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Exploring Off the Beaten Path in Hiroshima
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Exploring Off the Beaten Path in Hiroshima

Hiroshima is world famous for its Peace Memorial Park, the Atomic Dome, and Miyajima, but there is much more to this prefecture. 

A Brief Overview of Hiroshima Prefecture
Top 10 Off The Beaten Path Adventures in Hiroshima
Bonus Recommendations


Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the Atomic Dome are landmarks that serve as a powerful warning from history about the horrors of war and a sobering reminder never to use such weapons again. Yet, Hiroshima has so much more to offer than this, particularly if you’re willing to go off the beaten path. Hiroshima has many attractions and not just the famous floating Torii gate of Miyajima in Hiroshima Bay. As beautiful and iconic as that is, we’re going to focus on lesser-known things to see and do and how best to get around using the prefecture’s train connections and your Japan Rail Pass. Ready to go off the beaten path?   

A Brief Overview of Hiroshima Prefecture

Located along the Seto Inland Sea, Hiroshima Prefecture can be found in the Chugoku Region, the westernmost part of Japan’s largest island. The biggest city in the prefecture is its namesake, Hiroshima itself, world famous in the second half of the 20th Century as one of two sites hit by atomic bombs during WW2.

However, both the city and the prefecture of Hiroshima have a proud history that goes back much further. Today, Hiroshima is an attractive, historic city that’s well worth a visit with attractions that include Miyajima and the aforementioned Torii gate in the bay. Although Hiroshima is almost 500 miles away from Tokyo, it is connected by the high-speed Tokaido Shinkansen ‘bullet train’ rail line. Meanwhile, if you’re planning to explore this area specifically then a regional rail pass might be a good idea, such as the JR West pass, which offers unlimited travel within this area. You can find out more by reading about our Regional Passes here.

Top 10 Off The Beaten Path Adventures in Hiroshima

Hiroshima Prefecture has a huge number of lesser known and off the beaten path attractions. The city itself is home to hidden neighbourhoods that are a great place to explore, while also being an excellent base for day trips further afield, in the Sanyo area, and beyond. Let’s take a look.  

1. Exploring Hiroshima’s historic neighbourhoods and visiting Shukkeien Garden, before venturing off into the Sanin and Sanyo Regions

Away from the main tourist attractions, Hiroshima has a number of quieter, lesser known neighbourhoods full of interesting and authentic things to see and do. Naka-ku is a great example.

It’s also home to the Shukkeien Garden, a serene and traditional Japanese landscaped garden, with beautiful ponds and sculpted pathways, right in the heart of the city. It was first established in 1620 by Lord Asano Nagaakira and was named after its goal to represent the natural landscape in miniature. It is a great place to get away from urban life, while admiring the specially pruned trees and cherry blossoms, and gazing into the still waters of the tranquil pond.

Next is the neighbourhood of Miyajima-Guchi. This historic district is another of the city’s best, lesser-known spots and can be found close to the famous iconic Itsukushima Shrine. While exploring Hiroshima’s neighbourhoods, also look out for the city’s street art scene. You’ll find prime examples in the vicinity of Higashi-Hiroshima Station, Hatchobori, and Nagarekawa.

And when you’re ready to leave the city behind, why not plan a trip to the Sanin and Sanyo regions of Hiroshima Prefecture? These areas are more sparsely populated than the urban centres and therefore much quieter, less touristy, and more at one with nature and the landscape. They’re also stunningly beautiful and home to three of Japan’s incredible national parks, Daisen-Oki National Park, Saninkaigan National Park, and Setonaikai National Park.

2. Visit Onomichi

Onomichi is a picturesque, hidden gem and harbour town located on the mountain range along the Seto Inland Sea. The town’s delights include the view from Mt. Senkoji, the temple walk and Path of Literature, Ichibangai Shōtengai shopping street, and the start of the Shimanamikaido, a 70 km long cycling road connecting Honshu with Shikoku, travelling through six islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Onomichi is located about 100 km west of Hiroshima and 250 km from Osaka and is accessible by rail. The best way is to take the Sanyo Shinkansen to Fukuyama station, this can be from either the Hiroshima or Osaka direction. At Fukuyama, transfer to a local JR train bound for Onomichi. The full route takes about one hour from Hiroshima or about 2 hours from Osaka. The route itself is worth experiencing, riding the hyper-modern Shinkansen to Fukuyama, then changing to the old local train to Onomichi is the perfect introduction for your visit to Onomichi. Read our guide to Onomichi for more info.

3. See The World’s Largest Rice Spoon

There are lots of reasons to visit the famous Miyajima island in Hiroshima Bay (not least the famous floating torii gate), but a lesser known reason is to see the world’s largest rice spoon! Yes, you read that right! Located on Miyajima Island’s Omotesando shopping street, this giant wooden spoon is a staggering 7.7 meters in length, 2.7 meters in width, and 2.5 tons in weight. It was crafted to commemorate Miyajima’s history as the birthplace of the rice scoop as well as a centre for the traditional art of wood carving. It was created in 1996 as part of celebrations to honour the official designation of Itsukushima Shrine (and the aforementioned floating torii gate) as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

4.  Look for Ponyo by the Sea

The real-life fishing village which inspired Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo is a great day trip from Hiroshima. The peaceful and pretty town of Tomonoura is located at the top of Numakuma Peninsula in Setonaikai National Park, south of Fukuyama City in Hiroshima Prefecture. The film’s director, Hayao Miyazaki visited the town of Tomonoura in 2005 and loved the location so much he stayed for two months and decided to include it as the main setting in the film he was working on at the time (Ponyo). One of the many theories about why Miyazaki chose Tomonoura is because as well as being incredibly pretty, it is also famous for its sea life, particularly red sea bream. Tomonoura is known for its history, ranging back a thousand years, and for its picturesque harbour, which was built during the Edo period (1603-1867) and earned the town a reputation for its views. Famously, a Korean envoy staying in an Edo period guest house overlooking the Seto Inland Sea claimed that Tomonoura had ‘the most beautiful view in Japan’ – high praise indeed and a great trip from Hiroshima. 

5.  Walk The Futabanosato Walking Trail

The Futabanosato Walking Trail is a chance to step back in time and learn about Hiroshima’s history prior to World War II. The trail stops at a variety of sights, temples and shrines, each with their own story to tell, and will take the visitor on a route that shows the unexplored side of Hiroshima. There are 16 stops along the trail, which climbs through the local mountains and includes a variety of temples, historical sights and old living quarters, beginning at Fudo-in Temple and ending at Saizo-ji, a temple guarded by the statue of Samurai Saizo Kani. Along the way, you’ll stop at Toshogu Shrine, one of Hiroshima’s cultural treasures. Established in 1648, the Toshogu shrine pays tribute to the first Shogun of Tokugawa Shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Built on the foot of Mount Futabayama, it provides scenic views over the city and castle of Hiroshima. 

Starting the Futabanosato trail is easy right from Hiroshima station. The local tourist information provides free walking maps with tons of useful information, so pick one up before you start. Then head to the north exit of Hiroshima station and proceed north for about three blocks to Hikarigaoka Yamane Park. There's a public washroom here and makes for a convenient unofficial start of the trail. From here the trail can be explored clockwise or counter- clockwise, we suggest the former as it gives the option to finish at JR Yaga station, this reduces the amount of walking.

6. Visit Hiroshima’s Most Unusual Museums, from eggs to brushes!

Get ready for two of the more unusual museum experiences Japan, and Hiroshima specifically, has to offer. The Wood Egg Okonomiyaki Museum is dedicated to the history and cultural importance of okonomiyaki. This savoury Japanese pancake, which is grilled on a teppan, is a beloved dish across Japan, but especially in Hiroshima where it is said to have originated. It is a much loved regional specialty made using layers of ingredients rather than mixed as it is elsewhere in the country. This is what makes Hiroshima’s okonomiyaki unique. The word okonomiyaki means ‘what you like’ and ‘grilled’ and frequently used ingredients include cabbage, meat, seafood, as well as aonori (dried seaweed flakes), Japanese mayonnaise, katsuobushi (bonito flakes), and pickled ginger. Visitors can enjoy cooking classes with teppan grills and traditional hotplates, led by expert cooks. Next is another unique museum experience - the Fude no Sato Kobo Brush Museum, a museum dedicated to the art of traditional brush making. To learn more, you’ll have to visit Kumano, a quiet town in Hiroshima Prefecture, where around 80% of Japan's calligraphy and makeup brushes are made using ancient, passed-down techniques. This art is known as Kumano Fude. Kumano produces around 80% of Japan's calligraphy and makeup brushes, each crafted using centuries-old techniques. Visitors to this historic museum can get hands on and enjoy interactive workshops

7.  The Mazda Museum

At first glance it may seem unusual for Hiroshima to have a museum fully dedicated to Mazda, but the car company has its origins in the city. The Mazda Motor Corporation was founded in Hiroshima in 1920, first starting out by selling a three-wheel auto-rickshaw. Obviously, the company grew and expanded over the decades and was an essential part of the city’s economic growth. To this day, Mazda has kept their global headquarters and factories in Hiroshima, occupying a lot of land along its waterfront. Just to give you a sense of how important the tie is between Hiroshima and Mazda; the name of the city’s baseball stadium is Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima and there’s even a Mazda Hospital. The museum, which is near the headquarters, first opened in May 1994 and has been expanded since. A visit to the museum is one of the best free things to do in Hiroshima, even if you’re not that much of a car person. Our guide to Visiting the Mazda Museum has more information.

8.  Mitaki-Dera Temple

Hiroshima is home to many serene and beautiful temples of course and we’d recommend this one if you're looking for something more off the beaten path. Mitaki-Dera Temple dates back to 809 and is a beautiful Buddhist temple found in the dense forest of Mount Mitaki. The temple’s name means ‘three waterfalls’ and you’ll find them on the slopes of the mountain. They’re a stunning sight. The surrounding forest is also famous for its beauty during cherry blossom season in spring and during ‘koyo’ season in autumn. As well as the temple itself, the grounds contain a number of pagodas, serene statues, and water features.

9.  Rabbit Island

Home to more than 1,000 rabbits that roam free across the tiny island’s forests and fields, Okunoshima (or Rabbit Island) can be found in the Seto Inland Sea in Eastern Hiroshima and has become a hugely popular tourist attraction in recent years. Rabbits are associated with safe childbirth and fertility in Japanese folktales and mythology and visiting the island is said to bring good luck to couples and families. Where did the rabbits on Okunoshima mysteriously come from? Interestingly, rabbits have a long association with the island and there are rumours of bunnies living there back when the island was used by the military. However, the current colony dates back to more recent times. Apparently, in 1971, a group of school students from the mainland visited the island and released a small number of rabbits. The rest is history. More than 40 years later and there are now more than 1,000! I guess that’s where the saying ‘breeding like rabbits’ comes from.

10.  Iwakuni and the golden bridge of Kintai-kyo

Last but definitely not least, Iwakuni and the golden bridge of Kintai-kyo. Iwakuni is a small historic town based around the lower Yamaguchi mountains and is an easy day trip to make from Hiroshima. Its most beautiful feature is the golden bridge named Kintai-kyo. Read our full guide to Iwakuni and the Golden Bridge of Kintai-kyo for more. 

Bonus Recommendations

We’ve a lot more on Hiroshima on the JR Pass blog if you’re interested in visiting this historic city and the beautiful surrounding prefecture. Today we’ve focussed on the more, off-the-beaten path excursions and hidden gems that are just a train ride away, but it also has a number of world-famous landmarks and attractions too. Here are a few suggestions for further reading: 

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