Hiroshima: Exceeding expectations

The revitalised city proves that it has moved beyond its tragic past

The Unesco World Heritage Site, Itsukushima Shrine, is regarded as one of the most beautiful landmarks in Japan. Built over water, this Shinto monument is famous for its torii gate, appearing as though it is floating on the sea during high tide. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HIROSHIMA PREFECTURAL GOVERNMENT

When the world's first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, the destructive event all but wiped out the city. But it has bounced back, and is now home to over a million people with outstanding sights, sounds, tastes and experiences that are just as attractive as those in Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto.

A visit to the picturesque and vibrant prefecture of the Chugoku region will reveal that there is more to Hiroshima than its dark history. Here are three key ways to get to know a different side of the city.

Rich history

Originally built in the 1590s, the five-tiered castle now houses a museum that offers an educational narrative of the city's history. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HIROSHIMA PREFECTURAL GOVERNMENT

Rebuilt as a faithful replica of the original, which was levelled by the atomic bomb, Hiroshima Castle today serves as a museum of history and culture; a prototype of Japanese castles and samurai families. Surrounded by an impressive moat that protects a shrine, ruins, other buildings and the five-storey main keep, it is easy to picture Hiroshima Castle as the influential seat of power that it once was.

The former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, also called the A-Bomb Dome, is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Initially constructed in 1914, the building survived total destruction despite being located near the hypocentre of the atomic bomb blast on Aug 6, 1945. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HIROSHIMA PREFECTURAL GOVERNMENT

A 15-minute walk from the castle is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, home to monuments, memorials and museums dedicated to the victims of the Aug 6, 1945 incident. Also called the A-Bomb Dome, the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The building is now a surviving architectural witness of Hiroshima's past and the destructive results of using nuclear weapons.

Whether through a castle restored from centuries past or a park dedicated to nuclear disarmament, Hiroshima's ability to transform pain into powerful sites of historical education is testament to the city's remarkable spirit and strength.

Tantalise your taste buds

Served fresh off the griddle, Hiroshima's okonomiyaki is a layered delight of pancake batter, yakisoba noodles, egg, vegetables, thinly sliced pork and seafood. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HIROSHIMA PREFECTURAL GOVERNMENT

Wander the streets of Hiroshima and be treated to the sights, sounds and scents of okonomiyaki batter sizzling on hot iron plate grills. If the way to the heart is through the stomach, Hiroshima promises to woo visitors with its savoury fried Japanese pancake - a hit with the locals. Where once okonomiyaki street vendors would gather after World War II, there now stands an impressive four-storey building - aptly named "Okonomiyaki Village" (Okonomimura) - dedicated solely to dishing out innovative varieties of the food itself. Not to be confused with its Osaka counterpart, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki layers rather than mixes its ingredients, and tops the pancake with plenty of yakisoba noodles and an egg.

Hiroshima is famous for its succulent fresh oysters, with the peak season in autumn and winter. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HIROSHIMA PREFECTURAL GOVERNMENT

For a fresher local favourite, the city is also known for serving up oysters in a variety of mouthwatering ways, having farmed them since the 1500s. Tasting these dishes steeped in Hiroshima history will undoubtedly be a gastronomical adventure.

Breathtaking views

Lose yourself in the rich natural autumnal beauty of the Chugoku region when you visit Hiroshima from late October, with its array of autumn foliage sites. Miyajima, an island situated within Hiroshima Prefecture, boasts one of the best views of Japan's autumn leaves, particularly against the well-known crimson-red Itsukushima Shrine and torii gate. Hike to Momijidani Park to witness 200 Japanese maple trees awash in brilliant autumnal hues from mid- to late-November, and complete the trek to Shishiiwa Observatory to be rewarded with spectacular views of the Seto Inland Sea and the surrounding islands.

The scenic Shimanami Kaido toll road connects Japan's main island of Honshu to the island of Shikoku, passing over six small islands in the Seto Inland Sea. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HIROSHIMA PREFECTURAL GOVERNMENT

Cyclists will not want to miss out on the 60km-long Shimanami Kaido toll road that offers incredible views of the Seto Inland Sea and the surrounding islands' small towns. Greet some furry friends along the way at Okunoshima, a small island populated with gentle, free-roaming rabbits. The Chugoku region, with its abundant mountains, valleys, rivers and sea, makes for an unforgettable Japanese sightseeing experience.

Okunoshima is a small island located in the Inland Sea of Japan in the city of Takehara, Hiroshima, known fondly as Rabbit Island. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HIROSHIMA PREFECTURAL GOVERNMENT

For a city that has rebuilt life from ruins, there's no telling what a visit to Hiroshima could do for you.

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