Be entranced by Miyajima's floating torii gate
Many visitors to Japan include a day or two in the city of Hiroshima in their itineraries. Drawn by the city’s tragic history, they come to learn about the events of 1945, pay their respects to the dead, and to say that they have been there. The nearby island of Miyajima is also a huge draw. One may wonder how the “three most beautiful views” of a country are decided, but the massive “floating” O-torii gate that stands in the sea in front of Itsukushima Shrine as you approach by ferry is one of them and certainly not to missed.
However, for those with a little more time, or keen to get off the beaten track, Hiroshima Prefecture has much to offer the visitor beyond its two most famous attractions. To the east, the coastal towns of Onomichi, which fills domestic tourists with nostalgia, and Takehara with its well-preserved Edo Period merchant houses, are gateways to the islands of the Seto Inland Sea.
The Shimanami Kaido is a 60 kilometer long toll road connected by some impressive bridges across six islands. Sticking to the main route is interesting in itself, whether speeding along in a car or, moving at more leisurely pace by bicycle, but each of the islands provide plenty to interest the intrepid traveler willing to go off the beaten track. Less well-known, but equally impressive, is the Tobishima Kaido across the Akinada chain of islands out to the still relatively undiscovered gem of Mitarai. Tiny Tomo-no-ura, which provided the inspiration for the setting of Hayao Miyazaki’s much-loved animated movie “Ponyo on the Cliff” should also not be forgotten.
In the north there are countless picturesque villages in narrow valleys through which rivers carve their way to the Chugoku mountain range, which, although not as tall and rugged as those further east, provide ample opportunity for hiking. The Sandankyo and Taishakyo gorges are beautiful all year, but especially so when the leaves blaze red in the autumn. This is the area where one can to see the colorful and high tempo style of kagura dance peculiar to this region, performed in its most authentic setting. In winter, it is (usually) blanketed with snow and is home to Japan’s southernmost ski resorts.
Hiroshima’s contribution to food culture is its hearty take on okonomiyaki, a layered crepe with noodles, various toppings and a sweet savory sauce, and any Hiroshima-ite would be mortified to hear of a visitor leaving without trying it. Other signature dishes come from the sea; Hiroshima Prefecture supplies over half of Japan’s oysters, Miyajima is known for anago sea-eel on rice, and ko-iwashi Japanese anchovies are a lesser known, but delicious local delicacy.
Hiroshima is also one of Japan’s top sake brewing regions, and its sake consistently does very well in national tasting competitions. Small craft breweries, many with long histories are scattered throughout the prefecture, but there a cluster of breweries in the small town of Saijo, east of Hiroshima city. Here, you can wander around the breweries, learn about the brewing process, taste the product and pick up some top quality bottles to take home at reasonable prices.
It’s often said that Hiroshima is like Japan in miniature, a place where the visitor can get a taste of much of the culture and scenery this wonderful country has to offer. Dive in and let us be your guide.