We really wanted to visit Hiroshima for a number of reasons, but the main one was that we felt it important to confront the troubled history of what the U.S. did to this city in World War II with the atomic bond. Also, it is the setting for one of my favorite films and an opportunity to see a different part of Japan. So while Hiroshima was a little out of the way, we spent two nights there between our stays in Tokyo and Osaka. And, we travelled to and from Hiroshima in true Japan style.
Shinkansen Bullet Train
We’d decided not to get J-Rail passes because we were only doing two train trips (so it wouldn’t have saved us any money) and because you can’t use the J-Rail pass on the fastest bullet train, the Nozomi. And of course we wanted the Nozomi – it goes 185 miles per hour! We bought our tickets four days in advance from the JR counter at Tokyo Station on our first day. The ticket-buying process was super-efficient and the woman at the counter even advised us to choose a slightly earlier train so we could have seats on the Mount Fuji side, which was great advice. Happily, this side of the train is also the one that has two seats in the row rather than three, so very comfortable for us, and Chad got some really nice video footage as we zoomed past the mountain.
The Nozomi train leaves from a slightly different set of tracks at Tokyo Station, which are to the right of the entrance to the central JR tracks. But we figured out where we needed to go and arrived in time to follow another Japanese tradition by purchasing bento boxes to consume on the train. There were about 50 options at the kiosk inside the entry to the Nozomi lines, so we chose somewhat at random. They are a little pricey (we spent about 1200 yen each on the ones we chose), but really fun to eat and try all the little things inside. And the kiosk took credit card. We had reserved seats on the train and the wifi works well (just make sure to log in to your email to confirm access within 10 minutes). It took about 4 hours total to travel the 500 miles from Tokyo to Hiroshima, making just a handful of stops along the way.
For our trip from Hiroshima to Osaka, we just went to the train station when we were ready to leave to buy two tickets for the next train. We followed the advice of the clerk again and saved a little bit of money by purchasing non-reserved seats and made sure to get in line to board in plenty of time so that we’d be able to store our luggage in the little bit of space in the back of the car rather than on the racks overhead like we’d had to do on the train down (it worked, but heavy to lift the suitcases up and down). We purchased bento boxes again, of course, this time with a Hiroshima Carp baseball theme. It was a short (90 minutes or so) ride and a little different since we had to make sure to get off during the brief stop at Shin-Osaka Station. The Shinkansen is a great way to travel around Japan (though pricey: our tickets to Hiroshima from Tokyo were about $175 each and to Osaka from Hiroshima were about $90 each).
Hiroshima Arrival Day
We arrived mid-afternoon at Hiroshima Station and took the tram to our hotel. There were friendly, helpful volunteers (appeared to be retirees) to tell us how the transit system worked and make sure we had the right payment. There are no tickets, you just pay on board as you get off the tram. We checked into our small hotel (review below) and then set out to see the main outdoor sights in our general vicinity, primarily Hiroshima Castle and Peace Memorial Park. Walking around the castle grounds was quite nice as was the park and we saw the major symbols of the atomic bomb attack and subsequent peace memorials. The most famous symbol is the Atomic Bomb Dome, the remains of a civic hall that was destroyed in the bombing. We also visited the main memorials, including the Children’s Peace Monument and the Gates of Peace, as well as the main memorial to the victims.
We had a very interesting experience going out to dinner that night, taking a chance on a purely local place that looked inviting but had no English menu. The staff were very kind to us and we managed to order tempura, fish and vegetables, which turned out to be delicious. And lots of cold sake poured to overflow our glasses as a sign of hospitality. It was a great experience that really pushed me out of my comfort zone and the food was delicious.
Hiroshima Full Day
We began our only full day in Hiroshima by partaking the Japanese-style breakfast from the restaurant within our hotel. It was very interesting to eat what the Japanese eat for breakfast – mostly the same things as you’d have for lunch or dinner. But it was very tasty and served in a traditional tatami mat setting.
Then we went right to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. I can’t really describe all the emotion that the museum evokes, other than to say that it was very hard to take in but important to see.
We’d thought we might use the rest of the day to go out to the Itsukushima Shrine, which is a highly recommended sight and looked like a lovely place to spend the rest of a beautiful day. But we decided instead to read a little, have a picnic in Peace Park, and then walk over to Hijiyama Park for a view overlooking the city. We’d done so much sightseeing in Tokyo that we just needed an afternoon of normalcy.
That night we went out for okonomiyaki for dinner, a famous regional dish that includes a pancake, protein (in our case seafood), noodles and cabbage topped with barbecue sauce prepared on a griddle. It tastes a lot better than it sounds and I highly recommend trying it in Hiroshima or the Kansai area (Osaka/Kyoto). Later that night, our favorite soccer team Liverpool had its last match of the season, so we visited an Irish Pub to watch with other fans. There was one brief moment when it looked like we might get the result we needed from the match being played simultaneously by Man City, but ultimately, although Liverpool won, so did Man City, and we finished second. Though we didn’t get the result we wanted, the experience was fun.
I’m really glad we included Hiroshima in our Japan itinerary. It is very different than Tokyo and even than Osaka, and I love that the city has become a world symbol of peace.
Review of Hotel Park Side Hiroshima Peace Park – Perfect location near Peace Park.
The room was comfortable and a good size, and had a view of the river and a sliver of Peace Park. The location was great near many sights and restaurants. We enjoyed the Japanese breakfast buffet one morning. It wasn’t available the second morning of our stay, but there are plenty of convenience stores within a couple of blocks to get food. The hotel was generally quiet. The best amenity was the free access to washer and dryer with detergent. The hotel decor, especially the carpet, is showing signs of wear and tear. This did not bother us but is good to be aware of ahead of time.