Get to Know a Ken: Hiroshima

This is a guest post by Gail Meadows, a Hiroshima JET, as part of the effort to build inter-prefectural awareness. Read on!

When most JETs think of Hiroshima, two places spring immediately to mind: the Atomic Bomb Dome, and Miyajima, the island world famous for its “floating” torii gate, which you all have no doubt seen featured countless times as a symbol of Japan.

Of course these places should be at the top of your travel itinerary when you visit Hiroshima — what stay in Japan would be complete without petting Miyajima’s tame deer? — but I’ll also recommend some other parts of Hiroshima-ken near and dear to my heart.

Hiroshima is blessed with a lot of scenic beauty, including both sand and snow. On one end, Hiroshima-ken enjoys a beautiful coastline along the Seto Inland Sea and a number of nice beaches, many on small islands accessible by ferry. Further inland, the mountains provide some excellent spots for hiking and skiing.

If you go to Miyajima, I highly recommend taking some extra time to explore the island beyond the torii. Climb Mt. Misen or take the ropeway up and hike the rest of the way to the top. The views over the Seto Inland Sea can be truly breathtaking on a clear, sunny day. And if your timing is right, you might even catch sight of some of the wild monkeys (just don’t look them in the eye, lest they feel threatened and decide to pick a fight!). Don’t forget to try the maple-leaf shaped momiji manju cakes, since they are the famous sweet of Hiroshima prefecture.

One island that offers a unique “only in Japan” experience is Okunoshima, alternately known as “Bunny Island” and “Poison Gas Island.” During World War II, the Japanese used a factory to produce poison gas on the island and tested the gas on rabbits. After the war, U.S. forces destroyed the factory and the rabbits were set free. Since then, they’ve taken over the island, hopping around unmolested and happily procreating. A Poison Gas Museum was built to educate the public about the sordid history of the island, and the museum, combined with the booming bunny population, attracts plenty of visitors. As a result, the “wild” bunnies have become quite friendly and tame. Bring a bag of cabbage or carrots with you and you’ll have plenty of bunnies happily bounding up to greet you.

For those who’d like to venture into the mountains to see the more inaka side of life, the northwest part of the ken offers some excellent hiking trails in Sandankyo Gorge, a 10-mile-long ravine bordered by towering cliffs. There are several waterfalls in this area, including an impressive three-tiered fall. The gorge is particularly picturesque when fiery fall colors sweep the area around mid-November.

Within Hiroshima City, my favorite place to visit in any season, but especially in fall, is Mitaki Temple. Mitaki is among the most beautiful and atmospheric temples I have seen in Japan. It is home to three waterfalls (hence the name 三滝), countless jizou statues wearing bright red bibs and hats, moss-covered tombstones of unknown victims of the atomic bombing and a very old pagoda that was moved to the site from Wakayama ken after World War II. A hiking path up the mountain leads through a bamboo forest so stunningly beautiful that it took my breath away. It’s an easy hike to the top of Mt. Mitaki and you’ll be rewarded with an excellent view of the city.

Besides its beautiful nature, Hiroshima ken boasts several festivals worth seeing as well, most notably the Hiroshima Toukasan (Yukata) Festival in early June, the Saijo Sake Festival in mid-October, or any of the number of oyster festivals that take place along the coast in mid-February (Hiroshima is famous as the top oyster producer in Japan). Not surprisingly, the Sake Matsuri is a particular favorite among JETs, since for just 1,500 yen you can get a souvenir sake cup and go around tasting as many of the 900 varieties of sake as you can possibly imbibe. Be sure to pick up a box of Hibagon Eggs as omiyage if you go — the Hibagon being the Japanese Bigfoot that supposedly lives in the mountains around Saijo.

I could go on and on about all that Hiroshima ken has to offer, but I hope that these few suggestions convince you that not only should you visit our lovely prefecture, but it’s worth spending a little extra time here to explore some places beyond Peace Park and Miyajima’s torii. Oh, and don’t forget to try Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki while you’re here — you’ll never go back to Kansai-style once you try it!

Gail Meadows, a JET based in Hiroshima City, is Editor of Hiroshima JET webzine the Wide Island View, where you can find many articles describing the places and events mentioned above in more detail. Lots of information can also be found on Gail’s blog, Lost in Transition.

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