A day trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima
During my last trip to Kansai region I aimed to see places where I hadn’t been before. I got to tour Nara, off-the-beaten-path Katsuo-ji Temple in Osaka and a few unique shrines in Kyoto. Since I had a full week there, I decided to take advantage of my ample time and hopped onto shinkansen (at a painful cost of $200 RT – you, tourists, have no idea how lucky you are to be able to buy JR passes!) for a day trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima.
While sitting on the train to Hiroshima you inevitable think about everything you have ever learned about the devastating events that transpired there during World War II. On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay dropped the first of two atomic bombs over Hiroshima. The city was leveled almost instantly from the blast and the heat wave and thousands of people were killed in the explosion and its immediate aftermath. Despite its daunting past, I was so happy to see that the city has long recovered and is currently thriving. There are a few interesting sights to see in Hiroshima, conveniently located within a walking distance from each other. Alternatively, you can take a taxi or a tram to navigate the sights. From the central train station, I chose to walk to Hiroshima Castle, also referred to as Carp Castle, which is obviously a replica of its 1590-year original. I didn’t go inside, but the castle has very impressive wooden exterior and stands beautifully on in the center of a city surrounded by the moat.
I then walked to the infamous Atomic Bomb Dome and the Peace Park. The A-Bomb Dome was the only structure left standing in the city following the disaster and consequently served as a symbol of peace, and is a designated World Heritage Site. While walking around the park you will also come across the Children’s Peace Monument that stands in memory of all the children who lost their lives as a result of the atomic bombing. A bit further down, the Cenotaph frames an “eternal flame,” and it is said that this flame will be burning until all nuclear bombs are eradicated.
I also visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The exhibits, although quite graphic and depressing, provide very interesting information about the war, the day of the bombing and its devastating effect. They also provide answer to and detailed information about one of the most frequently asked question – is it safe to travel to Hiroshima now? Yes, yes it is. Radiation levels have been back to normal in Hiroshima since the end of 1945. Since the bomb was detonated in the air, most of the radioactive material stayed in the air and did not settle to the ground. 27 days after the bombing a tropical storm hit Japan, washing the dangerous radioactive material out of the air and making it safe to live here.
After touring the museum, I headed back to the tram station and on to the pier where I caught a ferry to the Miyajima Island. It is famous as one of the Nihon Sankei, the three most scenic spots in Japan. The actual name of the island is Itsukushima, but it is referred to as Miyajima which means “Shrine Island”.
The sound of the piano playing over the radio greets you as you disembark onto the island, while cute deer try to charm tourists and beg (or more precisely, demand) for food. The scenery is quite stunning. The vermilion grand torii gate floating on the water sharply contrasts with the lush green forest in background and has marked the landing entrance to the island since the 12th century. According to the Shinto faith, the torii gate is a boundary between the spirit and human worlds.
You can also walk around the Momijidani Park and hike up or take a cable car to the top of Mount Misen, but I chose to browse some of the old alleyways instead which brought me to the deserted beach with unique view of the torii gate. This is why I like to go off the beaten path. I took advantage of the fact that no one was looking and took a few selfies.
Feeling quite famished by this time I gorged on some of the local specialties along the main Omote Sando shopping street. Miyajima is famous for its huge oysters, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (a rich savoury pancake), and anago meshi (grilled sea eel on rice). I did slurp on some freshly cracked bivalves and also indulged in another local specialty – deep fried maple-shaped pancake batter filled with cheese, custard or bean paste… all three were tasty, but the cheese filling was so good. I went for seconds.
It was the sunset time and I headed back to the shrine gate to take some more photos. You guys. Sigh. It was spectacular. The sun was setting behind the mountain painting the sky in pastel hues. The reflection of the torii onto the water was gradually disappearing as the sea kept ebbing off from the shrine. People were getting closer to it which emphasized its size and grandeur. And then the twilight fell and all the stone lanterns along the shore were lit up and you could hear the soft waves hit the golden shore. It was all utterly relaxing and very difficult to leave behind. Alas, it was time to catch the ferry back to the mainland.