Two days in Hiroshima to begin the new year

Although New Year is a time for partying back home it’s much quieter here in Japan. People take time to visit shrines, send postcards and spend the day with family. We chose to visit Hiroshima to start the New Year to learn more about some of the harder times in Japan’s recent history.

Having gone to bed long before midnight, we woke up early to catch one of the first trains out to Hiroshima. Rather than lugging our massive rucksacks all the way there, we left them in a locker at Kyoto station and travelled light instead.

As there were no seats available to reserve on the train we assumed it was going to be difficult to get a seat in an unreserved car. After a 30 minute wait at the platform we realised that we’d rushed out of bed too early and that very few people were going to get on with us. The carriage was quiet, the seats were comfortable and we were looking forward to the day ahead.

When we arrived in Hiroshima we decided to go out to Miyajima first to get the furthest point covered and leave the rest of the time free for Hiroshima itself. After a local train journey and a ferry boat, we arrived on the beautiful island of Itsukushima. The area was packed with tourists who were mostly Japanese, visiting to make their New Year’s prayers at the Itsukushima Shrine. There was a giant queue looping around the streets, but we were able to walk either side and take a look at the area without having to wait in line for hours.

It was pretty cold but the sky looked beautiful and it was really nice to start the day at such a peaceful place. We wandered around the streets, popping into shops and admiring the floating gate from every angle. Our timing was perfect too as the tide hadn’t quite gone out yet so very few people were stepping into the bay which had a central view of the gate. Later on in the day the tide had gone out far enough for people to walk right up to the gate, which meant the bay was full of hundreds of people taking selfies.

Just before we left the area we decided to stop for lunch and had the tastiest dip noodles I’ve experienced in a nice little cafe. Being budget conscious we haven’t spent much money on eating out, but this was totally worth it and made the day a little more special.

When we got back to the other side of the water we thought we’d try our luck with the guest house and see if we could check-in early. It was maybe 2:30pm when we arrived, but we soon realised that the 4pm check-in time was pretty strict as there didn’t seem to be a single person around the tiny house we were going to be stay in. Instead we wandered through the local area and got on a tram which would take us into the city centre.

Our afternoon was a pretty emotional visit to the peace memorial and the museum before it closed. There’s so much pain in the lives of Hiroshima’s survivors and watching video interviews about their experiences brought me to tears. We didn’t see the whole museum until we returned on the second day, but even half was enough to make you feel heartbroken for everyone who was caught up in it. It might seem like a strange way to start the year but I’m glad we did it to get a bit of perspective and appreciate what we have.

The guest house we were staying at in Hiroshima was pretty small but cheap and exactly what we needed. We spent the evening eating a meal from a local supermarket and attempting to watch a TV show where Japanese celebrities tried to guess which props were edible or not. Our room was both cold in the bottom bunk and hot in the top bunk but we slept well and woke up early for free coffee and toast.

On the second morning we returned to the museum to see the bits we didn’t have time for before they closed the previous evening. It was just as difficult going back and reading about the horrors people lived through the second time. I had to stop before we finished because I was starting to cry again, and couldn’t continue to read about the children who were killed in the city while clearing up after air raids. War is just so heartbreakingly stupid, made even worse by its inevitability because of people in power with no care for the civilians of other countries.

Although we’d considered seeing a lot more of Hiroshima we decided to use our time getting back to Kyoto for our bags, then moving on to Tokyo sooner than planned. We thought about staying in Kyoto another night to see one or two more shrines but we knew we could explore more of Japan from further East.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.