Two or three days in Hiroshima City will allow for plenty of time to see the sights, however if you have an extra spare moment, be sure to take a day trip to the nearby Seto Islands to appreciate local Japanese life.
Hiroshima Prefecture has two UNESCO World Heritage sites, Itsukushima Shrine and the Atomic Bomb Dome and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It’s a cultural prefecture, but you can also enjoy the mild climate and nature of the widely spread out stepped terrain with over 1,000 m high mountain ranges and plains near the Seto Inland Sea. Due to this stepped terrain, several rivers flow in Hiroshima Prefecture. In my memory, Hiroshima is the first place where I swam in beautiful rivers, diving in to see small fish in summer.
Usagi Rabbit Island
When we visited Okunoshima Island, called Usagi (Rabbit) islands, I imagined the island would be full of cute fluffy bunnies. It was half-true and half-false. Truly there were over 900 fluffy bunnies but it was not a relaxing atmosphere. It seemed that there were no predators for the rabbits, but the competition to survive was high and some rabbits were chasing others for food and territory. We observed real battles for existence in the wild.
My passion to pet or hold them drifted away when I saw the battle scene and it was no surprise that there were warnings signs not to feed them and not to put your hands over their mouths. We also saw a nesting rabbit with its cute babies, although we kept our distance to watch.
We rented a bicycle and visited the abandoned site of the chemical factory that produced the poisonous gas used in combat dating back to WWII. There are various stories on why rabbits reproduced on Okunoshima Island. One of them is that some rabbits ran away from an elementary school, but the truth is unknown.
Activities on Rabbit Island
We stayed one night at a resort hotel on Okunoshima Island and rented rods for fishing while enjoying the beautiful Seto Inland Sea views during the day and the sea sparkles during the night. You’ve probably heard of the sea sparkles in the Seto Inland Sea known as Noctiluca scintillans. I was in awe of the natural phenomenon experience.
How to get there
Take a boat from Tadanoumi Port to Rabbit Island (15 minutes). It operates about every hour. It takes 2 hours from Hiroshima Station to Tadanoumi Station by local train. The island is quite small with a circumference of 4.3km with a 3km peripheral road. It’s a one hour walk and a 30 minute cycle, so a one-day trip is possible.
I had visited the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima City since becoming an adult and it was a thought provoking experience, so I wanted my kids to come back to Hiroshima to visit it and to understand what happened in the middle of the 20th century when they grow up. Instead of visiting the Atomic Bomb Dome, we visited Kure City to see the Battleship Yamato replica.
Kure Port used to be a calm fishing village. When the Meiji era started, a shipyard was built due to its suitability for natural resources and circumstances for a vessel and warship shipyard. Surrounded by hills and small islands, the port has enough depth and space.
My family is a big fan of the animated “Space Battleship of Yamato” by Reiji Matsumoto and this was another reason to visit Yamato Museum. Yamato Museum exhibits a 1:10 scale replica of the Battleship Yamato (263 meter length) which was built in 1941 at the Kure Port. The museum also explains the latest science and technology of that time and how people experienced hardships. My kids might not have fully understood the sadness of the war but they were so amused by the size and great precision of the replica. You can also see the Shinkai research submarine and the actual main gun and screw of the battleship outside of the museum.
How to get there
A 50-minute train ride from Hiroshima Station to Kure Station or a 50-minute bus ride from Hiroshima Bus Center.
Whale of Iron Museum
Next to Yamato Museum, you’ll see a huge submarine on the ground next to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Kure Museum. The decommissioned Akishio submarine was converted into a museum and it is called Whale of Iron because it looks like a huge whale made of iron with a 76.2 meter length and 16.3 meter height, equal to a 5-story building.The most exciting and fascinating part of the museum is that you can walk into the crew quarters and touch some equipment. Even if you are not submarine fans, you will still enjoy the Kure City atmosphere.
If you’re seeking an iconic Seto Inland Sea village view then visit Mitarai Town. Driving a little further from Kure, you’ll notice the nostalgic houses which have been designated a Historic Preservation District of Traditional Architecture.
Housed in beautiful wooden buildings on the edge of the port, Mitarai Town prospered as a transit trade town on the route from Hokkaido, northern Japan to Osaka, western Japan during the Edo Period. Take a stroll along a narrow stone pathway to see a merchant’s house, a hospital and the Otome-za, built in 1937, which is a great example of a traditional Japanese theater.
Where to stay
Seto Inland Sea is such a beautiful area and very residential, so when staying at Hiroshima’s seaside I would highly recommend a more home-like option to really get the true experience of the Seto Inland Sea. We picked a vacation home on AirBnb that was located on a small island. One of the delights of staying in front of Seto Inland Sea is the night view across the water. As we sat and watched the moonlight glitter on the water, we could notice the preciousness of silence and natural darkness.
What to eat
Oysters – Hiroshima’s most famous food is oysters and approximately 60% of Japan’s oyster production takes place here. Raw oysters are offered at many dining places in Hiroshima and large numbers of oyster huts are found near the coast. Oyster huts serve barbecue style oysters in front of you. My friends from Hiroshima Prefecture said they went to Oyster huts as picnics with their families on weekends.
Okonomiyaki – You might know Sushi and Tempura as Japanese foods and they have a great reputation for being healthy. However, we enjoyed lots of oily and carbohydrate laden foods which are far from healthy. One of the major local foods in Hiroshima is Okonomiyaki, which is pan fried food consisting of crepes, eggs, noodles and cabbage, with meat or seafood. Okonomiyaki means your fried favorites and there are various versions of Okonomiyaki in Japan.