If you hear the word, “Hiroshima,” you likely recall WWII and the atomic bomb. For those of you who have spent a long time away from a history classroom, here is a brief refresher course.
In May of 1945, the Germans surrendered to the Allied Powers. There was only one more Axis Power standing: Japan. In July, the United States, the U.K., and China released the Potsdam Declaration, announcing the terms for Japan’s surrender. Unfortunately, Japan refused. The United States was left with a difficult dilemma: they could continue fighting with the traditional means of warfare, which meant risking the lives of more Allied troops and potentially prolonging the war for weeks, months, or years, or they could use the new, deadly technology which would certainly end the war, but with devastating consequences for Japan. The United States reluctantly decided to go with the latter.
Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. made ample attempts to warn the citizens of Hiroshima by dropping leaflets from airplanes into the city, as well as blasting warning messages from a nearby Singaporean radio station. However, it seemed that large-scale destruction was inevitable, claiming nearly 140,000 lives as it fell upon Hiroshima in the morning of August 6, 1945.
In the seventy-plus years since the devastation, Hiroshima has done extraordinary things to rebuild itself. Take a look at the photos below to see just how much Hiroshima has changed.
20 20. Hiroshima is now a hub of Japanese tourism.
According to the city’s tourism website, Hiroshima Prefecture's population is 2.84 million, which is 2.2% of Japan's total. To put this into perspective, Hiroshima is the twelfth most-populous prefecture in the country. National Geographic claims that nearly 2 million people visited the city in 2016, and this number steadily increased in both 2017 and 2018.
Tourists are primarily drawn to Hiroshima in a fad known as “Dark Tourism,” in which people visit sites of historical violence, conflict, or disaster. However, when visitors arrive in Hiroshima they discover a thriving, fully modern metropolis, where the bombing only occupies a fraction of the city’s identity.
19 19. Hiroshima holds an annual flower festival.
The Hiroshima Flower Festival has taken place annually since 1977. It occurs in a time period known as “Golden Week,” between the 3rd and 5th of May. The goals of the festival are to beautify Hiroshima and create a thriving atmosphere of cultural exchange. The festival contains numerous events, including a parade, concerts spanning nearly 70 squares within the city, candlelit peace services, and performances of the festival theme song.
The city-wide displays are rather impressive, as you can probably tell from the elaborate flower pyramid in the photo. Thousands flock to the festival, either participating as spectators or dancers in traditional Japanese garb within the parades.
18 18. Hiroshima University has historic, pre-war roots.
According to the University website, Hiroshima University was formed in 1949 as a conglomeration of various pre-war universities. Now, the University sprawls between two cities, Hiroshima and Higashihiroshima.
Hiroshima University is well-connected to Hiroshima City via various bus and train routes, with transit times typically lasting between an hour or hour and a half. The university boasts a rather interesting student exchange program, to which you can apply via the university site.
17 17. The city loves Christmas.
“Hiroshima Dreamination” is an annual festival of lights that has been taking place since 2002. The name is a play on the words “dream” and “illumination.” This year, the festival began on November 17th and will continue until January 3rd. The elaborate displays consist of over 1 million tiny lightbulbs!
The designs range from carousels, animals, desserts, Christmas trees, fairy houses, and pathways for strolling. On certain nights, the Dreamination festival features horse-drawn floats, with winter-white horses pulling fantastical, dazzling carriages.
16 16. Seriously, Hiroshima loves its holiday festivals.
The Ebisuko festival is yet another annual celebration in Hiroshima. Ebisu is a popular Japanese god, famous for bringing good fortune and financial success. Ebisu is honored in this Hiroshima festival every year between November 18th and 21st. Local store owners remember Ebisu’s promises of commercial success by holding sales and decorating their stores with komazadare, which are bamboo rakes adorned with gold coins and treasure ships.
Hiroshima’s shrine to Ebisu is also decorated over the course of these few days, and visitors are invited to drop a few coins into a large collection barrel for good luck.
15 15. The nightlife is exceptionally lively.
According to World Nomads, Nagarekawa is Hiroshima’s ultimate party district. It is located in the south of the city, near the waterfront and peace memorial. If you wander around the streets, you will be sure to find beer gardens, izakayas (Japanese pubs), bars, nightclubs, pachinko parlours, and hostess clubs.
You will also find an altogether exciting atmosphere, with eye-catching neon signs, interesting architecture, and odd advertisements. Whatever you imagine as an ideal night out, Hiroshima is sure to provide...and you will definitely get a full taste of Japanese culture.
14 14. Hiroshima has restored its medieval castle.
The above photo pictures Hiroshima Castle, which was originally built in 1590 as the home of the feudal lord who ruled over the Hiroshima han. Obviously, this castle was completely annihilated in the 1945 attack.
Fortunately, the Hiroshima Castle was fully restored in 1958 as an exact replica of the original castle. Visitors can enter the castle, which now serves as a museum for Hiroshima history pre-WWII.
13 13. Hiroshima has a beautiful waterfront.
Hiroshima is situated upon the southern edge of Japan’s central island, Honshu. It is often called the “City of Water,” as six rivers - the Ota, Tenma, Enko, Seno, Moto, and Motoyasu - flow into the city. Due to its location, it is often used as a means of transportation between Japan’s main islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. It is also a stop on the itinerary of most Japanese cruises.
If you’re ever in Hiroshima, you might want to take a ferry ride to nearby Miyajima Island, a site of ancient temples and shrines. If you don’t have time to schedule a day trip, at least take a stroll along the waterfront. You'll be sure to stumble upon some of Hiroshima’s many parks and memorials.
12 12. The people know how to party.
The above photo is from Club G in Hiroshima, a nightclub open til 4:00 AM on weeknights and 5:00 AM on weekends. If you do a quick Google search about the operating hours of nightclubs in Hiroshima, you will see that these closing times are quite common. Needless to say, the people of Hiroshima really know how to have a good time. In fact, Hiroshima is the nation’s sake capital, recipient of the nickname “Sake Town,” and host of the annual Sake Festival every October.
If you do visit Hiroshima, you’ll be encouraged to drink, dance, and make merry to your heart’s content. Just save some sake for us.
11 11. The city has ideal shopping for every budget.
Pictured above is the Hondori arcade, a covered walkway flanked by shops and restaurants. The name “Hondori” literally means “Main Street,” and it is a fitting title for this commercial hub in Hiroshima. Inside the arcade, you will find jewelry, souvenirs, clothes, shoes, games, and accessories.
Some of the shops specifically sell local products, but there are also a variety of universal brands such as Lush and H&M. The arcade is an ideal venue to spend a stormy afternoon, as the entire complex is sheltered from wind and rain.
10 10. It has a pretty good baseball team.
The Hiroshima Toyo Carp is a professional baseball team based in Hiroshima. They compete in the Central League of Nippon Professional Baseball, which is the highest level of baseball in Japan.
The team experienced its “Golden Years” between 1974 and 1991, before falling into a dark spell for much of the 90s and early 2000s. However, the Carp seem to be on an upswing, having won three consecutive Central League pennants in 2016, 2017, and 2018. The Carp home field is the Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima, as Mazda is the team’s primary shareholder.
9 9. It is the home of some strange pancakes.
Okonomiyaki is a traditional Japanese savory pancake, consisting of batter, cabbage, and various meat, seafood, of cheese. The name “okonomiyaki” is a merging of two Japanese words; “okonomi” means “what you like,” while “yaki” means “cooked.” There are two regional styles of okonomiyaki: Osaka and Hiroshima.
Osaka-style okonomiyaki is made by mixing ingredients of batter, cabbage, onion, meat, and cheese into one thick substance, which is then fried on a stove. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is different because it is made by layering different ingredients. For instance, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki may contain one layer of batter, one of cabbage, one of pork, and one of cheese. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is typically topped with a layer of noodles, egg, and a generous heaping of special okonomiyaki sauce.
8 8. There is a food-themed theme park.
Hiroshima is so well known for its special style of okonomiyaki, it actually contains a theme park dedicated to the dish. In fact, Okonomi Mura was Japan’s most touristed food theme park in Japan in 2004. The park consists of 24 different Okonomiyaki restaurants, each with their own flair and preferred ingredients.
In Okonomi Mura, you can also watch as different chefs prepare your okonomiyaki. Perhaps you can glean some tricks to try making these special Japanese pancakes at home!
7 7. Apart from its past, Hiroshima is a normal city.
Though the Atomic Bomb ruins loom in the background of the above photo, the people crossing the bridge are simply going about their daily lives. If this were your hometown, even a site as symbolic and historic as the Atomic Bomb Dome would eventually fade into background.
There are tangible, internationally-protected reminders of the past, but for the most part, the people of Hiroshima lead typical, contemporary lives. Shop-owners sit behind cash registers. Students collect coffee on their way to class. Couples stroll along the waterfront. Elderly men feed birds from perches in park benches. Hiroshima is a proven testament to peace, because the people here have been able to continue leading normal lives. In spite of the tragedy of the atomic bomb, Hiroshima has been completely rebuilt, and it has a stronger contemporary presence now more than ever.
6 6. The city ensures that future generations remember the past.
The above photo shows a group of schoolchildren looking at a photo of the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima before 1945. Japan was a part of the Axis Powers in WWII, which consisted primarily of Germany, Italy, and Japan. The United States was a member of the Allied Powers, and in an effort to obtain Japan’s surrender, dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, respectively.
It is common to see Japanese school groups touring Hiroshima, in order to obtain a firsthand understanding of the nation’s past.
5 5. The Atomic Bomb Dome is a universal symbol of peace.
The Atomic Dome was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. According to UNESCO World Heritage, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (also known as the Atomic or Genbaku Dome) is the only structure left standing within the immediate impact zone of the first atomic bomb, and it remains in its post-explosion condition. Through the efforts of many, including the citizens of Hiroshima, this ruin has been preserved in the same state as immediately after the attack.
The dome serves as a powerful symbol of the most destructive force ever created by humankind, while simultaneously expressing the hope for world peace.
4 4. The city is well-connected through its streetcars.
The streetcar railway in Hiroshima is the oldest and most-used urban railway in Japan. There are six tramlines in central Hiroshima, and there are two antique, restored tram cars operating within the system that survived the atomic bomb. The standard fare for the Hiroshima streetcar is approximately 180 yen, which translates to $1.63 (USD).
If you’re ever in Hiroshima, be sure to take advantage of the streetcars. You can easily travel through the entire city on a budget. Plus, using public transportation is always a great way to further your perception of local culture.
3 3. Hiroshima’s Seto Inland Sea is great for sailing.
The Seto Inland Sea was the designated location of the 2018 Hansa Class Combined World & International Championship. Hansa is a yachting, sailing, and racing organization based in the United Kingdom. The competition took place in October, with the theme of merging peace and sports.
Overall, it was a very successful event, with participants from the United Kingdom, Ireland, China, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, and more. Hiroshima hopes to host more sailing competitions in the future. Due to the thousands of tiny islands within the Seto Inland Sea, there are countless positions from which to observe any nautical event.
2 2. There are annual peace memorial services.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony is held every year on August 6th, the day on which the atomic bomb was dropped. Approximately 50,000 local citizens and visitors participate, as well as ambassadors and dignitaries from nearly 70 countries.
The ceremony has taken place virtually every year since 1947, just two years after the bomb was dropped. At 8:15 AM, marking the exact moment, bells ring out from temples, sirens wail throughout the city, and the citizens of Hiroshima observe a solemn moment of silence.
This is followed by speeches from Japan’s prime minister, the mayor of Hiroshima, and other annual guests. Later in the evening, the Peace Message Floating Lantern Ceremony takes place, as thousands write messages on paper lanterns which are then released in the Motoyasu River.
1 1. Hiroshima hosted an extreme sports event in 2018.
In 2018, Hiroshima hosted its first FISE World Series Stopover. The FISE is an international competition in BMX Freestyle Park and Flatland, Skateboard, Mountain Bike, Freestyle Roller, and Parkour Each year, more than 2700 amateur and professional athletes from around 40 countries follow the FISE stages in various cities around the world.
To accommodate the event, Hiroshima refitted its old Municipal Stadium with ramps, rock walls, and countless amplifiers. Thousands gathered to cheer on bikers, skateboarders, breakdancers, and other unconventional athletes from around the world. The event was a huge success for Hiroshima, and they are sure to host more international sporting events in the future.
Sources: visithiroshima.net, theatlantic.com, worldnomads.com, livejapan.com