We are at the beginning of 10 days in Japan, and most of our time will be spent in Tokyo with our best friends and their family. But we also want to see Kyoto and more. Can we do Hiroshima and Miyajima in 24 hours?
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A Walking Tour of Hiroshima and Miyajima
Jasmine, our guide, meets us at the Crown Plaza where we are staying. In Japan, public transportation is easily accessible; busses, streetcars, and trains. If that doesn’t get you where you are going, people walk or ride bikes.
There are cars, taxis, and Ubers, but driving is not convenient. It is expensive for gas (petrol), and parking is hard to come by. So begins our 24 hours in Hiroshima and Miyajima.
We booked all our guides in Japan with Tours by Locals as we find their guides to be reliable and very knowledgeable.
Hiroshima – A City Forever Associated With The Atomic Bomb
There is a lot to see in Hiroshima; after all, this is a city with over one million people today. There are museums, parks, nightlife, you name it. But our reason for visiting Hiroshima is to learn more about what happened when the U.S. dropped the Atomic Bomb in August of 1945 and how the city has rebuilt itself.
We are only in Hiroshima for half a day, and since this is our first time traveling to Japan, we are like most tourists hitting the “A” sites. As we walk, our guide points out significant buildings and places. We come across one of the first of many Jizo’s we will see on this trip at one nondescript corner. A Jizo is a stone statue representing Jizo Bosatsu, said to protect children who have died before their parents.
This Jizo is particularly important as it sits near “ground zero” and is said to have the “shadow of the bomb” on its face. The “shadow of the bomb” is thought to be the vaporized remains of a person close to the stone at the time of the explosion.
We walk along the river, heading north towards the Atomic Bomb Dome, “ground zero.” All along the river are small statues and memorials.
The Bomb (codenamed Little Boy) exploded above Hiroshima, not on the ground. Little Boy was still around 600 meters directly above the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall when the explosion happened. For this reason, it seems the thick outer walls and the steel dome escaped complete destruction.
Reports published in Japan after the bombing said 66,000 people were killed due to the blast; 69,000 were injured.
After viewing the Dome, our guide has us cross a bridge where the river splits in two, to the island in the river that is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
Peace Memorial Park – Hiroshima Japan
We are at the north end of the island and the Peace Park. This is where the Clock Tower of Peace is located. Jasmine walks us through the park stopping at each memorial to explain its significance. As we get further into the park, we see large groups of school children.
We are behind one of these groups when we get to the Bell of Peace. It is tradition to ring the bell once while quietly saying a prayer for peace. We silently wait our turn.
After ringing the bell, we proceed to the Children’s Peace Monument. This area commemorates Sadako Sasaki, a young girl exposed to the radiation from the blast at age two who died from Leukemia ten years later.
Sadako loved origami and, throughout her illness, continued to fold paper cranes. Surrounding this monument are cases filled with paper cranes (symbolizing the pursuit of peace) from school children in Japan and worldwide.
Now at the center of the park, we arrive at the Victims Memorial Cenotaph. This saddle-shaped arch, representing shelter for the souls, covers the cenotaph (usually an empty tomb representing those who died elsewhere) that holds the names of all the people killed by the Bomb.
There are currently over 290,000 names of souls resting here. This monument is perfectly placed to align with the Peace Flame and The A-Bomb Dome.
Due to time limitations, we choose not to visit the Peace Memorial Museum. Still, we take the time to walk the National Peace Memorial Hall. From ground level, you walk down a circular path into the memorial.
Inside the walls surrounding you are a panoramic view of Hiroshima before the bombing and bricks, one for each person who died on that day.
Taking this walk and viewing all the memorials here in the park is a somber way to honor those lives lost at Hiroshima, but well worth your time.
Lunch And A Quick Train And Ferry Ride
After seeing the Peace Park and Memorial Hall, we stop for a bite before catching the train and ferry to Miyajima. Jasmine surprises us by taking us to the local Mos Burger.
We asked to have lunch at a typical local quick food restaurant. We didn’t expect to be dining at a burger place. But you know what? The food was delicious, hot, and fast.
Now five hours into our 24 hours in Hiroshima and Miyajima, we collect our luggage at the hotel and catch a train from downtown Hiroshima to the port (about a 30-minute ride).
We purchased a JR Rail Pass before leaving the states. This pass allows us transport on most Japan Rail Trains throughout the country. The rail pass also covers the JR Ferry ride to Miyajima.
Next Up – City # 2 Miyajima – Hiroshima and Miyajima in 24 Hours
Stepping off the ferry from the mainland onto the shore of Miyajima, you immediately understand why it is believed this island belongs to the gods. The first thing you see is the incredible “Floating Torii Gate” in the harbor.
Staff from the ryokan we are staying at this evening meet us at the ferry and take our bags to the hotel so we can tour the island unencumbered.
All over Miyajima are deer. They are tame, and as long as you don’t feed them or have obvious food with you, they generally leave you alone. The deer are considered sacred and must be treated with respect and deference.
There is a group of school girls just in front of us. They purchased snacks in town. But they are more focused on taking selfies than their belongings. The deer noticed this, and one is bold enough to reach into one of the dropped backpacks, grab the biscuits and start eating.
Our guide Jasmine is still with us. After a few quick pictures in the harbor, including the obligatory shot of us in front of the “Floating Torii Gate,” we begin our tour of Miyajima.
Itsukushima, The Island And The Shinto Shrine
If this is your first time traveling to Japan, chances are you are looking for Miyajima on the map, not Itsujushima, this island’s proper name. Miyajima is Japanese for “shrine island” as the island is closely associated with the Itsukushima Shrine in the public’s mind.
Sitting at the edge of the harbor and in the water when the tide comes in, Itsukushima Shinto Shrine is a designated UNESCO world heritage site. This island has been a holy place for two millennia. The first shrine buildings were probably erected in the 6th century CE. The present shrine dates back to the 13th century CE and reflects the 12th-century construction.
Itsukushima takes my breath away. Set back in a small inlet from the sea and built above the water, the shrine is pristine. The bright vermilion (a brilliant red made initially from the mineral cinnabar) corridors lead you through the vast rooms and Temple.
As you proceed along the walkways, you note there are no walls even though a roof covers the entire building. The openness affords spectacular views of the sea and mountains.
This shrine is very popular with tourists arriving from the first ferry to the last. If you are staying the night on the island, take advantage of the quieter hours in the early morning before the first ferry arrives to make your visit.
Note: Plan to see a lot of shrines and temples in Japan (or even Asia)? You will want to use proper etiquette during your visits. Read my post on cultural etiquette in Asia for the unique steps you will want to follow.
The Island Where The Gods Dwell
It’s been a long day so far, and I check my Fitbit to see we’ve already walked over seven miles. We think this is the end of the tour, and we can head back to our hotel now, but Jasmine has one last site for us to visit, the Daisho-in Temple.
Daisho-in is a Buddhist temple just a five-minute walk from Itsukushima, so we were totally up for this last visit. Jasmine didn’t tell us that you must walk up many steps to see the Temple once you get there. These stairs almost stopped me from the joy of visiting Daisho-in. Don’t let the stairs stop you.
You begin your ascent to the Temple on Mount Misen via a long stairway separated in the middle with Buddhist prayer wheels inscribed with sutra. They say that turning the wheels as you walk up the stairs has the same effect as reading them, and you will benefit from the blessings.
Continuing the path to the up, you are guided by many Jizo, all wearing their knitted red caps and bibs. You come to an altar at the top of the Temple (but not the top of the mountain). Here sits the Buddha, surrounded by many other deities, offerings, and water.
It has been a very long day with much walking. I encourage you and all first-time travelers to Japan to practice endurance walking and wear comfortable shoes. You will thank yourself later.
Finally Time To Rest – Our Evening At A Ryokan
Since we are rushing through our day to achieve touring both Hiroshima and Miyajima in 24 hours, we book a room at a highly recommended ryokan on the island for the evening.
A “ryokan” is a traditional Japanese inn or small hotel. In a ryokan, the room’s floors are covered with tatami, and you often sleep on a futon in the Japanese style. Frequently you are requested to remove your shoes at the entrance to the inn and wear only slippers provided by the establishment.
Jasmine leaves us at the entry to Kurayado Iroha, and the pampering of our hosts at the ryokan begins. We are led up to our room, where our bags have already been placed.
Shortly after arrival, we are brought a plate of wagashi (sweets) and matcha tea. This is a traditional way to welcome guests. Fortunately, we have a while before our dinner service to enjoy a bit of quiet time.
You change out of your shoes at this inn when you reach your room. We are given “tabi” (socks) to wear in our room and “geta” (wooden sandals) to wear over the socks in the common areas of the ryokan. Do not wear the geta on the tatami mats. Tatami is fragile, and you should only wear your socks or go barefoot.
You might want to practice walking in the geta before heading into public spaces. It is more challenging than you might think to keep your balance.
It is traditional to dress in a “yukata” during your time at the ryokan. These are usually provided for you as well. What is a yukata, you ask? A yukata is a less formal kimono worn in casual settings.
You won’t see your average Japanese citizen walking around wearing a yukata; western clothes are more the norm. But if you are going to a summer festival or onsen (bathhouse), this would be the attire of choice.
The Ultimate Kaiseki Evening Meal
Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course dinner, considered the ultimate way of enjoying Japanese cuisine. We are queried before our arrival of any foods we do not eat or any allergies we may have. The chef prepares a special menu just for our dinner with this information.
There were ten separate courses for our dinner, and I can’t begin to tell you what was in each. But all were delicious and beautiful. Every plate was designed like a miniature piece of art.
After dinner, we choose to retire to our room and get some rest. Tomorrow will be a travel day again.
Morning In Miyajima, Evening in Kyoto!
The price for our stay at Kurayado Iroha is all-inclusive. Room, dinner, onsen, and the following morning’s breakfast. You also let the hosts know if you want a traditional Japanese or a western-style breakfast. We chose the western-style, which was served on one of the higher floors of the ryokan overlooking the bay.
We are up early and have some time before we need to be back at the central train station for our Shinkansen to Kyoto. This gives us time for a leisurely walk on one of the many trails around Miyajima and perusing the stores on the main street in town.
So, Yes You Can Do Hiroshima And Miyajima In 24 Hours!
After collecting our belongings and checking out of the ryokan, we hop on the ferry back to Hiroshima for the train trip to Kyoto.
The change in atmosphere from Miyajima to Kyoto is a full 180⁰! From country inn to big city high-rise in just 2 hours.
Yes, you got that right. We leave Miyajima, hop on the Shinkansen in Hiroshima, and are in Kyoto in less than 2 hours. The train trip between the two cities takes just 1 hour and 40 minutes to cover 360 km (216 miles).