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).
Port of Hiroshima
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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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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.
Good to Know
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.
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.
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.
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.
Food and Drink
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.
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.