Hiroshima is one of those cities that everyone is familiar with due to the horrific circumstances of that fateful Atomic bomb on August 6th, 1945, where it became the world's first Atomic Bomb target. As such, many friends often inquire as to whether or not I'd been there to see things first-hand. So it was with these motivating factors and rumours of the beauty of Miyajima that the plan to go was hatched.
I thought that I'd give you a bit of background info into the city and the sights, aided by my travel worn Lonely Planet Japan guide book with the hope of helping you out if you ever plan to visit yourself. It's kinda long, so I hope you don't get too bored :)
Hiroshima's city history dates back to 1589 when the feudal lord of the time, Mori Terumoto, named the city and built his castle, the remains of which were destroyed by the A-Bomb and thus was rebuilt in 1958 where it stands tall and proud today just a few blocks from the A-Bomb's epicenter.
Hiroshima has long been a bustling center for trade and was built on a series of sandy isles at the mouth of the Otagawa River as it enters the Inland Sea. It also boasts a great reputation for seafood, notably the oysters which are farmed in the waters surrounding the area.
These days it has a bustling population of just over a million people but remains a very compact city with one of the few extensive remaining tram/street car services in Japan that'll get you to all the main points of interest.
(If you're traveling there, I'd recommend getting a 2-day tram pass which includes the return ferry to Miyajima and the return Gondola to the top of Mt. Misen as well as endless tram rides for that 48 hour period...no costly mistakes)
There are two must-see sights for any foreigner, or Japanese for that matter, visiting the area. The first is the Atomic Bomb Dome (Gembaku Domu) and the Peace Memorial Park and Museum. Amid some controversy, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in December 1996. Located just to the west of the main city center by the T-shaped Aioi Bridge on Aioi Dori, the propped up ruins of the A-Bomb Dome, one of the only buildings left standing following the Bomb blast and rampant fires that followed, remain as a reminder to the tragedy that occurred.
The number of people that perished in this one simple act is unfathomable. Japanese were not the only ones to suffer, but what is less known is that approximately 1 in 10 of the victims were Koreans.
Across the river, a Peace Memorial Park has been established with a Museum which gives one an alarmingly detailed description of events leading up to the bomb and the hardships of victims of all ages. It is very informative and well worth the 50cent admission and forking out a little extra for the English headphones which give a rundown in English of everything. The park also includes a Children's Peace Memorial where children the world over send folded origami cranes in a plea to end nuclear weapon proliferation. A flame burns with the hope that one day all nuclear weapons will be destroyed, at which point the flame will be extinguished. The Mayors of Hiroshima City are constantly writing to the leaders of the world showing dismay at further weapons testing and hounding them for their desire for a nuclear free world.
The second sight, one of the three "Best Views" in Japan, is the Itsukushima-jinja on Miyajima Island. From Hiroshima take the tram to Miyajima Port, then it's a quick 10 minute ferry ride and short walk along the waterfront to the shrine. The shrine is unique in that it is built on stilts above the water (on high-tide) and has a floating Torii or gate in the middle of the small bay which is extremely picturesque and often used as the face of tourism both domestically by JR and internationally, hence the large numbers of foreigners and the foreigner friendly signs, information and maps. The shrine itself is not all the island has to offer. There is a 5-storey Pagoda, a huge historical Pavilion called Senjo-kaku, a Maple tree grove that attracts thousands in autumn with the colourful leaves, tame deer walking fearlessly among the tourists and the tracks and trails of Mt. Misen with wonderful views from the summit and very interesting rocky outcrops. (I'd advise you to take the gondola, especially in winter or summer to avoid the steep climb unless that's what you're into)
Finally, what does it all cost?
Well, from Tokyo a return non-reserved seat on the Nozomi Shinkansen will cost about ¥36,000. The 2-day tram/ferry/gondola pass is ¥2,000 and a cheap hotel near Hiroshima Station start from about ¥3,000 per person per night including breakfast. So throw in meals and you're looking at something like ¥45,000 for a two day/one night whirlwind tour. It's not cheap, but hey, you only live once!
For those traveling from overseas, Japan Rail (JR) offers a railpass (I think for 1 week??) which enables you to use JR trains for the one initial ticket price which is definitely good to save money.