Meet some of the remarkable women-owned businesses keeping history and culture alive through peace tourism in Hiroshima, Japan.

This article strives to highlight some of the remarkable women-owned, women-lead and women-run businesses and organizations helping keep history and culture alive in Hiroshima through peace tourism, and therefore a majority of the recommendations include women-lead operations. 

So you Want to Visit Japan

Shukkeien Japanese Garden in Hiroshima, Japan. Photo by Cookie Niyompong on Unsplash
Shukkeien Japanese Garden in Hiroshima, Japan. Photo by Cookie Niyompong on Unsplash.

I get it. I see the TikToks, Reels, posts, and blogs. You want to visit Japan. Watching cherry blossoms, going to temples, getting all of your meals from a conbini (which, side note, don’t). Japan looks pretty amazing. And it is! But tourism has boomed since the borders reopened and pandemic precautions faded. 

The big centres like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are packed. Foreign tourists and Japanese people alike scramble for a chance to see the most famous attractions in the country. If you want to see your bucket list views you have to wake up at 6 AM or fight against an onslaught of seniors and strollers. 

In bigger cities, it’s a struggle on who you give your hard-earned travel funds to. Ensuring small businesses and local communities can benefit from the onslaught of visitors is also a daunting challenge (also, I guarantee that the Harajuku Go Kart Experience helps neither small businesses nor the local community).

And it doesn’t have to be like this.

I’ve lived in Japan for two years and I want to say to everyone who wants to travel in a way that is socially conscious, sustainable, and less stressful that there is a way. 

I’d like to recommend one of the most historically significant prefectures, filled with gorgeous nature, the best food, and the kindest people. 

Why not go to Hiroshima?

I’ve lived in Japan for two years and I want to say to everyone who wants to travel in a way that is socially conscious, sustainable, and less stressful that there is a way. 

Hello Hiroshima

Hiroshima, Japan. Photo by Alex Rerh on Unsplash.

Hiroshima is known for what happened on August 6th, 1945. The atomic bomb changed life as we know it around the world. It is impossible to have a conversation about Hiroshima without including its history in the war. But there is so much more to this prefecture. 

If you love hiking, Hiroshima is full of rolling hills, perfect for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. With mountains come beautiful onsen, or public hot springs. If you love the ocean, Hiroshima borders the Seto Inland Sea, providing expansive beaches with gentle waves, perfect for fishing and swimming. If you are a foodie, Hiroshima is famous for oysters and lemons, producing over two thirds of Japan’s exports of both. The water in Hiroshima is so delicious that it makes some of the best sake, or rice wine, in the world, with over 30 breweries in the prefecture alone. 

Most travel guides only list the bare minimum. If you, like me, enjoy travel that connects you and your destination on a deeper level, can I suggest you try to travel with Hiroshima’s “Peace Tourism” in mind? 

What is Peace Tourism?

In Hiroshima, Peace Tourism is a call to action. Come, visit the city, participate in culture, food, shopping, museums, and more. Think about what peace means to you and then think about what you can do to fight for peace in your own community.  

When visiting Hiroshima, this can mean taking time to learn about the events of August 6th at the Peace Memorial Museum, tour affected sites, or listen to the stories of survivors of the atomic bomb (called Hibakusha).

There are two benefits to this. First, these activities are usually hosted by locals. When you participate, you are giving money and helping out grassroots organizations. Your dollar can go twice as far when your tours and activities are also funding nonprofit organizations!  Second, you get to connect with people on a deeper level. When you share in a mission like this, you can create stronger bonds that can last long after your vacation ends. 

If you’re interested, I have a few recommendations for my favourite places to go. 

Visiting The Hummingbird Cafe

Hachidori-sha cafe in Hiroshima, Japan. Photo courtesy of Chloe Gust.

Five minutes away from Peace Memorial Park by foot is a cafe. It’s on the second floor of a corner building. Grey concrete stairs take you up to a door with a hummingbird on it. Hachidori means hummingbird in Japanese. There’s a sign standing outside the door that invites you to “help create the space”. 

At Social Book Cafe Hachidori-Sha, you’re encouraged to make deep, meaningful conversations. To talk about taboos and socially divisive topics. 

Natural wood flows everywhere, from overflowing bookcases to organic shaped log section tables. Warm light bathes every corner of the cafe, including walls full of posters for upcoming rallies and events, comment cards from people across the world sharing their messages, local protests and activist gatherings. 

You’ll see the dining room split into standard seating and a raised section with traditional floor seating and kotatsu, or tables with heaters and blankets (an absolute must-have to survive Japanese winter!) 

And you’ll be invited into some pretty great conversations. 

A Social Issue Cafe

Since 2017, Erika Abiko has been creating a diverse, socially conscious, inclusive space in downtown Hiroshima. She’s the owner of Hachidori-sha and like the cafe’s namesake, she always seems to be moving.

When visiting a new country like Japan, it can be hard to know where you fit in the greater scheme of things. Japan values harmony, looking beyond yourself to see how you affect the people around you. Sometimes, though, this pressure to be considerate can mean individuals avoid talking about serious topics, like mental health, so as to not disturb the greater community. 

If you get a chance to visit Hatchidori-sha or attend one of their many events, you’ll see the community she’s built to try to get people to have these conversations. Erika has said “I want to create a place where people won’t be turned away even if we talk about serious things.” 

You can attend any of the extensive events, from documentary showings to drinks with a monk. To her, it was important to make sure that everyone had a place to talk and be heard. “It’s important to have a place where you can talk about yourself,” she said. “Not to impose your truth, and not to judge others, but to express your own message.” 

The stand-out event, and the one I would recommend the most, is one of the thrice-monthly conversations with Hibakusha. 

Hachidori-sha cafe in Hiroshima, Japan. Photo courtesy of Chloe Gust.

Hibakusha is the Japanese word for direct survivor of the atomic bombings. You can listen to their stories on the 6th, 16th, and 26th of every month. Often with English translation available. You’ll listen to their story, see maps and photos, and have a chance to ask your questions. In a word the experience is transformative. 

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If nothing else is happening, you’ll have the chance to enjoy delicious, ethically sourced coffee and tea, incredible food, check out the shelves of books and art, and have some deep conversations of your own

Personalize your Tour of Peace Memorial Park 

Peace Park in Hiroshima, Japan. Photo courtesy of Chloe Gust.

Through NPOs such as World Friendship Center or Peace Culture Village, you can get custom, guided tours of the park. 

Peace Park is very dense. There are over fifty monuments, memorials, and statues represented in such a small space. A personalised tour can help you understand the history much more clearly, as well as find monuments you never knew existed. For example, Sadako’s Monument, representing a fight for peace for all children.

To deepen your experience, try an augmented reality tour. The guides at Peace Culture Village can provide you with a VR headset. While walking the park you will be guided to put on your headset and art, visuals, music, narration and more will be intertwined with your in-person experience of the park. The multimedia presentation elevates an already impactful tour. 

Even if it’s just to have someone to point out important details, I highly recommend reading out to the passionate volunteers and staff at World Friendship Center and Peace Culture Village for a tour. 

Learn more about Nuclear Abolition with ANT Hiroshima

Part of Peace Tourism is learning about what we can do in the present to fight for peace for the future. I think ANT Hiroshima, or Asian Network of Trust, is doing amazing work to pursue ongoing change. An NGO working in Japan, they’re goal is not only to remember the events of the bombing, but also to educate people around the world. 

ANT’s motto is this. “Like ants, we may have little power alone, but through partnership we can accomplish great things.” ANT focuses on international collaboration to make change. And you can be a part of that collaboration.

Part of Peace Tourism is learning about what we can do in the present to fight for peace for the future.

If you are able, set up a meeting with ANT. They have a reference library full of books, movies, and articles about Hiroshima’s history and nuclear abolition. And if you are lucky, you’ll be able to meet with Tomoko Watanabe, Founder and Chairman of ANT. One conversation with her and you’ll be left inspired. 

You can also check out interning with them and attending one of their regular events, including an annual viewing of the August 6th Memorial Ceremony. 

Take home a Unique Souvenir with Yoshimoto Tattoo 

Every single travel blog about Japan will tell you that there are strict rules around tattoos in Japan. In the past many onsen, public baths, pools, gyms, and temples would tell you to cover up. Often, people would be (and still are) denied entry, but that is changing. The culture around tattoos in Japan has always been interesting, and even though it may have been taboo, there are still brilliant tattoo artists all over the country. 

One such artist is Shizuo Yoshimoto. His traditional work is stunning. Often, his tattoos take up a client’s entire back, from shoulder to thigh. He can, however, work smaller. 

In Japanese, an origami crane is called “orizuru”. You might know the story of Sadako. She is a young girl from Hiroshima who became sick after being exposed to the atomic bomb. She is famous for folding one thousand paper cranes. The myth is that anyone who folds one thousand orizuru is granted one wish. Since then, the origami crane has become a symbol of peace. 

Paper crane tattoo by Shizuo Yoshimoto. Photo courtesy of Chloe Gust.

Yoshimoto is putting his own spin on the legend by providing orizuru tattoos. All proceeds from his paper crane tattoos are donated to help preserve the Atomic Bomb Dome, a famous landmark and historical site here in Hiroshima. 

You can bring home a memory that doesn’t take space in your suitcase this vacation by getting a tattoo. I guarantee you will have a wonderful answer when someone asks you what it means.

Dig a Little Deeper

Hiroshima is just an hour west from Osaka by bullet train. For some tourists this can feel like an insurmountable distance. But if you get the chance, I highly recommend getting to know this vibrant city. 

People here care about the world. If you take some time to learn about the city and what it stands for from the people who live here, I’m sure you’ll leave with a new perspective. 

Whether it’s through a tattoo, a tour, or a cup of coffee, Hiroshima will welcome you.