Winter is well behind us and now is the perfect time for a hike in western Japan, before the rains set in, followed by the summer heat and its attendant crowds of insects. From almost anywhere in downtown Hiroshima, you can spot the hills rising around the city, and that means you’re never far from a quick getaway into the trees.
Hiroshima Peace Pagoda, or “Bushari-to”
Indeed, one of the first hikes you can make in Hiroshima begins right in front of the north side of Hiroshima Station. Do it before you even check into your first night’s lodging! With the station to your back, you’ll see the large silvery Peace Pagoda, built in 1966 by monks of the small Nipponzan Myohoji offshoot of Nichiren Buddhism. With gifts from Mongolian Buddhists and a former Indian Prime Minister, the pagoda is visible from vantage points around the city. A fairly short but strenuous hike up Mt. Futaba to the shrine begins by walking west (left) along the busy road in front of the station until you come to a crosswalk marked with a sign indicating “Futaba-no-sato-rekishi-no-sanpo-michi” to the right. Cross and head north toward the broad stairs of Toshogu Shrine.
This is where you climb begins. Entering the shrine, head right, and exit through a gate onto the road, turning left. A short walk brings you to more stairs leading up to Kinko Inari Shrine on the right, marked by a series of red torii gates. At the top, the mountain trail begins to the right of the main shrine, marked by still more torii. Keep climbing, and bear east (to your right) where you can until you reach a broad trail through the trees. This will take you to the pagoda. After you’ve enjoyed the view, you can either try to return the way you came or continue on toward the residential area (down a steep road and still more stairs). However, unless you know your way around this part of town, or can explain to a cab how to find you, you may be best off just returning to the station.
Miyajima’s Mt. Misen
Another set of options for hiking that many people overlook is Mt. Misen on Miyajima. Yes, the ropeway is quick and painless, but you miss a lot. Officially, there are three hiking routes up the mountain (in fact, there are more, but let’s keep things simple). The shortest route, as it happens, is also the one with the fewest stone steps, if that’s a concern. It’s called the Momijidani Route, and it begins from the Momijidani ropeway. It’s about two and a half kilometers to the summit, with the steepest portions of the trail coming in the second half of the ascent. The estimated time required is from 90 minutes to two hours, depending on fitness and other factors.
The Daishoin Route begins to the left of the bridge to the entry gate of Daishoin. This one has lots of stone steps and is better climbed than descended. One possibility is to take the ropeway down after your climb. The estimated time on this route is roughly the same as for the Momijidani Route, with a distance of three kilometers to the summit. Finally, the Omoto Route starts from Omoto Park, beyond Miyajima Aquarium. This is both the longest route and the one with the most opportunities for taking a wrong turn. It’s probably the least used as well, so you may encounter fewer fellow hikers, for better or worse. The length is about 3.2 kilometers, and you should allow up to two and a half hours for the ascent.
One note about Misen. You begin from sea level, and there are steep sections on all of the official routes. Don’t underestimate the possible difficulties. Every year, rescues are made of hapless walkers who have wandered off into the woods and gotten lost.
Another popular option is Sandankyo, a beautiful gorge about an hour and a half drive outside Hiroshima. The entire gorge is 12 kilometers end to end, and while there’s not a great deal of up and down, it can take as much as five hours to tramp the whole length, especially if you’re planning to stop and enjoy the view of the multiple waterfalls and cliff faces that lend the area its beauty. Fortunately, you can also enjoy a lot of the scenery (and ensure a bus ride back) by doing an in-and-out hike. If you travel by car, you can choose one of several access points, but if you’re taking the Sandankyo bus from the Hiroshima Bus Center you’ll need to use the main entrance, with its charming and faded atmosphere of an attraction long past its prime.
These represent only the barest beginning of the possibilities. If you have an active interest in hiking, Hiroshima Prefecture is a good place to be. Local trails can be rough and ill-kept, but they’re plentiful. Just ask around, or start looking on your own.
Maps and other information are available at the island’s Ferry Terminal. Accidents are rare but not unknown. Bring water, pay attention to trail markers, and allow more time than you think you might need.
Website: Two decent English websites here: http://www.miyajima.or.jp/english/course/course_tozan3.html
If you have a car, you can choose your entry point, though even in this case the main entrance may be preferable on a first visit.
Access: Buses leave from platform number 7 of the Hiroshima Bus Center, in the Sogo Building downtown. Express buses take about 80 minutes, with a one-way fare of 1440 JPY. Local buses take nearly two hours but leave more frequently. The one-way fare is 1230 JPY. The last returning Express leaves Sandankyo’s main entrance at 15:00. After that, only local buses are available, with the final bus at 19:10 going only as far as Kabe JR Station. From there, you’ll need to take a local train back to town.
Website: Excellent info here: http://gethiroshima.com/features/hiking-sandankyo-gorge/ and a useful English language map here: http://akioota-navi.jp/en/text/e_map_sandankyo_s.pdf