On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 am, a massive chunk of metal known as Little Boy fell from an American plane, and the sky ignited and glowed for an instant. In that brief moment, however, it became as hot as the surface of the sun in Hiroshima, until then a rather ordinary workaday city in wartime Japan. Half the city was leveled by the resulting blast, and the rest was set ablaze. Rain impregnated with radioactive fallout then fell, killing many that the fire and 1,000-mph shock wave had not. By the end of this mind-boggling disaster, more than 140,000 people died. Modern Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park (Heiwa Kinen Koen) is at the northern point of the triangle formed by two of Hiroshima's rivers, the Ota-gawa (also called Hon-kawa) and Motoyasu-gawa. Monuments to that day abound in the park, but only one original site bears witness to that enormous release of atomic energy 60 years ago: the A-Bomb Dome. Its gloomy shadows are now surrounded by a vibrant, rebuilt city. As if to show just how earnestly Hiroshima has redefined itself, only a short walk to the east is Nagarekawa-cho, the city's most raucous nightlife district.
Kamameshi Suishin Honten
Famous for its kamameshi, or rice casseroles, this restaurant (part of a large chain) serves the freshest fish from the Seto Nai-kai—fugu, or puffer fish, oysters, and eel, to name but a few. If you prefer your fish cooked, try the rockfish grilled with soy sauce. English menus (and Japanese-style rooms with horikotatsu pits to hang your legs in) are available.
Hiroshima is known for its oysters, and Kanawa, on a barge moored on the Motoyasu-gawa, gets its oysters from a particularly salty area of the Inland Sea. It's believed that these waters impart the firm flesh and sweet, robust taste that loyal customers love to splurge on. It's not cheap, but the oysters are worth every yen. An English menu makes it all easy, and dining is on tatami mats, with relaxing river views. The place is an easy stroll from Peace Memorial Park.
In this enclave 20 shops serve okonomi-yaki, literally, "as you like it grilled." Okonomi-yaki is best described as an everything omelet, topped with bits of shrimp, pork, squid, or chicken, cabbage, and bean sprouts. Different areas of Japan make different okonomi-yaki; in Hiroshima the ingredients are layered rather than mixed, and they throw in lots of fried noodles. Seating in these lively shops, which are generally open late, is either at a wide counter in front of a grill or at a table with its own grill. This complex is near the Hon-dori shopping area, just west of Chuo-dori.
Hiroshima Children's Museum
The city's hands-on children's museum is a good diversion for the kids. The joyful noise of excited children alleviates the somber mood of Peace Memorial Park. Kids get a kick out of conducting their own science experiments. To get here, leave the Peace Memorial Park via Aioi-bashi at the North Entrance and walk north and east, keeping the river on your left and the baseball stadium on your right. A planetarium is next door.
Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation
The Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation's International Relations and Cooperation Division has a popular program where you can visit the homes of locals. To make arrangements, go the day before to the ground floor of the Hiroshima International Conference Center in Peace Memorial Park. Although it's not required, bringing an inexpensive gift such as flowers or sweets from your home country helps to ensure a successful visit.
This ruin is a poignant symbol of man's self-destructiveness. It was the city's old Industrial Promotion Hall, and it stands in stark contrast to the new Hiroshima, which hums along close by. Despite being directly below the bomb blast, the building did not collapse into rubble like the rest of the city. Eerie, twisted, and charred, the iron-and-concrete dome has stood darkly brooding next to the river, basically untouched since that horrible morning. The sad old building's foreboding, derelict appearance can be emotionally overwhelming. The site is just outside the official northeast boundary of Peace Memorial Park. Take Streetcar 2 or 6 from Hiroshima Station to the Gembaku-Domu-mae stop.
Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum
Next to the Shukkei Garden, this museum is a visual treat. Standouts include two particularly surrealistic pieces: a typically fantastical piece by Salvador Dalí called Dream of Venus; and Ikuo Hirayama's much closer-to-home Holocaust at Hiroshima. Hirayama, who became one of Japan's most acclaimed artists, was a junior-high-school student at the time the A-bomb was dropped. The museum also holds excellent rotating exhibitions of art from classic to contemporary.
Peace Memorial Museum
A visit here may be too intense for some, but to appreciate the horror of the bombing and the hope that made Hiroshima into the city it is today, this museum is highly recommended. Displays of models, charred fragments of clothing, melted ceramic tiles, lunch boxes, watches, and shocking photographs tell Hiroshima's story of death and destruction. The heat-ray-photographed human shadow permanently imprinted on granite steps can take you well beyond sadness, and the Dalí-esque watch forever stopped at 8:15 is chilling.
Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims
The memorial recounts the stories of known victims of the atomic devastation. In addition to the extensive archives of names, a collection of personal photos lends immediacy to one of the most shocking moments in history. Heartbreaking firsthand accounts and memoirs of survivors are available for viewing.
Children's Peace Monument
Many consider this the most profound memorial in Peace Memorial Park. The figure is of Sadako, a 10-year-old girl who developed leukemia as a result of exposure to the atomic radiation that lingered long after the blast. She believed that if she could fold 1,000 paper senbazuru (cranes)—a Japanese symbol of good fortune and longevity—her illness would be cured. She died before finishing the thousand, and it is said that her schoolmates finished the job for her. Her story has become a folktale of sorts, and it inspired a nationwide paper crane–folding effort among schoolchildren that continues to this day. The colorful chains of paper cranes—delivered daily from schools all over the world—are visually and emotionally striking.
Hiroshima Castle was originally built by Terumoto Mori on the Ota-gawa delta in 1589. He named the surrounding flatlands Hiro-Shima, meaning "wide island," and it stuck. The Imperial Japanese Army used the castle as headquarters in World War II, and with its significant depot of munitions it was one of the targets of the bomb. It was destroyed in the blast. In 1958 the five-story donjon (main tower) was rebuilt to its original specifications. Unlike many castles in Japan, it has lots of brown wood paneling that gives it a warm appearance, and it stands in intriguing contrast to the modern city that has evolved around it. The modern interior feels anything but castle-like, but has exhibits from Japan's feudal Edo period (17th–19th century). It's a 15-minute walk north from the A-Bomb Dome.
Flame of Peace
Behind the Memorial Cenotaph, this flame will be extinguished only when all atomic weapons are banished. In the meantime, every August 6, the citizens of Hiroshima float paper lanterns down the city's rivers for the repose of the souls of the atomic-bomb victims.
Designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, the cenotaph resembles the primitive A-frame houses of Japan's earliest inhabitants. Buried inside is a chest containing the names of those who died in the destruction and aftermath of the atomic bomb. On the exterior is the inscription: "Rest in peace, for the error shall not be repeated." Looking through the Cenotaph at the Flame of Peace at night, after the sun has set and crowds have gone home, is an eerily beautiful experience. The cenotaph stands before the north side of the Heiwa Kinen Shiryokan.
Designed in 1630 by Lord Naga-akira Asano (the name means "shrunken scenery garden"), Shukkei-en resembles one once found around a famed lake in Hangzhou, China, which the daimyo (lord) wanted to re-create for leisurely strolls. The water is dotted with tiny rocky islets sprouting gnarled pine trees. Small bridges cross above lots of colorful carp, a fish venerated for its long and vigorous life. Shukkei-en sits east of Hiroshima Castle on the banks of the Kyo-bashi-gawa. Return to the JR Station on Streetcar 9; at the end of the line transfer to Streetcar 1, 2, or 6.
Around Hiroshima's central district are hundreds of shops. Take the tram that runs from the main station to stop T-31, or simply walk east across the north bridge out of Peace Park. The big department stores—Sogo, Fukuya, Tenmaya, and Mitsukoshi—are at the east end of the arcade near the Hatchobori streetcar stop. Many restaurants, including a big, gorgeous Andersen's, a popular bakery chain (one block down on the right from T-31), are also found here.