Perhaps best known as the site of the first use of the atomic bomb during the final stage of World War II, Hiroshima is roughly 4 hours from Tokyo and 1.5 hours from Osaka via bullet train (shinkansen) and a worthwhile one- or two-day stop. The must-visit Peace Memorial Museum provides a sobering, detailed look at the devastation, while the surrounding park is dotted with monuments, memorials, and ruins. Hiroshima Castle, originally built in the 1590s but destroyed during the atomic blast, was rebuilt in 1958 and is now a museum dedicated to Hiroshima’s pre-WWII history. It’s lit up beautifully at night.
Although okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake prepared with various ingredients, is available throughout Japan, Hiroshima has its own style—layered rather than mixed, and with noodles and considerably more cabbage than the traditional Osaka offering. You can try multiple kinds at Okonomimura, which boasts 25 okonomiyaki specialists spanning three floors.
When you’re in Hiroshima, consider an easy day trip to the island of Miyajima/Itsukushima, which requires a train ride to Miyajimaguchi and then a ferry ride. One of the first things you notice during the ride toward the island is the gigantic vermilion torii (traditional Shinto gate) rising out of the water. The first thing you’ll probably notice after getting off the ferry is all the tame deer wandering around. Watch out, though—they’ll eat just about anything you have! Paper is a particular treat for them and we watched one daring deer pluck a paper pass right out of someone’s back pocket and consume it within seconds. Any unattended bags will definitely be rummaged through.
As for feeding yourself, there are quite a few options. The most popular is oysters, which are cooked up many ways. Steamed buns filled with pork, eel, and other savory goodies are hard to resist, as are sweet maple leaf–shaped cakes (momiji manju) stuffed with red bean, chocolate, custard, cheese, chestnut, and even ice cream. If you’re looking for a customized rice paddle with your face on it, this is the place to get it.
The hiking on the island is likely amazing but we took the Miyajima Ropeway up to Mt. Misen for panoramic views of the Seto Inland Sea to make sure that we didn’t miss the sun set behind the famous torii. The bright warm hue of the torii against the dusky early-evening sky is really something to behold. When the torii’s uplights switch on, its glow against the dark backdrop is simply magical and apparently the “boundary between the spirit and the human world.” Nature lovers might want to consider coming back an extra day to really explore its beauty.
FOOD NOTE: If you’re traveling to Hiroshima from Tokyo, save your appetite for the fancy food court at Shinagawa Station. We had some of the best sushi ever from a takeout onigiri (rice balls) stand there that also sold boxed sushi. After watching several chefs in the back furiously but meticulously slicing the fish and constructing the pieces, we grabbed two “deluxe bowls” as they were brought out and couldn’t believe how good they were. Next time we’re in Tokyo, we might make a special trip there just to chow down!