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 was erected in the Peace Memorial Park. Central to the park is the only remaining building damaged in the blast, now known as the Atomic Bomb Dome. The park also contains the Peace Memorial Museum, featuring exhibits portraying the horrors of the bomb. 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 from radiation poisoning. The Cenotaph also houses the peace flame, which burns 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. It sits 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 hosting regular temporary exhibitions. For those not familiar with Japanese art, the museum has provided information books on the individual artists represented, written in English. There is an outdoor sculpture garden to enjoy in the lovely grounds and the Hiroshima Manga Library is also located here.
Hiroshima's original castle was totally destroyed in the atomic blast but has been reconstructed as a 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 some traditional costumes to try on, while there are great lookout spots and tranquil grounds.
The romantic little island of Miyajima is scenically beautiful with steep wooded hills, famous for its 6th century Itsukushima Shrine featuring a massive red wooden torii (gate). During high tide, the shrine stands in the ocean and is particularly picturesque when illuminated at night. The Daisho-in Temple is situated about halfway 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 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. Tame deer wander 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, creating 11 miles (18km) of primeval forest, waterfalls 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. One of the most popular walking trails begins at the front gate with the lovely Kurafuchi pool, known for its emerald green water, as the turning point. On this route you will also see the Shimai waterfall and Ishidoi rapids. It's closed in winter because snow makes the ravine impassable and dangerous.
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.
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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