Hiroshima City Skyline
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This thriving Japanese city, laid out in a grid pattern and located near the western end of the island of Honshu on Japan's Inland Sea, boasts well over one million inhabitants. It is best known as the target for the first U.S. atom bomb, dropped near the end of World War II, and most Japanese and foreign visitors come to see the Peace Memorial Park and Museum. Besides several monuments that recall the city's destruction on August 6, 1945, the leafy park also hosts celebratory gatherings and festivals, so the destination is far from depressing. The museum, on the other hand, presents a grim reality -- of the approximately 350,000 inhabitants in 1945, 140,000 died instantly when the bomb was dropped (or during the ensuing four months).
Miyajima Island, a short ferry ride away, is part and parcel of any visit to Hiroshima, as it offers one of the country's most alluring and oldest Buddhist and Shinto shrines. Its orange-red Ohtorii (gate), which appears to be floating in the shallow waters near the shrines, is one of Japan's most photographed treasures. The lively pedestrian lanes leading to the site are lined with souvenir shops and stalls that serve a delicious variety of food and snacks.
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Bangkok (Laem Chabang) • Beijing • Cochin • Da Nang • Hanoi • Hiroshima • Ho Chi Minh City • Hong Kong • Koh Samui • Kuala Lumpur • Langkawi • Mumbai • Nagasaki • Osaka • Penang • Saipan • Seoul (Incheon) • Shanghai • Sihanoukville • Singapore • Yangon (Rangoon)
The Hondori Arcade, reached by bridge from the top end of Peace Memorial Park and just south of the A-Bomb Dome, offers a concentrated double line of shops while, to the east, the city's three main department stores sit in a row along Aioi-dori. Japanese lacquer ware, ceramics, glass, prints and fabrics in the form of scarves, handkerchiefs and shawls make attractive purchases.
Younger natives, though often shy, are more likely to speak English on the street and in the parks than the older generations. Adequate signs in our alphabet also help you find your way.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Post offices are the best places to change money. The Central Post Office is located about ten minutes' walk from the south end of Peace Memorial Park, and a second one is sited alongside the Hiroshima JR railway station. While there are six Japanese coins, the most useful are the 50 (with a hole in the center), 100 and 500. Banknotes are 1000, 5000, and 10,000. About 120 yen equal one dollar, though you'll want to check xe.com for the latest currency exchange before your cruise.
Where You're Docked
The new cruise ship dock is some distance from the city center. The nearest tram line is a bit of a not-very-scenic hike, so if there are taxis available, take one. They are inexpensive and metered, and drivers are invariably honest. An alternative would be to remain in the city after a ship's tour and take a taxi back to the cruise dock. Set out armed with the pier location written in Japanese.
The ship docks in an industrial section of the port, and there is nothing in the immediate vicinity that's of interest to visitors.
Once in the city center, most sites can be easily reached on foot, and the excellent tram system will take you nearly everywhere. The fare is a flat 150 yen; board by any door, and pay with coins when you get off. If you need to transfer to another tram, ask the driver for one. To reach Itsukushima Shrine on Miyashima Island, one of Japan's top attractions, you have the choice of a short tram connection from the city center to Hiroshima's Ujina port and a 20-minute high-speed ferry ride or a longer tram connection to Hiroden-Miyajime-guchi stop, next to the ferry pier, for a 10-minute water trip. Allow a minimum of three to four hours for the island visit. Both Hiroshima and Miyashima Island can be visited in one long day.
Watch Out For
Be aware that, as a westerner, you may attract some notice from others when visiting the atomic bomb museums and memorials. Depending on your own nature, you may feel a bit uncomfortable when viewing the more graphic details, especially among a crowd of Japanese.
Peace Memorial Park and Museum are the main attractions. Allow three to four hours to properly take in the outdoor sites and indoor exhibits (with time for contemplation afterwards in the leafy park).
The most prominent structure is the A-Bomb Dome, located just across the river from the park. Built in 1915 as the first western-style brick building, it served as the industrial promotion hall for a prosperous city. The atomic bomb exploded 2,000 feet above the building and instantly killed everyone inside. In 1996, its stabilized ruins were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a poignant reminder, much like the ruined Kaiser Wilhelm church tower in Berlin.
In the park itself, there are memorials with the names of all the known victims, a grave of unknown persons, an eternal flame that will be extinguished when the last nuclear weapons are destroyed, a peace bell and the most moving -- the Children's Peace Memorial. A young girl named Sadako developed leukemia at age 12, about 10 years after the bomb was dropped; according to an old Japanese custom, if she could fold 1,000 paper cranes, her wish to live would come true. While she never quite made the full count, her classmates finished the task, and others continue to make them to this day.
Within the museum complex, a city model and photos show Hiroshima -- including the military defenses that were mounted to counter the expected land invasion -- before the bomb. As the city had not been previously bombed, Hiroshima was chosen so American scientists could observe the A-bomb's full effects. One set of photos shows burn victims immediately after the bomb was dropped, and display cases contain a burned school uniform, bicycle, bottles and dishes. An exhibition of children's drawings reveals what they saw in the initial days after the attack. Most exhibits are labeled in English.
In an adjacent building, a hall of remembrance contains the victims' names and memories. Moving first-hand accounts include not only those of Japanese people, but also that of an Australian prisoner of war, who worked in a Hiroshima factory at the time of the bombing. About 100,000 survivors are still living, but they are dying at the rate of about 5,000 per year.
It's an easy walk from the park to Hiroshima-jo, just north of the bustling city center. Also known as Carp Castle, it was first constructed in 1589 but was mostly dismantled following the Meiji Restoration and then rebuilt in an attractive moat/lake setting after the war.
Hijiyama-koen, a park -- located on an axis east of the shopping arcade and south of JR Hiroshima Station -- offers the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, featuring works by Japanese and international artists. Cherry blossoms abound in the spring.
Been There, Done That
Miyajima Island is the hilly and heavily wooded setting for not only one of Japan's most revered shrines, first erected in 593, but also for a fishing industry and oyster farming. Seventy percent of Japan's bivalves are raised here, and they make a very popular snack item. The Japanese flock here in the thousands, so your presence will form a tiny, foreign minority.
Most prominent, the lovely 19th-century torii (a red-orange Shinto shrine gate) sits in the water as a symbolic entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine, a wooden complex mostly built out over the water. In the Shinto sanctuary, there are spirits, rather than statues, and Japanese kneel, toss a coin, clap twice and make a wish. Buddhism, borrowed from India via China and Korea, is also a part of the religious mix, as are Chinese architectural features that have been adapted to Japanese tastes. In addition, there is a stage for performances; a treasure house with 12th-century Buddhist scriptures; a five-story pagoda, atop a knoll; and temples, dating from the 13th to 15th centuries, dotting the hillsides.
Along its perimeter, the island offers numerous walking paths to seaside beaches and parks and into the hills. For the best panorama, follow the signs to Misen, a 1,730-foot peak, best reached by using a two-part cable car. Getting off, there are deer and monkeys to amuse you and a 15-to-20-minute walk to the top. There are views in all directions. Allow an hour to retrace your steps if entirely on foot.
Both Hiroshima's city center -- particularly along the shopping arcade -- and the pedestrian lanes on Miyajima Island offer an abundance of moderately priced eateries and snack bars. Oysters, grilled in their shells and sprinkled with lemon juice, make a most tasty snack. Various seaweed concoctions are also great purchases, and free samples are readily available. I'll try anything once, but I'll have more oysters, please. Cuttlefish and octopus on sticks, dipped in one of several sauces, are additional snacks. Restaurants with pictorial menus are easy to navigate, and people seated next to you may offer suggestions, if only by their example. Nearly all meals come with rice or noodles, often attractively presented on a lacquer tray. Candy and pastries, some made right on the spot in small storefronts, round out the meal.
Just off the east end of the Hondori Arcade, more than a score of small restaurants (Okonomi-mura) are located on the second through fourth floors of the Shintenchi Plaza Building, just to the rear of Parco Department Store. The atmosphere is intense, so have a look around first, eyeing the places that either have English menus or photo menus. The specialty here is Hiroshima-yaki, egg-based pancakes, made with buckwheat noodles (soba) and fried eggs.
Two blocks south of the Peace Park, one floor up, Kinchai-ya -- in the Clover Building, a former warehouse -- offers an organic buffet for lunch and dinner. Choosing your meal is easy.
Staying in Touch
One Internet site is just west (Peace Memorial Park end) of Hondori Arcade, and another is located on the sixth floor of a building with a yellow sign hung on its side, just east of the JR Hiroshima Station. Kinko's stores are more expensive in Japan.
A Day in Hiroshima and Miyajima: This all-day tour includes Peace Memorial Park, the city's beautifully restored castle and the revered shrine on Miyajima Island. Itsukushima Shrine dates from the 6th century, and its current layout is circa 1168. Take a one-hour walk, followed by a Japanese-style lunch. Then, in the afternoon, visit the Peace Memorial Museum, where exhibits reveal the destruction of Hiroshima and many of its inhabitants by the atomic bomb. A model of the city after the blast highlights the extensive devastation. En route back to the pier, catch a glimpse of Hiroshima Castle, constructed in 1589 and largely dismantled – except for the dungeon, main gates and turrets -- after the Meiji Restoration. In 1958, the castle was rebuilt using ferro-concrete, a typical occurrence in Japan.
Hiroshima Overview: On this half-day tour, view Hiroshima's most important attractions by motor coach. Included are Peace Memorial Park, a reminder of the atomic bomb attack; the Peace Memorial Museum; the Memorial Cenotaph and the Flame of Peace. Shukkeien Garden was modeled after the West Lake in Hangzhou, China, and although it was badly damaged during World War II, it's been fully restored. The setting recreates grand vistas in miniature -- mountains, valleys and the seashores.
Hiroshima Walking Tour: Another half-day option, travelers are driven to Hiroshima's downtown district for strolls along the Hondori Shopping Arcade. Visit the Kumano calligraphy brush shop to hear about the city's reputation as the leading calligraphy brush-making center. Stop at a kimono and a 100-yen shop for a taste of Japanese design and culture.
For More Information
On the Web: www.hiroshima-navi.or.jp (includes Miyajima Island)
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-- by Theodore W. Scull, the Manhattan-based publisher of eight books on cruise ships and trips, including100 Best Cruise Vacations; Outdoor Escapes New York City, Ocean Liner Odyssey 1858-1969; and, most recently, Ocean Liner Twilight 1968-1979.