Reinventing Hiroshima

The City of Water is revamping itself to entice more travellers to its turf, with new adventure offerings, historical and cultural experiences, and plenty of tasty eats

The City of Water is revamping itself to entice more travellers to its turf, with new adventure offerings, historical and cultural experiences, and plenty of tasty eats. By Kathryn Wortley

Over May 19 to 21, eyes of the world will be on Hiroshima as it hosts the G7 Summit, and the Hiroshima Convention & Visitors Bureau (HCVB) is hoping the exposure of the global event will inspire an uptick in inbound travellers to the city.

Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park – or Genbaku Dome – is a critical part of the city’s history

Indeed, as early as September 2022, at international travel event Tourism Expo Japan, representatives of HCVB commented that “Hiroshima, as a cosmopolitan city, welcomes the G7 Hiroshima Summit and looks forward to welcoming (international visitors)”.

The unveiling of the famed “floating” otorii (grand gate) of Itsukushima Shrine on Hiroshima’s nearby island of Miyajima in late 2022, after more than three years of painstaking restoration work, is expected to be a major draw. At 16.6m tall and weighing 60 tonnes, the gate is a symbol of Hiroshima, attracting 4.7 million visitors in 2019, according to Miyajima Tourist Association.

Also adding to the prefecture’s appeal is the increased number and range of hotels available. These include the luxury Japanese- and Western-style Kyukamura Taishakukyo, which opened in February 2023, as well as the popular Fav Hotel and international brand Hilton Hiroshima, both of which launched in autumn 2022.

The biggest change in Hiroshima since the outset of the pandemic, though, is in adventure travel, defined by the Japan Adventure Tourism Organisation (JATO) as “trips that consist of two or more of the three elements of activity, nature and cultural experience”.

In 2023, more arrivals to the prefecture are expected to take part in adventure tourism than ever before, thanks to recent local efforts, buoyed by national support. In autumn 2022, the Japanese government named adventure travel as one of its three focus areas – along with sustainable travel and luxury travel – to entice travellers back to Japan. Officials are banking on post-lockdown visitors seeking out trips that are slower, longer and more connected to nature or offer unique outdoor and cultural activities.

And the travel trade in Hiroshima has been busy preparing for the arrival of these travellers.

Takeo Tamamoto, director of the MICE promotion department at HCVB, said there are many new tours and activities that cater to travellers who want to enjoy the local area’s culture and scenery.

A popular option is an early morning hike up Mount Futaba, according to Taeko Abe, supervisor of the creative tourism department at HCVB. After setting off from the city centre, participants call at Hiroshima Toshogu, a shrine dedicated to the god of peace and where residents fled in search of water following the 1945 atomic bombing. On reaching the summit, a bento breakfast made with local, sustainable ingredients is served and enjoyed against the backdrop of the city, Seto Inland Sea and Miyajima.

Hiroshima Castle is a reconstruction of the former 1589 landmark

Food and drink activities are also booming. Tokyo-based company ByFood offers guided tours around Hiroshima by day or night. Guests get to try the region’s unique and renowned dishes, such as okonomiyaki pancakes and oysters. Hiroshima produces more than 60 per cent of Japan’s oysters, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.

Leading local alcohol maker Sakurao Brewery and Distillery also recently launched a tour and tasting package to showcase its whiskey and craft gin.

And, as Hiroshima is known locally as a City of Water, thanks to the six rivers that flow through it, the past few years have seen growth in water-based activities, too.

Hiroshima-based Magic Island offers SUP tours that pass by the city’s two world heritage sites: Itsukushima Shrine and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Hall.

Companies are also maximising Hiroshima’s advantageous position beside the Seto Inland Sea and its many islands.

Tokyo-based company Heartland Japan’s tours include walking part of the Tobishima Kaido, a 100km route connecting Kawashiri, Kure and Shimo-Kamagari via a series of bridges, and an island homestay incorporating cycling and sailing on Etajima.

Local company Setouchi Reflection Trip, meanwhile, offers a range of airborne activities including a 50-minute seaplane tour over the area’s coasts and islands. It is also possible to take an eight-minute or 17-minute helicopter ride to view the city’s famous sites such as Hiroshima Castle and the Peace Memorial.

Indeed, “momentum for adventure tourism promotion is increasing in Hiroshima and the surrounding area”, according to JATO. June 2022 saw the establishment of the Hiroshima Adventure Tourism Association (HATA), designed to revitalise the prefecture’s tourism industry “through promotion and awareness of adventure tourism”.

HATA offers a five-day adventure tour under the theme of Hiroshima’s story woven through time, which aims to tell the story of the city’s “origin, reconstruction, passion and future” via cycling, river trekking, hiking and sea kayaking.

“Hiroshima has many places and activities that have the potential to change lives and the world,” said HATA chairman Toshiro Yoshihara, noting that the association aims to make “physically and mentally adventurous products” for visitors to enjoy and for the revitalisation of the area.

In February 2023, AdventureConnect, a national event organised by JATO, Adventure Travel Trade Association and HATA, was held in Hiroshima for the first time, marking the prefecture’s continued rise in Japan’s adventure tourism sector.

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