A city reborn from tragedy
Hiroshima is tragically famous for having had one of history’s only two atomic bombs dropped on it at the end of World War II. It suffered terrible destruction and loss of life, yet in the years since the city has rejuvenated and is now an attractive and bustling regional business hub.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park commemorates the atomic bomb victims. The Atomic Bomb Dome – the preserved shell of a former exhibition hall – is the park’s most striking sight. The park also includes a cenotaph; the Rest House, a restored building that was damaged by the bomb; a children’s monument and other sculptures and memorials. There is also a museum with poignant exhibits of the damaged possessions of victims, including toys and clothing.
There are also other attractions to see. Hiroshima Castle is an elegant castle with wooden panels and surrounded by a wide moat. Shukkeien Garden is a beautiful landscape garden with a lake, bamboo groves, a small forest, and even a miniature hill. There are also several art museums such as the Hiroshima Museum of Art and the Prefectural Art Museum. For shopping or eating, visit Hondori, a huge one-km-long covered pedestrian street arcade, and its surrounding lanes.
Cross the sea to Shikoku
Across the Seto Inland Sea from Hiroshima is Matsuyama, the largest city on Shikoku. A mid-sized city that faces the sea, Matsuyama has two famous sights. Matsuyama Castle is a hilltop castle that was first built in the early 17th century. It is one of Japan’s 12 “original castles,” meaning it was not destroyed in World War II. However, it is not quite original since it was extensively rebuilt during the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, Matsuyama Castle has a sprawling design with turrets that provide great views of the hilltop and the surrounding cityscape. Located right in the middle of the city, it’s a short hike up Mt Katsuyama to get to the castle, or you can choose to take a cable car. At the base of Mt Katsuyama is Ninomaru Garden, which served as the castle's outer line of defense.
Dogo Onsen is a famous hot spa that was used by the emperor in the past. The Dogo’s main bathhouse, the Honkan, is a beautiful black-roofed wooden building. You can take a soak inside the Honkan (pay more and you can even view the facility set aside for the emperor) or in Dogo’s other more modern bathhouses.
Visit Japan’s best-loved castles and landscape gardens
Okayama is an unassuming city midway between Hiroshima and Osaka, but it boasts the Korakuen Garden, one of Japan’s top landscape gardens. Built in 1687 by the local lord to host Japan’s ruling family, Korakuen was opened to the public in 1884. The garden is unique for its large sprawling lawns, which most Japanese gardens lack. Around the lawns are ponds, bamboo groves, plum and cherry trees, a small rice field, and even a crane aviary. Other sights to see include Okayama Castle, located next to Korakuen, and several museums.
Close to Okayama is Himeji, a former castle town, home to Japan’s largest and most spectacular castle. Himeji Castle is a beautiful white complex with winding paths designed to obstruct invading forces. Having been built in 1333 and called the “White Heron Castle” due to its appearance, Himeji Castle is considered the finest intact example of Japanese castle architecture, having survived both earthquakes and World War II.