One could spend 30 days exploring Kyoto and never get bored. However, being this was our first trip to Japan, there were a few day trips from Kyoto we simply couldn’t pass up. The two that we decided would be most meaningful were Nara and Hiroshima. Both were incredible experiences and definitely worth the trip.
- Introduction and Trip Planning
- Japan Airlines Economy From ORD to NRT
- Westin Miyako Kyoto
- Exploring Kyoto
- Day trips from Kyoto
- Park Hyatt Tokyo – Part I
- Park Hyatt Tokyo – Part II
- Exploring Tokyo
- Final Thoughts
Armed with our Japan Rail Passes, we took the complimentary Westin shuttle to the Kyoto train station for both trips. We simply walked into the JR office, told them where we wanted to go that day, and in less than 15 minutes we were seated comfortably on the train headed toward our destination. Amazing! I’ve mentioned this before, but the frequency and punctuality of the public transportation system in Japan is just incredible. First stop was Hiroshima.
Bullet train to Hiroshima via Osaka
We debated whether to go to Hiroshima at all. The discussion was whether to go to a place that will evoke so many feelings of sadness on a trip that has been filled with such joy. I experienced this debate once before in Germany when deciding whether to visit Dachau. In that scenario I decided not to go and immediately regretted it. I didn’t want to repeat the mistake so we decided to go.
Hiroshima is a little over two hours via bullet train from Kyoto. We got a late start that day so the first stop when we arrived was lunch. We took a short stroll from the centrally located Hiroshima train station to a little food joint tucked away on a side street. Our Lonely Planet guide recommended okonomiyaki (Japanese Pizza) from a little sit down diner. I am not sure what all was in here but it may have been the best meal I ate all trip (or at least the most memorable).
From there we walked towards Peace Memorial Park. The park has several memorials but the one that will immediately catch your eye is the A-Bomb Dome. The A-bomb Dome is one of the few buildings that survived the atomic blast despite being almost directly beneath where the bomb detonated. The dome undergoes frequent preservation renovations and was under renovation when we visited.
Memorial Flame only to be extinguished when the last Atomic Bomb is dismantled
Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims
I can remember as a child folding paper cranes for school that were being sent to Japan. I was able to connect the dots 15+ years later and see first hand where they were actually being sent. The Peace Memorial Park houses the Children’s Peace Monument which receives literally truckloads of paper cranes on a daily basis sent from children across the world. The colors and designs were incredible.
Vibrant paper cranes
Cases and cases of paper cranes!
Finally we spent a few hours exploring the museum at the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall. The museum is moving and extremely well done. The history is presented fairly and from several perspectives.
We set aside another day to visit Nara. Nara is only about 30 minutes by local train from Kyoto. Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital so there are an endless supply of historic treasures. The two highlights for me were the sacred deer and the Big Buddha in Todaiji Temple. All the major attractions are in or near Nara Park which makes exploring by foot quite easy.
There were thousands of sacred deer in Nara Park. They are extremely friendly so tourists can interact with them by petting or feeding them rice crackers. They do have a tendency to be a bit aggressive when it comes to finding food in a tourist with an open backpack! Sacred deer
The Todai-ji Temple is the largest wooden building in the world and houses the Big Buddha. This structure is immense. In reading the history, the original wooden structure burned down and what we see today is actually a smaller replica of the original!
Todai-ji Temple is the largest wooden building in the world
Look at the person in blue for scale. This was one BIG Buddha.
The Bottom Line
Hiroshima is more than just a memorial. While we spent our time focused on the memorial, we couldn’t help but notice the city has rebuilt itself into a modern and vibrant city. Despite the inevitable feelings of sadness the memorial invokes, the experience of visiting Hiroshima was personally moving and one I would highly recommend.
Nara is a great and easy day trip from Kyoto. Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital so there are an endless supply of historic treasures.
Next we are headed back to Tokyo and the Park Hyatt Tokyo.
Park Hyatt bound!