Hiroshima is one of those cities that every single American has heard of, for obvious reasons. Like every other person I know, I was taught about the bombing of Hiroshima in every single history class from grade school to high school. Debates on the event occurred all the time in my classes, yet what many people, including myself, aren’t really taught is how much Hiroshima has not only recovered but completely rebounded over the last 70 years since the Atomic bomb.
Many still maintain this image of Hiroshima as a ruined city, or something a kin to that, due to its connection to World War II; however, today the “Wide Island” exists as a cultural metropolis boasting over 1 million citizens, symphonic orchestras, numerous art museums, and like the rest of Japan…..many, many, many festivals.
This was a weekend trip with many other Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) from Nara and it was quite a weekend. However, in order to get there, we had to take a night bus from Osaka that left Umeda Sky building at 11:30 PM and didn’t arrive in Hiroshima until 7 AM. It was a very long and…uncomfortable journey. But hey, at least I had my own little cocoon to sleep in!
After finally arriving in Hiroshima…at some random bus stop in front of a 711, we walked to the Hiroshima train station and bought our day pass for the local trolley car.
Thank god I had people with me who knew how to navigate the stops, because the maps and PA systems are pretty much only in Japanese. As such, definitely check out Hiroshima’s tourist website at visithiroshima.net for AMAZINGLY helpful information on things to do and how to get to them.
WARNING: Normally, you would pay for your train ride when you exit the trolley. This is really inconvenient because you have no idea how much it costs, all the information and sounds are in Japanese and its basically the perfect setting for a foreigner to freeze up and freak out. As such, just buy your railway passes at the main Hiroshima station and get day passes so you don’t have to worry about any payments. Here are the prices:
Railway 1 Day: ¥600
Ferry + Railway 1 Day: ¥840
Ferry + Railway + Miyajima Rope Rail Way 2 Days: ¥2000
The last ticket is a pretty good deal because you get access to the Mt. Misen rope railway that saves you from a 3 hour hike to the summit. Its not a bad deal. I’m not even half way up the mountain in this picture…and you would have to hike all of it to get to the top!
So just get the passes. You’ll get your money’s worth.
Anyways, onwards to Miyajima!
When I first arrived at Miyajima I didn’t know anything about the place except for the fact that it had deer just like in Nara and that like the deer in Nara…they were greedy dicks! Turns out…that wasn’t true. They were adorable! Beyond the dear, however, I was clueless. I had no idea that the island was actually called Itsukushima Island and that Miyajima was actually the port town at the base of the large central mountain, Mt. Misen.
I had no idea that, in addition to the deer, this place was famous for being named as one of the “Three Views of Japan” and hosting numerous shrines including the floating Shinto Shrine of Itsukushima.This place really seemed like a town from a forgotten era. The fact that the only way to reach the island is by a 20 minute ferry definitely helped to set that mood. When I went, there was even a small layer of fog to welcome us into Miyajima port and rows of statues and stone gateways ushered my group and I further and further into the island.
This gate, which peers directly into the center of Itsukushima Shrine from the mainland, was built in the late 1800s in a manner similar to the ancient Ryobu Shinto sect of medieval Japanese Buddhism. In the past, the island was considered sacred and as such, commoners were not allowed to set foot on the island. In order to reach the shrine, they had to steer boats through the torii gate. I think that is what the tour boats in the picture above are trying to simulate.
The shrine itself is dedicated to the three daughters of the Shinto god of seas and storms, and was built in its current form back in the 12th century by Kiyomori Taira. It is viewed as one of the most well preserved and best shrines in all of Japan and continues to operate normal duties to this day. For a small entrance fee, anyone can walk along its red, wooden hallways floating above the ocean water.
I really enjoyed walking around this shrine, especially when I discovered the ¥100 fortunes box. After dropping a ¥100 yen coin into a donation box, I shook up the nearby cylinder until a small wooden stick popped out with a number on it. Reaching into the adjacent drawer, I pulled out the appropriate number and found a long sheet of paper with TONS of Japanese and Kanji spread across it. Luckily, a few of my friends could read it and it turns out I got one of the best fortunes!My friends, however; weren’t so lucky. Almost all of them got some of the worst fortunes out there…well, there’s only one thing to do with those pesky bad fortunes; we quickly walked to the prayer wall and tied the fortunes onto it in hope of negating their predictions. I think it worked because none of them are dead or pregnant haha.
Oh, and did I mention that the shrine continues to function normally, even with constant tourism? During our visit we overheard some people were saying that a wedding was being held inside the main shrine hall…naturally we took a peak. Its pretty cool that the shrine is still open to events like that.
After eavesdropping on a wedding and getting some good fortune, my group and I split up into a few smaller groups (there were about 20 of us originally). Now only four, we decided to head up to Mt. Misen. Let me tell you, it was a long trek even up to the rope cars. However, there was some great scenery and some pretty funny signs to direct us on our way. Oh…and I finally found a trash can after two hours of searching.
Eventually, we made it to the gondolas that would take us up to the summit. If you have a a day pass ticket for the ferry + railway, you actually get around a ¥500 discount. After paying, we made our way up to this old 70s’esque ski lift looking thing and crammed into a rusty old carriage.As the lift took us higher up the mountain we could peer backwards and see all of the bay and Hiroshima city. However, this was not our only lift. We had to stop at the middle of the mountain to get into an even larger standing lift that took us higher up and across the island. This time, we saw all across the bay into the Pacific Ocean itself. Islands dotted the waters around us; it was almost as if for every meter we rose, another kilometer opened up on the horizon.
Here is a video I took of us coming down:
Finally at the summit we could see for miles! I learned that the mountain is so famous because it is where the progenitor of Japanese Buddhism and modern Japanese writing, Kukai, came to meditate in the year 806. Today there remains an everlasting flame in the shrine at the top of the mountain; this same flame was used for the fire at the Atomic Bomb Peace Museum!
Perhaps one of the coolest things at the summit was the make shift telescopes pointing towards specific landmarks in the area. All they were was a metal tube positioned specifically so that you can see the landmark in the distance; they were a really simple, yet nifty idea.
Overall the view was amazing and the experience was incredible. I definitely recommend hitting up Miyajima and Mt. Misen. Unfortunately for us, by the time we reached the top, it was almost 2PM and time for us to head across Hiroshima to the Sake Matsuri! As a result, we couldn’t stay really long or do the additional 30 minute hike up to the everlasting flame. Definitely make sure you have enough time to experience everything!
If you’ve ever been here before what did you think of the mountain? Were you nervous on the lift up? My friend kept making jokes about us falling and not surviving haha. Let me know your experiences! Also stay tuned for a post within the week about Hiroshima’s famous Sake Matsuri with sake represented from every prefecture of Japan!