Here’s what I did in Iwakuni, Japan!
Travel Dates: September 2013 and September 2014
I was in Iwakuni for work. Each time I had 1 free day and approx. 2 work days. If you’re travelling here for fun, I would recommend 1 day for sightseeing Iwakuni, 1 day for Miyajima island, and 1 day for Hiroshima. I haven’t looked into other nearby locations, so I recommend doing some research to make sure you’re not missing another major city/site.
Airline: Sept 2013: ANA from Okinawa-Hiroshima, then rental car for the 1.5-2 hour drive to Iwakuni.
Sept 2014: ANA from Okinawa-Iwakuni. The Iwakuni airport is right next to base. Very convenient.
Visa: Not required at this time. Always check before you travel to another country though: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/general/americans-traveling-abroad.html
Hotel: I stayed on MCAS Iwakuni at the Kintai Inn. They have a main building, and they also utilize a converted barracks (bldg 330). I was in the converted barracks both times. It’s clean and has all of the amenities you would need (wi-fi, tv with cable, microwave, mini-fridge, keurig). The fitness center is about a 5 minute walk down the street. The food court, MCX, and commissary are just 2 blocks away.
Since we traveled a group for work, we had a few rental vans. From the Iwakuni airport, you could take a taxi.
In 2014, on my free day, I walked 2 miles into downtown Iwakuni to catch the train to Miyajima (6 stops, 23 minutes). It was $3.20 one-way. At the Miyajima exit, there is the ferry to Miyajima island ($1.80 one way, 10 minutes). It was very convenient and easy to do. The train also goes all the way to Hiroshima for just over $7 one-way.
In 2013, on our free time, we drove to Hiroshima to see the Peace Memorial. It was a very informative museum and I enjoyed learning more about the history of the city and WWII. It’s about a 1.5-2 hour drive, and the ETC toll is a bit pricey (I think it was $21). We found parking fairly easily (it was normal prices).
Afterwards, we drove to the infamous “Chicken Shack” in Iwakuni. I don’t have the directions, but google it. It’s a popular destination, with good chicken on a stick! You’ll be surprised when you see it. We were driving through the mountains at night and all of a sudden there were bright lights, dinosaur displays, and tons of people. I don’t know exactly how far it is from Iwakuni since we drove there from Hiroshima, but it is a bit of a drive (probably 1/2 hour+ from Iwakuni). I do not recommend driving there straight from Hiroshima. It was a long drive and we got very hungry!
In 2014, I spent my free day on Miyajima island. It’s known for it’s wild deer that walk right up to you and eat anything paper you’re holding. They seemed friendly, but I was still cautious. When you get off of the ferry, the information desk can give you a map and draw a path for you to take around the island depending on how much time you have. I walked down the board walk, stopping at the Five-storried Pagoda, O-torii gate (famous red torii gate in the ocean), Itsukushima Shrine (I didn’t pay to go inside), Daiganji Temple, Tahoto Pagoda, Daishoin Temple, Momijidani Park, Momijidani station for the Ropeway (gondola) up to Mt. Misen peak ($18 round-trip, a bit over priced), and after getting back down walked back to the ferry through the shopping street. After you get to the top of the Ropeway, it’s a 1km (20-30 min) hike to the summit of Mt. Misen (535m). I definitely got sweaty, but there were beautiful 360 degree panoramic views. You can opt to hike all the way down, or use the Ropeway. I was short on time, so I took the Ropeway. If you’re really short on time, skip the Mt Misen/ropeway (it adds about 2 hours). The shopping street was very fun with lots of delicious food to try. It took me 6 hours round-trip from MCAS Iwakuni including all transportation.
After work I decided to run/walk to the famous Kintai Bridge in Iwakuni. You can find directions with your iPhone maps simply by typing in Kintai Bridge. It’s 3.5 mile one-way from the MCAS main gate (4 miles from my hotel). It took me about 1.5 hours round-trip (5 miles running, 2.5 miles walking). The bridge is curvy and interesting to look at…but it costs $3 to cross it, so I opted to just take a few pictures. The Iwakuni Castle is also near the bridge on the far side in the mountains (you can see it). It was interesting how rural the run to the bridge was, but once you arrive there the locals had festival tents set up with touristy things to buy and eat.