Any opportunity to travel is a good one. No matter what the weather or the circumstances, we try to get out to see something new every chance we get. With that being said, when Dom needed to travel south for work this past January (2019) we decided it would be the perfect opportunity to explore Nagasaki, Fukuoka, and Hiroshima. Knowing that we only have two years to see as much of Japan as possible, we find ourselves constantly scrambling to fit in more. There is just SO MUCH!
If you’re a tad confused as to why the heck we are starting on “Day 6” below click here to read about how we spent the first four days of our trip in Nagasaki/Sasebo or here for details about our fifth day in Fukuoka! Additionally, for ease of website navigation, we have divided the multi-city trip up into sections at the bottom of this page as well. You can also opt to navigate using the individual tiles located on our main Japan “destinations” page.
[ D A Y • 6 ] Iwakuni → Hiroshima: Mazda Factory Tour → Iwakuni: Kintai-kyo Bridge of the Samurai, Iwakuni Castle Tower
Good Morning, Iwakuni! Well, it was back to work for Dom, but the kids and I had a couple new cities and day of exploring ahead of us! Our 5-year-old son is fascinated with how things work, particularly when it comes to trains and cars. Consequently, when we realized that Mazda’s Headquarters were located in Hiroshima, well, we had to find a way to take our little dude as we knew it would blow his mind!
Fortunately, the Mazda Headquarters are open to the public and tours are conducted regularly Monday through Friday with one FREE tour daily in English at 1000 (~90-minutes in length) and the other in Japanese at 1330 (~60-minutes in length). Unfortunately, since there are no tours on the weekends, it seemed like Dom was going to have to sit this one out (darn work!), but regardless we were thankful to have the opportunity to take our car loving little man. Note: You do need a reservation to hop aboard the tour, however, the process is easy peasy and just takes a minute or two. Click here to make a reservation online!
To be honest, Iwakuni isn’t the easiest place to navigate without a vehicle and where we were staying wasn’t located near a train station (something that we have been ridiculously spoiled with in Zushi). Thus, getting an early start and building a bit of wiggle room into the morning was key! Luckily, cabs in the area are readily available and fairly inexpensive (by Japan standards that is), so it was easy to call for one. And just as expected, a few minutes after putting in our request, a taxi pulled up to our hotel and the three of us loaded up at 0800 sharp – right on time. It was a 15minute ride to Iwakuni Station (cost 980yen) to catch the next local train bound for Mukainada Station (820 yen).
Like almost all things Japan, the train was comfortable and timely pulling up to the station at 0941 giving us the buffer that I hoped for just in case we made a wrong turn with the walking directions or someone had a meltdown along the way or perhaps we were blessed with a blow out, etc., etc… In reality, the headquarters are just a mere 5-minute walk from the station, so it would be difficult to make a mistake, but with kids you just never know, yes? Oh Japan, how we love your punctuality!
Zoom, zoom! We’re here! The kids and I checked in at the desk, received our visitor’s passes (Penny promptly took a bite out of mine…*face palm*) and then waited for the tour bus in the spacious showroom. Miles was already starry eyed as there were a few beautiful cars displayed on the floor and they just happened to be painted RED (according to Miles, red vehicles = super fast).
At 1000, the kids and I followed our group outside and boarded the charter bus. Our tour was starting! Goodness I wish I could have captured Miles’ face as the anticipation continued to build as we rode along the Enko River and over the company’s privately owned, Toyo Kogyo Bridge. *No photos from this section of the tour because photography/videography was prohibited.
When we reached the Mazda Car Museum, we disembarked the bus, strolled inside, and took a seat. At this point I was a little weary that the kids wouldn’t be able to sit still for the presentation, however as soon as the short company video (~10 minutes) started rolling both littles were sucked in – wheew! Objectively, the presentation is very through and does a wonderful job of taking visitors through Mazda’s journey, outlining the company’s past, present, and future, as well as highlighting some of the challenges the company has faced over the years. In particular, the video discusses the devastating effects of the atomic bomb that left the city in dust on August 6, 1945 and how the company resumed production of its very first vehicle, Type DA, a three-wheeled truck, just a few months later. Talk about resilience!
Not going to lie, the presentation was solid and so persuasive that when it concluded I was seriously thinking maybe Dom and I should give Mazda a good look the next time we were in the market for a vehicle.
Next, we dove into the company’s history walking through the showroom. Honestly, I’m not a huge car buff, but I really liked the way this portion of the tour was laid out. Mazda began manufacturing three-wheeled trucks in 1931 and continued to produced them until ~1970. In the 1960s, they added passenger cars to the mix and although this progression was intriguing to Miles, the company’s history with racing is really what caught his attention!
After stepping through decades of history, we were met with the manufacturing process which is presented in great detail. Everything from conceptual drawings, to scale mockups, to life sized clay and plastic models is there to marvel at and although I appreciated it all my absolute favorite part was seeing the sparkle in my son’s eyes (Penny had long since fallen asleep in the Tula).
The final portion of the tour, however, took the cake for our crew (well, Miles and me anyway) – the assembly line! *No photos from this section of the tour because photography/videography was prohibited. As we walked into the area we were met with robots lining windshields with glue, quickly installing them into vehicles as they funneled down the line. 17 hours of labor from start to finish goes into each automobile and the company produces more than a million vehicles a year…this process is amazing!
Post-assembly line we boarded the bus back to the check-in area and once inside made our way over to Tully’s Coffee (first floor of the headquarters building) for what else, but a coffee, and a hot chocolate for the kids to split. I always have a bit more anxiousness when I travel with the kids solo as doing all the things (navigating, getting all the things together, and keeping track of all the things, etc.) can seem SO DAUNTING, but it’s always worth it. Always. The kids really impressed me with their behavior and I was grateful for it.
Coffee downed, we waved goodbye to the ladies at the check-in desk, turned in our tour passes, apologizing for the missing chunk out of mine and made our way back to the Mukainada Train Station boarding a train back to Iwakuni. Once in Iwakuni we took a second train to Kawanishi Station and from there walked to the famous Kintai Bridge, stopping at a 7-11 beforehand to grab some sushi and snacks to eat by the water’s edge.
Places like this are great as I can allow the kids a decent amount of freedom without too much concern giving them that independence that they very much enjoy. While I sat down on a rock and marveled at the five wooden arches, the kids held hands and played “hot lava” moving from rock to rock giggling if one of them “fell in.”
Once “hot lava,” had become old hat, I loaded Penny back in the carrier and the three of us crossed the historical bridge (whose original roots date back to 1653) making our way to the entrance for the walking trail to Iwakuni Castle (this entrance is in the opposite direction of the ropeway).
Perhaps it would have been a better idea to take the cable car up to the top, as we were starting to run short on daylight, but that’s just not how we typically roll. However, if you’re in the mood for a little glute workout (or maybe you just want to save a few $) look for the entrance to the walking trail (you’ll know you’re there when you come to a barrier and a sign stating no cars can pass through – the road will be paved). At this point walk under the barrier and start heading up the steep hill. The incline isn’t really terrible, but with Penny on my back, our day pack on the front and Miles in tow the ~1500m was a bit of an effort (I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t a “Hallelujah!” when all three of us reached the top 30min later).
Once at Summit Station it’s an easy ~300m walk to Iwakuni Castle Tower, which seems like nothing after the steep incline up. Although the castle was originally constructed in 1608 it stood for barely any time before the shogun ordered it to be dismantled. Interestingly, the current reconstructed castle was built in 1962 and has already stood for a significantly longer period of time than the original – crazy, right?
We explored the grounds a bit, but seeing that it was so late in the day the doors to go inside had already officially closed. Miles and I agreed that this was probably our sign to start heading back down. The sun was beginning to set and this momma was not about to be caught in the dark with both littles in an unfamiliar place. At least I didn’t think we would get caught in the dark…
On our way down the walking trail, I decided to cave and hail a cab as many of the streets leading back to our hotel appeared to lack sidewalks. Since I didn’t have a number for any of the local cab companies, I figured our best bet would be to hail one from Iwakuni Station. However, as luck would have it when we arrived there were no cabs to be found – ugh, rotten luck. In hindsight, I probably could have flagged a local down and asked for help in calling a taxi (and perhaps that would have been the most logical thing to do), but we didn’t because it just seemed easier (+ cheaper) to walk (plus we would log more steps!). So off the three of us went…into absolute darkness.
By this time Dom was done with work and rushed to meet us on our long walk home, but this walk was long. Like, really long in almost pitch black (thank goodness for cellphone flashlights). If you’re sitting there thinking this sounds incredibly silly, well, you’re right, it was and I would most certainly not suggest ending the day this way. We stopped (once again) at 7-11 for some ramen and sushi to take home for dinner. Exhausted, we ate, got cleaned up, and hit the sack. Kudos to the kids for putting up with my crazy ideas and for agreeing to adventure with me again – ha! what a day!
- Hours: English tour at 1000, Japanese tour at 1330
- Admission: Free tour, but you will need a reservation
- Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
- Admission: 300yen to cross (this is good for roundtrip)
- Hours: Daily, 0900 – 1645
- Admission: 260 yen/Adult (cable only), 550 yen/Adult (castle plus ropeway)
[ D A Y • 7 ] Iwakuni → Hiroshima: Hiroshima Castle, Hiroshima Children’s Museum, Atomic Bomb Dome, Peace Memorial Park, Hondori Shopping Street, Okonomimura
Kids were excited to wakeup and race into the room to find Dom still snoozing in bed. Hooray! Daddy is joining in on our adventures today! We took the morning fairly easy and then checked out of the hotel a smidge before 1100, taxied back to Iwakuni Station (cost 1060yen this time) and then trained it to Hiroshima Station.
From Hiroshima Station, it was an easy walk to our hotel, Candeo Hotels Hiroshima Hatchobori. The hotel had told us earlier that although early check-in wouldn’t be available (check-in is 1500), that they would be happy to store our bags for free while we did some sightseeing (if you are just day tripping to Hiroshima and need to store your bags there are plenty of lockers of various sizes available inside the station). From the hotel we then took off on our DIY Hiroshima Walking Tour! One of the things we love most about this city is that most things are concentrated in a relatively small area.
Let the DIY Adventures Begin!
We started off by heading to Hiroshima Castle (~15 minute walk from the hotel), originally built in 1589. Unlike many other Japanese castles, Hiroshima Castle is built on a plain in the middle of the city rather than on a hilltop/mountain top. Even with its moat, this made it more difficult to defend, but it did allow the castle to be the literal + economic center of the city. Tragically, even though it survived the Meiji Restoration that destroyed many of Japan’s castles, it was destroyed in 1945 when the atomic bomb detonated. It was rebuilt only thirteen years later as a museum, and today you can go to the top to get a fantastic panoramic view of the city.
From here it was another easy 15 minute walk to the Hiroshima’s Children’s Museum (which had been our big motivator for the kids since the morning). In addition to being on the way to our next stop, the museum also has free admission – both bonuses! It’s a great (+ convenient) place to spend an hour for your kids to get some wiggles out before you dive back into a bit more history. Our kids could have spent all day playing with the remote controlled model trains, and they were so happy we almost let them.
After so many giggles, the mood switched as we neared the Atomic Bomb Dome (less than a 10 minute walk away), the now iconic structure near the hypocenter, where on August 1945 at 0815 70,000+ people were instantaneously turned to dust. The building which at one time stood as Hiroshima’s Industrial Promotion Hall is one of the few pieces that survived the day and stands as a reminder of the devastation that occurred. Although it saw significant damage, somehow the main walls withstood the blast, as did the metal supports for the dome on top of the building.
After the blast, it was just another destroyed building. However, as Hiroshima rebuilt gradually all of the buildings surrounding it were torn down and reconstructed. There was a push at one point to demolish the Dome as well as many perceived it as an eyesore and constant reminder of the city’s tragic past. Over time, however, it started to symbolize the horror of nuclear war and now stands as a symbol to all who see it of the terrible power of nuclear weapons and a reminder of how they should never be used again.
Continuing onwards towards Peace Memorial Park, the once bustling downtown of the city, we stopped at the Children’s Peace Monument, the Peace Flame, and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. This is a very tranquil area to walk though and there is a lot to take in, so take your time. It’s quite hard to imagine such a beautiful area was once the scene of total destruction.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum just recently reopened (April 2019) after an extensive restoration project. The museum is extremely well done, and definitely succeeds in its goal in portraying the story leading up to the bomb’s detonation and its horrible aftermath. There are, of course, some very graphic images displayed, and not everyone will likely feel comfortable with taking their kids. At 5, however, we felt that Miles could understand what happened, and we hope that it will shape the way he views the world. It’s (almost) never too early to learn about the mistakes of the past.
From Peace Park we walked to the hypocenter, which was the area directly underneath where the atomic bomb detonated. Today, it is just small sign on the the side of a building (so small that we walked by it the first time and completely missed it). It’s incredible to think that such a modest monument marks the location of such a horrible event. After mulling it over for a bit, it was time for something a bit more light hearted… FOOD! We headed down to Hondori Shopping Street to find Okonomimura…an entire building dedicated to one of our favorite Japanese foods, Okonomiyaki.
Okonomiayki is perhaps best described as Japanese soul food. Its typical description as a “savory pancake” is almost criminal in my book, as it is so much more than that. It’s the perfect combination of crunchy, sweet, salty goodness that makes you full and warm and happy. If you’re interested in trying Hiroshima style okonomiyaki we suggest checking out Okonomimura, a food park in the center of Hiroshima that houses 25 okonomiyaki restaurants that were originally street vendors. After WWII these individual vendors came together to celebrate one of Hiroshima’s best known foods. Many places offer an English menu, so just pick one that looks good, take a seat, and order. We think you’ll love this place!
Filled to the brim with Japanese goodness, we headed back to the hotel to dawn our matching pajamas (provided by the hotel). Haha! Could you blame me for wanting to document the amazingness?! Solid day in Hiroshima officially in the books. Tomorrow is slated to be a warmer day and we can’t wait to explore the island of Miyajima!
Note: If short on time, you could potentially combine Days 7 and 8 into one epic Hiroshima/Miyajima Adventure. Just start with our “Hiroshima DIY Walking Tour” and then take the Aquanet (located next to Peace Park, across from Café Ponte) to Miyajima. Once in Miyajima, pick up the itinerary below!
- Admission: 370yen (main keep), admission to the rest of the castle grounds is free
- Hours: 0900 – 1700
- Admission: Free (you have to pay for the planetarium, but that is only in Japanese)
- Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
- Admission: Free
- Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
- Admission: Free
- Hours: 1000 – 2000 Weekdays, Opens at 1100 on weekends
- Admission: Free
- Hours: 1100 – 0200 (perfect spot to hit up after a night out drinking!)
- Admission: Free, expect to spend somewhere between 700 – 1500 yen for one of the most delicious okonomiaki you could ever imagine.
[ D A Y • 8 ] Hiroshima→ Miyajima: Toyokuni Shrine, Daishoin Temple, Mount Misen, Itsukishima Shrine → Hiroshima
With one last full day to spend in Hiroshima, we woke early to make the most of the day. Having seen many of Hiroshima’s main sights, we planned to head to a small island off the coast, Miyajima (“Shrine Island”), which is best known for its large torii gate rising from the water at high tide. Just Google “Japan,” and this iconic torii gate will likely be one of the top ten images that pull up. Like Nara, Miyajima has many wild deer which have become increasingly comfortable being around people.
We left Candeo Hotels Hiroshima Hatchobori around 0900 and headed to the number 2 streetcar stop for Hiroden Miyajimaguchi Station. An hour (280 yen) ride later, we arrived at the ferry terminal. While certainly not the most direct way to the island, it was fairly easy and cost efficient for us. For those looking for the easiest way, there is a direct 45 minute ferry which leaves from the Peace Park area (we took this option on a separate trip during the spring). Albeit more convenient, the Aquanet is also more expensive than the Hiroden and overall doesn’t save a significant amount of time. The ticket office/dock is located on the water next to Café Ponte, a picturesque little Italian spot that offers some of the best pizza we have had in Japan and some great drinks to boot (photos & details see “Day 9” below)!
Once at the ferry terminal, we quickly purchased tickets (roundtrip: 360yen/Adult, 180yen/Child, kids under elementary school age are free) from an automated machine and then boarded the ferry to Miyajima at 1115. The 10 minute ride to the island is really pretty and you can either stay inside the cabin or soak up the fresh air outside. Once docked, we set about making our way to Tokokuni Shrine. The shrine is famous for its five story pagoda, as well as its hall of 1,000 tatami mats (which were not out when we went). It sits upon a hill overlooking the bay, and its ancient timbers and wide overhangs make for an excellent spot to take in the scenery, and enjoy the shade, and smell the sea breeze.
Afterward, we headed to Daishoin Temple, which isn’t as well known as the more iconic Itsukushima Shrine, but still offers an amazing view of the bay and the island’s iconic torii gate below. For us, it was also the starting point for the Daisho-in hiking course, a 2.5km uphill trek to the top of Mount Misen. Yes, you could head to the ropeway for an easy way up, but where is the fun in that? We definitely recommend taking the time to hike up yourself, as you get some incredible views of the island, and a much better appreciation for the beauty of Miyajima.
At the very top (535m), there is an observatory which offers a fantastic view of the surrounding ocean and barrier islands. Be prepared, however, as there are no vending machines or stores available to purchase drinks or snacks at the top. For that, you need to hike back down to the ropeway station. On paper it seems close, but takes a deceivingly long 35 – 45 minutes to hike back down to that location. Our advice, make sure to bring a small picnic lunch to eat at the observatory, so you don’t have a brood of hangry kids on your hands, feel me? It took us about 90 minutes to reach to top (with our five year old walking the entire way), but it was well worth the effort! I mean, just look at those views!
At this point, it was starting to get a little late and we elected to take the easy way back down (i.e. the ropeway) to ensure that we didn’t miss the last ferry back to mainland (accommodations on Miyajima are fairly pricey). It is about a 1km walk from the observatory back down to to the ropeway station. After arriving back down at the base, we headed to some of the side streets to reward ourselves with ice-cream and oysters, a Miyajima specialty! After, meandering back to Itsukushima Shrine to enjoy the sun setting behind the shrine and it’s famous torii gate, which by that time was surrounded by the rising tide making it appear to be floating. It made for yet another one of those quintessential Japanese experiences that we will miss dearly once we move on.
We we walked from the ropeway base station back to the ferry terminal and hopped on the ferry for the short 10 minute ride back to mainland. From there it is a 5 minute walk (following pretty much everyone else) to the Miyajimaguchi Hiroden Station to take the streetcar to Hatchobori. We grabbed a quick dinner at Sukiya before heading back to Candeo Hotels Hiroshima Hatchobori for the night. Sukiya is great if you are in a hurry, as it is essentially like a Japanese fast food restaurant, with some healthy rice/veggie options! Beef Bowl? Yes, please!
- Hours: 0800 – 1600
- Admission: Adult, 100yen/Adult, 50yen/Child (6-15yo), Free for Children under 6
- Hours: 0800 – 1700
- Admission: Free
- Hours: 0900 – 1700
- Roundtrip: 1800yen/Adult, 900yen/Child (ages 6 – 12yo), under 6yo are free
- One Way: 1000/Adult, 500/Child (ages 6 – 12yo), under 6yo are free
- Last Ropeway car down departs @1700
- 0630 – 1800 March to October 14
- 0630 – 1730 January, February, and from October 15 – November
- 0630 – 1700 December
- Admission: 300yen/Adult
[ D A Y • 9 ] Hiroshima: Peace Park → Shin-Yokohama → Miurakaigan → Kanazawa Hakkei → Zushi
We awoke our final morning in Hiroshima with the plan to head to the train station to get back home as early as possible because after being gone awhile it’s super nice (at least in our book anyway) to have a bit of time to just collect yourself and get everything back in order before diving back into the grind. We checked out of Candeo Hotels Hiroshima Hatchobori with our bags and began the 15 min walk to Hiroshima Station. However, with blue skies and perfect temperatures it was impossible to say “bye” to Hiroshima. Dom and I looked at each other. After being married for 10+ years it’s fairly easy to read one another. Instantly I knew we were both thinking, “Maybe just a few more hours?” We just couldn’t resist! It seemed silly to walk back to the hotel to store our bags now that we were standing just a few mere meters from the station, so we found some coin lockers to store our bags in (700yen each) and set back out for one last stroll through the Peace Park.
The wide open spaces gave the kids a perfect opportunity to get some energy out before the long train ride back home. During our first day in Hiroshima, we had noticed an appealing little café near the Aquanet Miyajima Ferry Terminal and decided to grab a table in the shade, lunch, and a glass of wine before heading back to the Shinkansen.
Despite its painful past, the city of Hiroshima (and Japan in general) has done an amazing job moving forward while never forgetting the lessons history has taught. The dichotomy of witnessing children playing and laughing on green fields set against the shell of the atomic bomb dome is something that certainly leaves a lasting impression. Whether you have kids or not, we believe visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki while you are in Japan is an important experience. Reliving the pain of the past is one of the best possible ways to ensure that it doesn’t repeat itself.
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