Hiroshima, a modern city on Japan’s Honshu Island, is best known as the first city in history to be targeted by a nuclear weapon when the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) dropped an atomic bomb on the city at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, near the end of World War II. Before World War II, Hiroshima's population had grown to 360,000, and peaked at 419,182 in 1942. Following the atomic bombing in 1945, the population dropped to 137,197. By 1955, the city's population had returned to pre-war levels. The Japanese city of Hiroshima may have been devastated by the atomic bomb almost 70 years ago, but today, this site of the destruction is one of the top tourist destinations in the entire country. Statistics released by the nation's tourist agency revealed that around 363,000 visitors went to the metropolis during 2012, with US citizens making up the vast majority of that figure, followed by Australians and the Chinese. Today, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park commemorates the 1945 event. In the park are the ruins of Genbaku Dome, one of the few buildings that was left standing near ground zero. Other prominent sites include Shukkei-en, a formal Japanese garden, and Hiroshima Castle, a fortress surrounded by a moat and a park.
Although tourists visit Hiroshima for the history and the memorial monuments, the city is also known for okonomiyaki, a savory (umami) pancake cooked on an Iron-plate, usually in front of the customer. It is cooked with various ingredients, which are layered rather than mixed together as done with the Osaka version of okonomiyaki. The layers are typically egg, cabbage, bean sprouts, sliced pork/bacon with optional items (mayonnaise, fried squid, octopus, cheese, mochi, kimchi, etc.), and noodles topped with another layer of egg and a generous dollop of okonomiyaki sauce (Carp and Otafuku are two popular brands).
Things to do
The centuries-old Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima is the source of both the island’s fame and its name. Formally named Itsukushima, the island is more popularly known as “Miyajima”, literally “shrine island” in Japanese, thanks to its star attraction. The shrine is known worldwide for its iconic “floating” torii gate. The shrine and its torii gate are unique for being built over water, seemingly floating in the sea during high tide. The shrine complex consists of multiple buildings, including a prayer hall, a main hall and a noh theater stage, which are connected by boardwalks and supported by pillars above the sea.
Atomic Bomb Dome
At 8:15am on 6th August 1945, the first atomic bomb in human history was dropped on Hiroshima. Although, the Atomic Bomb Dome was located almost directly underneath the explosion, it somehow avoided complete destruction and the remains of the building still stand today. The residents of Hiroshima decided to keep this tragic reminder of war intact. It serves as a symbol of both the horrors of atomic war and the hope for world peace. The site was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1996.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum has continuously appealed for the elimination of nuclear armaments and the realization of permanent world peace. It is divided into east building and main building. At the east building, the history of Hiroshima (Hiroshima-no-ayumi) dealing with the A-bomb exposure period is presented through picture panels, films, and figures concerning factors related to the historical background at the time. In the main building, the museum shows the devastation caused by the atomic bomb in detail. Peace Memorial Park, in which this museum is located, is known as a famous cherry blossom viewing site.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a memorial park in the center of Hiroshima, Japan. It is dedicated to the legacy of Hiroshima as the first city in the world to suffer a nuclear attack, and to the memories of the bomb’s direct and indirect victims. The location of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was once the city’s busiest downtown commercial and residential district. The park was built on an open field that was created by the explosion. Today there are a number of memorials and monuments, museums, and lecture halls, which draw over a million visitors annually. The purpose of the Peace Memorial Park is to not only memorialize the victims, but also to establish the memory of nuclear horrors and advocate world peace.
Hiroshima Castle, sometimes called Carp Castle, was a castle in Hiroshima, Japan that was the home of the daimyo (feudal lord) of the Hiroshima han (fief). The castle was constructed in the 1590s, but was destroyed by the atomic bombing on August 6, 1945. It was rebuilt in 1958, a replica of the original that now serves as a museum of Hiroshima’s history before World War II.
Shukkeien’s name can be translated into English as “shrunken-scenery garden”, which is also a good description of the garden itself. Valleys, mountains, and forests are represented in miniature in the garden’s landscapes. Through careful cultivation of the land and vegetation, the garden mimics a variety of natural formations and scenic views. Shukkeien has a long history dating back to 1620, just after the completion of Hiroshima Castle. The garden displays many features of the traditional aesthetics of Japanese gardens. Around the garden’s main pond there are a number of tea houses which offer visitors ideal views of the surrounding scenery. The entire garden is connected by a path which winds around the pond at the center of the garden. The path passes through all of Shukkeien’s various miniaturized sceneries. Following this path around the garden is the best way to enjoy Shukkeien.
Summer in Japan lasts from about June to mid-September, depending on the location. Summers are hot and humid, with temperatures ranging from approximately 21-32°C (70-90 °F). Mid-June starts the rainy season and lasts for about six weeks. July and August are typically the hottest and most humid times of year, and can be uncomfortable for sightseeing if you are averse to humidity. August is the season for summer festivals. Spring (March – May) sees a lot of the country ablaze with beautiful white and pink cherry blossom, celebrated with an increasingly popular festival. Temperatures during these months begin to rise and it is before the hot rainy season. Autumn is from September to November and is characterized by light breezes and cooler temperatures of around 7-10°C (46-50°F). It’s during autumn that many exhibitions, music concerts and sports tournaments are held in Japan. Early autumn brings the typhoon season which amounts in heavy rainfall. Japan’s weather in winter, from December to February, is quite dry and sunny along the Pacific coast and the temperatures rarely drop below 0°C (32°F). The temperatures drop as you move north, with the Central and Northern regions experiencing snowfall. Southern Japan is relatively temperate and experiences a mild winter. The mountains are covered in snow and it is a good time for skiing.
There are some cultural taboos that are important to know as a foreigner before traveling to Japan or any Asian country. It’s best to know ahead of time what is expected of you before someone accuses you of being rude! Here are a few rules of etiquette that could help you when you are traveling to Japan.
Bowing is one of Japan’s most well-known customs and can be used for a number of reasons. The most common reason is when you meet someone. Bowing is used in the same way as a handshake in other parts of the world. Bowing is also used when thanking someone or apologizing. The deeper the bow, the more respectful!
When you enter a Japanese home or restaurant, it is custom to remove your shoes and put on slippers that are provided for you. What one must remember is that the Asian lifestyle is mainly centered around the floor. The tables are low and they sit on the floor to eat, sleep and do all their activities. That’s why it is so important to have clean and warm floors.
Chopstick etiquette is very important in Japanese culture. Never use your chopsticks to point at someone, never wave them in the air or stab food with them. If you have a chopstick rest, you must use it with your chopsticks placed neatly together. Don’t use your chopsticks to take food from a communal plate or pass food with your chopsticks.
Avoid leaving tips at restaurants, bars or in taxis. The fact is, tipping is simply not expected – it’s really not a part of Japanese culture – so if you leave a tip it will only cause confusion, and almost definitely won’t be accepted!
If you wish to travel to Japan from Europe, the UK, the United States of America or Australia, you can enter Japan without a visa for a total of 90 days. You must have a valid passport and an onward/return ticket for tourist/business “visa free” stays of up to 90 days. Your passports must be valid for the entire time you are staying in Japan.
If you are wanting to travel to Japan and you are from South Africa, you must apply for a visa. The following documents are required when applying for a visa to Japan: a valid passport, completed application form, passport-size photograph, complete flight schedule and return air ticket. Tourists applying for a Japanese visa will require in addition a daily itinerary, hotel bookings and a letter from the bank stating you have sufficient funds. Please allow time for the visa to be accepted and your passport to be sent back to you.
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