Steeped in tragedy, Hiroshima should still be included in a Japan family holiday. Be sure to visit the Children’s Memorial and the beautiful island of Miyajima.
Hiroshima & Miyajima: A Family Holiday in Japan
Hiroshima might not seem like the ideal destination to include on a family holiday but it’s an important stop on our travels through Japan. Our visit to this city known for it’s tragic past is both heartbreaking and yet hopeful as this vibrant city has rebuilt itself from the ashes of an atomic bomb. 100,000 people lost their lives at Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 when the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped on the city during World War II. Thousands more died from radiation poisoning in the years after.
As you can imagine, it’s a somber experience visiting The Peace Memorial Museum but one worth doing. On the day we visit, we are surrounded by school groups from all over Japan who have come to learn about this tragic day in their history. Their childish enthusiasm and innocence is a stark contrast to the tragedy that Hiroshima is known for and in some ways is reassuring to know that joy continues even in tragedy.
The museum is full of photos and artifacts which document the events of that tragic day.
There’s a model of the bomb, tattered clothing, half-melted statues and photos of the mushroom cloud which illustrate the bomb’s composition and the force of the explosion.
There’s also information about the effects of the radiation and the many people it affected in the years to come.
Outside the scars of the bomb are still visible when you walk through the Peace Memorial Park.
The A-Bomb Dome stands as a visual reminder of the destruction of the blast. This was the former Industrial Promotion Hall and shows the force of the bomb.
It was left standing as a testament to the damage inflicted on the city as new buildings were constructed around it.
Also nearby is the Children’s Peace Memorial. This is especially poignant as it features a statue of a young girl and a crane with the quotation inscribed.
“This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world.”
The statue based on the true story of a young girl Sadako who experienced radiation from the blast when she was two and developed leukemia. She believed in a Japanese legend that if she folded one thousand paper cranes, she would receive a wish. Hoping to wish for good health, Sadako began folding paper cranes. Unfortunately, she died at age 12. However, her legacy continues and millions of cranes are offered each year as a symbol of peace. These cranes folded by children all over the world surround the memorial.
It’s a difficult visit and some families especially with those young children might choose to skip Hiroshima. At the age of five, my daughter can comprehend what a bomb is and there’s no doubt she’s affected by what she sees. She spends the next day, drawing mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and folding cranes. However, we feel it’s important for her to visit this historical sight with us and understand how the A-bomb affected local children.
Out of the devastation, the city of Hiroshima was reborn and today its residents reflect on their tragic past and continue to campaign for a peaceful world without nuclear proliferation. In fact, Hiroshima is known as the city of peace.
The following day, we leave behind the destruction of the past and head for the beauty of Miyajima Island using a combination of streetcar, train and a ferry. It’s a scenic voyage in the large JR ferry and takes only 10 minutes to reach the island.
Considered one of the three most scenic spots in Japan, Miyajima Island lives up to the hype. It’s noted for its torii, a shrine gate that appears to float on water during high tide. We were lucky enough to visit when it floated.
At low tide, you can walk out to gate across mud flats.
The torii gates stands watch over Itsukushima Shrine, a World Heritage Site that’s built over the water.
Popular with Japanese tourists as well as international visitors, Miyajima is considered a sacred island. In ancient times, births and deaths were forbidden on the island and so the pregnant women and the ill were quickly transported to the mainland. In fact, there still is no cemetery on the island.
After seeing the gate, we decide to head up to Mount Misen which rises 535 metres above sea level. (Try to catch the free shuttle bus that takes you up to the cable car station for Miyajima Ropeway). Getting to Mount Misen, requires two cable cars, the first a small six-seater and the second, a larger 30 seater. Both feature amazing views on the journey.
Once we reach the upper cableway station, we spend some time at the to enjoy the views.
We realise that there’s still higher to go but it involves walking for another 30 minutes. Even though it’s a hot and steamy day, we decide to do it.
We soon learn it’s not an easy walk to the summit. The path goes up and down but we persist and surprisingly our daughter doesn’t complain about the walk. We stop occasionally for water breaks and to see the views. There’s some amazing views along the way especially back towards the top cable car station.
Along the way is a series of shrines where you can stop for a breather and make offerings.
One of the shrines is Kiezu-no-Reikado Hall which features an Eternal Fire said to have been burning for over 1200 years. This flame was used as the pilot light for the “Flame of Peace” of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
By the time we reach the summit, we’re hot and perspiring heavily. Our reward is seeing these giant rocks at the top as well as stunning views across the Seto Inland Sea and its many islands.
We rest for 1/2 hour at the top enjoying the views and cooling breezes and head back down.
It’s a much easier trip down the mountain back to the cable car station. Two cable car journeys later and we’re back at the bottom of the hill. Forgoing the shuttle bus, we instead walk down the hill through the pretty Momijidani Park. It’s a heavily wooded park with maple trees and cherry trees and picturesque streams filled with koi.
Once back in the middle of town, we stop for some island delicacies, a snack of barbecued oysters and momiji manju, a maple-leaf shaped pastry that’s available with different fillings.
We have to watch out for the tame deer that reside on the island as they amble around looking for tourists with food.
It’s then time to board the ferry for the return to Hiroshima leaving behind this beautiful island.
It takes 5 hours to travel from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station with a transfer of trains at Shin-Osaka station.
I highly recommend that you you purchase a Japan Rail Pass (only available outside Japan). Available in durations of 7, 14 and 21 days, it’s a cost-effective way to travel around the country using JR train network. You can use it for all JR trains (excluding the superfast Nozomi trains) and JR ferries. There are two classes, Green (First class) and Ordinary. We purchased Ordinary tickets and found them to be excellent. Kids 6 and under travel free on the trains. In 3 weeks travelling around Japan, we never once reserved a journey on the Shinkansen. Instead, we would arrive at the station and line up at the unreserved carriage area of the platform. This is ideal when you are traveling with children as you never have to stress about missing a train.
Make sure you bookmark the website Hyperdia as it contains train schedules and is indispensable in planning your trip.
Where to Stay
We opt to stay at the ANA Crowne Plaza Hiroshima in a Twin Room located close to Peace Park and Hondori shopping arcade. It’s a large comfortable room with views over the city. Tip: Join up for the hotel loyalty program to get early check-in and late check-out as well as earning points on your stay that you can use to redeem a free night.
However, my favourite thing about staying at ANA Crown Plazas in Japan is their Sleep Advantage program. This consists of information and amenities designed to help you get a good night’s sleep. It includes a disposal eye warmer, bath powder to help you unwind, and low-caffeine roasted green tea for the evening and mint green tea when you awake. I’m especially enamoured of the eyemask and find its relaxing warmth especially comforting after a long day of sightseeing.
Use the streetcar to get around Hiroshima. It’s a flat fee no matter how far you travel. With a Japan Rail pass, you can access the JR trains and JR ferry to Miyijima. It takes 27 minutes from Hiroshima on the JR Sanyo line to get to Miyajima-guchi Ferry Station. The ferry takes about 10 minutes to get to Miyijima Island.
Nearby to the hotel is Hondori Mall, a large covered shopping area with stores, a games arcade and restaurants.
We would visit chain store cafe Doutour for breakfast and coffee and visit the Hondori Mall restaurants later in the evening for dinner. There’s loads of choice for food including a cafe called Stick Sweets Factory which served the most luscious cakes and slices.