- The Site of the Battle of Dan-no-Ura
- Karato Fish Market & Kamon Wharf
- Tsunoshima Bridge & More
- Nagato Yumoto Onsen
With inbound tourism now back with a vengeance, more and more people are traveling to the city of Hiroshima and the nearby isle of Miyajima. Though it is indeed great to again have travelers from overseas back in Japan after a rather long hiatus, the demand for major spots like the Atomic Bomb Dome is now leading to overcrowding.
Luckily, there is an easy way to add back in a little bit of the authenticity that is lost to overtourism by exploring more than just the regular hot spots in and around Hiroshima Prefecture. Though best known for its wartime legacy, the southwestern end of Japan’s main island of Honshu is actually rife with all sorts of cultural and historical allures.
Though the climax of World War II is definitely what most people know Hiroshima for, it is but one facet of a complex historical tapestry. Unbeknownst to many overseas, this part of Japan is home to points of interest that range from the site of a dramatic medieval sea battle to samurai castle towns and of course great food.
Next time you’re in Japan, consider hopping on a quick flight on one of Japan Airlines’ aircraft down to Fukuoka and embark on the adventure detailed below…
Long before the happenings of World War II, the Shimonoseki Kanmon Straits at the western edge of Honshu was the site of a different conflict, the Battle of Dan-no-Ura. This pivotal struggle was the culmination of generations of back and forth exchanges between the two most powerful samurai clans of the age, the mighty Taira and the Minamoto.
As anyone who knows their Japanese history can tell you, the Minamoto forces emerged victorious from the Battle of Dan-no-Ura and went on to found the first military government or shogunate that Japan had ever seen. Unfortunately, many of the opposing side took their lives rather than face defeat, including the child emperor Antoku.
These days, a trip to the site of the Battle of Dan-no-Ura is like a trip through the annals of Japanese history. At Mimosusogawa Park, you can see statues of iconic figures from the skirmish. Nearby, there is also Akama Jingu which is situated on the waterfront of the Kanmon Strait and is dedicated to the tragic Emperor Antoku who died in the Battle of Dan-no-Ura.
No visit to Shimonoseki would be complete without a visit to the Karato Fish Market and Kamon Wharf. Quite possibly the most popular attractions in this part of Yamaguchi Prefecture, the duo is located down by the waterfront, only a stone’s throw away from Akama Jingu.
At the Karato Fish Market and Kamon Wharf, you’ll want to make a point to sample some fugu (pufferfish), a local specialty and a must-try in Shimonoseki. Served either as sashimi or deep fried, you can't say you’ve truly visited Shimonoseki if you haven’t given this daring dish a go.
Oh, if you’re wondering; yes, fugu is indeed poisonous but the master chefs that prepare this dish daily know exactly what they need to do to make it safe for consumption. It’s a testament to the impeccable craftsmanship of Japan’s culinary artisans so muster your courage and give fugu a try.
After indulging in the deadly delight of fugu, head on up to the northern sections of Yamaguchi. While it is true that some trains do service this section, you’d do better to have access to your own set of wheels so either hire a taxi for the day or rent a car at any one of the vendors in Shimonoseki.
Your final destination will be the hot spring town of Nagato Yumoto Onsen. As you drive up the coast though, there are a number of picturesque spots that you can’t afford to miss en route. Chief among these are the now increasingly popular Motonosumi Shrine as well as the stunning Tsunoshima Bridge seen above.
If you get an especially early start on the day, you could also look to squeeze in the likes of Higashi Ushirobata-tanada rice terraces which is only 10 minutes away from Motonosumi Shrine by car. That said, if you can only afford enough time for one of these spots, the 123 torii gates of Motonosumi Shrine should be your default choice.
As noted; you’ll want to wrap up your first day in this part of Japan in the hot spring hamlet of Nagato Yumoto Onsen. Found in the hills of Yamaguchi’s northern side, Nagato Yumoto Onsen is a heavenly getaway that is home to some truly fantastic ryokan.
As with many other hot spring towns in Japan, the main allure of Nagato Yumoto Onsen is the charming and rustic vibe. Easily walkable, Nagato Yumoto Onsen makes for a relaxing getaway after a long day of exploring western Japan.
When most people think of history and western Japan, their minds immediately flock to World War II. However, this region has a long legacy that dates back far before the events that put Hiroshima on the map for most of the world.
One of the most important centers of this story was the town of Hagi. Formerly the seat of power of the Mori clan after they lost the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, this relative backwater went on to play an important impact on Japan’s path to modernization.
Thanks to the presence of the Mori clan and their feudal vassals, Hagi grew to be an important castle town. Here, you can see the Japan of old in the historic homes, castle ruins and craftsman’s workshops that dot Hagi. All in all, it’s very easy to spend the better part of a day perusing the quaint townscape.
In addition to its historical legacy, Hagi also has a rich artisanal one. Home to one of the top kilns in all of Japan, Hagi’s wares are legendary all throughout the nation. While in town, consider getting your hands dirty and trying one of the many experiential workshops that are on offer in Hagi.
Lastly, be sure not to sleep on Toko-ji. This tranquil temple dates back to 1691 and is the funerary site for many of the Mori clan lords. Especially if you’re visiting during the annual obon celebration in August when the lanterns are lit to welcome the deceased back to the world of the living, Toko-ji is sure to leave an impression!
According to a local folktale, an injured white fox once wandered into the hot springs of Yuda Onsen over a millennia ago and was miraculously healed. True or not, you’ll want to make your way to this lovely hot spring town after making the most of your time in Hagi.
Yuda Onsen is a place that rarely (if ever) pops up on the radars of international travelers. This, however, is exactly its selling point. Free from the over-commodification that often afflicts the most popular of spots, the remote charm of Yuda Onsen is exactly what the doctor ordered. In fact, many locals believe in the regenerative powers of the hot spring and flock here in hopes of being cured.
There are a number of ryokan to choose from in Yuda Onsen and many of them have a storied history that dates back hundreds of years. As with all such accommodations though, dinner is early in the evening so make sure that you plan your Hagi adventures in a way that allows ample time to make your way to Yuda Onsen.
Note that Yuda Onsen really does love its foxes. Due to the myth of its founding, you’ll find adorable white foxes as well as fox-related foods, trinkets, etc. all throughout the town. Be sure not to miss out on the chic Kitsune-no-Ashiato (Fox Footprints) Cafe and Information Center!
Despite being just 30 minutes further west from Miyajima, comparatively few travelers ever make it out to Iwakuni. Home to the breathtaking Kintaikyo Bridge, arguably one of the most beautiful attractions in the region, Iwakuni is definitely a spot to visit if you want to get the most out of the region.
While the iconic river crossing is most certainly Iwakuni’s claim to fame, you’ll also find many other areas of note in town. Most of these can be found on the far side of Kintaikyo Bridge in Kikko Park. Here, you’ll encounter the likes of the Kashiwabara Art Museum with its impressive collection of samurai arms and armor as well as the reconstructed Iwakuni Castle.
Especially if you’re a fan of medieval history, Iwakuni is not a place to sleep on. Almost all of the top spots are conveniently located together meaning that you can easily do most of Iwakuni in a day. Note that the area around Kintaikyo Bridge is especially enchanting during spring when the cherry blossoms are at their peak.
Truth be told, Miyajima and Itsukushima Shrine are presently suffering from the problem of overtourism. At the same time though, they are definitely one of the main highlights of Hiroshima meaning that all but the most traveled individuals will want to add these iconic options to their itineraries.
Luckily, there is an easy way to avoid the worst of the crowds—simply visit later in the day and spend the night on the sacred isle. You see, Miyajima is actually home to a number of luxurious ryokan. By overnighting on the island, you can avoid the peak periods and therefore better enjoy Miyajima’s charms.
Assuming that you come from Iwakuni, you’ll likely arrive on Miyajima around sunset. By then, most of the tour groups will be starting to depart for the day meaning that you can slip into the ever-beautiful Itsukushima Shrine without needing to wait in line.
One of the best things about spending the night at one of Miyajima’s posh ryokan is that you can enjoy the sunset behind Itsukushima Shrine’s iconic torii as well as an evening stroll about the island’s welcoming streets after the sun goes down. It’s truly one of the best ways to experience Miyajima.
Many tourists only know Miyajima for Itsukushima Shrine and its emblematic “floating” torii. Alas, there is so much more to the island than just these. Though Itsukushima Shrine is definitely the centerfold attraction, there are a host of other spots that are also worth visiting.
Normally, many of Miyajima’s hidden gems are too hard to cram into a single, few hour-long visit. By staying the night in one of the island’s ryokan though, you open up the opportunity to see so much more. This allows for a deeper and culturally authentic experience of a perennially popular destination.
Miyajima has a myriad of spots worth mentioning but a great starting place is Daisho-in. Found a few minutes walk away from Itsukushima Shrine, this temple complex was originally founded in 806 by the fabled monk Kukai.
Though beautiful all year round, Daisho-in is particularly enchanting during autumn when the fall foliage is at its peak. Be sure not to skip out on the legion of Rakkan (disciples of the Buddha) statues or the hall with hundreds of hanging lanterns!
As an alternative or addition to Daisho-in, Mt. Misen is also a great add-on to your time on Miyajima. Reachable via a ropeway near Momijidani (Maple Tree Valley), this sacred mountain is home to all sorts of spiritual sites and makes for an easy hike should you want to round out your day.
From Miyajima, you can avoid the crowded trains heading back to Hiroshima by taking one of the high-speed ferries that make the journey between the prefecture’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. All in all, this journey will take you only around approximately 45 minutes.
If you take one of the ferries after lodging on Miyajima, you’ll find yourself near the tragic Atomic Bomb Dome and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. These locales need no further introduction and are definitely worth your time if you’ve never been before.
Should you have some extra time (or have already explored these must-visits), Hiroshima Castle and the tranquil gardens of Shukkei-en are also worth considering. Both are located not too far from the aforementioned Atomic Bomb Dome and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and round out an adventure in the city.
Finally, know that no outing to Hiroshima would be complete without dining on some Hiroshima Okonomiyaki and some locally raised oysters. These can be had at a number of eateries all around town and you really can’t go wrong so just pick somewhere with a vibe that resonates with you and enjoy!
If you’re interested in following the route outlined in this article, you’ll want to begin by booking a flight on Japan Airlines down to Fukuoka. From there, you’ll want to catch the Shinkansen over to Shimonoseki where you can begin the itinerary detailed here.
To make your journey even more rewarding, take advantage of the JAL Japan Explorer Pass. It offers outstanding airfares to more than 30 destinations across our domestic network. Plan your journey with JAL today!
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