Adventure & Experience

Helicopter Tour: A Unique Way to View Hiroshima's World Heritage Sites!

Helicopter Tour: A Unique Way to View Hiroshima's World Heritage Sites!

With tourism resumed in most places around the world, there’s now a demand to travel again, which means some of the most famous sights tend to be crowded. There are many ways to avoid the crowds, like arriving early, traveling during off seasons, and avoiding weekends and national holidays. One of these is incredibly unique and is a completely private way to sightsee: a helicopter tour. I found myself in Hiroshima, determined to see the city's World Heritage Sites and other attractions from the sky. Prior to this, I had no idea there were so many tours of this nature in Japan. I booked my tour through AIROS Skyview, a helicopter company which operates in several cities in Japan, including Tokyo, Osaka, and of course, Hiroshima.

AIROS Skyview: Choosing the Right Flight Course to Make the Most Out of Hiroshima’s Wonders From Above

From Hiroshima Station, I took a taxi to Hiroshima Heliport, and as I stepped out of the car, I could see a couple helicopters in the distance behind a fence. Several buildings of different airline companies were standing in front of me but First Flying Co., Ltd. on the southernmost side of the heliport was where I decided to go for my helicopter cruising experience.

I was greeted by a friendly staff member who asked us to have a seat while he prepared some pamphlets outlining the available course types and details of each tour, safety regulations, and a consent agreement to sign.

AIROS Skyview, the helicopter company conducting the flight, offers two types of helicopter tours: an 8-minute course and a 17-minute course. On the shorter course, you will fly around Hiroshima City and see sights such as the Peace Memorial, Hiroshima Castle, and Mazda Stadium. On the longer course, you can see those sights and also the island of Miyajima which is home to Itsukushima Shrine, one of the two renowned World Heritage Sites in Hiroshima Prefecture.

I opted for the longer course so that I could really make the most of what the city had to offer.

Preparing for Takeoff!

After boarding the helicopter, we were provided with headphones. Not only were they noise canceling, but each pair also had a microphone attached so that the pilot and I could communicate without having to speak over the sound of the roaring engine.

Once I was strapped in, headsets on and ready to go, the pilot turned on said engine and it was time to start our journey!

Miyajima: The Island With the Incredible Floating Torii Gate

As soon as we were in the air, we headed straight for Miyajima, an island that is home to many temples, shrines, mountains, and more. Not only is it a World Heritage Site, but the island is also part of the “Nihon Sankei,” Japan’s three most scenic views. To access Miyajima from the mainland, there is a ferry that will bring you to the island. Flying towards Miyajima reminded me of my own visit to the island, from ground level, just 3 years prior.

When most people think of Miyajima, the image that comes to mind is Itsukushima Shrine, which has a gorgeous torii gate in the sea. Depending on the tide, you can witness the gate surrounded by sea water, making it look like it’s floating, or you might even be able to walk through the torii if the tide is low enough. Either view is absolutely breathtaking.

The sea torii gate had been undergoing renovations for a few years, and was even covered in scaffolding for some time. When I visited Miyajima for the first time in the summer of 2019, I was sad to see the entire structure hidden by scaffolding. Luckily, renovations finally finished in December 2022, and visitors can now behold its beauty once more without any obstructions.

In addition to Itsukushima Shrine, there are many other things to do on the island. There are hiking trails, and lots of local foods to try like oysters and also “momiji” maple leaf-shaped “manju,” soft cake buns filled with red bean paste and sometimes even custard! Miyajima has a lot of friendly deer that roam the island and it is also an amazing place to view cherry blossoms and autumn leaves, depending on which season you visit. From the helicopter window, I could clearly see the top of Mt. Misen and the ropeway leading up to it. The autumn foliage has just started to turn red and it was so stunning that I wished I could teleport down to it!

Up in the helicopter, I couldn’t believe I was seeing one of the most stunning areas of Japan…from the sky! Even from afar, the freshly painted vermilion torii gate was impossible to miss. I also began to understand how large the island actually was. Most people only focus on the shrine when they visit. While it’s understandable and the shrine certainly cannot be missed, the mountains really piqued my interest too, and I immediately wanted to start planning another trip to Miyajima to see them from the ground.

Hiroshima Stadium: Home of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp and the Sanfrecce Soccer Team

After flying around the entire island of Miyajima, we made our way back towards the city center. When I spotted a large open structure, I knew it was the Mazda Stadium (Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium,) home to Hiroshima’s beloved baseball team: the Hiroshima Toyo Carps. The stadium opened in 2009 and holds up to 33,000 people.

There is also another sports stadium currently under construction that’s set to open in 2024 for the Sanfrecce Hiroshima FC soccer team. This structure will be similar in capacity to the Mazda Stadium, accommodating up to 30,000 people. Once the soccer stadium is completed, that will also become part of this helicopter tour.

For sports lovers, catching an aerial view of both stadiums would be incredible. I can just imagine how fun it would be to take a peek at a game while in the helicopter!

Peace Memorial Park and the Atomic Bomb Dome: Acknowledging the Destructiveness of Nuclear Weapons and a Hope for World Peace

We continued our journey through the sky and I soon began to make out some of the city’s most important historical sites. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial, also called “Genbaku Dome,” the Atomic Bomb Dome, is the preserved ruins of the single structure left standing after the atomic bomb hit the city on August 6, 1945. The area surrounding the skeletal structure of the dome includes Peace Memorial Park, which is dedicated to those lost in the tragedy and is a plea for world peace.

There is also the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in the vicinity which houses photos, belongings, and the stories of the victims of the bombing as well as materials showing the devastation caused by the atomic bomb. The dome, park, and museum all serve as stark reminders of the dangers of nuclear weapons, but also a hope for world peace and the eventual elimination of all such weapons. The Genbaku Dome was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1996.

Hiroshima Castle: Reconstruction After Destruction

The final sight I was on the lookout for was Hiroshima Castle. Originally built in the late 1500s, the castle survived the tumultuous Meiji period (1868 - 1912) when major changes occurred in Japan’s political and social structures, and the industrial revolution ensued. Many buildings were destroyed during the Meiji period, but Hiroshima Castle was spared. Knowing that, it is even more tragic that the castle was also lost in World War II.

The castle’s main keep you see today was rebuilt in 1958, 13 years after it was destroyed. In order to preserve its history, the original building methods and materials were used when reconstructing it. Inside the main keep, you will find a museum featuring exhibits about Hiroshima’s history and the reconstruction of the castle. On the top floor, you’ll be able to see panoramic views of the city. From the helicopter, I was able to see just how large the castle grounds were, and the incredible size of the moat around it as well.

Back at Ground Level: The Tour Comes to a Close

After our safe landing, I thought back to how the entire tour went and felt overall relieved by the pilot’s great skills. It helped that the wind conditions were great and there was almost no turbulence, so I didn’t feel scared at all during the ride. Even when I turned, the helicopter felt very stable. Both takeoff and landing were incredibly smooth as well. I enjoyed helicopter cruising so much that I would definitely join another tour in the future and time it when the sun is setting. I can’t imagine how amazing the view of Hiroshima at sunset must be from above!

The pilot recommended autumn and winter as the best times to fly, because the air is the most clear during those months and you’ll have the best chance for good photos. He mentioned as well that the cabin has no air conditioning, so that is another reason why flying during the cooler seasons is ideal. AIROS Skyview also offers night flights from November to February, which would be an incredible way to celebrate special events such as birthdays, anniversaries, or even proposals. They even have an option for flower gifts just for these occasions!

Whether you catch the sunset, fly over the city at night, or see it all in the daylight, I hope you too can experience this unique way to view Hiroshima from the comfort of your own private aircraft. All in all, this helicopter tour was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that defied all my expectations. I’m so glad I can check this one off my bucket list!

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Hiroshima is the central city of Chugoku region. Hiroshima Prefecture is dotted with Itsukushima Shrine, which has an elegant torii gate standing in the sea; the Atomic Bomb Dome that communicates the importance of peace; and many other attractions worth a visit. It also has world-famous handicrafts such as Kumano brushes.