11.3.15

Japan: Day 13 + 14 - Hiroshima + Miyajima Island

What do you find half way up a mountain on the middle of an island deep within it's thick forest, amidst monkeys swinging in the trees I hear you ask? Well, it just so happens that I know ...
But back to this later on! 

After a whistle-stop tour of both Himeji and Kurashiki I was up early to head to Hiroshima, but only after a western style buffet breakfast in the hotel. This place actually had a really good spread so I was a little sad that I didn't have enough time to sit down and properly divulge. I grabbed a few croissants and some orange juice and made my way to the station. But I forgot to feature yesterday breakfast, which was bit of a mixed bag if I'm honest ...but everything was pretty tasty so I'm not complaining!


I arrived at Kurashiki station early enough to jump on an earlier train to Okayama, which only took 20 minutes. From Okayama I had to board the Shinkansen Hikari 493 which took just over 40-minutes to get to Hiroshima. Because of my earlier train I was again able to get a train leaving the station 50-minutes before my originally planned train.


Once I arrived in Hiroshima I grabbed a few local maps from the information desk and headed outside to grab a streetcar (tram) to the hotel, which was only 4 stops at Kanayama-cho. The streetcar is a 160-yen flat rate or 600-yen for a day pass, but I'll be doing most of my journeys in and around Hiroshima via my Japan Rail Pass so it was cheaper for just a single.



Oh, what I've forgotten to mention is that even though the sun was out and there wasn't a cloud in the sky, it was bitterly cold and actually snowing (the kind of snow that doesn't settle or make the ground wet). Either way it made for a beautiful trip across the countryside and into the city.


I arrived at the hotel at 9.57am ... before most people had checked out from the night before!! I asked if I could leave my luggage with them until my check-in time at 3pm, which thankfully they were happy to do. I sat down in the lobby for 20 minutes and figured out my route around Hiroshima before hitting the streets.


Again, thanks to InsideJapan the hotel was in the centre of the city so was easy to get around to all the places I wanted to visit. First on the list was the A-Bomb Dome. This was only a 5-stop streetcar ride but I decided to walk to get a feel for the city.

My route took me through the main shopping district of the city, and boy were there a lot of shops! I thought England; especially London was bad for its retail habits but Japan takes it to another level. The arcades went on for as far as the eye could see, and at each crossway there was another set of routes you could chose from. It felt like I was in a labyrinth because if I lost my bearings I wouldn’t have a clue where I was! But as always there were some pretty cool things to take pics of along the way ...

  
The A-Bomb Dome was a short 20-minute walk and overlooks the Motoyasu-gawa River. Unfortunately a lot of it was covered in scaffolding due to a soundness survey that takes place every 3 years to check the development of cracks, breaks, sinking and settling to the building. This didn't ruin the experience (just the photographs) because you could still see the building and it was more about the actual specific location you were standing in rather than the building itself. The building is just a lasting reminder and physical representation of what happened. 



It was crazy to think that on August 6th in 1945 at 8.15am the first nuclear bomb to be used in war exploded exactly 600 metres above this building, turning everything within a 2-kilometre radius to ashes. The buildings vertical walls only withstood the impact due to it being directly under the blast.

It hit me harder than I’d expected. Knowing of the pain and tragedy that took place in this city nearly 70 years ago, which has killed between hundreds of thousands of people over the years. Those who managed to survive suffered and are still suffering with effects from the radiation fall out from the blast.

Looking at Hiroshima today you could never tell that such a travesty had taken place less than a century ago, completely wiping out 70% of the buildings as it’s such a busy thriving city.



From here I took a walk along the river towards the Peace Memorial Park, which was only 5-minutes away. This is a memorial park in the center of Hiroshima, which is dedicated to the legacy of the city as the first city in the world to suffer a nuclear attack.


The location of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was once the city’s busiest downtown commercial district. The park was built on an open field that was created by the explosion. Today there are a number of memorials and monuments, museums, and lecture halls in the park, which draw over a million visitors annually – and now being here I can see why. The purpose of the Peace Memorial Park is to not only to remember the victims, but also to establish the memory of nuclear horrors and advocate world peace.

The museum in the centre of the park (with an entrance fee of 50-yen … 27p!!!) was next on my schedule to explore. This was something that again I found harder to experience than expected; its one thing seeing photographs and videos of the bombing and devastation left behind, but it's a completely different thing to read the stories of the families who were effected, watch videos of the generation that witnessed the horror unfold and to see rooms filled with display cases full of clothes worn by children aged between 2-16 at the time of the explosion, with a brief description of them and their location at the exact moment of the blast. What made it harder was that every single story ended with an explanation of when they died. Not one of them survived. Most didn’t survive for more than a couple of days due to the extent of the burns they received, sadly dying in agony.


After spending 90 minutes in the museum taking all of this in I was ready to leave. As I was leaving a little old lady who works at the museum (I presume) approached me with a tray of origami cranes of different colours and sizes. 

To explain the relevance of the crane, there was a girl called Sadako Sasaki; a Japanese girl who was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped. She is remembered through the story of a thousand origami cranes before her death due to Leukemia, and is to this day a symbol of innocent victims of war. Shortly after being diagnosed, her best friend went to visit her in hospital and brought with her some origami paper telling Sadako of a legend. She explained that the crane, a sacred bird in Japan, lives for a hundred years, and if a sick person folds 1,000 paper cranes, that person would soon get better. After hearing the legend, Sadako decided to fold 1,000 cranes in the hope that she would get well again. She folded a total of 644 paper cranes before sadly dying peacefully in her sleep. Her friends completed the 1,000 and buried them all with her.

The Children's Peace Monument within the grounds of the park is a monument for peace to commemorate Sadako Sasaki and the thousands of child victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Beneath the main structure lies a bronze crane that works as a wind chime when pushed against a traditional peace bell from which it is suspended,


But I digress .. back to the old lady.  She approached me with the tray and said “Please take a few as a sign of peace. May your life be full of love and happiness.” I could have burst into tears as this sweet doe-eyed lady smiled at me, raising the tray up towards me (she was pretty small), but I held my shit together, took a couple of these beautiful little origami cranes and thanked her for such a sweet gesture.

 

It amazes me that for a city which was victim to such an awful act of killing (that to this day still effects the people and the community), for them to be at the forefront of pushing for peace in the world and a stop on all nuclear testing as well as embracing westerners with open arms instead of looking for vengeance or justification. I’m not so sure that if this had happened in other countries that their response 70 years on would be the same – if anything it would probably be a very different reaction. I guess that’s just testament to the people of this country and their outlook on life – it’s definitely something I’m taking back with me.

Nothing good comes from war. I don’t need to add anything else to that sentence.

Before leaving the park I had one more stop to make and that was to the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. The Hall was founded by the Japanese national government to mourn the atomic bomb victims in 2002. It’s a work in progress as they are collecting atomic bomb memories and stories from the survivors to mourn the victims, as the survivors are aging. They are also collecting names and photographs of atomic bomb victims for the same purpose. From the collection, they are developing a project called "read the stories of the atomic bombing".


The Hall of Remembrance recreates a view of the A-bombed city seen from ground zero, a space in which visitors can quietly pay tribute to the A-bomb victims. Standing in the centre of that hall, looking around at what the devastation had done to such a beautiful city was definitely an experience I won’t forget.


After a pretty intense morning it was time to go and see what else this beautiful snowy city had in store. Next on the agenda was the Hiroshima Castle, which was a 20-minute walk north of the Peace Park heading up the river. It was still snowing pretty heavily which made this a rather brisk walk! 


The castle sometimes called Carp Castle was the home of the daimyo (feudal lord). The castle was constructed in the 1590s, but was destroyed by the atomic bombing. It was rebuilt in 1958 and is an exact replica of the original, which now serves as a museum of Hiroshima's history prior to World War II, which includes some pretty amazing artifacts and swords from the 15th century. The castle was in the back left hand corner of the grounds, surrounded by a high wall and wide moat. This along with the castles in Kyoto and Himeji are the most impressive … so far. 


This was the last stop planned for the day so I had the rest of the afternoon to enjoy. I decided to spend a few hours looking around the shopping district before grabbing a couple of burgers from a Japanese burger joint that I was told to check out (and let’s face it, I do love a burger!) I went for the chilli cheese Mos Burger and their basic chicken burger, washed down with some fries and a coke. I’ve come to find that the portions sizes of dishes over here are bloody tiny and was warned prior to checking out this burger shack that their burgers were a little petit, hence why I ordered two! Although small they were very delicious and I’m sure it won’t be long before I’m back in Mos Burger to try another one of their patty’s! 


With nothing else planned for the evening I decided to head back to the hotel to give myself time to write this up, reflect on what I’d seen during the day and to get a good nights sleep ready for my trip to Miyajima Island the following morning ... and this was a pretty comfy looking bed.




And it’s the day of my trip to Miyajima, and looking back I took a total of 4 different modes of transport; streetcar (tram), train, ferry and ropeway (cablecar) … not bad for one days exploration, but back to the beginning: 

I’d been told that there was a lot to see on Miyajima Island and to make a day of it, so with that I was up early to enjoy the hotel breakfast. I still couldn't bring myself to have salad for breakfast so stuck with the western option of toast and coco pops in the smallest bowl I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I could fit about 12 coco pops in this thing! So I casually went and borrowed one of the soup/noodle bowls.



After breakfast I packed my bag and jumped on the streetcar back to Hiroshima station where I caught the 9am JR Sanyo Line to Miyajima-guchi, which took just over 25 minutes. The sun was already out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky – the perfect weather for exploring an island huh!


From Miyajima-guchi you have to take the JR ferry to Miyajima. Both of these journeys were covered by my Japan Rail Pass, which really gives you the freedom to explore most of Japan – you can purchase these through Japan Experience (http://www.japan-rail-pass.com/ ) on a 7-day, 14-day or 21-day pass. I have a 21-day pass, which worked out perfectly for the length of my trip as I can use my IC card when I arrive back in Tokyo for the last few days. 



The ferry takes 20 minutes and leaves the port every 20-30 minutes. The sea and the views of the islands dotted around Miyajima-guchi were beautiful. Again, don't be fooled by these pictures, even though it looks really warm it was actually pretty cold – the wind was freezing! 


As you arrive on the island the first sign you see is about the roaming deer. Just like Nara, Miyajima is overrun with wild deer, but a much more chilled group unlike the gang in Nara – probably because they live on a peaceful island rather than a busy city centre! But don’t be fooled, they’ll still try and rummage through your stuff to sniff out any potential snacks, as I found out whilst walking along the beach!


Miyajima means the Shrine Island and is more commonly known by the locals as Itsukushima, which is its real name. It’s an island in the western part of the Inland Sea of Japan, located in the northwest of Hiroshima Bay. The island is one of Hayashi Razan's Three Views of Japan, which is a list of Japan’s three most celebrated scenic sights - a site that  had to see for myself, but that's later on.

 

Firstly, there is signs everywhere pointing to the main sights with the distance with some even saying how long it’ll take to walk and how long if you decide to run … a little! 


Itsukushima is famous for the Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island has a number of temples, including the Toyokuni Shrine with five-storied pagoda and the Daiganji Temple - one of three most famous Benzaiten (a Japanese Buddhist Godess) temples of Japan. The island is also famous for its upper hill-side cherry blossoms which won’t be in bloom until next month. 

The first destination on the island was the Itsukushima Shrine as it was right next to the harbour. It’s a Shinto shrine and is best known for it’s ‘floating’ torii gate which is one of the main sights used by Japan to promote the country for tourism. Standing in front of it you can see why as the views of the gate from the shrine and the beach running alongside the shrine were amazing. In low tied you can walk out to the shrine, but the tied was in today so I had to settle for long distance shots in the water (which were still pretty picturesque). 


From here I took a walk through the streets next to the harbour, which were littered with souvenir shops, stalls selling local delicacies and lots of restaurants. I didn’t want to go to a restaurant for lunch as I wanted to make the most of my time exploring the island so I went for two stalls selling fried oyster rice burgers and Momiji Manjus, which are a local delicacy and is a small cake in the shape of a maple leaf. The filling is normally custard cream, cheese or red bean paste. I went for custard cream and I also went for the fried option, which was really tasty! In reflection I think what the women was saying to me when she gave the momiji manju was “it’s very hot”. But I only worked this out AFTER taking a massive bite!) 


With a belly full of fried firsts it was time to carry on with my hike! From here I started my trip to the top of Mount Misen, which is called the holy mountain and has been an important destination for religious visitors over the centuries. During my expedition I came across allsorts of temples and shrines, some tucked away within the deep forest, so unassuming until you walk through the doors. Little buddhas and statues are dotted all over the place, but they seemed to come in bunches! You wouldn’t just find one – he would have 20 or 30 mates!! 


Throughot the day there were some fantastic views, not only of the floating gate but of the island itself - the higher you go the more there is to see.



The ropeway was the best way to get around the island and gives you some really fantastic views, which costs 1800-yen for a round trip (about £10). You have to take two ropeways to get near the summit – the first from Momijidani station to Kayadani station, and then on from here to Shishiiwa station. 


The whole trip takes around 20-minutes and isn’t for those that don’t like heights! Shishiiwa is 430 metres above sea level and is the highest point that most venture to as it’s the last stop for the ropeway and there are some amazing views from this height. 


But for some (me included) the summit of Mount Misen (which is 535 metres above sea level) is a 1.5km hike from this point and was a challenge accepted! There are a few signs along the way warning you of snakes and bees as well as other animals (including wild monkey, but unfortunately I didn't see any on my stroll through the woodland). 




The walk took around 25 minutes through the dense forest, passing little shrines along the way and one rather large one half way up the journey to the top within a clearing where a lot of people chose to take a breather. 


The walk is definitely worth it seeing that you’ve already come so far. This is the highest point on the island and from here you have a clear view in each direction, back to the mainland and out to the little islands dotted around before the vast East China Sea begins and goes until it hits the sky. Standing there I could understand why this is one of the 3 views in japan that is a must see.

 
A lot of people spend a few hours at the top to take in the views, sit peacefully, contemplate on life, have lunch etc. The weather couldn't have been more perfect for it - this would have been a totally different experience in the rain. 

After taking a few shots and getting a couple of me, either blurred or explaining to the ladies husband that she just needs to press the white button on the screen, it was time for me to make the trek back down. 


After two more trips in the ropeway, a ferry followed by another train ride finished off with a quick spin in a streetcar back to the hotel, I was pretty much done for the day. I grabbed some sushi (what else) from the store next door and spent the rest of the evening writing this up. 

It’s another early morning tomorrow as I have a long trip to Kanazawa, so on that note goodnight all!
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