Hiroshima and Miyajima

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August 17th 2009
Published: August 17th 2009
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Hiroshima street tramsHiroshima street tramsHiroshima street trams

old School but awesome
Captivating Hiroshima and Miyajima

There is a down side to missing your 7:16 train...cause hot footing it to the station to see if there is perhaps a 7:40 train and finding out that the next train available to you is only at 9:50 results in an epic wait in the station! To top it off when you finally get on the train hoping to nap for a couple of hours to recuperate and discover you got booked to sit in seat 5A in car #6 AKA smokers car, totally not kiff !! I somehow managed to survive the smoke filled train ride and rapidly jumped out of the train in Hiroshima to lovely weather and much needed fresh air!

When you read up about Hiroshima, most of the time, it’s suggested as a day trip city and after my first days experience in Kyoto I had actually considered changing plans to skip Hiroshima all together cause I was very concerned that it was going to be another one of those obligatory site seeing, over touristy spots that has turned an emotional and historic experience into a removed money making racket. I’m more than grateful however that I didn’t
Hiroshima StationHiroshima StationHiroshima Station

platform conductor.
change plans and skip Hiroshima because it was possibly one of my most favourite experiences and I couldn’t have been more wrong about my perceptions of Hiroshima it is the most moving city, so caked in history that it’s palpable the minute you set foot out of the station!

Due to visa requirements (joys of a South African passport) I had to prebook all my accommodation! Since I’m still waiting for my millionaire husband to arrive in the post, when I was booking accommodation I was booking on price and not really taking too much notice of location, school girl error! With the inner city backpackers hostel fully booked I took the next most affordable option, Miyajima backpackers. It wasn’t until I did some reading in the lonely planet on rout that I realized Miyajima is about half an hour outside of the city, not quite the way I had intended spending my Friday night!

Miyajima, it turns out, is actually a little island off the Hiroshima coast and its most infamous for Itsukushima Shrines huge Torii gate that rises out of the water. On arriving at the station with only half a day and a night to see Hiroshima and Miyajima’s prize icon I bee-lined for the tourist information to get my hands on some directions so that I could map a plan to suitably get myself around to seeing what I could realistically manage in the time available to me. With grand ambitions of another night on the town I decided I would pop down to Miyajima first since I was already at the station and it was only a matter of transferring trains. I would snap a shot of the tourist trap, laugh off my deposit at Miyajima backpackers, rather come back to the city and see the sights and then just hope that there was a cancellation allowing me a bed at J Hoppers for the night. Much better than being out in the sticks I though!

Plan formulated I tried to find a locker to stow my bag while I went off to Miyajima but unfortunately they were all taken and I wasn’t about to waist any more time hacking so I decided to just take my bag with me cause after all I was only expecting to be there for a short time anyway and how much of a hassle could my bag be?! I didn’t quite realize the sheer number of Japanese mothers with kids in toe and camera wheeling locals that were also planning on visiting Miyajiima for the afternoon until I found myself being automatically transported off the platform onto the train by the masses! Standing on a scorching hot train pasted to the back of one person and the front of another like a sardine I was really started to regret this decision! While standing there taking in the situation I happened to look down at the map given to me by the tourist info lady and there was a little insert on the side of the map that suggested an evening visit to Miyajima which offered not only an alternative view of the gate by night light but would also mean you got to escape the hordes of day visitors! I sadly couldn’t make my way through the packed car before the doors closed but convinced that I didn’t have the strength to fight crowds at that point in the day I went one stop on the packed train, rapidly hopped off one stop down the line and headed back to Hiroshima station.

Since my plan had now been turned on its head I figured I would head to J Hoppers to try and leave my bag there and also try my luck with accommodation and from there I would see Hiroshima's sights, head to Miyajima for sunset and then come back to the city for a night out. I have started to think that I should possibly stop trying to pre-arrange my day cause somehow my intentions very rarely pan out as planned, gratefully so though!

After an hour in the station I finally emerged and the minute I walked out I fell in love with Hiroshima! Hiroshima has the most amazing atmosphere is just indescribable! It’s as if time stood still there but without it being old-worldish (if that makes any sense at all). Hiroshima had the type of charisma that I was expecting of Kyoto, somehow modernisation has lent itself to the old school history of the city rather than superseding it. When I walked out of the station I was immediately taken by the absolutely awesome street tram stop which has proper, fully operational, old school street trams that transport you around the city!

Day pass in hand I
Hiroshima street tramsHiroshima street tramsHiroshima street trams

Where transportation and modernisation collide.
hopped on the #2 tram and headed towards Dobashi to try my luck at J-Hoppers. It would turn out to be very fortuitous that J Hoppers turned me away although it did mean that I got an extra good work out during the course of the day because I did have to schlep my 15kg bag around Hiroshima city with me, oh well a minor issue when you are as happy as a pig in proverbial you know what hey (nothing was getting me down this day)!

Dobashi station is just down from the A-Bomb dome and memorial park so it was perfect I hopped back on the tram to be delivered, not 5 minutes later, at the A-bomb done. I’m not lying when I say I got goose bumps, it is such a beautiful yet absolutely chilling experience! Standing at the A-Bomb dome and then walking around Peace memorial park looking at the stunning Children’s Peace memorial with its 1000’s of paper cranes in memory of Sadako Sasaki under the stunning blue Japanese day, I could have thought of worse ways to spend my day is all I can say! What added to the lovely experience was that while I was standing at the Children’s Peace memorial a group of elderly people were being escorted to the memorial to watch one of their party add her string of cranes to the already burgeoning memoire! Wow the whole experience was so moving! To cement the emotional experience I drifted through the A-Bomb museum which houses a chilling account of the 6th August events which are made so real by the incredible collection of artifacts that have been denote showing the sheer destruction and tragedy of the bombing. I’m not going to lie but walking through the museum, seeing the destruction in more vivid detail than I’d ever seen it before and considering the implication of the impending North Korean Nuclear threat was a really mind blowing experience! While the museum is somewhat harrowing I left the A-bomb sight very far from depressed or sad, in actual fact I left inspired by the Japanese and how they have managed to recover from that kind of devastation and have managed to solidify diplomatic ties with the very people that inflicted such horror! I can’t say it enough it was a really moving, inspiring and beautiful visit! I would absolutely love to attend the August 6 floating of the lanterns festival held annually in commemoration I can only imagine it to be a very moving experience!

In good spirits I left the A-Bomb site, grabbed a green tea ice cream and preceded, wheely bag in hand, some kilometers across gravel paths and up many, many steps to visit Hiroshima Castle. Nijo Castle in Kyoto is a UNESCO sight and it really is lovely but Hiroshima Castle was even more special and the Pagoda on the grounds is spectacular. I took a meander through the grounds, took and nice stroll through the galleries on each level of the Pagoda and then went to the top of the Pagoda for an aerial view of the grounds and surrounding neighbourhoods!

Leaving Hiroshima Castle I managed to find a slightly less challenging rout to the tram stop, boarded a #6 tram to go and check out Ai Yu Ichiba market which is located in the precinct adjacent to Hiroshima station. The market is another aspect of Hiroshima’s history that contributes to the antiquated, yet charismatic, feel of the city! Ai Yu Ichiba is a typical neighbourhood market with green grocers, butchers, fish sellers, florists
Hiroshima Street TramsHiroshima Street TramsHiroshima Street Trams

...and their drivers
all coupled with little street food kiosks! The market has become somewhat of a thoroughfare for the fanatical Hiroshima Baseball fans though, since the erection of the new baseball stadium just behind the market so I’m not sure the market will be around much longer but it did mean that the market was teaming with people all stopping at the vendors to buy a tasty morsel before heading to the game, a really nice vibe in the classic market!

One yummy traditional chicken sosatie and a couple of other tastes of some unknown local morsels and I boarded the #2 tram for a second time to take the longer but more interesting rout to Miyajima. You can take the train which only takes 26minuts but I rather opted to take the tram so that I could see a little more of the city along the way. As we got close I started to thank my lucky stars that I had booked to stay down this side of Hiroshima because the view of the bay at sunset had already put an even broader smile on my face and to be honest by this stage of the game a night on the town would have been the worst thing I could have inflicted on myself!

Miyajima backpackers was such a pleasant surprise, it was situated just off the ferry dock and it’s a stunningly quirky eco-friendly hostel with wonderful facilities. I arrived just in time as well because the event for the evening was a yummy dinner of fresh muscles, freshly cooked tempura and gyu-niku (very tasty beef dish), the most scrumptious meal and so nice to chit chat with some of the other backpackers at the same time!

Absolutely bursting at the seams I set out for the dock to catch the 8:25 ferry across to the island of Miyajima so that I could walk off some of my dinner and let me just say I was most certainly not expecting such an amazing spot. Once again I am lost for suitable words to describe how absolutely wonderful Miyajima is! The Island is so spectacular and on arrival I was already disappointed that I didn’t have a day in hand so that I could extend my stay cause I could quite happily have spent at least two days exploring the Island meandering in and out of quaint shops, trying all the unusual local cuisine between visits to the most spectacular shrines and temples. (Bet you can’t believe I am saying this after previously saying I was all templed and sight seed out but let me tell you the temples and shrines here are spectacular!)!

My evening visit convinced me to throw any ideas of catching an early train to Osaka the following day out the window and opt rather to catch an early ferry back onto the Island to spend at least half a day for a daylight excursion. Aside from convincing me to extend my stay by a good few hours my night visit was just the kind of winding down I needed after the very busy and super hot day! It was so special to walk along the water in the lantern light with the sounds of birds, drums and the many deer that were settling down under the trees along the shore to roost for the night (do deer roost??). As for Itsukushima Shrine's torii gate well it was the furtherest thing from an over rated tourist trap, it is so incredibly majestic and it truly does rise quite surreally from the water casting a stunning orange shadow on the ebbing tide below it! I was so happy that the train ride has scared me off the afternoon visit because it was so wonderfully peaceful and tranquil on the island at that time of night and also such a nice, alternative visit the shrine!

Being quite possibly the most exhausted I have ever been and content that I would be coming back to the island the following morning I caught the 10:20 ferry back to the hostel, got ready for bed, had a lovely chat with a Kiwi girl living and teaching in Japan and then finally set my head on the pillow for some well earned sleep!

6 hours later, suitably rejuvenated I boarded the 8:20 ferry for a morning of exploration on Miyajima by bicycle! It was really super because the tide during the height of day usually means that the Shrine's torii gate doesn’t rise from the sea but rather the mud but if you visit it at night you get to see it at full tide, truly spectacular and at 8ish in the morning the tide is still waning so the gates are again underwater, al be it shallower so at least seeing the torii gates rising from the sand at 11ish isn’t a letdown!

I initially spent the morning riding around doing some temple hopping and taking in the majestic charisma of Daisho-in temple in particular. (Daisho-in temple is an absolutely stunning Shingon Buddhist temple with quite possibly 1000’s of tiny religious deity all magnificently caved to represent something different. I absolutely love sculpture and these sculptural deity were really captivating, for me at least!). Once I had finished my peaceful walk around Daisho-in to the sound of the monks drumming and chanting hypnotically at morning prayer it seemed like the blanket of cloud covering Mt Misen was lifting so it was time to take my chances and head up the cable cars to see if I could catch a view of Hiroshima and Selo Inland sea’s, myriad of islands from 535 meters above sea level!

Unfortunately I had the same luck on Mt Misen as I did in Hakone and the only view I was getting was a very cloudy one so yet again a second visit will have to be on the cards so that I can visit the apparently spectacular view first hand! I love cable cars so the ride, coupled with the company of a great Irish couple, was definitely worth the expense. The peak was teeming with its locals inhabitants AKA Macaque monkeys, they are serious characters and definitely provided some entertainment!

With the afternoon looming I had to bid the stunning island of Miyajima goodbye if I was going to make Osaka worth the visit, ah the pity of having too much to do and too little time to do it in! If you are planning a trip to Japan Hiroshima and Miyajima should definitely be on your list of have to visits, particularly in spring or autumn when the cherry blossoms are out are when the leaves are changing colour! Hiroshima and Miyajima what a memorable experience 100% amazing!

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Children's Peace MemorialChildren's Peace Memorial
Children's Peace Memorial

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