Saturday, 20 September 2014

Hiroshima & Miyajima

As we left Kinosaki Onsen so late in the day, stopping by Kyoto for some lunch, we didn't arrive in Hiroshima until the evening. Our Wifi device was proving to be incredibly handy at this point, as we were easily able to access Google Maps and follow the directions to our hotel.

Finding the hotels in each city by foot first seemed to be a really good way of coming to grips with the new places we visited. Luckily our digs for the night; Chisun Hotel Hirosima was only a short walk from the station, maybe 15 or 20 minutes. Hiroshima City itself is built on the delta of the River Ota, making the walk to our hotel in the cool night air a really beautiful one, with all the street lights twinkling along its many tributaries. I dare say that Hiroshima city itself is more beautiful at night, it really stood apart from the other concrete jungle cities we visited.

Once we arrived we kicked back. Our hotel rooms were on the small side, but a standard for a budget hotel in Japan, they were clean and came with all the amenities we had come to expect like toothbrushes, shampoos, razors etc. We were only here one night with a small amount of luggage, so they were perfect.

The next day we got up early to make the most of our time in the city; the staff didn't speak much English, but it was super easy to communicate that we wanted to store our luggage for the day while we explored, and they were friendly and accommodating for it.

We picked up some really handy guides to Hiroshima in the hotel lobby, and used the tourist maps provided in them to plan our day. The first stop for the morning was to be the A-Bomb dome and museum, a short walk from the hotel itself. The city has excellent public transport in the form of the overground tram system, with a one way set fare no matter how far you travel on it. We decided to walk to the dome, as we needed breakfast anyway and wanted to look for a cafe to settle in - in the end opted instead to pick up an on the go breakfast from the Family Mart next door to the hotel and sit in the park and eat it.

Unfortunately for us, we were about to face the first hint that there was a large typhoon heading for the West coast of Japan, and the Heavens opened. We got stuck in an underground shopping mall for maybe an hour near the A-Bomb site waiting for the rain to calm down.

To be honest, the weather never really calmed down completely, the wind died down enough for us to wander across to the Dome and the Memorial Gardens. The atmosphere was understandably solemn, and perhaps because of the rain there were less tourists than we expected.

We made our way through the park to the Museum, on the way stopping at the A-Bomb Hypocentre, the Peace Flame and the Children's memorial. Although we took our time around the grounds and the museum, I feel like there's not much I can write about this part. It's definitely an experience you need to see for yourself. It was very sad but also sort of beautiful and inspiring at the same time.

We were sad to learn that the 69th anniversary of the A-Bomb had passed only a few days before our arrival. On 6th August, there is a memorial ceremony each year, one part during the day and another in the evening, where thousands of paper lanterns are released to float down the Motoyasu River in memory of those who lost their lives during the bombing.

After we were done at the museum it was rolling on lunch time, so we checked our guide once again for a recommendation on a nice place to eat. We were fairly dead set on trying Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki, a famous staple of the region, so it was fairly easy to narrow down places.

Hondori-Dori is a nearby indoor shopping street with kitchy shops, arcades and plenty of places to eat. Because of the awful weather we headed over here and happened to spot a perfect place to get lunch, at the west end of the street, Nagata-Ya!

Understandably, due to the atrocious weather the place was rammed, there was even a queue under the awning of people waiting to get in. We decided to take this time to check out the shops and the arcades on Hondori Street and come back at a less peak time rather than go hunting elsewhere for another restaurant.

I feel like we definitely made the right call to stick about - as well as the recommended pancakes on their menu, they have an a la carte selection of ingredients you can order from to customise your own okonomiyaki. The chefs cook the main portion of the ingredients together on their giant hot-plates, and then bring it over to your table where you can further cook it to your own liking.

We all agreed that it was probably one of the nicest meals we'd had so far, and craved the Hiroshima-style for days after when we went out to dinner! It's a super filling meal, I would say moreso than the Kansai variety of the dish - the ingredients are layered up rather thank mixed, and placed on a batter pancake with three times the amount of cabbage, then flipped over. A traditional "Hiroshimayaki" pancake has a fried egg on top and covered with plenty of sauce.

It was getting on in time by this point, and we still had plenty more places to go before setting off for Osaka that evening, so we decided to make haste to Miyajima, or as it's properly known, Itsukishima Island.

We found it easy enough to get to the Island, our handy guide flipped back to front to show a special Miyajima section of the booklet. Catching a tram back to Hiroshima JR Station, we used our Rail Passes to get a train to Miyajima-guchi station where the Ferry to the Shrine Island was well signposted.

One the way Emi almost picked up a lost American Tourist, suggesting he accompany us to the island, though he politely refused - probably fearing he'd end chopped up in a suitcase somewhere down the line. After a little bout of banter, and putting him back on his track to Hiroshima City, we wandered down to the port.

I won't lie, it was a bit of a daunting experience being on a passenger ferry in the middle of a Typhoon, but our little boat chugged on getting us safely to the shore on the other side. The weather thankfully calmed down a little once we arrived, and because of the impending rain and wind we found the Island quite peaceful and tourist-free.


I can imagine that it's easy for the island and temple to lose its charm when rammed with hundreds of visitors bustling round on a sunny day, but in the calm before the storm it was almost magical. We wandered through to the area surrounding the port, questing for a map of sorts to direct us to the sightseeing spots and it was pretty hard to ignore the deer.

Nobody warned us about the deer of Miyajima, so to say we were taken aback by this guy just chilling out in the middle of the road is an understatement. Emi; a huge fan of the majestic creatures surely whips out her camera and starts to close in on the animal; following it down the path to the temple.

If we were taken aback by seeing it there in the first place, nothing prepared us for what was about to happen. The graceful deer hopped over to one of the rubbish bins, Emi snapping away in its wake, and in the most disgusting display of pure animal greed I think I've ever seen, just swallows a huge plastic bag filled with trash down in more or less one go. If that didn't set Carlo, Ciaran and I off in fits of laughter, then it was Emi, probably by now a little upset and disillusioned, slowly lowering her camera to look at the horror with her own eyes.

It was pretty soon after that we realised the hungry deer wasn't an isolated incident, the island was swarming with the animals. Whether they were kicking back on the beach or trying to eat Ciaran's trousers, they really were everywhere, and I'm kinda sad to say that the novelty did wear off after a little while.

Unfortunately due to the lateness of our arrival and the impending storm, the temple itself was closed, as was the ropeway up to Mt. Misen, so we didn't get to see inside anything here. We took our time wandering around the grounds, however, and there was still a lot to see. The five-story pagoda, statues and of course, the famous red tori gate itself.


I think if we ever got the opportunity to visit again, we'd definitely choose to stay in a ryokan or hotel on Miyajima instead of Hiroshima city. There is so much to do on the island, the parks, different temples, mountain hikes and lots of famous local quisine to try - in particular the island is famed for it's oyster and conger eel dishes!

The sun was setting as we walked back from the Kiyomori Shrine, one of the furthest shrines from the port along the coast. As we gathered our things to head back, we noticed a lot of hurried tourists along the shore rushing past us.... And a JR Ferry chugging its way towards the island. Surely it couldn't be the last ferry back to the mainland - with other visitors hurrying, we weren't going to take any chances, and started to sprint ourselves.

Heavily out of breath, sweating and red faced we managed to stumble into the port as the conductor was yelling something in Japanese - though his hasty arm waving gave us a pretty solid idea that he was telling us to get the heck on the boat.

Totally pooped out from our 200 metre sprint, we hung ourselves limply over the side of the boat, enjoying the cold sea spray. We were somewhat recovered by the time we got to dry land, but started dozing off on the train back to Hiroshima city, all of us pretty glad we had no more rushing about to do.

We took a tram to to our hotel to pick up our luggage and returned to the Shinkansen Station straight away, feeling pretty lucky that there was a stop directly outside where we had stayed. It didn't take long to find a train for Osaka, and off we were, back to central Japan for our next adventure!

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