Examining a map of Hiroshima Prefecture, you’ll see an intricate jiggle of coastline forming plenty of inlets plus hundreds of islands of varying sizes that dot the Seto Inland Sea.
On arrival, you’ll understand why this area is often thought of as the Japanese “Mediterranean”. You’ll be rewarded with stretches of golden sand, expanses of crystal clear shimmering water, and a region that is mountainous (though under 4,600 feet or 1,400 meters), so the majority of towns and cities on this southern coastline offer various viewpoints to witness the sheer beauty that abounds. It’s a gratifying destination for the traveler with a mobile phone and the photographer seeking out more specific image compositions.
You’d need a few days to experience the differing lifestyle paces and soak up the landscapes of these three highlights, using Hiroshima, the prefecture’s capital city, as your base. Hiroshima itself deserves your time too, for reflection and contemplation, and if needs be, to reaffirm or reignite your ikigai (the thing that gives your life meaning or purpose).
Itsukushima Shrine and the ‘Floating’ Torii Gate
Shinto, the way of the gods or spirits (kami), is the predominant belief system in Japan. It centres on four affirmations: tradition and the family, holding nature sacred, ritual bathing/cleanliness, and matsuri (festivals)—where worship and honor is given to the kami.
This Shinto shrine, more popularly known as Miyajima, consists of two main buildings and 17 additional structures resplendent with vermillion pillars and white wooden panels, all set right on the shore’s edge and to a backdrop of green foliage.
The shrine ‘entrance’ though, is actually in the sea: a deep reddish-orange, non-decaying camphor wood torii gate 54.5 feet (16.6 meters) high that appears to ‘float’ at each high tide.
A delightful memento that is small, light, and useful, is a shamoji (rice spatula). It’s the manifestation of a vision that local island monk Seishin had in a dream in the 1700s and the paddle’s form is unchanged since then. You’ll find them in any souvenir shop as they are also sold as lucky charms.
Photo opportunities: Review the tide table to ensure the torii will be ‘floating’; at low tide, shell gathering is popular. A powerful light illuminates the torii gate at night and may interfere with your composition. The win would be a high tide coinciding with either Blue Hour or Golden Hour.
Hiroshima: A Changed Landscape
When the nuclear bomb dropped at 08:15 on August 6, 1945, there was one photographer on the ground. His name was Yoshito Matsushige. His focus wasn’t on the mushroom cloud in the sky, but on the massive deathly impact the explosion’s thermal heat had on his fellow Japanese, vaporising some people instantly. He struggled, though, to click the shutter.
There are many, now-famous, black and white images that show five square miles (13 square kilometers) flattened to rubble with over 60,000 buildings destroyed. The ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, which was almost directly beneath the bomb drop, are today maintained as a memorial, known as the Atomic Bomb Dome or Hiroshima Peace Memorial.
Photo opportunities: There’s a walk you can take that also includes the Peace Bell, the Children’s Peace Monument, the Flame of Peace and the Cenotaph for Atomic Bomb Victims. The Phoenix Trees that survived the explosion are just north of the Peace Memorial Museum East Building.
With the advance of the digital age, as travelers and photographers enjoying new adventures across the globe, we are able to individually record and accumulate thousands of images quite instantaneously in a very short space of time. I’m ashamed to say my ‘record’ is 2,200 images over 16 days. Mindful of Hiroshima’s history, this walk can be a time to contemplate what moments we want to experience or witness at the click of a button, to share or keep, and why.
Tomonoura, Japan’s ‘Ponyo’ Town
Tomonoura, on the southern point of the Numakuma Peninsula in Fukuyama City is a scenic, Edo-era port village, which famously featured in Studio Ghibli’s animated film Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea after founder and director Hayao Miyazaki was inspired when he enjoyed a long stay in a home that overlooked the naturally sheltered bay.
The beautifully preserved and live-in Edo-period wooden houses that line the narrow—and in places steep—streets and alleyways are so quaint that you may wonder if they housed Ponyo herself!
There are lots of creative options here to photograph, but if you’d like panoramic images, the view from the Fukuzenji Temple is quite spectacular. A 15-minute climb up the hill behind Ioji Temple to Taishiden Hall offers another two vantage points to view the expanse of sea and awe-inspiring surrounds.
Photo opportunities: The boats bobbing in frame of the Joyato Lighthouse, a stone lantern 36 feet (11 meters) high, at any time of day will make for a picturesque image. The area is quite small, so you may need to consider your composition from a few directions; you can also venture along the pier.
Onomichi’s Senkoji Temple and Sakura
The coastal city of Onomichi, in the eastern part of the prefecture, is an hour-and-a-half’s train ride from Hiroshima. It’s a very hilly city, and the heavily traipsed Temple Walk (around 1.5 miles; 2.5 kilometers) will lead you up and down many slopes, but introduce you to a whopping 25, wonderful, temples.
Senkoji Park offers the best views of the downtown area and across the bay. It’s about 470 feet (144 meters) above sea level and can be reached by cable car—if you’re not that keen on walking. Located within the park is Senkoji Temple, founded in 806 by Buddhist Kobo Daishi. Tama no Iwa is a gigantic rock—which you can clamber up—that is believed to have had a glittering gem on top and was, essentially, a modern-day lighthouse.
Photo opportunities: If you visit Senkoji Temple during spring, you’ll be enthralled by a temple shrouded in cherry blossoms—and dramatic sakura-to-sea views. And as the park is open 24 hours, you can play with sunset compositions and even long exposure shots of the city lights twinkling on the Seto sea.
Read our Japan Travel Guide to delve deeper into the fascinating history, art and culture of the Land of the Rising Sun.
This content was created in partnership with the Japan National Tourism Organization and Japan Airlines.