Sayonara Hiroshima!

I’d like to apologise to the readers of yesteryear who were privy to a more well-written blog than I am managing these days. I used to have the energy to pull together eloquent, humorous and entertaining posts (modest ones, too), but now I feel like I am literally just listing what we did and putting some photos up. Perhaps these will not be as much fun to read back over, but at the moment, all I am aiming for is a record of what I did, so I can remember it later.

Today the humidity was OFF THE SCALE and we also had a lot of rain. However, we managed to pack in a pretty full day, which I am feeling right now, let me tell you. We went to the Peace Park again this morning, and though the Museum was still very busy, we were able to see more of it than yesterday. A highlight for me was a small collection of the paper cranes folded by Sadako Sasaki.

After a watermelon icy pole (yasssssss) and a metric crap-ton of water, we took the tram and ferry back to Miyajima – again, still crowded, but nothing like what we had previously experienced! We walked to a cafe that Dad and I had previously discovered in 2013 that did almost Melbourne-quality coffee. It did not disappoint Sean! We dodged deer and rainstorms to walk up and down the shopping strip, and we ended up at the Museum of Historical and Folklore Materials – a wonderful little museum that contains really interesting artefacts, but very little English explanations of them. Still easily worth the 300yen admission fee, especially for the traditional house and garden within.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afterwards we bought DEEP FRIED MOMIJI MANJU (see above), and then I purchased my weight in regular momiji manju to take back to our apartment. We headed back on the train, collapsed beneath the air conditioner and had a nap, then headed out for a final Hiroshima dinner at Ippudo! I will miss this city, even though it’s not as exciting as Tokyo. I intend to come back with the Peace Park Museum renovations are finished!

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Lazy days in Hiroshima

Today was a very lazy day in comparison to yesterday…and the main reason was rain! It rained all day! I can’t describe how nice it is after the intense heat, though the humidity means it’s still pretty sticky. We slept in anyway, after such a big night on Miyajima, and we got up in time to head to Ippudo for delicious ramen lunch. We wandered through the shops to the Peace Park, intending to do the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, but it was INSANELY crowded and was really not worth the crowds. Also, for anyone interested in visiting before 2018, the East Wing, which has some really interesting stuff in it, is unfortunately closed for renovations. Instead, we visited the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, which I had not seen before, and it was very affecting – they play videos of survivor testimonies, and have a beautiful Hall of Remembrance, with 140,000 tiles to represent the (approximate) number of victims of the bomb. We plan to return to do the Museum tomorrow morning. We headed back home, stopping for a drink and to play more racing games on the arcade machines (I am getting seriously addicted), and then grappled with the washing machine despite all instructions being in Japanese with no English whatsoever. Currently waiting to see if we have operated the dryer correctly….

Clothes washed and dried successfully! And with that, we were off for okonomiyaki. It was 9pm by the time we headed out, and we were going to try a tiny little okonomiyaki place right near our apartment. At 9.15pm we asked if they were still open and he told us in broken English that he was sorry, they actually had closed 15 minutes ago and were just packing up. We said okay, and went to keep walking, then he asked if we were tourists and where we were from. Then he invited us in anyway! He cooked us DELICIOUS Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki and chatted to us about Australia and traveling and food (his English was really quite good), and introduced us to his parents who were helping with the washing up. It was a perfect, uniquely Japanese experience, and I was so touched by his kindness.

We then went on an adventurous walk to a bar Sean had seen recommended. It supposedly had English-speaking staff, which we discovered was correct, but it also seemed to have every English-speaking person in Hiroshima jammed into it as well, which those of you who know me personally will realise is not my favourite way to spend an evening. HOWEVER, it got awesome. We met some great people (one of whom grew up in Burwood East and his sister knows my brother – too weird), and we wrote on the decorated walls of the establishment in permanent marker to commemorate our visit. We got home far too late, but it was a good walk, and we need to be up bright and early to meet new mates at the Peace Park tomorrow. Sayonara!

Miyajima

Hiroshima has also brought the heat. I think it’s competing with Tokyo. But yesterday, we organised our rail tickets for Kyoto on Friday, and then headed into town to try and find some sandals for Sean, who is sporting some impressive mosquito-bitten feet that are making it very painful to wear covered shoes. Success! We obtained sandals, an umbrella, some food, and then made our way down to Miyajimaguchi station to catch the ferry to the island of Miyajima.

I LOVE MIYAJIMA. I was here in 2013, when it was a bit rainy and cold, but still beautiful (see this post for details). The day of our visit this year coincided with an enormous fireworks festival that happened in the evening, and as a result, the island was PACKED with people. We walked up and down the shopping streets and along the beach, buying street food, taking photos of the wild deer that roam the island, looking at souvenirs, eating all different flavours of momiji manju, and walking right out at low tide to the giant torii gate that the island is so famous for.

We walked up to Daisho-in Temple, my favourite place on the island, where it was a lot cooler and less crowded, and then sat in the stream that comes from up the mountain to cool our feet. We met a whole bunch of people, Japanese and tourists. One guy offered to take a photo of the two of us, and later in the night we met people because we photobombed their selfie. But the time we battled our way through the crowds to get a spot to watch the fireworks, our feet were aching intensely. But we stayed on them for another five hours. The fireworks started at 7.40, and went for over an hour, the most beautiful and creative fireworks display I have ever seen. The crowd totally did that thing where everyone ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ in unison, and it pretty much made the pain in my feet worth it.

THESE ARE NOT MY PHOTOS. I googled them because my camera wouldn’t take good ones.
In terms of ‘would I do it again?’ No. I would stay on the mainland and watch it from there! I am very glad we had the experience we had, but we got in the line to go home at 9pm, we were arriving at Miyajimaguchi at 10.55pm, and we got back to our apartment at 12.05am, all the while standing up. But it was wonderful to be part of something so huge, and it is something I will remember forever!

Akihabara again, shabu shabu, and finally, Hiroshima!

We slept in – hooray! And boy did we need it after last night. But we also had another reason to stay at the hostel this morning, and that was the mountain of sweaty washing we had accumulated in the short time we’ve been in Japan. We made use of the hostel washing machines, and our stuff was dry within an hour, just from hanging it on the terrace. The heat did not let up today.
We then walked to the station to take the train into Akihabara again, and bumped into three of the four Danish tourists staying at our hostel – Mads, Rasmus, and Karina – also going to Akihabara! When we exited the station at Akihabara, we instantly found Michael, our American friend from the walking tour and karaoke. We bumped into him completely by chance, and in a city of 12 million people, I think that’s pretty impressive.
Mads, Rasmus, Karina, and I went to have lunch – okonomiyaki again, yay! – and Michael and Sean went exploring around Akihabara. We joined up with Sean later, and Reiko joined us soon after. We wandered through different shops and huge crowds, playing arcade games, shopping, and looking at the maid cafes, though we didn’t get a chance to go in one. A guy approached us on the street and asked where we were from, and then showed us a photo album of him at all these different maid cafes, which, while friendly, was a bit weird. On Sundays, they block the roads off in the main part of Electric Town so you can walk everywhere without worrying about cars.

We had a drink and a rest – I’ve been having so many glasses of umeshu (plum wine) with ice, the perfect remedy to the heat – and then met Julie, the other tourist from Denmark, and all went to a restaurant for shabu shabu! Shabu shabu is Mitch’s favourite food, so I was interested to try it. It’s an enormous hot pot, where they give you really thin slices of beef and pork that you drop into the hot pot for a few seconds to cook before you dip it in sauce and eat it. It was perfection – completely delicious, and confirming what I have always known: Japanese pork is a million times better than Australian pork.

Our tower of meat. We ate the whole thing.

On the train home we said goodbye to Reiko, who I will miss insanely, and when we got back to the hostel we all went up to the terrace with drinks and stayed up way too late chatting. Learning about Denmark was brilliant, another reason to add Scandinavia to my travel itinerary!

 
This morning we navigated the trains like a pro. Peak hour on the Tokyo metro wasn’t quite as horrific as it was two years ago, and I think it’s because this week is the Obon festival which means more people were on their summer holidays. We were at our Shinkansen with plenty of time, and I spent the trip reading, eating my bento box for lunch, and mucking around on the computer. Our change at Okayama was only 4 mins, so I was nervous we would miss it, but we literally only had to cross the platform, so there was no trouble! 


Once we arrived at Hiroshima station, we got pretty lost trying to find our Airbnb. But Sean and Google Maps saved us, and we collapsed inside our tiny, tiny apartment, put the airconditioner on, and promptly fell asleep (me, not Sean). After a nap, some reading, and a shower, we hit the town. We went to Ippudo for dinner, an excellent EXCELLENT ramen restaurant, which did not disappoint. Then we went for a long, meandering walk. We found a tiny English language section in a bookshop, had chocolate slushy sort of things, and ended up at the A-Bomb Dome and the Peace Park, which was incredibly beautiful in the night. The cenotaph was still covered in flowers from the 70th anniversary commemoration a few days ago, and it was really peaceful – a welcome change from the craziness of Tokyo!

Peace Park and Return to Miyajima

This morning, Dad went off to salivate after cars at the Mazda Museum. Margaret tagged along because she had already seen the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which is where Marnie and I headed this morning. We were only about a 15 minute walk from the hotel, so pleasant in the morning sunshine. And no rain today! Bonus. The Peace Park was built to honour the memory of everyone who died when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. We learn about this in school, obviously when covering World War Two, and I was expecting a pretty heavy experience. Last year when I went to the Holocaust Museum in Berlin, I was so overcome partway through that I actually couldn’t finish it. This was different, for several reasons. Don’t get me wrong, it was incredibly affecting, and I had a bit of a cry more than once. But there was such a sense of hope and beauty and peace and forgiveness that permeated the entire park, that the doom and gloom seemed to be balanced out. There are some truly beautiful statues and monuments in the park, too many to list, but a big highlight for me was the Children’s Peace Monument. Donations of hundreds of thousands of paper cranes have poured in from all over the world, for the decades that the park has been open. This is how the paper crane came to symbolise peace, and there are beautiful artworks and displays made entirely of paper cranes. Atop the monument stands a statue of Sadako Sasaki and her story is very poignant, and involves the paper cranes. There is also the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound which contains the ashes of 70,000 unidentified victims, and the Memorial Cenotaph, containing the victims names. Presiding over the park is the A-Bomb Dome, preserved from the day the bomb dropped. This skeleton building is incredibly eerie, but strikingly effective.

Children’s Peace Monument

A-Bomd Dome, with what it used to look like in the pic at the front

Memorial Cenotaph, through which you can see the A-Bomb Dome

Marnie and I went into the Museum itself. We chose not to visit the Memorial Hall which contains the names and portraits and stories of the victims, because when I did that at the Holocaust Museum, it was too much, and I couldn’t handle the rest. The larger museum gives a less personal, but still very touching and brutal account of the war leading up to the bomb dropping, and the terrible long-term results. The city of Hiroshima is, understandably, completely and 100% opposed to all nuclear weaponry, and it is their aim, along with help from all over the world, to completely abolish and destroy all nuclear weapons, so there was a lot of general information about the dangers of nuclear weaponry. Very thought-provoking stuff. Towards the end there are some detailed photographs and descriptions of the injuries to humans caused by the bombs and it’s terribly difficult to take in. Marnie remarked that if everyone in the world was brought through the museum, she didn’t know how nuclear war could continue to be an ongoing possibility. It was completely devastating, but I am glad I did it. A very important and worthwhile visit.

Watch that stopped when the bomb hit – 8.15am

We needed a bit of a break after that, so we bought some paper cranes and coffee and ice-cream and went and sat down by the river in the brilliant sunshine (which, as I discovered later, burns quite efficiently). We HAND FED sparrows, and they hopped up on my knees and my fingers to take the crumbs. It was the cutest thing in the world, ever, until later on when we saw the deer again at Miyajima.

View of the river

We met Margaret and Dad for lunch and swapped stories, before we all headed back to Miyajima, ready to enjoy it in the sun rather than the rain. We took the tram and then the JR ferry which was free with our rail pass, and spent a few blissful hours wandering up and down the shopping street buying souvenirs, stopping for coffee and cake, petting deer (one of whom ate my Peace Park brochure right out of my pocket, cheeky berk), and walking right out to the the torii gate. The tide was out, and when you got up close, you could see offerings of coins stuck in between the barnacles and all over the sand. The barnacles sucked themselves in when you touched them, and the orange wood was brilliant up close.

Besties

torii gate

torii gate – up close and personal

Bye Hiroshima, it’s been real xo

By the time we got back from Miyajima, it was dinner time and we found a little diner that did incredibly cheap and delicious food. I got a bowl of ramen, a big plate of fried rice and a plate of chicken and salad for 550yen which is about $5.50. It was a staggering amount of food. Now we are back at the hotel, attempting to repack our luggage so we can fit everything we’ve bought! Kyoto tomorrow!

Massively inexpensive dinner

Hiroshima

This morning after breakfast, we still didn’t have a solid plan for our day. (This is a wonderful feeling after so many days where we have felt rushed to squeeze things in). We had been thinking about Hiroshima Castle, but Margaret suggested the Shukkei-en Gardens first, and maybe we could then do the castle afterwards. This turned out to be an excellent idea. After a slightly confusing tram ride and a very windy but refreshing walk, we reached the gardens and paid 250yen for admission to the park (over 65’s are free!). It was utterly and completely stunning, and I took around 100 photos, so what I post on the blog is just a fraction of what there was to see. Walking around it reminded me of Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo because it was another oasis in the middle of a bustling city, but I think parts of it were even more beautiful than Shinjuku Gyoen. It felt like Narnia, Middle Earth and Wonderland rolled into one, and there was no shortage of koi fish and cherry blossoms. I saw at least four cats running around the park and a tortoise swam right up to us, but then got bored when he realised we weren’t going to feed him. It showered on and off throughout the day, but very lightly, and always in beautiful sunshine, so it wasn’t nearly as noticeable as the Miyajima rain yesterday. It was full of little shrines and bridges and a tea house and a couple of tiny rowboats moored on the lake. I saw a koi fish the size of a small dolphin, so luckily no one fell in because they would have probably been eaten instantly.

Marnie and blossom 🙂

Beautiful view

Wonderland

Little rowboat and bridge

After a quick coffee and snack under falling cherry blossom and raindrops, we headed over to Hiroshima Castle, which was only a short walk away. The grounds are far bigger than the actual castle, and are surrounded by an enormous moat, which was pretty cool. I don’t know if I’ve actually seen a working moat in the European castles I’ve visited. The grounds and castle were completely annihilated by the atomic bomb, (except about three trees, and they have photos of them in the wreckage) so the castle is just a replica, but they have the foundations of the surrounding buildings where they fell. For any Narnia nerds, it reminded me instantly of the Cair Paravel ruins. The castle is home to a museum about the castle’s history, which is quite informative, and has a little gift shop and a place to dress up in samurai clothes to take pics. It costs 360yen to enter the castle, but we didn’t have to pay anything to enter the grounds.

Cair Paravel – I mean, Hiroshima Castle

Hiroshima Castle

Being a nerd

Nerd Snr (with bonus topknot!)

Lovely, obliging cosplayer

Despite the rain, the grounds were also overrun with cosplayers – I don’t know if it was a particular convention or something, but there were dozens of people in costume and taking photos of each other. I asked very politely if I could take a photo of one girl, and she nodded enthusiastically, shoved her bags at her friend, finished what she was chewing, retrieved her weapon and posed. I thanked her profusely and told her she was beautiful and she was so charming and grateful. It gave me the confidence to ask a few more people, so I got some good pics.

By this time it had gotten a bit colder and windier, so I headed back to the hotel to dump my photos and everyone else went shopping. I’m trying to save my money, so it was a bit safer for me at the hotel. At 5.30 we Skyped with Mum and Riley and Brondi, and then we went out to a Spanish restaurant called zucchini and had paella and eggplant lasagna tapas and creme brulee. I can say with confidence now, that the Japanese do Italian and Spanish cuisine extremely well. Now time for sleep! Peace park tomorrow, and if the weather is fine, maybe Miyajima again…

Miyajima

So I haven’t blogged for two days, but this is only because yesterday was a travel day, very little happened, but by the time we got home I was too tired to blog! We left Takayama at a decent hour and got on a train to Nagoya. The train trip between Takayama and Nagoya is one of the most beautiful train trips I’ve ever taken, with enormous forests, small towns covered in cherry blossom, and rushing, blue rivers. Truly stunning views. We had an eight-minute change at Nagoya, and, not surprisingly, missed the train. These Japanese locomotives are consistently on time. There was a young couple with a baby and some massive suitcases who missed the train as well, so I can’t complain. We booked new tickets to Shin-Osaka and then had a nine-minute change at Shin-Osaka which we actually made. Go us! Then we arrived at Hiroshima. It was only about 12AUD for a taxi to our hotel, which is very similar to the one in Tokyo and quite comfortable. Dad and Marnie and Margaret went for a walk but I was too tired, so I stayed at the hotel, before they came home and we all went out for okonomiyaki, our first in Japan!

If anyone has tried okonomiyaki in Australia, you may not have been all that impressed (I certainly didn’t get what all the fuss was about). But proper Japanese okonomiyaki is pretty excellent. We went to a tiny little okonomiyaki restaurant round the corner from our hotel which looked as though it was run by one guy. He was incredibly smiley and helpful and welcoming, which has been our experience with more or less everyone we have met here, and though he had very limited English, and us with even more limited Japanese, we managed to order. Watching him cook was like watching an artist. Not only was he so attentive and careful with our dishes, but his restaurant was spotlessly clean. I have noticed that a lot here. No matter the size or value of something, the Japanese take immense pride and care in their work and property. It is wonderful to see. He served up our okonomiyaki and we charged through, nearly finishing the whole lot. It is a massive amount of food, basically a giant savoury pancake made of noodles, cabbage, pork, eggs and okonomiyaki sauce. Dad and I had squid with ours and it was quite delicious.

My dinner. Mmmm.

The hotel provides free breakfast, with all manner of foods – salad, minestrone, miso soup, fruit, sweet pastries, scrambled eggs and sausages, potato salad with cod roe sauce, inari, sushi, waffles…a real eclectic mix. We got up early and ate all we could, then headed down to the marina, only 15 minutes walk from our hotel. We were catching a launch boat to Miyajima, which takes about 45 minutes and it more scenic and more expensive than the JR train and ferry (which would have been free with our rail pass, but taken much longer). The man who looked after us on the launch was very chatty and kept pointing out various sights as we went past them in the boat. When we docked at Miyajima and disembarked, our tour guide met us outside the boat. Her name was Naoko Koizumi and she has been working as a tour guide for about 20 years. Her English is perfect and she is the most obliging, knowledgeable and generous guide I have come across. A private tour with her costs about 35AUD and is worth every single cent. I highly HIGHLY recommend a tour with her if you ever got to Miyajima. When I go back (and I plan to), I will go with her again. (Btw, if anyone IS planning a trip to Japan, ask me for her details and I can put you in touch).

Sadly, the rain was constant, all day. Thankfully it wasn’t heavy or too cold. We just put up our umbrellas and got on with it. Naoko was so grateful that we had come on the tour anyway, and was so pleased to inform us that the rain had not ruined the cherry blossom. Before I say anything else though, I just have to point out that Miyajima is positively overrun with wild deer. Wild deer, guys. They walk right up to you and stick their nose in your pocket looking for food and I nearly exploded in a fit of warm fuzzies. You could pat them. YOU COULD PAT THEM. I don’t know if you were technically allowed to, but they walked right up to me and demanded it with their big Bambi eyes. Magic.

Marnie’s new friend

After we tore ourselves away from the deer, Naoko took us through the main shopping street of Miyajima, pointing out popular restaurants to eat at later. The local specialities are oysters and conger eels – not my favourite type of food, but I wasn’t averse to trying them. As we walked up the main shopping street we got excellent views of the five storied pagoda. We walked right up to it, amidst a sea of cherry blossom, but you aren’t allowed in. You are however, for the small fee of 100yen (about $1), allowed into Senjokaku, which is a shrine right next to the five-storied pagoda, with beautiful views. It was built in 1587 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, but he died before it was finished, so it has remained uncompleted, without walls or a front entrance. Senjokaku means ‘hall of one thousand tatami mats’ but they worked out they could only fit 857 tatami mats in it.

Five storied pagoda

 

Senjokaku

 

View from Senjokaku

After Senjokaku, we headed down the steps to Itsukushima Shrine, which is a massive Shinto shrine built in 1168. The torii gate is huge, and set out to sea. At low tide you can walk right up to it, but only for a couple of hours each day. We walked around the shrine (only about 300yen) and Naoko explained to us the different traditions and meanings of the architecture and customs. She showed us how to pray (you make a donation and then bow twice, clap twice, and bow once more) and it was amazing to see hundreds of people doing the same thing, no one rushing or getting mad despite the crowds. There are lots of amazing things to see and do in the shrine, but we were on a time limit, so we kept going and had a small break to eat some momiji manju, a local speciality and drink some tea. The momiji manju is a little sweet cake, served warm, in the shape of a maple leaf. They have different fillings, and we had red bean paste which was absolutely delicious. Later in the day I also bought a chocolate one and a green tea one because I’m on holidays and that’s what I get to do.

torii gate

 

Itsukushima Shrine

 

momiji manju

After our break, the unthinkable happened and my camera ran out of battery. I will poach plenty of pictures from Dad, but it’s still such a pity because the next thing we visited was easily my favourite part of the day. Daisho-in Temple is the most naturally beautiful part of the world I have ever visited. I’m sure that I will see many things to challenge that in my travels to come, but for now I think it is safe to say I have never seen anything so breathtaking. We saw far too many things for me to remember and document accurately in my blog, but please take my word for it and add it to your bucket list if you haven’t already seen it. Highlights that Naoko showed us include the 500 Rakan statues (Shaka Nyorai’s disciples), the Mizukake Jizo (statues who look after the souls of deceased babies and children) and Henjyokutsu Cave (containing the principle Buddhist icons of the eighty eight temples of the pilgrimage route on Shikoku and which you walk around to ‘complete’ your own mini version of the pilgrimage). It was a stunning place, with the rainwater falling and the cherry blossoms and the maples and the rock gardens and the mountains.Wow. To quote V for Vendetta, God was in the rain.

Once we finished at the temple, our three hours with Naoko was up. She very kindly walked us back to the shopping street and helped us find a suitable restaurant. We then sat down and rested out feet and ate a big lunch of udon soups, curry and oysters, among other bits. I did try an oyster, and while I could appreciate the superiority of the taste, it wasn’t completely for me, so Dad got to eat the rest. I practised a bit of my very shoddy Japanese, but again, the staff were so lovely and obliging that it wasn’t a problem. After we finished lunch we did a quick shop up and down the street, bid farewell to my new Bambi friends, and got on the launch boat back to the marina. I Skyped with Sean (Hi Sean!) and then we went out – finally! – for ramen!! Yayyyyy!! It was tonkotsu ramen as well – my favourite type. It was even better than I expected and we left the restaurant stuffed full. We took the long walk back to the hotel, stopping at two bookshops along the way. I found a second hand copy of Peter Pan in Japanese so I bought that (that’s the second Peter Pan I have bought on this trip!) and we got back to the hotel just in time to finish this blog and go to bed. Phew!