Visit Hiroshima in Japan with your kids on a family holiday to teach them about history and the importance of peace. Here are tips on seeing Hiroshima and Miyajima. The name Hiroshima has long been associated with known for its tragic past with the atomic bomb. It’s a sobering place but Hiroshima should still be included in a Japan family holiday. There are lots of things to do with kids.
We find that our visit to this city is both heartbreaking and yet hopeful as this vibrant city has rebuilt itself from the ashes of an atomic bomb. It’s a fascinating place for kids to come to learn about World War 2 and the importance of peace.
On August 6, 1945, 100,000 people lost their lives when the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped on the city during World War II. Thousands more died from radiation poisoning in the years after.
As you can imagine, it’s a sombre experience visiting The Peace Memorial Museum but one worth doing. On the day we visit, we are surrounded by school groups from all over Japan who have come to learn about this tragic day in their history. Their childish enthusiasm and innocence is a stark contrast to the tragedy that Hiroshima is known for and in some ways is reassuring to know that joy continues even in tragedy.
Photos and artifacts document the events of that tragic day.
There’s a model of the bomb, tattered clothing, half-melted statues and photos of the mushroom cloud which illustrate the bomb’s composition and the force of the explosion. The exhibits also detail the effects of the radiation and the many people it affected in the years to come.
Outside the museum, the effects of the bomb are visible when you walk through the Peace Memorial Park. The A-Bomb Dome stands as a visual reminder of the destruction of the blast. This building was the former Industrial Promotion Hall and shows the devastation incurred by the bomb.
It was left standing as a testament to the damage inflicted on the city as new buildings were constructed around it.
Also nearby is the Children’s Peace Memorial. This is especially poignant as it features a statue of a young girl and a crane with the quotation inscribed.
“This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world.”
The statue is based on the true story of a young girl Sadako who was exposed to radiation from the blast when she was two. She later developed leukemia. Sadako believed a Japanese legend that if she folded one thousand paper cranes, she would receive a wish. Sadako began folding paper cranes to wish for good health but unfortunately died at age 12. However, her legacy continues and millions of cranes are offered each year as a symbol of peace. Many of these cranes come from overseas and surround the memorial.
There’s no doubt that our visit is sobering and some families especially with those young children might choose to skip Hiroshima. At the age of five, my daughter can comprehend what a bomb is and she is affected by what she sees. She spends the next day, drawing mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and folding cranes. However, we feel it’s important for her to visit this historical site with us and understand how the A-bomb affected local children.
Out of the devastation, the city of Hiroshima was rebuilt and today its residents reflect on their tragic past and continue to campaign for a peaceful world without nuclear proliferation. In fact, Hiroshima is known as the city of peace.
The following day, we leave behind the destruction of the past and head for the beauty of Miyajima Island using a combination of streetcar, train and a ferry. It’s a scenic voyage in the large JR ferry and takes only 10 minutes to reach the island.
Considered one of the three most scenic spots in Japan, Miyajima Island lives up to the hype. It’s noted for its torii, a shrine gate that appears to float on water during high tide. At low tide, you can walk out to gate across mud flats.
These torii gates stands watch over Itsukushima Shrine, a World Heritage Site that’s built over the water.
Popular with Japanese tourists as well as international visitors, Miyajima is considered a sacred island. In ancient times, births and deaths were forbidden on the island and so the pregnant women and the ill were quickly transported to the mainland. In fact, there still is no cemetery on the island.
After seeing the gate, we decide to head up to Mount Misen which rises 535 metres above sea level. (Tip: Try to catch the free shuttle bus that takes you up to the cable car station for Miyajima Ropeway). Getting to Mount Misen, requires two cable cars, the first a small six-seater and the second, a larger 30 seater. Both feature amazing views on the journey.
Once we reach the upper cableway station, we spend some time at the to enjoy the views.
We realise that there’s still higher to go but it involves walking for another 30 minutes. Despite the hot and steamy weather, we decide to venture on to the summit.
We soon learn it’s not an easy walk to the top. The path goes up and down but we persist and surprisingly our daughter doesn’t complain about the walk. We stop occasionally for water breaks and to look out at the views. There are some amazing views along the way especially back towards the top cable car station.
We also stop along the way at a series of shrines to make offerings.
One of the shrines is Kiezu-no-Reikado Hall which contains the Eternal Fire said to have been burning for over 1200 years. This flame was used as the pilot light for the “Flame of Peace” of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
We’re hot and perspiring heavily by the time we reach the summit. Our reward is seeing giant rocks at the top as well as stunning views across the Seto Inland Sea and its many islands.
We rest for a while at the top enjoying the views and cooling breezes and head back down. It’s much easier travelling down the mountain back to the cable car station. Two cable car journeys later and we’re back at the bottom of the hill. Foregoing the shuttle bus, we instead walk down the hill through the pretty Momijidani Park. It’s a heavily wooded park with maple trees and cherry trees and picturesque streams filled with koi.
Once back in the middle of town, we stop for some island delicacies, a snack of barbecued oysters and momiji manju, a maple-leaf shaped pastry that’s available with different fillings.
Watch out for the tame deer that reside on the island as they amble around looking for tourists with food.
It’s then time to board the ferry for the return to Hiroshima leaving behind this beautiful island.
Getting to Hiroshima
It takes 5 hours to travel from Tokyo Station to Hiroshima Station with a transfer of trains at Shin-Osaka station. I highly recommend that you purchase a Japan Rail Pass (only available outside Japan). Available in durations of 7, 14 and 21 days, it’s a cost-effective way to travel around the country using JR train network. The passes can be used on all JR trains (excluding the superfast Nozomi trains) and JR ferries.
There are two classes, Green (First class) and Ordinary. We purchased Ordinary tickets and found them to be excellent. Kids 6 and under travel free on the trains. In 3 weeks travelling around Japan, we never once reserved a journey on the Shinkansen. Instead, we would arrive at the station and line up at the unreserved carriage area of the platform. This is ideal when you are travelling with children as you never have to stress about missing a train.
Make sure you bookmark the website Hyperdia as it contains train schedules and is indispensable in planning your trip.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the ANA Crowne Plaza Hiroshima in a Twin Room located close to Peace Park and Hondori shopping arcade. It’s a large comfortable room with views over the city. However, my favourite thing about staying at ANA Crown Plazas in Japan is their Sleep Advantage program. This consists of information and amenities designed to help you get a good night’s sleep. It includes a disposal eye warmer, bath powder to help you unwind, and low-caffeine roasted green tea for the evening and mint green tea when you awake. I’m especially enamoured of the eyemask and find its relaxing warmth especially comforting after a long day of sightseeing. Check rates and availability for the ANA Crowne Plaza Hiroshima accommodation.
Use the streetcar to get around Hiroshima. It’s a flat fee no matter how far you travel. With a Japan Rail pass, you can access the JR trains and JR ferry to Miyajima. It takes 27 minutes from Hiroshima on the JR Sanyo line to get to Miyajima-guchi Ferry Station. The ferry takes about 10 minutes to get to Miyajima Island.
Nearby to the hotel is Hondori Mall, a large covered shopping area with stores, a games arcade and restaurants. I recommend the chain store cafe Doutour for Western-style breakfast and coffee and visit the Hondori Mall restaurants later in the evening for dinner. There’s loads of choice for food including a cafe called Stick Sweets Factory which served the most luscious cakes and slices. Highly recommend.