYS on time.
- Purchase a data-only sim on arrival at the airport for unlimited data during your trip (kiosk opposite the JR desk at Nagoya airport).
- Buy a PASMO travel card for use on the Tokyo Metro (like the Oyster card in the UK) and buses. Cards can be purchased at station ticket machines and credit must be loaded in cash. English and International instructions available so it’s pretty straightforward.
- Cash is king although most places do accept credit cards.
- Consider using a luggage service (wish we had on parts of the trip). Luggage is collected and sent to your next destination so you can travel lighter on the trains.
- Carry your passport with you to avail of tax free shopping for purchases over ¥5000. Receipts are stuck in your passport and removed by custom officers at immigration on departure.
- Convenience stores, such as 7/11 and Family Mart, are on every street and sell everything from hot and cold takeaway food, fresh fruit, baked goods and alcohol to medical supplies and toiletries. Be mindful that while it’s not illegal to eat and drink in the streets it is frowned upon. Bins are few and far between so keep your bags for rubbish.
- Some hotels offer complimentary HANDY smartphones in your room that you can use for FREE throughout your stay. It offers unlimited 4G internet access, local calls and guide to the city you are staying in. Use it for google maps and restaurants recommendations etc.
We travelled to Japan with Etihad Airways
The views in this post are all my own based on my experience. Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2019. All rights reserved.