Sign Up for Our Monthly Asia Newsletter
Tokyo and Kyoto have dominated travelers’ Japan bucket lists for years. However, their numerous attractions draw consistently large crowds and, with that, concerns about social distancing in the age of COVID-19.
In contrast, Hiroshima presents visitors a more relaxed and less-crowded Japanese city break option. While intimate in scale and a touch off-the-beaten path (located about two hours from Osaka and five hours from Tokyo by the Shinkansen bullet train), it encompasses the best of the nation, from exquisitely landscaped gardens and parks to captivating cultural touchstones, dining, shopping and entertainment. (Editor’s Note: As of press time, the U.S. State Department’s Do Not Travel global health advisory is still in effect for Japan. We suggest you bookmark this article for future travel inspiration, or simply to satisfy the wanderlust of armchair-traveling clients.)Brushing Up on Hiroshima’s HistoryCommemorate the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima with a visit to Hiroshima’s cultural epicenter. The A-Bomb Dome, the skeletal remains of an exhibition hall near the edge of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, is a profound testament to the unthinkable consequences of war and weaponry, but also to the survivors’ determination to rebuild.
Other monuments that help tell the story are clustered nearby, including the Peace Bell (erected in 1964) and the deliberately twisted Peace Clock Tower, which marks the time the bomb detonated at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945. The Cenotaph, an arched memorial, frames the Flame of Peace and memorial pond.
The Children’s Peace Monument, a poignant memorial, is also currently open to the public and is made up of several glass cases filled with origami paper cranes commemorating the legacy of local resident Sadako Sasaki. Although Sasaki survived the initial blast as a 2-year-old, she developed radiation-based cancer and started making the cranes to take her mind off her pain. After her passing at age 12, people honored her determination by making and displaying origami cranes linked together in the cases — a practice that continues to this day.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, remodeled and reopened in April 2019, is more appropriate for teens and adults better prepared to view the graphic, but moving, survivor testimonies, photos and belongings left by victims. It is an intense place, especially with the remodel’s “timeline” arrangement. However, it puts into perspective what students are studying in their world history classes, as well as current events. The number of visitors allowed in is limited, and groups of more than four people are not allowed unless they come from the same household. Temperature checks are taken at the entrance, and face masks are mandatory while inside.
Families with younger children will find other interesting museums reflecting the city’s resilience. The Mazda Museum (which is currently closed until further notice) is not only filled with cool cars and an assembly line, but also helps tell the story of Hiroshima’s post-war recovery and economic growth.
The Hiroshima Children’s Museum contains a library and a planetarium, two floors of interactive science activities, a maze and a slide transporting kids from one floor to another. With the exception of the planetarium, the attraction is free of charge for the whole family.
Meanwhile, the Hiroshima City Museum of History and Traditional Crafts, which reopens June 23, highlights Hiroshima's local industries and sits in a picturesque 1911 building once used by Japan’s Imperial Army as a food supply depot.
And finally, Shukkeien Garden, constructed in 1620, is a lush in-town spot for a picnic, a light hike or bird-watching away from the crowds (masks are required). Daytrippers open to heading to Kumano, located 30 minutes from downtown by car, will enjoy a stop at Fudenosato Kobo, a museum dedicated to the art of brush-making. In addition to beautiful displays of calligraphy brushes and original artwork by locals, kids can take Japanese art traditions into their own hands. After watching a master craftsman make brushes, they can participate in a calligraphy workshop or try their hand at other Japanese printing and embossing techniques.
On the Town and On the PlateOkosta, a short walk from Hiroshima’s central train station, is currently open and provides a wonderful introduction to the area’s food culture. It is not billed as a restaurant, but as a kitchen created by Otafuku, Japan’s preeminent producer of sauces for topping “okonomiyaki” (savory pancakes that serve as the city’s signature comfort food). Visitors can suit up in chef garb and follow the lead of an experienced instructor to craft the perfect Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, best described — when made properly — as a hybrid of lasagna and an omelet piled high with a variety of ingredients. There are menu packages with traditional ingredient combinations, as well as variations for guests with dietary restrictions.
While Hiroshima’s retail landscape is less flashy than Tokyo or Kyoto, there are many colorful spots for retail therapy interspersed with pocket-size “izakaya” restaurants. Hiroshima Hondori Shotengai, Hiroshima Yume Plaza and Nagasakiya are packed with Japanese clothing chains, department stores, restaurants and souvenir shops.
While teens and preteens will gravitate toward youth-focused Sunmall, other specialty retailers of interest include the manga-oriented Jump Shop Hiroshima and electronics emporium Sofmap Hiroshima. A few blocks away, a branch of Japanese thrift store Book Off Super Bazaar has departments dedicated to anime, vintage clothing and other souvenir-worthy items.
Click here for the latest information on COVID-19 and travel restrictions in Japan.
The DetailsJapanese National Tourist Organizationjnto.go.jp