• Experience

Hiroshima City Christmas Markets: Season’s Greetings All Over Town

There have been multiple Christmas markets around Hiroshima City for a good long while, but until this year, none have really held a candle to the German-style Weihnachtsmarkt Hiroshima found at the Urban View Grand Tower. During the holiday season of 2023, though, the number of impressive Christmas markets in Hiroshima has increased, thanks to the refurbishment and reopening of Hiroshima Gate Park (formerly the Old Citizens’ Baseball Stadium) just west of the Hiroshima Bus Center. Another formidable opponent of the Weihnachtsmarkt is the Christmas market that popped up at the Motomachi Cred Plaza in front of Pacela, which has cast off its German mantle but still keeps the atmosphere jumping.

Visitors and residents in Hiroshima City can now occupy their spare time by hitting up multiple Christmas markets throughout the month of December, or if they are so inclined, they can even knock out all three in one weekend (one day, even) when they coincide, which is exactly what I did. I picked Saturday, the 16th of December, as the day I would get all my public Christmas celebrations taken care of, and I even carefully planned my itinerary and the route I would take throughout town that day.

The Newest Market Site

As the Hiroshima Christmas Market at Hiroshima Gate Park made its debut this year, it was the site that I was most keen on seeing. I looked up the opening time in advance and made sure to show up a little earlier that Saturday to ensure that I would be among the first to enter and experience this Christmas market. There wasn’t much of a crowd that morning, yet as the barrier was removed shortly before the official opening time of 11:00 a.m., people still managed to be hasty and pushy. Guess that’s the consumerist holiday spirit for you, am I right?

Once inside, I was pleased to find authentic-looking wooden huts, with just a teensy bit less German flair because the signs were in English. Speaking of language and signage, most of the menus were in Japanese with the occasional name in English (and other European languages like Spanish, French, or German, depending on the dish name), but such bilingual signs were rife with spelling mistakes. For instance, there was one sign selling Bratwurstschnecke (a footlong bratwurst coiled up like a snail shell) listing the name “Tornado Furst” instead of “Tornado Wurst.” The German word “Wurst (which means ‘sausage’)” was what they were going for, but lucky for them, the word “Furst (which means ‘prince’)” was still German, so I’ll let them go on the grounds that they were stylistically marketing their “grilled sausage snails” as “tornado princes,” which may actually entice an otherwise disinterested customer to make a purchase. Hiroshima isn’t completely devoid of native German- or English-speakers, and with a big event like this they could have employed one person’s skills for a low cost compared to their profit margins.

I got myself a weekend exclusive Christmas plate lunch from the food above, which came with some diced steak, some grilled veggies, a bowl of oyster cream stew, and a slice of salmon and olive cake salé. On a weekday, diners would receive some pieces of crusty, rustic baguette in place of the cake salé, so it was worth it to wait until Saturday. There was another variation of the Christmas plate that featured marinated pork sauté, a bowl of scallop cream stew, and a sweet potato and chestnut cake salé. If the same hut is around next Christmas selling the same stuff, I hope to have the privilege of trying that plate as well. There was abundant eating space in the form of standing tables near the stalls and tables with chairs nearer the stage, but eating while standing was sufficient for me and the weather wasn’t too cold considering it was mid-December. Meanwhile, there was live entertainment going on all afternoon at the stage area (hench the tables with chairs and seats without tables), and Chupea, a local mascot, even made an appearance in front of the Chugoku Shinbun tent where he posed for photos and played with the children.

Warp to Germany

Hiroshima Gate Park put on an impeccable Christmas market for its first go, but my heart still longed for the familiar German atmosphere, so I huffed it back up to the Urban Grand View Tower where the wooden huts greeted me like some sort of temporary hometown. As with last year, they had the Nativity scene near the entrance (they no longer check guests’ temperatures or make visitors sanitize their hands), live entertainment on stage, a lottery for folks to ride the special streetcars, and stands selling food as well as charming trinkets like candles and wooden ornaments. Since folks I know always work inside at least one of the huts, I swung by to give them my season’s greetings, then let them go about their business as I proceeded to find something else to eat. Good as the steak plate was, it ultimately wasn’t enough for a young active traveler like myself, and because the cost of food at these places adds up, I had to monitor my budget from time to time.

There were so many types of cuisine and yummy foods on every stand’s menu, I was momentarily paralyzed as I pondered. True to its authentic German, the Weihnachtsmarkt Hiroshima offered not only traditional German fare like sausages, chicken, fries, and stew, but included a stand selling Turkish specialties such as döner kebabs and lentil soup, a reflection of the actual immigration and fast-food situations in cities like Berlin. Not wanting to spend too much money after my early lunch but still needing to warm up and fill up at this Christmas market, I opted for some good old-fashioned currywurst and a cup of hot cocoa to drink. The hot cocoa may have been small, but I was allowed to add these cute, heart-shaped marshmallows at my discretion. I meticulously squeezed in ten fluffy delights before finding myself a seat to eat at a nearby picnic table from where I would catch the live entertainment. 

Dancers, musicians, and vocalists galore took the stage over the course of Friday to Sunday, and out of all the performers I watched that day, none stood out for me better than this trio of dancing ladies in Santa outfits. In the midst of their performance, they had a multiple-choice quiz game for the little ones where the viewers would pick an answer choice with one of two poses decided by the dancers. They even did a rendition of Jingle Bells where they encouraged audience participation via fun gestures like clapping on alternate sides or pretending to ski. Finally, they concluded with this energetic version of White Christmas; they were just as peppy after the end of the show, and they even remembered me when I spoke to them, on account of my moves!

Like I mentioned earlier, there was a lottery in which visitors have the chance to ride either the Christmas streetcar or the Train Rouge—the two special streetcars that run along the Hakushima Line during this event every year. This time, I entered the drawing for the Christmas streetcar (I nabbed a Train Rouge ticket last year) and lo and behold, I won my chance to ride! Our designated departure time was 5:38 in the afternoon; I went elsewhere to kill time and returned to the meetup point at around 5:18. About a dozen or so of us shivered in the cold waiting for our turn until a cheery streetcar with strings of lights and images advertising the new Disney “Wish” movie pulled up at Shukkeien-mae Station.

Not too long after, we were directed to cross the street and board our holiday vessel, which was loads more magical on the inside. My seat was right next to the Christmas tree, which everyone approached for photos. All the staff including the driver donned Santa hats, and the jolly attendants were always on standby to take photos of or with the riders using the guests’ cameras. The only thing missing from this brief ride was Christmas music playing either live or from the PA system, but the ornate tree, dazzling lights, and fake snow art on the window panes made up for that. Similarly to the Train Rouge, the ride on the Christmas streetcar seemed to end too soon, at which point we were warmly ushered out of the vehicle and across the street back to the market, where the next group of winners was waiting to board.

Moment of Joy: Two for Two

Joyous as the ride was, what truly made my day was the moment I discovered I had unexpectedly won yet again after winning the online lottery the year before. I only casually took a lottery ticket from the dedicated tent just to see what would happen and stuck around to view the results thinking that I couldn’t possibly be that lucky. When I heard my color and number announced from the stage, I knew for certain it was destiny for me to experience (and report on) both streetcars. Having a two-year winning streak and bragging rights to having ridden both the Train Rouge and the Christmas streetcar was the best present I could’ve gotten from the Weihnachtsmarkt Hiroshima!

Pacela’s Market, Day and Night

The final Christmas market I dropped by was the one at Motomachi Cred Plaza just outside Pacela, which was like what I remember from 2019 except no longer associated with the Weihnachtsmarkt. There was a Christmas DJ all afternoon on both Saturday and Sunday, and despite it being broad daylight, the bonfires were already blazing. I actually stopped by this site before heading up to the Weihnachtsmarkt that day but saved the perusing for nighttime in the event that I rode the Christmas streetcar, which I ended up doing. That said, besides the market in front of Pacela, there were good items and deals to be found within Pacela itself. They were holding a campaign in which shoppers could win prizes with their purchases; yours truly did some shopping and took home some free snacks along with a bath salt.

Right after disembarking from the Christmas streetcar, I made haste for Pacela’s Christmas market, which would be closing soon. It was a little past 6:00 p.m. when I got there, but thankfully, most tents were still selling food so I grabbed a couple bites to eat (festival food really is too small). On the left is a vegetable pizza from the green food truck, and on the right is a cup of tofu zenzai (hot azuki bean soup) from a tent on the opposite side of the venue.


The man from the pizza truck was genuinely friendly and explained every flavor of pizza for sale, explaining how fresh the ingredients were. I sat down to wait for him to prepare the food, which didn’t take long, and after trying the pizza, I knew he was right about the freshness of the toppings. The lady selling the tofu zenzai was charming and polite; after trying a cup of the stuff, I honestly craved another but had to suppress myself in order to not spend too much at these markets. On top of that, the bonfires looked prettier, and the atmosphere was calmer, leading to an overall better dining experience.

Not Markets, But Can’t Be Missed

Of course, there’s nothing like a holiday illumination to spice up a Christmas market, but even without the market part, illuminations all over town are must-sees. Of the three Christmas markets I toured that day, Pacela’s had the best Christmas tree, and honestly, it blows Dreamination’s tree out of the water. That said, a visit to Dreamination on Peace Boulevard is highly recommended despite the structures remaining roughly the same year after year. Those in the vicinity of Hiroshima Station can check out the petit illumination at the plaza north of the station (pictured below), just a short walk northwest of the Shinkansen exit. These luminous sites may not be Christmas markets per se, but since things can still be bought from surrounding shops (even food to eat while walking) the experience is pretty much the same.

With some illumination or Christmas market to be found wherever one looks, it seems there is no escaping the holiday season in downtown Hiroshima. It matters not which one you visit, but every tourist visiting at this time of year should hit up at least one of these Christmas markets, eat some comfort food, and watch a live performance on stage, even if for just a few seconds. Depending on one’s celebratory habits, the Christmas markets held in Hiroshima City could even be more fun than Christmas Day itself!

Written by the Joy in Hiroshima Team