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!

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Miyagawa Market and Hida No Sato

We were up early this morning, meeting in the kitchen for breakfast before heading down to the Jinya-mae morning market. This is a tiny little market in front of the historic government house with an emphasis on fruit and vegetables, mostly homegrown. We bought the biggest apple I have ever seen and have just eaten it for dessert as I write this. It was grown on the stall owners farm and was sweet and crispy. Just beautiful. After we’d looked through Jinya-mae, Marnie and I headed back to the temple for Buddhist prayers at 9.30. Yukina, our host, lives and works at the temple, and she was also does the prayers. She lit incense sticks and chanted, using sticks to hit the bowls and make them sing. It only went for about ten minutes, but it was a very peaceful and meditative way to spend a morning interlude. I felt really rested afterwards.

Zenkoji temple, where we are staying

Zenkoji temple

Marnie and I rejoined Margaret and Dad at Miyagawa morning market along the river. This is a bigger market, running across the river, and the stalls range from vegetables to wooden toys to honeycomb to jewellery, just to name a few. The day was warm and sunny and beautiful and we wandered up and down sampling as much free food as we could and buying little souvenirs like sarubobo dolls and fans. We also had Hida beef (the region that Takayama belongs to is the “Hida” region) and this continued to enforce Japan’s reputation for cooking the tastiest beef ever.

Miyagawa morning market

Green tea ice-cream (not as good as Riley’s)

Flowers for sale

Hida beef skewer aka party in my mouth

After another walk through the old town, we headed to the station to catch a bus to Hida No Sato, which is an open air museum, displaying Japanese regional architecture. There are about 30 farmhouses ranging from about 100-500 years old and they’re all built up the mountain side, among the trees and shrines and rivers. It was like Sovereign Hill, but more authentic and less commercial. We took about an hour to wander through the village, but you could easily spend two hours there. They have various handicraft demonstrations and a silkworm display, and you can walk around these old houses, up to the third level on some of them. You have to take your shoes off and wear the house slippers, and a lot of the time the floor was very creaky and I thought I might fall through, but the beauty and culture of these places was mesmerising. There is a large pond in the main square of the village filled with fish and ducks and swans and there were mills at the river and storehouses for wood and grain. It was like leaping back and forth in time over centuries of a society I had very little knowledge of. I strongly, strongly recommend Hida No Sato to everyone, and it only costs 900yen for entry and a return bus trip from Takayama Station.

Hida No Sato

Peasant-chic

Hida No Sato

Hida No Sato

After we returned to Takayama, we had coffee and bought our train tickets for tomorrow. Then we went back to the temple and I showered and loaded my photos. The shower here is fantastic. Toasty warm, decent pressure, and is in a big shower room that you reserve for yourself in 15 minute blocks. It’s intensely relaxing. Then we went out for dinner at Center4 Hamburger, which Keiko recommended to us. It’s like a 1950’s American burger joint, with an English menu. It is absolutely STUFFED with international paraphernalia and beers, and they have a Hida beef burger on the menu. It’s very affordable with massive servings, which we were quite unused to after traditional Japanese cuisine, but it was delicious, and the staff were lovely.

Center4 Hamburger

We bought some things for breakfast and then headed back to the temple for dessert! Another early night, on our heated blankets and tatami mats, and then off to Hiroshima tomorrow!! Phew!

Trains and Takayama

This morning we got up early to make sure we arrived for our train in plenty of time. This involved taking an earlier train to Tokyo station from Ueno station, which we ended up taking during peak hour. Not our smartest decision. Dad was lifted off his feet by the amount of people squashing themselves into the carriage with us. Marnie and I were terribly uncomfortable – in tears of laughter, but trying not to make any noise. The trains in Tokyo are very silent and respectful – no one speaks loudly and everyone keeps to themselves. Marnie and I were trying to adhere to this, but the situation was so ridiculous and we kept glancing at each other and setting each other off. We finally – miraculously – managed to get off at the right station, and bought a quick breakfast before catching our train to Nagoya. After a brief panic because they had changed the departure platform, we were off. I just watched television shows for the next couple of hours, but at our stopover in Nagoya, I bought a chicken bento box for lunch – delicious!

Rice, chicken, vegetables, mushroom. Mmm.

The train journey from Nagoya to Takayama included some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen by rail. I was also extremely tired and slept through a lot of it, but Dad got some great photos. We got to Takayama at 3pm – plenty of time to wander around and sightsee, despite the damn rain.

Our accommodation, Zenkoji Temple, is the most gorgeous place. There are sliding screens to get into our rooms and Buddhist prayers at 9.30 every morning in their beautiful temple, which we are going to try and catch tomorrow. Yukina, our host, took us on a tour of the facilities and she had fantastic English, in the softest, sweetest voice. The temple is quiet, with slippers for guests to wear instead of our shoes, tatami mats instead of beds, and low tables to sit on the floor (a bit hard for some of us with dodgy hips and knees but we get by). It is a truly authentic experience and is the most charming place. If I come back to Takayama, which I plan to, I will stay here again.

Zenkoji Temple

 

Entrance hall

 

Heated table to keep us warm

 

Room decoration

 

Tatami mats with futons

We set off for a walk around Takayama and found ourselves in the old town, a stunning collection of streets with handicrafts stores and sake breweries. We spent quite a while wandering up and down, taking photos of little canals and shrines and flowers decorating the streets.

Shrine

 

Miya-gawa

 

Takayama old town

 

Takayama old town

 

Takayama old town

It got quite cold, and once the rain got heavier, we headed to a supermarket and stocked up on breakfast food before finding something for dinner. We ended up at an Italian restaurant – not very Japanese, but the place we were looking for turned out to be shut on Wednesday. In my limited experience, I have found that the Japanese do Italian cuisine quite well, and the porcini risotto was lovely on a cold night.

We have come back to the temple now, and are planning our day for tomorrow. I hope sleeping on the mats is not difficult, but I think it will be easy to get to sleep after such a long day. It really is a beautiful city.