Hiroshima Castle is a bit like the heart of the city. When you live here a long time, you don’t notice it that much, but you feel better knowing it’s there. And those moments when you suddenly become re-aware of it, it comforts you that much more.
It’s possible to enter the castle, see a museum of interesting artifacts, try on some feudal armor or kimonos, and experience “the castle.” I highly recommend that you do. But as a resident, I can also urge you to go all the way around the castle and see it from all sides. In fact, I’d encourage you to do that first, before rushing inside. Soak in its view from many angles and see why we are happy to let other cities have their big towers and such. Hiroshima is more about simple beauty and elegance.
This is how the natives live with their castle. At any given time of the day you’ll find citizens strolling, jogging, or walking their dogs on the path around the castle. You’ll also find couples, groups of friends, sometimes businessmen, or the occasional senior citizen just relaxing on any of the many, many benches. So join me on a 360 degree stroll before you go in, native style.
Coming from Hondori or the Peace Memorial Park, you’ll be entering the castle areas from the south side, usually. You’ll come up to the main entrance, a bridge over the moat leading into a towering gate structure. If you really want to get in quick, you can enter here. From this gate a big empty courtyard will lead to a large shrine on the left, with a grey “torii” gate, and just past that, stairs that will give you your first glimpse of the castle.
But I’d encourage you to not cross the bridge, and rather turn left and walk along the moat. You’ll see a row of benches (this will become a recurring statement as the entire circumference is ringed with bench locations… further proof that it’s the view of the castle residents appreciate most). Just a one-minute walk later you’ll see the corner of the moat, and your first view of the castle from across the water. And to your left, there is a beautiful fountain (its water comes on and off again at intervals). A highly recommended photo op is to go behind the fountain and then shoot back toward the castle.
If you follow the moat there is a wide pathway that is popular with cyclists, joggers, serious walkers and those just out for a stroll or walking their dog. There is an actual sidewalk next to the road, but nearly everyone, even those merely in transit, will duck in and enjoy the wide path here. If you enjoy any of the benches there will be a constant stream of passers by the entire time, though the road behind is trifle noisy. This wide path will lead you closer and closer to the castle, until you come to probably the most popular photo spot for true camera enthusiasts. Just exactly parallel to the castle, framed by a few small trees, you’ll often see someone with a nice camera trying to capture just the right bit of sunlight on the castle or such. Really, at this location, it’s near impossible to take a poor photo.
You now round a corner and find an interesting grove of trees and a few benches on the back side of the castle. In truth, this is my favorite spot. This side of the castle is closest to my work location and home, so I have often purchased some bread or a simple box lunch and enjoyed viewing the castle from across the water for lunch. This back side of the castle also has a large park-like open space. It’s popular with the “gateball” (a cross between croquet and golf) community for Hiroshima seniors, and it features a large climbing structure with a beautiful view of the moat. If you’re in Hiroshima with small children who are perhaps getting a little bored walking around the outside of the castle, it’s the perfect place to let them play and climb a bit for a break. Of course there are benches to relax on here as well.
Around the corner from here is the least appealing stretch, as a one of the two Hiroshima-based television stations has its office right here, with parking spaces jutting up extremely close to the moat. The pathway does continue, however, allowing you to complete a circuit, and just past the station you will arrive at the East Gate of the castle compound. Decision time: finish the walk back to the main gate, or enter here and proceed up to the castle.
Continuing allows you to complete the loop. And it will take you past a small grove full of stone benches that appears to be quite old, relatively speaking. For example, my favorite bench there is being pushed up by tree roots, so that it is slanted by 20 degrees or so, which indicates it’s been resting on that spot for many years. It’s quirky but that bench calls out to me always to be laid down on, just so my body can have the odd sensation that it’s going to fall off. The other view gained by continuing is of the Hiroshima tennis courts, used for the yearly high school soft tennis championships, as well as being able to be rented. They are also right up next to the moat, practically, but the castle itself cannot actually be seen. Only an outer campground wall. The south side has a few more benches, and a lovely moat view, but with your back to one of Hiroshima’s busiest streets it’s the least peaceful option for contemplating this historical treasure, and the castle cannot be seen from this point anyway.
That said, I usually opt for entering the castle grounds from the East Gate, being satisfied with my three-quarters junket, and because the path inside will merge with the Main Gate path anyway, as there is only one approach to the castle entrance. But there are two detours I highly recommend from this point as well.
Both go off to the right after entering the East Gate and crossing the moat. There’s a low road and a high road. Take the low road first. You’ll be on a wide dirt path along the moat. Here you can find a few benches that allow you to look out across the moat back toward the park mentioned earlier. It also offers the unique view of the Hiroshima Castle reflected on the windows of the office building across the street. It’s often said that what makes Japan special is the blending of old and new, ancient and modern. It will be hard to find a better illustration than a castle reflected in modern office windows.
Double back to the high road next, and you’ll find some stone foundations ruins here that seem mysterious and might spark your imagination of life long ago. Sadly, they are not actually ancient castle ruins. The Japanese military used the courtyard of the castle for various command centers. These are the remains of those, all destroyed on August 6, 1941. Back near the main gate are more detailed explanations of this, as well as a sign post near the shrine inside the entrance that has a QR code you can use to see an interesting video of the underground bunker that was also part of the complex.
This is probably a good time to note that around Japan Hiroshima’s castle gets no attention. The reason for this is simple. It was built in the 1950s. The original was burned to the ground, along with everything else in the area, immediately following the dropping of the atomic bomb. However, the reconstruction was faithful to the original design, and I will swear that standing and looking at it, you will not notice at all that it is not 100s of years old. For the record, the original castle was built on that spot in 1589.
Returning to our exploration, these foundations are still quite fascinating, and from there you should find a staircase on the right, well before the stairs leading to the castle proper. You are about to discover the most ideal picnic location in the entire city. The stairs lead to a narrow path. You’ll see the path along the moat that you just explored below you. Just a few more steps, and a grassy knoll opens up right under the castle itself. There are two benches to sit on and enjoy the view while eating lunch. Or, if you are prepared, it’s more than wide enough to spread a tarp or blanket and have a fantastic picnic. At the dead center of the complex, it’s the quietest spot on the grounds, and also has the fewest views of modern Hiroshima available. I have to believe many a courtesan hundreds of years ago also picnicked in that very spot. The lower moat road and this location as well are actually lined with cherry trees as well. If you know about “sakura”, Japanese cherry blossoms, you might imagine that while the rest of the year this spot is just waiting to be claimed, if you go in April expect to fight for your little 1-meter square of space to spread a tarp. It’s extremely popular to eat under the blooming cherry blossoms.
There’s one more alternative picnic/viewing sight to explore before finally going up to the castle. Going down from the first location described and turning right will take you to the staircase that leads up to the castle entrance. However, just before that turn left, and then turn right when you reach an open space. You’ll find stairs leading down this time, to a lovely bench with a view of the moat. Or if you turn right toward the castle, there’s a little space under a tree right along the moat which gives you a picnic location with both moat view and castle view looming above. However, the sounds of traffic will carry across the moat, thus the number two designation of this spot.
You have now truly scene Hiroshima’s castle from every angle. It’s time to head inside as well. Another article will detail the museum and such inside. Well worth it.
Come evening, it is time to return to the castle and do the outer loop again. The west side and north side both have spotlights that shine on the castle at night giving it a beautiful glow against the night sky. At times colored lights are shown on the castle as well, allowing it to dance in red, green, and blue. But even just the white light creates a truly lovely site. You’ll often find the benches on the west side occupied at this time. Hiroshima natives know a good thing when they see it.
If you go back to the fountain, the night view from here is a great photo opportunity all over again. If you go back to the west side, there are two fantastic photo spots. The first is directly behind the lights themselves, giving a clear, bright look at the castle against a night sky. The second is back at the popular photo spot mentioned earlier. The illuminated castle feels close enough to touch just across the moat as it is. A must see.
Finally, going back to my favorite lunchtime bench on the back side. Here too the castle is well illuminated and quite beautiful. And this time it gave me my moment of joy.
Wanting to get the best possible photo for posting’s sake, I walked to the water’s edge and found that the lights cause the castle to be reflected into the moat water below. That alone gave me joy. But further, I saw one of the large koi (carp) who inhabit the moat, swimming by. Though its light color confounded my attempt to photograph this moment well, the carp swam right through the reflected castle, causing ripples that distorted and blurred the image in a truly joy-inspiring unique moment I’ll remember for a while.
It’s simple and charming, and it’s right in the center of town. Hiroshima grew from a castle town into a city over the past 430 years, and its castle remains the heart. Daytime AND nighttime, from every angle, it’s a must see while you are here.