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Hiroshima is the main city of the Chugoku Region on Japan's main island Honshu. On 6 August 1945, it became the first ever target of an atomic bomb. Early in the morning, three United States B-29 bombers flew in from the northeast; one dropped its bomb over the centre of the city, killing 140,000 civilians.
Today, millions of visitors make a pilgrimage to Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park to pay tribute to the victims, but also to marvel at the lively modern city that has overcome its tragedy to become the thriving home of more than a million people. Not surprisingly, the city has become vehemently engaged in the promotion of peace, and American visitors are welcomed with open arms along with foreigners of all other nationalities.
Visitors are drawn mainly to the Peace Memorial Park and its museum, but the rebuilt city is an attractive place to visit in its own right, criss-crossed by rivers and wide avenues and containing several good museums. Nearby are some of Japan's most scenic excursion destinations, making Hiroshima a good base for explorations into the countryside.
Around the epicentre of the atomic bomb explosion in Hiroshima in 1945, a complex of buildings and monuments has been erected in the Peace Memorial Park to commemorate the earth-shattering event. The park is dedicated to the promotion of world peace. Central to the park is the only remaining city building damaged in the blast; it was formerly the Industrial Promotion Hall, but is now known as the Atomic Bomb Dome and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park also contains the Peace Memorial Museum, featuring exhibits portraying the horrible effects of the bomb on the city and its citizens. Between the museum and the dome stands the Memorial Cenotaph containing a stone chest, inside which is a list of all those killed in the explosion or who died subsequently from the long-term effects caused by radiation. The Cenotaph also houses the peace flame, which will burn until nuclear war is no longer considered a threat to humanity. Other monuments include the Statue of the A-Bomb Children and the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound containing the ashes of tens of thousands of unidentified victims.
Hiroshima boasts the first public art museum in Japan devoted exclusively to contemporary art. The museum was founded in 1989 and is housed in an interesting building designed by Japanese architect Kurokawa Kisho, based on the shape of a Japanese warehouse (kura). The building is set high on a hill in Hijiyama Park, famed for its cherry blossoms and splendid city views. The museum itself contains the works of established and up-and-coming Japanese artists covering a range of different mediums and hosts regular temporary exhibitions. For those not familiar with Japanese art, the museum has provided information books on the individual artists represented, written in English; however, aside from these, there is very little signposting or information in English. There is an outdoor sculpture garden to enjoy in the lovely grounds and the Hiroshima Manga Library is also located here. The museum is a little bit out of the way, but those interested in contemporary Japanese art should find the effort rewarding, and a stroll in the grounds is pleasant.
Hiroshima's original castle, built in the late 16th century, was totally destroyed in the atomic blast during World War II but has been reconstructed as a perfect replica. When the castle was established by a feudal lord in 1589, Hiroshima didn't exist; the city that grew around the fortress took its name. At the time, the area was called Gokamura, meaning five small villages, and the lord ruled over a vast territory spanning nine provinces from the stronghold. The castle now houses a museum detailing the region's history up until World War II and particularly the historic feudal system. The exhibits include some models of ancient Hiroshima and the castle and, for those who like playing dress-up, there are even some traditional costumes to try on. The museum is informative and easy to navigate with plenty of information in English. There is a great lookout point at the top of the castle which affords some nice photo opportunities. The grounds are also lovely, housing three trees - a eucalyptus, a willow, and a holly - which survived the bombing in 1945 and endure to this day. One of the most popular tourist attractions in Hiroshima, the castle is definitely worth a visit for anybody with an interest in history.
The romantic little island of Miyajima lies about eight miles (13km) off the mainland in the Seto Inland Sea. Apart from being scenically beautiful with steep wooded hills, the island is famous for its Itsukushima Shrine featuring a massive red wooden torii (gate). The shrine is partially built over water, and was founded in the 6th century. During high tide the shrine stands in the ocean, which is particularly picturesque when the building is illuminated at night. The route from the ferry to the shrine is lined with food stalls and souvenir stands to cater to all the tourists and although the shrine can get crowded it is a charming attraction. The Daisho-in Temple is situated about half way up the mountain with incredible views and a pathway strewn with hundreds of statues. There are also temples and shrines near the summit of Mount Misen which are worth exploring. The island offers great hiking opportunities, particularly in spring when the many cherry trees are in bloom, and in autumn, when the colours are at their most vibrant. Famously, tame deer wonder free and even bow if you give them a cookie, while monkeys chatter happily in the woods.
The erosion of a limestone plateau has left a beautiful deep gorge, stretching for about 11 miles (18km) of primeval forest, waterfalls, monkeys, and unusual rock formations. The Onbashi Bridge formation is the largest natural bridge in Japan. Sandankyo Gorge is one of only five ravines in Japan that have been designated as National Scenic Beauty Spots and the country takes great pride in the beautiful area, which is a favourite with hikers. It is closed in winter because snow makes the ravine impassable and dangerous but visitors are welcome between the end of April and November. As with most scenic spots in Japan, the ravine is at its most lovely in spring and autumn. One of the most popular walking trails is a round-trip that begins at the Sandankyo front gate with the lovely Kurofuchi pool as the turning point. The hike only takes about an hour each way and is not overly strenuous. The Kurofuchi pool is known for its emerald green water and it is possible to take a short ferry ride across it to a restaurant on the far bank. On this route you will also see the Shimai waterfall and Ishidoi rapids.
Hiroshima has a humid subtropical climate. During summer (June to September) temperatures range between 66°F (19°C) and 95°F (35°C). In winter (December to January), temperatures range between 32°F (0°C) and 53°F (12°C). Light snowfall can be expected from late December and lasts till early spring in February. Rains can be expected throughout the year with the rainiest months being June and July. The driest months are December and January, which only get two inches (5cm) of the 60 inches (152cm) of annual rain. High humidity can be experienced during the summer and can be uncomfortable. Tropical storms are not uncommon in Hiroshima in August and September. The best time to visit Hiroshima is in the spring months of March and April.
Hiroshima has the largest tram network in Japan, with nine lines all connecting at Hiroshima Station. For unlimited use on all trams, it's possible to buy a one-day pass (which may include the ferry ride to Miyajima for an additional fee). A two-day pass is also valid on trams, the ferry, and Miyajima Ropeway.
The Japan Rail Pass is popular among tourists because it allows for pass holders to travel on all JR lines, except some Shinkansen and express trains. The JR Pass must be organised prior to arrival in Japan via an official JR Pass outlet in the visitor's country of origin; these may be sourced online. Taxis are available almost anywhere. Buses also run throughout the city and suburbs; tickets can be purchased on the bus.
Most of Hiroshima's must-see attractions revolve around the tragedy of the atomic bombing during World War II. Primary among these is the Peace Memorial Park which includes Ground Zero, the Cenotaph monument to the dead, the extremely moving Children's Peace Monument, dedicated to the children who died in the bombing, and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. These sites are naturally sombre and saddening but the emphasis on peace and forgiveness is hopeful and most people don't find the experience too depressing.
Other popular attractions in Hiroshima include the Shukkei-en Garden, the Hiroshima Museum of Art, the Mitaki Temple, Hiroshima Castle, and the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art. Hiroshima is surrounded by some lovely countryside and two of the best excursions are a trip to the breathtaking scenic area of Sandankyo Gorge and the beautiful little island of Miyajima.
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