Hiroshima: Futabanosato Historical Walking Trail
Futaba-no-sato Historical Walking Trail 二葉の里
August 6th, 1945, the day the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, is a date so deeply connected with the city that in some ways it is as if the history of Hiroshima begins then.
The successive lords and samurai of the city built temples and shrines for the veneration of their ancestors and for protection, as did the growing number of merchants and townspeople who settled in Hiroshima.
The vast majority of these religious sites were of course destroyed by the atomic bomb, but the same thing also happened in many other Japanese cities, where firebombing was almost as destructive as atomic bombing.
In Hiroshima, as in other cities, most of the shrines and temples have been reconstructed, with many of these temples and shrines being located along the mountains to the east of where the Hiroshima Castle stood.
The Futabanosato Historical Walking Trail is an approximately 10 kilometer long route that connects with 16 of these historic shrines and temples. It takes a good half day to cover the whole route, but the central section which passes near the main railway station is only a few kilometers long and has almost half the sites, and so is suitable for someone with just a couple of hours to spare.
The Futabanosato Historical Walking Trail begins about 4 kilometers north of the main railway station at the Fudoinmae Astram Station. Fudoin is one of the historic structures that actually emerged from the nuclear explosion mostly unscathed.
The roof did suffer some damage but the main hall, bell tower, and impressive main gate are all original structures from the 16th and 17th centuries. The Main Hall is a registered National Treasure, the only one in Hiroshima city, and the temple is worth a visit even if you don't plan to walk the whole trail.
About one kilometer down the river towards the city center is the second temple, Nittsu-ji, a Nichiren sect temple originally built at the request of the wife of the second Asano Daimyo in 1695. Nittsuji's modern incarnation is concrete.
Further down the river is the only site that is not religious in nature, the Waterworks Museum. Housed in an old pumping station built in 1898, it is perhaps only of interest to retired water engineers.
From here the river forks with one branch veering left towards Hiroshima Station. Here you cross over the river to visit two small shrines. Hikari Shrine is a small shrine set among trees between some taller, modern buildings. The name derives from the Japanese word for anchor, ikari, because in earlier times this area was close to the seafront and was a spot where many boats would moor. The shrine dates back to a time before the castle and the town were built, and is believed to be the oldest shrine in Hiroshima city.
Yatsurugi Shrine is just a hokora, a wayside shrine, with a small torii. Not much to see here, but what is interesting though is the history of the spot. This bank of the river was threatened by a flood some time in the early 17th century. The daimyo at the time, Masanori Fukushima, ordered eight swords to be buried at this spot as an offering to appease the dangerous water spirits.
Mildly interesting, perhaps, but what makes it really interesting is that the swords were buried as a substitute for a live human burial. Hitobashira was the custom of sacrificing humans, often, but not always, in connection with the threatening power of water. Bridges, embankments, floods etc would have a human buried alive under them or thrown into the water. There are stories that suggest that this activity endured all the way up unto the Edo Period.
The route now crosses back over the river towards the base of the hills to the east of the station. On the next section of the trail the route leaves the busy roads and the sites are much closer together.
Anrakuji Temple was built at a time before the construction of Hiroshima Castle. In 1533 it converted from the Tendai sect to the Jodoshin sect. Approaching the temple, the view is dominated by a huge ginkgo tree almost 20 meters high and with a circumference around the base of almost 5 meters. The temple gate has been built to allow the tree to grow up through it. Dated at 350 years old the ginkgo is one of quite a few in the city that managed to survive the atomic blast and is given credit to partially shielding the temple from the full force of the blast and ensuing fires. The main hall of Anrakuji Temple lost its roof and walls, but the framework of the building survived, though the force of the blast caused it to tilt to the north as it still does today.
Next up is Nigitsu Shrine, reconstructed in 1984. The original was built in 1835 by the then Daimyo, Asano Naritaka, to enshrine the Asano clan founder Nagamasa, brother-in-law of Hideyoshi. The impressive Chinese-style gate was reconstructed in 2000.
Not far away, and accessed down a narrow lane, is Myojoin Temple. Originally named Myojuin, after the mother of Mori Terumoto, the Daimyo who built Hiroshima Castle, it was renamed Myojoin by Masanori Fukushima when he took over the domain.
Myojoin Temple was completely destroyed by the bomb, but behind the reconstructed main hall stands another huge gingko tree that survived. The grounds are very pleasant and contain a wide variety of statues in wood, stone and bronze.
A few minutes further on is Tsuruhane Shrine, believed to date back to the 13th century when it was called Shinoki Hachimangu. A small shrine, the grounds have been improved with landscaping recently.
There is no possibility of accidentally missing the next shrine as it is dramatically located high on the hillside with a wide approach lined with stone lanterns leading to stone stairs climbing up to an impressive Chinese-style gate with wide transept.
This is Hiroshima Toshogu Shrine, a branch of the famous shrine in Nikko dedicated to the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Ieyasu. It was built by Asano Matsuakira in 1648. His mother was a daughter of Ieyasu. The main buildings were destroyed by the A-bomb blast, but the gate and transept were saved by the fire fighting efforts of a group of soldiers stationed in the shrine.
Like at Anrakuji, these structures were left with a tilt caused by the blast. The Toshogu at Nikko is known for its flamboyant use of decoration, and while not comparable to Nikko in extravagance, the Toshogu here does have some nice, painted carvings. It's a very popular shrine, especially at the New Year.
Kinko Inari Shrine
Just behind the shrine is a smaller shrine with multiple, vermillion torii gates leading up to it. This is Kinko Inari Shrine. Inari is a very popular kami, originally associated with rice, he/she later became associated with business success and wish-granting.
Tunnels of vermillion torii are a common feature of Inari shrines such as Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, just like here. From behind the small shrine the walking trail heads up the mountain and for those who don't want the climb you can head back down to the road and bypass this next section. For those who choose to carry on up you will pass through another tunnel of torii before climbing through the forest. Along the way you will pass more small shrines and altars to Inari. After 20 minutes you will reach the Mount Futaba Peace Pagoda.
Mount Futaba Peace Pagoda
Visible by passengers coming in and out of Hiroshima by shinkansen, there are expansive views over Hiroshima. A full article on the fascinating story behind the Mount Futaba Peace Pagoda can be found here.
Onaga Tenmangu Shrine
The trail now quickly descends back into the concrete city after a short break in nature. The first stop is the Onaga Tenmangu Shrine. Tenmangu shrines enshrine Tenjin, known as the god of scholarship and calligraphy, and is where many students pray for success in exams.
Tenjin is the kami name of Sugawara Michizane, a courtier in the Heian Period who was exiled to Kyushu. He was given the governorship there, but in essence it was exile. On the journey to Kyushu his boat moored at the base of the hill and the shrine is built at the spot on the hillside he climbed up to.
The final section of the trail connects to three historic temples. The first, Kokuzenji, was the family temple of the Asano Clan who were the rulers of Hiroshima for most of the Edo Period.
Kokuzenji Temple is fronted by an impressive two-storeyed gate. It was Jishoin, the wife of Asano Mitsuakira, the second Asano Daimyo, who chose the temple to be the family temple in 1656 and supplied the funds for its expansion.
She renamed the temple Kokuzenji from Gyoninji and she was by all accounts a devoted and pious woman, with some of her handwritten copies of the Lotus Sutra held by the temple.
Located 2.6 kilometers from the center of the A-bomb blast, the roofs suffered some damage and all the building tilted, but basically it survived. Several of the buildings are registered as Important Cultural Properties and major renovations took place in 1988.
Nearby is the Soto Zen temple of Shoko-ji which predates the establishment of Hiroshima. Mori Terumoto stayed here while he was surveying the site for the castle. It has an unusually wide entrance gate. The English language guide to the walking trail says that Oishi, the leader of the loyal retainers of Ako, more commonly known in English as the 47 Ronin, is buried here, but that is a bit of an exaggeration.
All 47 Ronin are buried at Sengakuji Temple in Tokyo. What is not so well known is that only 46 of the samurai were ordered to commit ritual suicide (seppuku) for their revenge killing of Kira Yoshinaka. One of the samurai, Terasaka Kichiemon, was spared and he lived to the ripe old age of 87.
He cut off some of the hair of Oishi, the leader of the samurai, after his suicide, and then brought the hair to Hiroshima. He offered the hair at the temple next door, Kokuzenji, the family temple of the Asano clan as it was an Asano Lord that the samurai avenged. The temple refused it however, so Terasaka took the hair to Shoko-ji, where it was accepted and given a burial.
The final temple is Saizo-ji, a small temple with a statue of a samurai standing in front. This is Saizo Kani, a famous samurai known particularly for his skill with a spear. He rose through the ranks of various lords until serving Masanori Fukushima.
He fought at the Battle of Sekigahara where he took the heads of seventeen enemy generals. Soon after Sekigahara it is believed he started to become senile and Fukushima retired him to some land near Hiroshima Castle. If you look inside the small temple building you will see a most curious thing - a statue of Jizo with a box on its head.
Behind the Jizo statue are dozens and dozens of the same box. This is the Miso Jizo, and the box contains miso paste. By placing the box of miso on the statues heads, making a prayer, often for academic success or increased intelligence, and then touching the box to your own head, your prayers will be answered. There is a play on words here as nomiso means "brain."
The connection of this Jizo to miso goes back to a story connected to Saizo Kani. In 1619, Saizo's lord, Fukushima, was transferred to what is now Nagano, and the Asano clan installed in Hiroshima. For whatever reason, Saizo and his group of men refused to leave and so Asano dispatched troops to remove him. One story says that from behind his barricades Saizo's men poured boiling miso soup on the attackers forcing them to retire.
That part may be fanciful, but it seems that the Asano samurai laid siege to Saizo. Running out of food Saizo spread the story among the local peasants that the Jizo statue here was guaranteed to answer prayers if given offerings of miso and rice and the flood of offerings that came sustained Saizo and his men and allowed them to slip away later.
The trail ends here and to get back into the town center it is about a 30 minute walk back to Tenjingawa JR station or 15 minutes on to Yaga Station, and hopefully by now you have come to realize that there is a lot more to Hiroshima than the A-Bomb Dome and Peace Park.
The trail is well marked with small signs in front of each site showing the direction and distance to the next and previous sites. The Tourist Information Office located in the main railway station has a guide map and information sheet in English. Apart from the small section of the trail that climbs Mount Futaba, the trail could easily be completed by bicycle.
Access - how to get to Hiroshima
Other railway lines connecting from Hiroshima are the Sanyo Main Line for Miyajimaguchi, the historic town of Iwakuni and Tokuyama, the Geibi Line for Shiwaguchi and Miyoshi, the commuter Kabe Line for Omachi, Midorii and Kabe and the Kure Line for the port city of Kure, Hiro, and Takehara.
There are long distance bus services from outside Hiroshima Station to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, Takamatsu, Fukuoka and Nagasaki.
There are ferry and hydrofoil services to Matsuyama on Shikoku as well as ferry boats from Hiroshima Port to Nanoshima, Nomishima and Etajima.