(This is part of a guide to travelling Honshu on a moderate budget and in limited time. Click here for the whole series).
From Fukuchiyama I headed across to Hiroshima. If you're heading out this way, be sure to reserve a seat on the Sakura Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka; I can only assume they put too many Green (1st class) cars on these, as the compartments used for reserved seating are ludicrously nice, with 2×2 seats plans, wood panelling and more. They arrive at Hiroshima JR Eki, to the east of the city.
The Children's Memorial
The thing about Hiroshima is this: you know what to expect. Everybody knows of Hiroshima, and the Peace Park and museum have to be a top priority for any visitor. But there's also so much more: the beautiful boulevards, the trams, the parks, and Miyajima. Oh, and did I mention okonomiyaki? Not yet. But it's a marvellous place.
The Peace Park sits, rivers on either side, in the centre of town. It is, appropriately, rather beautiful, and is surrounded by memorials: the children's memorial, the memorial to Korean victims, a memorial for Chinese victims, and more. And in the centre, the mausoleum and flame. To the South lies the museum, which is exactly as distressing as you would expect and then some more. Plan a couple of hours to see it and recompose yourself afterwards, as quite a lot of it is hard to cope with.
The Peace Park
On the other side of the park, to the North East, is the Genbaku-Domu – the nuclear bomb dome, or what's left of one of the few buildings left standing after the attack. Heading past it, East, takes you into the city. A giant covered arcade runs a good half-way towards the JR station, ending around the giant Parco department store.
The Genbaku-Domu – just about the only building that survived the blast area
A bit of a walk to the North East lies the Shukkei-En garden – turn right at the art museum, and look for the gate. Complete with tea house, giant hungry koi and flying fish, it's probably the single prettiest Japanese garden I saw on this trip. Closes at 5pm.
The beautiful Shukkei-En
Another must see in Hiroshima is actually outside the city. The island of Miyajima is home to a temple with famous 'floating' O-Torii gate – head by JR or tram (about 1h from West of the Peace Park, it's a terminus stop) to Miyajima-Guchi, then jump on the JR ferry (free with a Rail Pass). It's worth making sure you arrive around high tide to get the best view – tide tables are here.
On the island, the main sight is of course the temple – you can also pay a few hundred yen extra to see the 'treasure house', which isn't really that interesting except that it lets you get a good look at the plaque from the previous O-Torii gate, which is appropriately massive.
The O-Torii, Miyajima
In the town you'll find tasty barbequed oysters for sale (400Y), and it's worth visiting the giant wooden pagoda that overlooks the town – it holds some ancient paintings, a measuring stick used when building the gate (er, large) and some ridiculously large rice scoops the purpose of which was somewhat unclear – rice scoops seem to be *the* souvenir from Miyajima.
Besides the temples and town you can walk – or take the cable-car – up the mountain behind. I took the path up that starts near the cable-car station, and it was beautiful, but beware: at 2.5km this might not be a long ascent, but it is steep enough to be hard work in the heat. Near the top lies another temple, and then a viewing platform at the summit. Wild deer roam around attempting to nab food, and I also ran into a big-enough-to-be-frightening snake on the trail.
Miyajima: well worth the ferry trip
Food, Hotels and Travel
I stayed in the Ikawa Ryokan, which is a great budget ryokan to the West of the Peace Park. It's cheap (maybe £60/night with breakfast for a tatami room with bathroom), and very friendly. The only downside is that it's a bit of a hike from the JR station if you arrive in rush hour and can't fit on a tram. The owners speak English – are keen to speak English, in fact – and there's free internet access.
Trams are the best way to get about besides on foot, and with only a few lines, most of which end at the JR station, they're easy to use. Most journeys are 150Y (more to Miyajima-Guchi), pay with coins only when you get off.
Oh, and food: Hiroshima has all the usual stuff, but also, crucially, okonomiyaki: a kind of griddled cabbage pancake thing, topped with stuff (eggs, meat etc) and, crucially, udon noodles. Head to the multi-storey okonomiyaki building behind Parco, choose a booth, and stuff your face.
Sadly, Hiroshima marked as far across the island as I could travel on this trip. Another early start, another bullet train, and I found myself in Nara.