2 Jul 2015

Back to Japan - Day 1: Hiroshima & Miyajima

When an emergency holiday was required (prior to starting a new "proper" job), my husband and I decided it was time to return to Japan. We went there together just after we'd met, in August 2007, and I'd been once before in 2004, and it was a place that both of us instantly agreed we should revisit when the other suggested it. I found out that it was the "rainy season" and we could expect lots of drizzle, but we booked it anyway - there's enough to see, eat and drink in any weather. On my first trip it had rained pretty much constantly for 10 out of the 12 days I'd been there, and I'd still loved it.

We flew into Hiroshima, via Tokyo, having found a cheaper deal including the onward internal flight than a direct one would have cost, and it saved us a one-way train journey across the country. I had looked at Okinawa and Kyushu as other possible destinations, but the rain could have been far worse there (and it was) and our time was limited to do them justice. It was very hazy in Tokyo so we didn't get a view of the city as we descended, just endless industrial islands and golf courses to the south and a bridge that disappeared into the sea. At Haneda, we refamiliarised ourselves with the vending machines and the strange toilets, always amused by the noise, cleaning and drying possibilities that they offer (iPhone photo only).

After a couple of hours at Haneda airport our internal flight took us over Mt. Fuji, which we'd climbed on our previous visit - it was just peaking above the clouds. We also passed many tree-covered hills as we approached Hiroshima.

The weather wasn't too bad on our arrival - muggy and warm with quite a lot of cloud, but not pissing down with rain. The airport at Hiroshima isn't in town, so we had to take a long bus past endless bamboo-lined hills to the main terminal, from where we walked to our hotel, a little east of the Peace Park. We were a little early for check-in so dumped our backpacks and headed a few blocks north to Okonomimura, for our first Japanese meal - Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. I remembered this food experience fondly from my first trip - a huge pancake loaded with cabbage and noodles, some egg, lots of spring onions and any other toppings of your choice, all topped off with a tasty teriyaki-ish sauce, made right in front of you on a big teppan hot plate. The Okonomimura building is full of these small restaurants, some of which only opened in the evening, but we found one which had a group of guys eating in, so trusted it to be a good one. We weren't disappointed (although having tried an Osaka-style okonomiyaki in London a few weeks earlier decided we actually preferred the Osaka-style ones). It was pretty challenging to eat with chop-sticks.

We went back to the hotel - the Mitsui Garden Hotel (an absolute bargain of a place!) - to check-in properly. I'd asked for a good view and got one - the enormous room had a huge window looking north over the city, which seemed to go on as far as the hills physically stopped it spreading any further.

Given that the weather was good and the forecast for the following morning wasn't, we decided to head out and visit Miyajima, which is a long tram ride away followed by a short ferry across to the island. First we wandered through the Peace Park, including a quick walk through the museum (a snip at ¥50 - about 28p!). Obviously it is an extremely moving place, and it is impossible to imagine the horror of the events that put the city on the map. The clock I'd seen on my previous visit counting the days since the bomb and since the last nuclear test had been switched off. Outside a large group of schoolchildren lined up to pay their respects. Other individuals laid flowers at a shrine. It is an incredibly peaceful place now, in spite of the gaggle of children.

We found the tram stop and waited a little while for our number 2 tram to arrive to take us 25 or so stops down to the Miyajima-guchi ferry port. The opposite platform was crowded with schoolchildren who'd visited the Peace Park. People cycled around the city with umbrellas held onto the handlebars with clamps to protect them from the sun. We noticed the huge amount of above-ground cables that you see throughout Japan.


It was rush-hour and we had to stand most of the way, but that probably helped us to stay awake - the jet-lag was beginning to creep in. Eventually the crowds thinned out, we got a seat, and it became a little more suburban before we got to the port. We saw our first dogs being walked - not a common sight, it seems, in Japan. There are two ferry companies and we were unsure of which one the ticket machines were for, but a local woman helped us to buy tickets. The ferry was about to leave so her intervention was well-timed and we just made the ferry (they leave pretty frequently, so it wouldn't have been the end of the world if we'd missed it). The ferry ride was quick, and we could see the massive orange torii gate in the distance getting bigger and bigger as we neared the mountainous island.

The sun was trying to peak through fairly dense clouds as we walked towards the gate, the pathways there dotted with tourists and fearless deer, not to mention vending machines (they are everywhere!).

The tide was coming in fast, so there was no chance to wade out to the gate. I did a few long-exposure shots with various filters before heading around to the other side of the temple complex to get a different view. The tide came in extremely quickly as the sun set behind clouds and a few mosquitoes were buzzing around, so we decided to head home (we'd left our repellent in the hotel).

On the tram back into the city I nodded off a few times, but managed to wake up at our stop, from where we wandered through the endless arched shopping area and a few side-streets looking for somewhere to have dinner. In spite of being a Monday night we passed a number of bars full of after-work drinkers (a common sight, it seems, in Japan!).

We found a place near the hotel which had pictures of yakitori on signs outside, so decided to give it a go. Inside there were a few punters, mostly men drinking highballs (tall glasses of whisky and water) and smoking (yes, they still smoke inside in Japan). The air-conditioning was pretty effective, so we weren't affected by the smoke. We ordered a sake taster set, an Asahi beer and a set of chicken yakitori followed by some sardine tempura, minced chicken balls and delicious pork gyoza. The yakitori were generally tasty, although not sure I'd order chicken heart again; it had a strange texture - slightly crunchy and firm, but also slightly jelly-like. Another of the sticks was chicken skin - again, not something I'd order again, but better than expected!

Next door we decided to have a little nightcap in an inviting-looking sake bar that we'd passed earlier. There were no English signs outside, but plenty of sake bottles to let us know what it was. We were led into a little room with tatami floors, a gap for your feet and a low table; shoes were left as you entered (with slippers provided if you needed to go to the loo). We were given a huge sake menu (with some English names) with all sorts to choose from - hot, cold, unpasteurised, etc.). We picked one to try and the friendly woman brought it to us in a fantastic little glass carafe with a hole for ice, which kept the sake cool without watering it down (we now own one!). After a couple more it was 10.45pm and we headed home, having managed to fight off the jet-lag pretty successfully. After a last shot of the night-time view we had a nice long sleep, ready for our onward journey to Osaka the following day.

Click here for blog on Day 2 - Osaka

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