Hiroshima prefecture was one of my favorite places when I first visited Japan about ten years ago, so this past Silver Week I decided it was finally time for a re-visit. It was my first proper trip since February, so I was definitely looking forward to it.
I live near Haneda Airport, so my girlfriend and I thought that it would be best to fly. What we didn’t know is that Hiroshima Airport is 40 minutes away from the city, and that you have to take a bus to get there. It turns out the Shinkansen is a better option in most cases, so that’s definitely something to keep in mind if you’re visiting.
We arrive at Hiroshima City and check in at our hotel, the RIHGA Royal Hotel. I got a room at a heavy discount thanks to some connections I can’t mention here. Sorry, I like to stay mysterious. The view is fantastic, with green mountains, Hiroshima’s cityscape, the Peace Memorial Park and Hiroshima Castle visible from our big corner window on the 27th floor.
The first thing we do in Hiroshima is, shamefully, go to a Basque/Spanish restaurant. Not very Japanese, I know, but at this point it’s almost tradition for me. The restaurant is called Vascas, and their food is pretty authentic. The paellas is one of the best I’ve tried in Japan. For dessert, I ask for a Basque cheesecake, the latest fad in Japan, and the waitress gets nervous when I tell her I’m actually Basque. Too much pressure, she says. It was still delicious, so if you live in Hiroshima and like Spanish food I’d definitely give it a try.
The next day we have our proper sightseeing day. We first go to the Peace Memorial Park. Hiroshima has a sad history, but they sure did their best with what they were given. What was once a field of ruins, debris, and death is now a beautiful, well-maintained park. There’s much more greenery in Hiroshima than in Tokyo, that’s for sure. We see the famous dome, and head for the Peace Memorial Museum, but we can’t enter without reservations. I had already been there and the sights still haunt me, so we move on to our next stop, Miyajima.
Day 2, Itsukushima
Miyajima Island, a short ferry trip away from Hiroshima City, is famous for its shrine. You have probably seen Itsukushima Shrine in guide books or postcards, with its famous torii, a red shrine gate in the water.
We’re really excited to get there, but before we catch the ferry to the shrine, I want to buy a couple of gelatos. It’s too hot and lemon sorbet sounds lovely. Some cheeky, shameless grandma tries to cut in line in front of me, but I interrupt her when she tries to order. Sorry grandma, I have to get on the boat.
Once we arrive at Itsukushima, we go for a walk around the town. This might be my favorite single place in Japan, it oozes with traditional Japanese atmosphere, with its old-style buildings and food stalls. There sure are a lot more people than ten years ago, though.
The tide is low enough that we can walk on the sand below the shrine, so not as idilic as it could have been. Another problem I hadn’t anticipated was that the torii was under repair. I guess I’ll have to come back again in ten years. Still, the town and shrine are lovely, and we have some local delicacy, oysters. Anago, or salt-water eel, is also popular, but we didn’t try that, our stomachs are not bottomless.
One thing that sure surprises us is the amount of deer walking around and harassing tourists. I don’t remember there being so many deer ten years ago, but maybe I’m getting old and my memory fails me. These deer seem to really love garbage, for some reason. They just try to poach plastic and paper from tourists. I give some deer tree leaves and some of the tourists are surprised they eat them. I guess everyone is used to deer being living trash cans.
We come back to Hiroshima City at night, and head for Okonomimura, a building with dozens of restaurants that serve okonomiyaki, a local specialty. Hiroshima’s okonomiyaki is different from that of Osaka in that it’s made with noodles. The one we have is really good, but we’re all confined in a small place and there’s no room for plates, so we have to eat it off the grill. I struggle not to burn myself throughout the whole meal.
Day 3, Onomichi
Day three of our trip is reserved for a place in Hiroshima prefecture I had never been to, Onomichi, a quiet little town surrounded by mountains on one side and the sea on the other. The town is famous for various reasons. It was the setting of or inspiration for some famous Japanese movies, like Ghibli’s Ponyo, due to its beauty. The Onomichi temple walk offers a nice hike up the mountain along narrow roads and staircases. Last but not least, this town is the starting point of the Shimanami Kaido cycling route, which runs across a string of islands and is considered the best cycling road in Japan.
I love cycling, so I’m really excited to finally try this route out. Unfortunately, we came too late and the bicycle rental places are all out of bicycles. Turns out we should have come early in the morning to ensure we get a bike. Well, another reason to come back in ten years.
We skip the cycling and do the Onomichi temple walk, the other local attraction. The route goes along a very quaint town on a hill, with some temples peppered around and a lot of cafes built in abandoned buildings. The contrast between the old, plain buildings and the beautiful interiors is odd but certainly unique. I highly recommend checking some cafes out if you’re in the area. At the top of the hill is the supposed highlight of the route, Tenneji Temple.
After a tiring walk, we try to find a place where we can have some Onomichi ramen, a local dish. We try about a dozen different restaurants and they’re all closed. We finally see an open one, but there’s a huge line outside. Oh well, it’s not meant to be.
We go back to Hiroshima City and look for a ramen restaurant there. We already feel like ramen, so we don’t want to give up. We try another dozen restaurants and they’re all closed too. I never expected to have so much trouble finding ramen in Japan. My phone says we’ve walked about 4km looking for ramen between Onomichi and Hiroshima. When we’re about to give up, the final option turns out to be open. Miracle. It’s a local restaurant chain found in Hiroshima called Men Yatai Gaba. I ask for very hard noodles and it’s surprisingly good. It was worth the couple of hours spent looking for it.
Day 4, Hiroshima
The last day of our trip in Hiroshima we don’t have too long to sightsee, so we use the few hours we have left to go to the Hiroshima Museum of Art, in front of our hotel, and have a look at the permanent collection, with paintings by Renoir, Monet, Munch, Van Gogh, Picasso… a really interesting “best of the 19th and 20th century” collection that can be seen in an hour or so. Perfect for someone like me, who gets overwhelmed when it takes hours to see everything in a museum. We skip the special exhibition.
We then go to Hiroshima Castle, our last stop before departure. The original Hiroshima Castle was built in the 16th century, but destroyed by the atomic bomb, so this is a replica that acts as a museum of sorts. It’s a smaller castle than other famous ones, like Himeji Castle, but still worth a visit to see the collection of armors and katanas inside. You can even hold one of the katanas to see how heavy they were. They say that there were 10,000 soldiers inside the castle when bomb destroyed it, killing all of them, and it’s hard to imagine so many people confined in such as small place.
After Hiroshima Castle, it’s finally time to go home, this time by bullet train, much more convenient, and more comfortable. Or it would have been, if it wasn’t for the fact that a sleeping guy without a mask and smelling of tobacco and alcohol was leaning on me the whole trip, had his face next to mine at times, and wouldn’t wake up even when the staff tried to talk to them. Oh well, you can’t have everything.
Hiroshima prefecture was one of my favorite places in Japan when I first visited the country ten years ago, and remains one of my favorite places today. Hiroshima City, Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima, and Onomichi should not be missed. If you’re planning to go to Osaka or Kyoto, it’s just over and hour away by bullet train. I know I’ll be back to see the torii properly, and to finally try the Shimanami Kaido cycling route.
Hi, I’m Sergio.
I’m from Spain, lived in the UK for seven years and came to Japan in 2012.
I majored in journalism in London and have been teaching English in Tokyo.
I like traveling, cycling, photography, movies, and spending time with friends.
I wrote articles about life in Japan as a foreigner and anything that I might find interesting.
My email is ” email@example.com “, by all means contact me about anything!
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