As you walk around Hiroshima today, you'll find it hard to imagine that the city was the scene of such widespread horror and destruction just 65 years ago. On the other hand, Hiroshima doesn't have the old buildings, temples, and historic structures that other cities have, yet it draws a steady flow of travelers who come to see Peace Memorial Park, the city's best-known landmark (Hiroshima draws 9.4 million tourists a year, 217,000 of them from other countries). Dedicated to peace, the city also seems committed to art: In addition to its fine art museums, you'll find statues, stone lanterns, memorials, and sculptures lining the streets.
Peace Memorial & Environs
Peace Memorial Park (Heiwa Koen) lies in the center of the city. English-language signs all over the city indicate how to reach it. From Hiroshima Station, take streetcar no. 2 or 6 to the Genbaku-Domu-mae (in front of the Atom Bomb Dome, which is just north of the park) stop. The first structure you'll see as you alight from the streetcar is the A-Bomb Dome (Genbaku Domu), the skeletal ruins of the former Industrial Promotion Hall, left as a visual reminder of the death and destruction caused by the atomic bomb and now on the World Heritage List. Across the river is the park; it takes about 10 minutes to walk from its northern end to the museum.
Along the way you'll see the park's most touching statue, the Children's Peace Monument, dedicated to the war's most innocent victims, not only those who died instantly in the blast but also those who died afterward from the effects of radiation. It's a statue of a girl with outstretched arms, and rising above her is a crane, a symbol of happiness and longevity in Japan. The statue is based on the true story of a young girl, Sadako, who suffered from the effects of radiation. She believed that if she could fold 1,000 paper cranes she would become well again. However, even though she folded more than 1,000 cranes, she still died of leukemia. Today, all Japanese children are familiar with her story, and around the memorial are streamers of paper cranes donated by schoolchildren from all over Japan. To the east of the statue is the Rest House, where you'll find a branch of the Hiroshima Tourist Office.
Also in Peace Memorial Park is a Cenotaph for Korean Victims. It's a little-publicized fact that 20,000 Koreans were killed that fateful summer day, most of them brought to Japan as forced laborers. The monument reads: "The Korean victims were given no funerals or memorial services and their spirits hovered for years unable to pass on to heaven." It's significant to note that for 29 years, the cenotaph remained outside the park. In 1999, Hiroshima's mayor, calling for an end to prejudice against Korean residents in Japan, gave the memorial a new home within the park.
Between the statue and the museum is the Memorial Cenotaph, designed by Japan's famous architect Kenzo Tange (who also designed the Tokyo Metropolitan Government offices in Shinjuku). Shaped like a figurine clay saddle found in ancient tombs, it shelters a stone chest, which in turn holds the names of all of those killed by the bomb. An epitaph, written in Japanese, carries the hopeful phrase, "Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil." If you stand in front of the cenotaph, you'll have a view through the hollow arch of the Peace Flame and the A-Bomb Dome. It is said that the Peace Flame will continue to burn until all atomic weapons vanish from the face of the earth and nuclear war is no longer a threat to humanity.
East of the Peace Flame is the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims (tel. 082/543-6271). Its Hall of Remembrance, a 360-degree panorama re-creating the bombed city as seen from the hypocenter, is made of 140,000 tiles, the number of people estimated to have died by the end of 1945. The rest of the memorial is a vast, computerized audiovisual library with information on victims, their histories, and photos. The English-language leaflet not only provides excellent information but also gives access to the large-screen computers (insert it to activate them). Admission is free and it's open the same hours as the Peace Memorial Museum.
Just beyond is the main focus of the park, the Peace Memorial Museum (Heiwa Kinen Shiryokan), 1-2 Nakajima-cho, Naku-ku (tel. 082/241-4004; www.pcf.city.hiroshima.jp; daily 8:30am-6pm Mar-Nov [until 7pm in Aug], daily 8:30am-5pm Dec-Feb). It comprises two buildings: the East Building, which tells of Hiroshima before the bomb fell and what happened to the city in the following months and years, and the West Building, which concentrates on that fateful August day. Entrance to the museum is in the East Building; admission is ¥50. Although an audio guide is available for an additional ¥300, you can learn just as much by reading the excellent English-language descriptions throughout the museum. You must enter 30 minutes before closing time, but you'll need at least 1 hour here to do the museum justice.
The newer East Building addresses Hiroshima's militaristic past, challenging the city's former self-characterization as a blameless victim. In great detail, it explains why Hiroshima was selected as the blast site: As Imperial Headquarters, Hiroshima was home to Japan's military command center as well as a military supply base (Mitsubishi, which produced warships, was based here). It also gives food for thought as to why the bomb was dropped, suggesting that the high cost to develop the bomb (called the Manhattan Project), coupled with the desire to establish U.S. supremacy over the Soviet Union and facilitate defeat in Japan, all played a role. TV screens show actual footage of the bomb being dropped and its aftermath. A 360-degree photograph shows Hiroshima's utter destruction. The museum also documents Hiroshima's current dedication to the abolition of nuclear weapons; a globe of the world provides a chilling map of nuclear proliferation. On the ground floor is the Video Theatre, where two English-language documentaries are shown throughout the day. One is an appeal for peace from a mother's point of view, with footage of the bombing, while the second film takes a more scientific look at the atomic bombs in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The West Building concentrates on the suffering caused by the atomic bomb, beginning with panoramas of scorched earth and seared victims and photographs of the atomic bomb that destroyed the city and the intensity of the blast's epicenter. It then shows in graphic detail the effects of the blast on bodies, buildings, and materials. Most of the photographs in the exhibit are of burned and seared skin, charred remains of bodies, and people with open wounds, while displays explain the effects of radiation, including hair loss, keloid scars, leukemia, and cancer. There's a bronze Buddha that was half-melted in the blast and melted glass and ceramics. Tattered clothing and other personal effects are accompanied by short biographies of their owners, many of them children and teenagers and many of whom died in the blast.
Needless to say, visiting Peace Memorial Park is a sobering and depressing experience but perhaps a necessary one. And to think that what was dropped on Hiroshima is small compared to the bombs of today; as early as 1961, the Soviet Union had tested a hydrogen bomb 3,300 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. From the museum, the closest streetcar stop is Fukuro-machi, where you can catch streetcar no. 1 for Hiroshima Station.
Exploring Sights of the Seto Inland Sea
By Boat -- Stretching between Honshu and the islands of Shikoku and Kyushu, the Inland Sea is dotted with more than 3,000 pine-covered islands and islets, part of which is protected as Seto-Naikai (Seto Inland Sea) National Park. Hiroshima Prefecture serves as a departure point for boats traveling to islands throughout the Seto Inland Sea and to Shikoku. For an interesting day's excursion, I suggest taking the Shinkansen 30 minutes to Mihara (fare: ¥2,220), from which you can take a high-speed boat operated by Mihara-Setoda Kyodo Line (tel. 0848/64-0564) 30 minutes to Setoda on Ikuchijima island. Ferries depart approximately once an hour, with one-way fares costing ¥800.
From Setoda's ferry pier, it's about a 10-minute walk to Choseizan Kosanji Temple, at 553-2 Setoda (tel. 0845/27-0800; www.kousanji.or.jp). This place is like no other, a re-creation of famous historic buildings from throughout Japan, erected by a former businessman-turned-Buddhist-priest over a 30-year period beginning in 1936 in honor of his mother. Occupying a picturesque hillside setting with many flowering trees, the grounds contain remakes of Byodoin Temple outside Kyoto, Nikko's Yomeimon Gate, Horyuji's Hall of Visions in Nara, and other important buildings, all expertly crafted. Be sure to tour Choseikaku Villa, built in 1927 as the home of the priest's beloved mother and employing an amazing variety of woods for its intricately carved transoms, paneling, and other traditional features. Another highlight is the grotto cave (beside Byodoin Temple). Stretching 350m (1,155 ft.), it depicts unfortunate souls in hell being burned, chopped to pieces, eaten by animals, and suffering other gruesome forms of torture, for crimes ranging from murder and thievery to drinking too much or having sex with a nun. After passing through caves and Buddhist statues, you then emerge to see a 15m (50-ft.) statue of the Goddess of Mercy, hoping by now that she is, indeed, merciful. On the crest of the hill is the Heights of Eternal Hope for the Future, a huge white-marble installation by a Hiroshima sculptor; its jagged edges resemble a glacier and there's a coffee shop here in what looks like an igloo. Other things to see include museums showcasing art relating to Buddhism, the tea ceremony, and modern Japanese art.
Admission to Kosanji Temple, open daily 9am to 5pm, is ¥1,200 for adults, ¥700 for high-school students, and free for children. By the way, near the front gate to Kosanji is a branch of a famous ice-cream shop, Dolce, Kosanji-mae Ten (tel. 0845/26-4036), renowned for its Hakata-no-shio, an ice cream that contains salt obtained from seawater (and tastes much better than it sounds). Ikuchijima is also known for its many outdoor sculptures placed around the island and for its 800m (2,640-ft.) Sunset Beach, a popular swimming destination.
By Bicycle -- A more active way to see the Seto Inland Sea is to cycle across on the Shimanami Kaido (also referred to as the Nishi Seto Expressway and the Setouchi Shimanami Seaway), a 70km (43-mile) route between Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture and Imabari on Shikoku Island. The route travels over six islands connected by seven bridges, with numerous temples (including the Choseizan Kosanji Temple), sightseeing spots, restaurants, and inns along the way. Rental bikes are available at Onomichi Ekimae Kowan Chushajo, 9 Higashi Goshocho, Onomichi City (tel. 0848/22-5332), open daily 7am to 6pm. Bikes cost ¥500 for a day, plus a deposit of ¥1,000. If you wish to make a one-way trip and leave your bike in Imabari or at one of the 13 cycle-rental stops along the way, you forfeit your deposit. The bridges along the route charge a toll, which you deposit into a box on the honor system, for a total of ¥500 if you go all the way to Shikoku (you can buy prepaid toll tickets at the Onomichi cycling shop so you don't have to fish for change). To reach Onomichi from Hiroshima, take the JR Sanyo Honsen line 1 1/2 hours to Onomichi Station (fare: ¥1,450), from which it's a 3-minute walk to the port where the cycling company is located. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, it's quicker to take the Shinkansen 30 minutes to Mihara, followed by a 10-minute local train (fare: ¥230) to Onomichi Station.
If you wish to cycle but have no interest in going all the way to Shikoku (truth be told, the beginning of the biking trail, from Onomichi, is not that interesting), I suggest taking the ferry from Mihara to Setoda and renting a bike at the Setoda-cho Kanko Annaisho (in front of the Hirayama Ikuo Museum; tel. 0845/27-0051; daily 9am-5pm). You can cycle around Ikuchijima in a couple of hours. Or, you can bike from Kosanji over the Tatara Ohashi bridge to Oyamazumi Shrine (with a fantastic collection of samurai weaponry), on Omishima island, in about 2 hours. You can drop off your bike at the Shimanami-no-eki Mishima rental shop there, take a bus 9 minutes to Inokuchi-ko (buses depart approximately twice an hour; fare: ¥200), and from there take a high-speed boat for ¥1,250 back to Mihara for the Shinkansen to Hiroshima (at last check, afternoon boat departures were at 3:36 and 4:55pm but you should confirm this).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.