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Trip Report TRIP REPORT: Osaka to Hiroshima and in-between stops (tsuyu / summer)

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Greetings to all!
I just got back from my second trip to Japan only a couple of days ago. My trip was an absolute success and I loved every second of it, regardless of my getting sick and the heat! First of all, I’d like to thank you all for helping me out so much with the planning. I tend to ask many questions since I like to have everything under control, so I think I ended up asking quite a bit…
Someone asked for a trip report, so here it is. I’ll say this now, but it’s going to be very long since I like to write down all the details.

On my first trip to Japan last year I only went to Tokyo (+ Kamakura + Takasaki), so I think I missed seeing a more ‘traditional side’ of Japan and maybe more of the countryside / smaller towns. Therefore this trip included lots of shrines, temples, castles and rice fields to make up for that.
My itinerary ended up changing quite a lot since my first post on this forum ( for reference), I ended up taking out Kyoto and Nara completely, trading them for smaller towns closer to Hiroshima and Himeji, and therefore also spending less money on transportation. I had chosen these dates so I was there during Tanabata Festival and the Himeji Yukata Matsuri, although I missed out on the second one because of flight problems I’ll soon tell you more about. I also chose tsuyu because I absolutely adore rain but it never rains in Spain, although now it is very hot in Japan.
Anyway, this is how it went in the end:

Fri 24 June) Landing in Kansai Airport. Bay Ferry to Kobe, Express to Himeji. Sleep
Sat 25 June) Mt.Shosha + Bizen
Sun 26 June) Asakuchi + Kurashiki
Mon 27 June) Onomichi + Fukuyama
Tue 28 June) Hiroshima
Wed 29 June) Hiroshima
Thu 30 June) Hiroshima
Fri 1 July) Miyajima
Sat 2 July) Iwakuni + Hiroshima
Sun 3 July) Takehara + Fukuyama Folk Museum
Mon 4 July) Okayama
Tue 5 July) Kibi Plain attempt + Ako
Wed 6 July) Himeji + Osaka
Thu 7 July) Osaka
Fri 8 July) Kansai Airport and back home

Feel free to post any comments or questions if you’d like to ask something :) Trip reports helped me a lot while I was planning, so I hope this will also help some of you.

Let it begin!

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    Arriving at Barcelona Airport three hours before my 11:05am flight, the airport not quite yet buzzing with people, I arrived to the gate area without having to do hardly any lines. The flight would be a long one and the seats, as always, would be small, but having done the online check-in myself I was able to choose an isle seat so I could get up and stretch my legs whenever needed.

    I would like to say that my flight went just as smoothly, but unfortunately that is not the case. It all started at the airport in Spain, the plan was to first fly to Amsterdam and then to Osaka from there. They cancelled all flights going to London and, as I was thinking 'well, lucky I chose Amsterdam this time instead' (last year I did Barcelona —> Heathrow, Heathrow —> Tokyo), all flights to Amsterdam were delayed 45min. I initially had 1h10min for my connection to Osaka, but now time had been reduced to only 25min. So cue the panic.
    45min soon turned into an hour and we still hadn't started the boarding, and we weren't up in the air until at least 20min later.
    They gave me a middle seat for the short flight but nobody sat next to me. I took the isle so I could make a run for it when the plane landed. The speaker said they had been late because of tensions in Paris; they had to change their route to avoid flying over it and the weather on the west of Spain apparently wasn't good. The crew gave us extra biscuits as a sorry for the delay. They were so nice and sorry that it was hard to be annoyed with them, even for myself who is expert at being mad at people.
    Fifteen minutes before landing they announce: “passengers going to Delhi, Tokyo and Osaka (+ somewhere else) will not be able to make their connections.”
    The way I slumped down in my chair was noticeable to everyone around.

    I get off the plane, ask the information desk what to do with my missed connection, get lost in the airport — not purposely — and finally find gate T6 which is where us strays had to go to book a different flight.
    The line was huge. Not BIG, we're talking at least two hours wait. Many people had missed connections since many planes going to Amsterdam were delayed, and it was packed full of people flying to Asia. All I could do was wait, but at least I was thankful that I hadn’t checked in any luggage because I don’t know if a suitcase would’ve been able to reach Osaka with everything I went through. At least there was wi-fi. There’s only one direct flight to Osaka from Amsterdam each day, so I was already thinking that I would have to sleep at the airport for a night and catch the next day’s flight, so I was re-arranging my itinerary now that I had one day less. I made friends with a guy in line doing the same flight as me, as well as two Japanese ladies and their kids who live in Zaragoza and were going home for the holidays.
    Half an hour into the wait I receive a message from KLM saying they’d reserved me another flight, so I said farewell and good luck to my line buddies and went to a machine nearby to print out my new boarding pass. More difficult than it should’ve been but a lady was there to help and disappeared to use a different printer, coming back with my new boarding pass a while later. The machine did manage to print out a voucher of 5euros though, so I went to a café and got an apple and a banana + grape slushie for free.

    I was now going to Shanghai from where I'd take another plane to Osaka. We started the boarding soon after I arrived to the gate and I had a middle seat right at the front of the plane next to where they prepare the food.
    And if you think all is well, you'd be wrong. They say through the speakers as we're about to take off that there are some 'technical difficulties' and that the technician is working on it. Ten minutes tops, they say. Ten minutes soon turn into two whole hours and by this point I'm already sure I've missed, once again, my connection to Osaka.
    Can I advise against using the phrase 'technical difficulties' when that so obviously means the plane isn't working, especially when said plane is supposed to be in the sky for the next 10h and flying me to China? It doesn't really impose the confidence that we're not all going to die.

    The seat-choosing process I had done with the online check-in was useless now that it was a different flight, but I managed to get another isle seat all the same since the one next to me was once again empty, as well as two blankets and two cushions (and 2 TVs!). I started watching Deadpool the movie, but I didn't like it, so I watched an episode of 'The Flash' instead. I was finished just as we took off, so then I listened to music instead and played some puzzles. I soon got bored so I went for a walk around the plane and they brought us the food.
    The options were chicken or beef. Last time I had beef by that name it was in Tokyo on my last trip, it was 'beef curry' because I was trying to be adventurous and taste new things. But it was horrible, so I decided to play safe this time and go with the chicken instead. And guess what the chicken option was? Chicken curry. And the beef people had nice looking meatballs.
    The flight wasn't too horrid, and I managed to sleep max 3h. The guy next to me was studying Spanish in Spain and was going back to his home in Kagawa Prefecture (Shikoku Island, Japan, he was surprised I knew where that was). We landed at 11:30am (China time) in Shanghai and our flight to Osaka was at 12:15 so we, and many other people going to Delhi and Tokyo and Osaka, ran as fast as we could to catch our flights.

    If you thought Amsterdam was bad, China was worse. No proper signs anywhere, I was running around in circles and they were all pointing me in different directions. I had to stand in line and then they asked for my Chinese visa (which I don’t have since I'm going to Japan) and then I had to go through a passport control and finally, somehow, made it to the gate area even though that was mostly just pure luck. There were only two gates and all of the people waiting to fly out were there. There was a sign saying 'Osaka last call' so I pushed to the front of the line of people going to Tokyo and said “Osaka!” to the lady at the counter. She pushed me into a dark corner with a pile of people waiting for Osaka. The only other white person in the whole swarm of bodies of the room was near tears. After shouting in Chinese at everyone in the room in a disorderly manner the desk lady shoved the Osaka group through some doors where someone checked our boarding passes and pushed us towards a bus. I was following a lady with long grey hair who, or at least I thought, was also going to Osaka, but I had no idea what was happening. Next I know I'm on a plane and two hours later I finally reach Japan, 8h after my initial plan.

    Just before reaching Tokyo on my first trip I was listening to some Ayumi Hamasaki music (I thought it would be appropriate having in mind that I was going to Japan) and, just having opened the window blind after failing to fall asleep for the last few hours, all I could see outside was white. The singer then said ‘mite’ (look) at the moment the plane left the clouds, and a land full of rice fields and bundles of houses stretched out below me, creating the image that is engrained in my mind as my first impression of Japan. The colour of the sky matched that of the water in the distance, and the ships that were passing by on the horizon seemed to be floating in the air instead.
    My first sighting of the country wasn’t quite so dramatic this time around, but there was definitely a moment of relief knowing that soon — finally — I would be reaching my destination.

    In Kansai I was in familiar territory, so buying tickets for the ferry to Kobe was easy and I was sailing through Osaka Bay on the next ferry. I was lucky to find out about this discounted ferry for foreigners (Bay Shuttle) between Kansai and Kobe airports just a few days before my trip, saving me almost 800yen of transportation on my first day, cheaper than if I had taken the train passing through Osaka. with information about the ferry in case you are interested.
    It was drizzling and everything was grey, but from the water I managed to see the outline of Akashi-Kaikyo, the longest suspension bridge in the world, in the distance. I’m sure that on a sunny day it would be seen clearly. I couldn’t see the start or the end of the bridge, and the steel structure seemed to dissapear into the clouds. Staring at Akashi-Kaikyo, imagining stories of cars passing by to the mysterious land beyond the grey, the ferry ride seemed much quicker than the half an hour it lasted.

    After getting off the Bay Shuttle at Kobe Airport Port there was a bus waiting for those of us who were heading into the city, dropping us off (free of charge) at the airport’s train station. 330yen to Sannomiya Station, my — although very limited — kanji skills helped me recognise the ‘三’ of ‘Sannomiya’, avoiding that I get lost once again.
    The confusing fifteen minutes I spent my first time in Tokyo staring at the train map trying to figure out how in the world I would get to Asakusabashi from Narita were replaced this time by excitement as I saw the ticket machine once again after so long. It finally felt like I was in Japan again!
    The people behind me didn’t have to wait long for me to buy a ticket before I was already going through the gate and making my way to the Port Liner. I once read that this was the first train to use no driver, instead being automated. I don’t really know how true that is, but regardless, I was still on a no-maned train zooming over the sea, so that’s pretty good as far as first train rides go.
    Kobe, however, was big and full of people. The express train to Himeji was spent squashed up against the door’s window, although that did allow me to have a great view of the Akashi Castle turrets lit up in the night. The first Japanese castle I ever saw!
    I would be sleeping the night in Himeji, a hostel close to the castle. It was 8:15pm when I reached the city and the Himeji Yukata Matsuri was going on. I had planned to visit the festival and try out all the street food, but having arrived 8h later than expected I was much too tired to do so and decided instead to go straight to sleep once I reached my room.

    That is, if I could. I arrived to the hostel and there was a note saying 'guest, make yourself at home!' but there was nobody there. After going inside through the unlocked door and uncomfortably sitting in the common room alone for fifteen minutes, a man arrives to the house and checks me in, shows me around, and announces he's leaving for the night.
    I asked for the dorm but there was nobody else there so I had the room all to myself! In Tokyo I stayed for a week in a capsule hostel, and another week in a dorm bunk, so this was the first traditional room I had slept in.
    The place is called ‘Engakudou Himeji Guesthouse’ and is a 101 year old house. I was very excited to see a tokonoma and use sliding doors, although the house wasn’t as clean as I hoped it would be. But for only 2500yen a night I had a pleasant enough stay and decided to sleep there again at the end of my trip.

    Unfortunately no sightseeing happened on my first day, but I have news for my first full day in the country for the next post, heading off to Mt.Shosha early morning!

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    Thank you all for the encouraging words! While there were things that didn’t go as planned, nothing beats the plane trip in regards of frustration.
    I’m trying to upload the photos onto my blog so you can see a few, but my internet isn’t working too well so I don’t know when I’ll be able to share a link with you. Hopefully I can get them up soon.

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    The jet lag had me waking up early but I decided to stay in bed for an hour because, knowing myself, I’d be waking up early every day for the rest of my trip and this would be one of the few mornings I would be awake before my alarm clock. But alas, I was starting to get fidgety and I wanted to get the day started, so soon I was up and getting ready for the day.
    Check-out was at 10am but considering I’d be out until noon, I folded up my futon as neatly as I could manage without waking anyone else up (the walls were very thin, and there was a couple in the room next door) and left my bag packed next to it. I had already warned the hostel that I’d be up early and would return to pick up my luggage later on.

    My first stop of the day was Mt.Otokoyama right in front of my hostel and the shrine at the top of it’s 200 or so steps. Princess Sen from Himeji Castle used to pray to this shrine from a window in the Sen Tower of the castle, and from here there is a great view of the castle itself too.
    So after a beautiful view to start the day and packed with my little backpack I made my way to the station to catch an early bus to Mt.Shosha. In Tokyo there were three convenience stores around every corner, but in Himeji there are only two along the main road between the castle and the station and none close to my hostel, so I made a stop along the way to buy some breakfast and lunch for while I was away.
    Any remains from the night before were now all cleaned up (that’s definitely not how Spain works) and, hadn’t I been there myself at the time, I wouldn’t have believed that a festival had taken place only a few hours earlier.

    Internet had told me that I should be taking bus number 8, but as I reached the station I realised that there were about twenty different bus stops and I had no idea which one the bus would be stopping at. I tried bus stop 8 because that seemed like the most logical answer, but 8am came and went and no buses stopped, so I knew it wasn’t the right one. As I crossed the road and walked around all the other bus stops trying to look for the kanji ‘山’ belonging to Mt.Shosha, I came across the bus information centre that had just opened. They spoke no English so I decided to practise my limited Japanese and they pointed me to bus stop 18. Buses numbers 41, 42, 43 and 45 stop here, all going to Mt.Shosha (no sign of bus 8), and I managed to make it to an empty seat of the 8:05am bus and set off for the 30min ride through Himeji as the city slowly began to wake up.
    For those of you wondering what there is to see at Mt.Shosha, there is a temple called Engyo-ji known as the location for the movie ‘The Last Samurai’. I was reluctant to go since I hadn’t seen the movie and that seemed to be the feature that everyone remarked about this site but, and thanks to the recommendation of someotherguy, even for the less cinematically inclined like myself the temple is pretty stunning and definitely worth a visit if you have the time. And don’t worry, although the temple is at the top of the mountain, there is a ropeway for those who don’t want to walk up to it. Although the ropeway does still require a bit of a walk to reach the main building of the temple and the other buildings around it.
    I was trying to save money wherever I could, so I opted to take the trail instead. I had been promised a 40min walk, but I definitely took a long hour to reach the maniden. Maybe I was very slow because my legs were hurting from all the sitting down and waiting around in lines from the day before, plus a breakfast break, but I still think 40min is a bit generous.
    For me, the interesting thing to note about this place is that Benkei is said to have studied here, and the architecture is simply amazing.
    At this time in the morning it was just me, myself and the spiders (and another man who walked past me as I took my onigiri break). I’d been watching a few videos of giant spiders before my trip and was pretty paranoid, but rest assured that the spiders I found probably weren’t too dangerous and seemed more interested in just sitting there than attacking me. I do think something may have bitten me though, because after this day I had a lump on the side of my foot that lasted for a week.
    You have to pay an entrance fee of 500yen for the temple just after the ropeway station, and they gave me a map of the top of the mountain with all the sub temples’ locations and a bit of an explanation in English. The lady there said some form of the verb ‘arukimasu’ (walk), so I don’t really know if she was congratulating me for the walk I had done, or telling me that I still had 15min more in front of me.

    Between Niomon and the ropeway the path is lined with statues of Kannon (I think there were 33 belonging to the different Saigoku pilgrimage sites). Some of them were very elaborate and they had even gone to the lengths of giving her a large number of arms, all holding different objects! Not quite the thousand arms Kannon is said to have, but easily up to thirty of them. In some cases people had tried to place coins on her open palms, so I tried my luck and left one there too.
    After the Niomon gate the walk is somewhat downhill and easier than the rest of the trail had been. There is a ryokan here that also offers shojin ryori but I didn’t have the money for such an experience, so I made my way to the main temple complex, maniden, instead.
    Crossing a small bridge I entered a cloud of mist that surrounded only the maniden, making it look even more imposing and mysterious than it already was by itself. We don’t get much mist here at home so it isn’t something I see often.
    There were few people out and about at the time I arrived, mostly only people who worked there and a couple other visitors, but one of the workers ran up to me as soon as he saw a foreigner and excitedly asked where I was from and how I had heard about this place.

    I decided to visit the maniden now that the serenity and silence of the morning was still in place, and was blown away by the complexity of the architecture! I didn’t see any nails, it seemed like most of the pieces were cut to fit together, and this was used to enhance the beauty of the temple rather than any added on decorations. There were a few wood carvings and very detailed latticework added in, but since they were made out of the same material and colour it only managed to fit in naturally.
    The inside of the maniden sells all the pertinent omikuji, omamori, good luck charms and related objects. Particularly, Mt.Shosha sells two beautiful shuinchô, temple stamp books, one with a flower pattern (available in blue and pink) and another with the maniden of the temple pictured in red between many trees. The priest or miko stationed at the counter will stamp the book for you with the temple or shrine’s seal —usually in red—, plus write down the name of the place and the date you visited in elegant calligraphy. It’s definitely interesting to see the stamp being drawn in front of you, since each one is unique and different, and now that my trip is over seeing them all in a line (you can unfold all the pages of the book like an accordion to see them all) is truly a better memory than any souvenir I bought.
    You do have to pay for the stamps though, all of which cost me 300yen each. I read that sometimes the temple you buy your shuinchô at gives you the first temple stamp for free, but Engyo-ji doesn’t.
    As I showed the stamp book I wanted to buy to the priest, he started talking to me in Japanese while he signed it. I understood nothing.
    He also gave me a small piece of paper shaped somewhat like a leaf with black ink writing on it because Engyo-ji is a temple along the Saigoku Pilgrimage. I guess I would collect these if I were to do the pilgrimage, but this is the only one belonging to the route I went to.

    With as much time as I wanted in front of me, I set off to discover the sub temples and the surrounding area.
    While the maniden may be the most impressive of them all, it wouldn’t be fair not to mention the incredible wood work of the other buildings. Some even covered in moss, others short enough for me to be able to observe the roof tiling and the crests, I spent almost three hours just walking around and looking at everything I could.
    One of the buildings, called Jikido, allows access to both floors of the building. Built all the way back in 1174 it used to be both a priest's training centre and a boarding house; now it has different treasures on display and an area for visitors to sit and copy sutras. The sutra copying unfortunately wasn’t available at the time since I was the only visitor there, but the second floor small museum was interesting as it showed tiles, old beams of the temple, statues and Benkei's desk!
    Walking around I came across a pile of old roof tiles that had been thrown away and probably forgotten, I tried picking one up to see how much it weighed… it was so heavy! Needing both my hands to pick it up and place it back down, it’s incredible to think how much weight these structures have to hold up just for the roof itself, and yet they still manage to look so graceful and beautiful while doing so!
    Only my first day and yet I feel like I’ve ran out of synonyms for ‘beautiful’. But Japan is truly a beautiful country, so I hope you will be so kind as to ignore my word repetition!

    The Honda family graves are also in the area. I don’t know much about Japanese history, but I’ve heard of their name and know that the Honda family was very important, so I felt honoured to be standing right in front of their tombs. To think that where I was standing has so much history behind it!
    I spotted a small Inari shrine hidden between the leaves, and who am I to ignore an Inari Shrine given how charming they always seem to be, and as I was busy trying to avoid the spider hanging from the short torii gate a deer suddenly jumped out from behind the shrine and ran away.
    After all the walking I had done during the morning my legs were in need of a sit-down, so I decided to take the ropeway down instead. Next to me sat the man who had earlier been excited to see a foreigner, he offered me a ride back to Himeji Station since he was going in that direction. Who am I to refuse a free ride? He was a very hardworking man who worked as a schoolteacher during the week and at the temple on Saturdays. We talked about Don Quijote, Momotaro, rice fields and the internet, his English was very good, and I was left at the station much quicker than the bus had brought me to the mountain earlier in the morning.
    Back at my hostel, the other two guests from the room next door had also just returned from Himeji Castle. They complained about the amount of people and I felt lucky that I had organised my itinerary so I would be there on a weekday instead of a Saturday.
    My plan for today was to go to Ako and Bizen as I made my way to sleep in the town of Asakuchi just past Kurashiki, but it was already 2pm by the time I was on the train (after a quick lunch), and later once I arrived to Banshu-Ako Station, so I decided to only include Bizen in the day’s sightseeing and leave Ako for another day when I could enjoy it with more time.

    Bizen is a town known for Bizen-yaki, one of the oldest forms of Japanese pottery. It’s main characteristic is its lack of glaze and instead having a more rough and earthy finish. While I don’t really have much of an eye for pottery, seeing so many different pieces through the shop windows and the chimneys used when making them was curious. One of the workshops had pulled the wall off, and I was able to see the shape the kiln must have had.
    Kiln’s are filled with the Bizen-yaki (or sometimes tiles or whatever else it is that the person wants to make) at the further end, then the first half of the kiln is filled with firewood. Heat and smoke go up so it passes through the Bizen-yaki and out through the chimney, hardening the pottery in the process. I read that firing bizen-yaki usually takes ten days!
    I also saw an old kura house, although I will talk more about that style of architecture tomorrow when I visit Kurashiki.
    As soon as I got off the train I hurried to Tenshin Shrine before it closed. Usually shrines and temples close at around 5pm and I wanted to add another stamp to my shuincho, but as I got there it turned out to be empty. Working by honour code, I left a 500yen coin next to some other coins and bought a small ema board made out of bizenyaki.
    Tenshin Shrine was very small but surrounded by pottery of different sizes and shapes, animal figures and covered in bizenyaki tiles on the roof and walls. Having in mind how expensive the pottery is today, this shrine must hold great meaning or sentiments as town members spare no thought on price when making a donation.
    I was about to leave when I spotted a statue of Urashima Tarou (also made fully out of bizenyaki)! As one of my favourite legends, this really made my quick stop in Bizen just a little bit better.
    From Imbe Station I could see an old tunnel kiln, 500 years old and designated as a national treasure, although if we’re being honest it really just looked like a lump in the ground and I would’ve never guessed it had been a kiln.

    I hopped onto the wrong train when leaving, accidentally taking an express to Hiroshima instead of a local, so I had to get off at the next station and wait for the next one to come. But all is well, and I arrived to Konko Station and to my new hostel shortly after without any problems. The hostel I stayed at was my favourite out of all the different ones I have been to, so maybe I will make a small review about it in my next post.

    For now, just a promise that a day in Kurashiki is coming soon!

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    Peter_T - I just noticed you had posted on my thread about my trip to Bitchu Matsuyama castle almost two months ago - sorry, I never saw the post and didn't know the answer

    MinnBeef - I get the feeling Peter_T is an off the beaten track type of person and real budget traveler as well. In his earlier post he was planning to visit Kyoto and Nara but as his plans crystallized he changed his mind. This board has its Kyoto prejudice...I love Kyoto also - spent five or six weeks based there the past three years in a row...but there are other places as well....

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    I'm really enjoying this. You write so well and I admire your focus and engagement on where you are.

    And thanks for alerting me to the Saigoku Pilgrimage. I've been going to Japan once or twice a year (for work) for 25 years and like to have a goal to guide my side trips. I looked up the pligrimage and by chance I've already done a few, including the first 6 mentioned in this blog, and will now target the others.

    I'm looking forward to your description of Matsuyama Castle in Bitchu Takahashi. Mara and I compared notes on how hard this is in some earlier threads but we both did it from the car park--from the train station it's just a speck on the horizon so I hope you managed OK.

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    Thank you everyone for reading and your kind words!

    MinnBeef, you are right, I have been to Japan twice and haven’t made it to Kyoto. This is mostly because, as Mara says, there are so many places in Japan to visit! I decided to go somewhere that really called to me (in this case, Hiroshima) simply because it fitted my interests more.
    I do think either Matsumoto or Beppu will win my next visit though, so Kyoto will still have to wait! ;)

    That’s okay, Mara! Unfortunately I didn’t end up going to Takahashi because I had seen plenty of residences in Takehara just a day earlier (so the samurai residences were no longer a must-see) and I doubt I would’ve made it all the way to the castle with the heat of July. I’m sure I will enjoy a visit there some other time of the year, and also include the Bengara Village nearby. I was able to go inside five other castles though, and saw plenty of ruins and others from the outside.
    But for anyone who is interested, I did manage to find the start of the trail during my research. That’s 34.80197, 133.62072 on Google Maps.

    Thank you, someotherguy! It was thanks to your recommendation that I added Mt.Shosha to my list, so I can’t thank you enough for the wonderful suggestion. It turned out to be one of my favourite places of the entire trip.
    I’m glad you like the report so far and think I write well: I don’t speak much English in Spain so I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to the lovely writings of other trip reports.
    That link reminds me that I wanted to retry and read the ‘Tale of Genji’. I didn’t make it past the second chapter last time, but now that I know more about Japanese culture and history I think I will enjoy it more.

    LuisJp — yes, that is the shrine I visited! I translated the name with Google Translator because I couldn’t find any information about it in English, that is probably where my mistake comes from. Thank you for pointing that out!

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    We sometimes use the same kanji, chinese charater, to the words with different sounds. For example,

    1) 天津(Tenshin) is the name of one of the major cities in China, Tianjin. Or, 天津丼(Tenshin-don) is the name of one of the popular Japanese-Chinese dishes.

    2) 天津小湊(Amatsu-Kominato) is the name of a port town in the Boso peninsula, which is famous for its Tai, the king of fish in Japan.

    And more, we spell "つ" with tsu or tu. All these tricks could make a search by alphabets more difficult.

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    Sorry for the wait! As promised, here is the next instalment:

    Since there were no curtains in my room I woke up together with the sun and decided to walk around before I had to leave.
    There isn’t anything worth of sightseeing in the small town I stayed the night, but there is a shrine (Omiya Jinja) nearby, so I went to check it out and, funny thing, I found an old kura storehouse just like the ones I’d be seeing the in a few hours in Kurashiki, only much smaller. Having the place to myself, I wasn’t embarrassed to stop and stare at it closely, so I was able to have a good look at the architecture.

    Back at my hostel, I don’t know how I managed to fall asleep again after packing my bag and having a shower, but when I woke up it was already half past eight so I quickly got up and hurried to the station, leaving a note behind saying I had enjoyed my stay very much. I like to be at the different sites at opening time to make the most of the day, but I arrived a little late to Kurashiki.

    For those of you wondering what there is to do in Kurashiki, the city has a neighbourhood by the name of Bikan preserved as it was in the Edo Period. The buildings in Kurashiki are traditional Japanese storehouses known as ‘kura’, hence the name of the city. Kura were used to store only precious items, like rice or sutras later on, and started appearing as early as the Yayoi Period. There are many types of kura storehouses such as ‘azekura’ (log cabin), board-wall kura (you can see some at Shirakawa-go), ‘ishigura’ made out of stone… but the ones we find in Kurashiki are known as ‘earthen kura’. These types of constructions usually have a wooden structural frame with the walls being covered in clay and coated with plaster in order to make them fireproof. In Kurashiki we can see two different styles of tiling: laid diagonally and fixed with white plaster to keep them in place — this style of tiling is called ‘namako’ (literally ‘sea cucumber’ because of the rounded plaster) — and horizontal tiles. I think the tiling is to protect the walls from damage since the clay isn’t too strong.

    Today, many of these old storehouses have been turned into museums and shops. In all honesty I wasn’t sure if I’d like Kurashiki too much since it seemed to be a more touristy area but, although it was touristy, many of the people there preferred to do some shopping while I was completely alone in the museums I went to. I enjoyed Kurashiki very much.
    Reaching the Bikan area I first stopped at the information centre to buy a ticket for a boat ride (500yen) down the canal passing through the middle of town. I had arranged the dates so that I would be in Kurashiki on a weekend since they only offer boat tours on Saturdays and Sundays, and I had my fingers crossed it wouldn’t rain today.
    They gave me hour for 10:30 and since it was just past 9am, I had time to visit one museum first. The Toy Museum was my favourite, with displays of toys from all over Japan ranging from figures portraying legendary characters such as Kintaro, Momotaro, and the one and only Urashima Tarou (to state the most popular), but also full tables of kokeshis, darumas, kites and —I had to look up this word on translator, so I’m not sure if it is correct— spinning tops. The owner of the place has the world record for spinning a spinning top for the longest time, and he had his certificate displayed for all to see.

    I left the museum running once I saw what time it was, and the boatman was delighted to see a foreigner in Kurashiki. I think the boat was what made my day, nobody there spoke English and the twenty minute tour down the canal was entirely in Japanese but the guide was very expressive and very interested in what he was saying: his excitement showed and made me excited too, even though I didn’t understand much.
    We crossed another boat with a couple getting married, we had to duck underneath trees at some points and we were able to see the beautiful houses from the water, as well as some old writings under the bridges.

    After the tour, Momotaro Museum was next up. I found this place a bit disappointing. Although I’m an immature twenty year old who loves legends and ‘children things’, this place was a bit too childish even for myself. That being said, I’m sure it would be fun for kids — there were many optical illusions that were amusing, and most of the books, posters and figurines were child-oriented. A man who worked at the museum showed me around, and there was also a small horror house in a corner of the museum which, I must admit, was pretty scary because I couldn’t see where I was walking.
    After making a quick stop at Ivy Square (I don’t really know what there was to see there other than, well, ivy) I walked around a few shops. The things I bought in Kurashiki were a tenugui towel since I hadn’t brought any towel from home for after my showers, and two tatami heri (borders) with beautiful patterns —one black with golden flying cranes and the other blue with different fish pictured—, both from the Toy Museum’s gift shop. I also met a big statue of Kitaro from ‘Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro’, so of course I asked someone to take a photo of me with him.

    Achi Shrine is also easy to find, though nothing other worldly. I sat down on some steps at the back of the shrine to eat a few snacks I had, but was interrupted by a giant wasp buzzing around me. I got out of there before it decided to come any closer and decided to go for lunch since it was already pretty late (in Spain we eat at 2pm).
    I tried Kurashiki's food speciality before leaving, Bukkake Udon, at a place near the station, but let's just say I was glad when it was over.

    Tonight I’d be sleeping in Onomichi, so I thought I could make a stop at Fukuyama Castle on my way there. It does seem like I’m changing hostels every night and doing lots of ups and downs, but it turned out cheaper for me to move around as I saw the sights rather than base myself in one place and have to return there after every day. I was excited to go to Hiroshima so it was nice being on a train going in that direction knowing that I’d be there the next day.
    Sitting on the Sanyo Line yellow train everyone seemed to be taking photos of, I started cleaning up my day pack a little and found a key in one of the small pockets. I had forgotten my backpack in the Kurashiki Station locker!
    Quickly getting off at the next station, I hopped onto the next train going the other way and backtracked to Kurashiki. I had to explain the situation to the station master since I couldn’t get out with the train ticket I had (the machine wouldn’t have accepted it), and after he laughed at me I was reunited with my bag once again. Of course, by this time I wouldn’t have made it to Fukuyama Castle with enough time to look at it properly before its closing time, so I went straight to Onomichi without my little stop along the way.
    Fukuyama Castle is right next to the station though, and is easily seen from the train itself. I had never seen a (Japanese) castle from so close! I couldn’t wait to go there some other day during my trip and visit the inside.

    Onomichi is a small city next to the Seto Inland Sea. A chain of islands connects Onomichi to Imabari City on Shikoku Island, the smallest of the four main islands of Japan, and the cycling path passing over these islands along with the bridges connecting them is Onomichi’s most popular feature (it is called the Shimanami Kaido). Unfortunately I had to take out this activity from my plan since I do not have the physical strength required to do it all in one day and preferred to spend my time elsewhere this time around, but it is definitely something I would like to do at some point. Instead, I would be doing the Onomichi Temple Walk the next day, which also promised to be very nice.
    Soon after exiting Onomichi Station I was met by a different castle, Onomichi-jo. Onomichi Castle was built in the late 1900s as a tourist attraction, it has no historical relevance whatsoever, but it still looked pretty perched at the top of the hill. Now, however, it is abandoned and entrance is not permitted. I was looking for the statue of Fumiko Hayashi, a writer, and she happened to be covered in pink and blue hydrangeas. The shopping street was covered with Tanabata decorations hanging from the ceiling all the way from start to end, and as I had never seen any before I was very excited to look at the children’s drawings and the wishes hanging from the bamboo trees.
    During the rest of the day I decided to take it easy and went out for a walk along the road next to the sea. I tasted Onomichi ramen, Onomichi’s speciality, at a cute family restaurant near my hostel; unfortunately it was similar to my experience with Kurashiki’s bukkake udon.

    Coming up: Onomichi temple walk, Fukuyama and spotting lovely houses along the Sanyo Line!

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    Sorry for the delay! You can read the photo version instead if you prefer:


    As mentioned last time, today’s topic is the temple walk of Onomichi. It is slightly embarrassing to say (or write, I guess) that I got lost before even reaching the first temple, but that’s all on me for there was a sign pointing the way that I hadn’t seen. I stopped at a bench outside the first temple, Jikoji, to have my breakfast. It was the first time I tried a macha swiss roll and instantly fell in love. I ate many of them during my trip, buying one every time I saw it in a konbini.
    Jikoji Temple had many hydrangeas that would’ve looked beautiful earlier in June, but they were mostly wilted by the time I went there. There were quite a few other flowers to make up for it. A mother carrying her crying and struggling daughter to school passed by, determined to get her to class in time.
    The walk includes 25 temples and is a mix of slopes, stairs and turns as one passes through the residential streets. Some of the temples had their gates closed or were simply deserted but open, later I realised that this is probably because it was a Monday. I wasn’t looking at my map and signs seemed to be non-existent, but there was a different temple around every corner so I just jumped from one temple to the next. Maybe I missed a couple.
    What I remember the most from Onomichi, however, were the bugs. Wasps and bees reaching unimaginable sizes and buzzing way too close for comfort, insects of all colours that really just looked like a flash of red or blue or green as they flew past in a hurry, dozens of beautiful dragonflies, spiders hanging from every corner. The most memorable was the giant centipede I caught creeping along a wall; it was the length of my hand! I kept my distance since they are very venomous, it soon went through a window and into someone’s back garden.

    After only four or five temples, steps began to dominate the walk. The first few were fine, but as I turned a corner only more steps appeared, and then more as I turned again, and more all the way to the top. Hiking Mt.Shosha was honestly easier than this, although it is mostly the heat’s fault as well as that of the buzzes I kept hearing from insects flying past non-stop.
    Another man was the only other person who hadn’t taken the ropeway up to the observation point, and we exchanged ‘ganbatte’s and ‘atsui’s every time one of us advanced the other.
    Senko-ji seemed like a tourist hotspot even though the rest of the walk was empty. From here you can see the whole city stretch out below as well as the sea and Mukoujima Island right in front. IF you’ve seen any photos of Onomichi, chances are this red temple is part of it. There were three different counters selling temple goods (lucky I learnt to read the sign telling me where to get a goshuin stamp to add to my collection), a group of ladies taking a rest on the benches, the ropeway that I saw pass by was crowded with people. The man that had also taken the steps leaned against the rail next to me as we both enjoyed the view of the city below. I deemed it unnecessary to go up even more to the observation platform since the views from the temple itself were already stunning.
    The walk down was much more enjoyable, the streets became more narrow (which also meant less wasps) and I felt like I was seeing more of the daily life than during the first half.
    My favourite of the route was by far Ushitora Shrine, two huge trees with moss on their big branches almost covered the whole grounds and gave me some much needed shade so I could have a bit of a rest.
    I’m going to nominate Taisan-ji as my second favourite, it had quite a few statues of ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ with a little twist: instead of covering their mouth (or eyes or ears) the monkeys were shouting. Not too sure what that is supposed to mean as I doubt the temple was dedicated to evil or anything similar, but it was amusing nonetheless.
    Saikoku-ji is dedicated to tabi shoes and has six giant shoes hanging from the entrance gate as well as a row of hydrangea bushes leading to, you guessed it, more steps. Most of the temples were small and I don’t know anything about their history. Honestly, I doubt I’ll even remember most of them a few years from now.

    Once I considered I’d seen enough temples, I headed back to my hostel to pick up my bag and head off to a different place for more sightseeing. The owners of the hostel were outside taking photos of their new bike and I was able to say goodbye and thank you to them in person.
    The initial plan was to go to Takehara as I made my way to Hiroshima for the night, but Kure Line had been closed for a few days because of heavy rainfall (hard to believe, seeing how hot and sunny it was in Onomichi), so I moved Takehara to another day and decided to attempt another visit to Fukuyama Castle after missing out on it the day before.

    Only just exiting Fukuyama Station, the steps to the castle were right in front of me. I was excited to be here since this would be the first castle I went inside… but it was closed. I then realised that it must be because it was a Monday, the day when many museums and apparently castles have their day off. I made sure to check the timetables of the places I’d be visiting so this wouldn’t happen to me (I learnt my lesson when I wasn’t able to see the Imperial Palace in Tokyo last time), but nowhere said that Fukuyama-jo would be closed on Mondays so I supposed it meant there were no closing days. I’ve informed about this so they can update their database.
    Anyway, although the main keep was closed the grounds were still open, so I was able to see the yaguras from up close (and touch them!) and walk around the main keep.
    Mizuno Katsunari, cousin of Tokugawa Ieyasu, was the first of the Tokugawas to be stationed in Chugoku (1619), his job was to keep an eye out on Hiroshima and Okayama areas (being non-hereditary vassals I guess there were deemed to be tensions over the successors). As a Tokugawa he was given a lot of money, materials and even buildings being transferred from Fushimi Castle to build Fukuyama Castle quickly. The castle was completed in 1622, unfortunately it was mostly destroyed in air raids during 1945, the only survivors being a yagura and one of the gates.
    My visit to the castle didn’t last too long though and, pitying myself for my bad luck at not being able to see the inside of the main keep, I decided to at least make the most of Fukuyama and walk around for a while.

    I came across a shrine called Fukuyama Tenmangu, a red bridge crossing the small stream (canal?) that was running between the road and the houses of the street. Many steps later I finally reached the main complex. This shrine was very different to the temples I’d seen earlier in the day in Onomichi; firstly because of the vibrant red colour and the size, but also because it was hidden between trees that gave it shade, crows substituted wasps and ‘deserted and empty’ became ‘mysteriously silent’. I definitely enjoy shrines like this.
    Unsurprisingly, the two museums near the castle were also closed, but the park and the many statues were still very enjoyable to walk through. While I was waiting around for the train on the lower platform I heard a rumble of a train passing by on the tracks above: a shinkansen! It would still be a couple days until I actually saw one but hearing it and knowing that it was so close was still very exciting. I can’t wait until a future trip when I can finally ride one myself!
    But alas, I was stuck with taking locals since it was nearly 3000yen cheaper (no seat fare). I won’t complain though, it turned out to be my favourite train ride of the trip. I read a description on by someone who said: “Rolling green hills and picturesque countryside scenes will have you wanting to stay on board the train until the sun goes down”. That’s definitely the best description I can think of. The view of the beautiful old houses interrupted by rice fields every now and then and lush green trees that stood tall with dignity covering the mountains all the way into the distance. I think that is what I love most about local trains, being able to see the landscape pass by slowly, the day-to-day life of the people getting on and off at every station. Many of the houses had shiny brown tiles that made them really stand out. I don’t know if that’s a characteristic special of this area or if it is also seen elsewhere, but I made a game of spotting as many as I could. I also saw kura storehouses similar to the ones in Kurashiki fly past, even kura with shiny brown tiles!
    I caught a glimpse of the SkyBridge near Hiroshima Airport high up in the air as it started to rain. The rain only made the countryside look even more beautiful, it finally felt like I was there during rainy season.

    After about two hours that went by very quickly, the countryside scenes were left behind and a city atmosphere took its place. I decided to start writing an email to my parents to fill in the time left to my destination, but soon the speakers announce the next station: Hiroshima! Just as I heard the name of the city I looked out the window again and the first thing I saw was the Peace Pagoda at the top of a hill north of Hiroshima.
    As I got off the train and made my way outside I finally put good use to the umbrella I’d bought at Sannomiya my first day, although I didn’t need it much since there were only a few steps until the tram that took me all the way to Dobashi Station near my hostel. I had made it! Hiroshima was my absolute must-see for this trip and the rest of my itinerary was planned around my stay at this city. Finally the changing hostels every night had ended and I’d be staying in Hiroshima for 6 nights in a row, no more ups and downs and forgetting my backpack. I was looking forward to getting to know the city in the days to come.

    Next up: Hiroshima bomb-related sites

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    Thank you to all for reading!
    Russ_in_LA, I generally like noodles and had udon and ramen many times in different places and enjoyed them a lot, I guess I was just unlucky with these two dishes I tried. In Bukkake Udon’s case I liked the udon itself, I just didn’t really enjoy the toppings added. Onomichi Ramen was a bit too fatty or oily for my taste.

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    DAY 5: HIROSHIMA (Peace Sites)

    Warning for this will be an emotional post (and somewhat graphic) for my first day in Hiroshima visiting the Peace Park and Museum. I fitted in most of the a-bomb related sites into one day so I could enjoy a different and happier side of Hiroshima for the days to come, but it ended up being pretty upsetting.
    For the worst of reasons, Hiroshima needs no introduction. I hadn’t really learnt about Hiroshima much at school: since I’m from Spain, Spain and other European countries usually took the spotlight when it came to the history we learnt. It was mentioned as something that happened but we spent very little time learning about Japan or the US. So before going I wanted to know as much as I could about the tragedy to properly understand the experiences of those who lived it and had been reading quite a bit about the bombing before I arrived. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to complete my senbazuru (1000 origami cranes) in time, so I only brought 50 small squares of paper with me and made some cranes while there, leaving them at the different memorial sites individually.

    Leaving the hostel at 7:15am I crossed the Peace Bridges south of the Peace Park along Heiwa Odori as I made my way to first find some breakfast.
    I’d seen old photos of one of the bridges from 1955 (they were built in 1952) and had seen it pictured a couple of times as I was reading about the bombing before my trip. I read that there had been a competition to design the bridge and the one existing today is that of the chosen winner, Isamu Noguchi. One is named Tsukuru (to build) while the second is Yuku (to depart), they are a symbol of the reconstruction of Hiroshima after the bombing. Both are easy to find; they’re on either side of the park behind the Peace Museum.

    After buying my sushi breakfast at a konbini near Hondori I decided to eat next to the Dome. It was constructed in 1915 as a facility for the display and sale of commercial products within Hiroshima prefecture and was the location for the Hiroshima prefecture art exhibition and other such events. Seeing it in 2D in photos was very different than having it right in front of me, the burns were so clear and I wondered how the building still managed to hold itself up. The dome survived because it was almost directly below the explosion, meaning the pressure pressed down vertically and saved a few of the vertical walls. Of course there are other more technical reasons but that isn’t my area of expertise and explaining it would be much too difficult for me. If anyone is interested I’m sure you can look it up and take it from someone who knows more about this.
    I imagined people of the past walking around inside the building when it was still in its original shape. What were they wearing at the time? Were they in a hurry? Were they talking to someone? What were they thinking about? I’m sure their life was very different to mine, and yet we were both in this city with the same name.

    Before any sightseeing, I went to the Bus Centre to pick up a discount pass I’ll talk more about in the next post, but they turned me away since apparently I could only buy it the day before activating it or the same day. It was almost eight and I had a date with the Seiko Clock at 8:15 so I walked there slowly over the T-shaped Bridge. Otherwise known as the Aioi Bridge, this was the apparent target of the bomb. Even being so close to the hypocentre it somehow managed to survive and after a few repairs it was still usable for over 35 years. The bridge here today was built in 1983 but has kept its distinctive T-shape.

    The Peace Clock or Seiko Clock in the northern area of the Peace Park rings every day at 8:15am, the time of the explosion. As I reached the Peace Park a class of school children started to sing in front of the Children’s Monument. It started off as a sad song but the ending seemed to be a message of hope. Silence fell upon the class as they left their cranes at the monument, and I went back to the clock in time to see it strike 8:15. Leaving my first crane next to the clock at that time I think it was a good way to start my introduction to the bombing of Hiroshima.

    There are many monuments in the park and all deserve to be looked at as one thinks about the history behind them, but I won’t mention all of them here. Instead I’ll talk about the four that moved me the most.
    The Burial Mound may be the least impressive of the monuments but it holds the ashes of 70,000 victims who were never identified or whose remains were unclaimed by living relatives. How many people must’ve lost someone they loved, never knowing exactly what had happened to them, where they were at the time of the explosion? Never seeing their body or ashes probably meant never having closure, the what ifs and the hows in the back of their minds for the rest of their lives. Or whole families whose existences were wiped out in less than a second, leaving nobody behind who would remember them.
    Japan took control of Korea during the Meiji Restoration; many Koreans were forced to work in Japan because of labor shortage. At the end of the war about three million Koreans were living in Japan and it is said that tens of thousands of them suffered the atomic bombing in Hiroshima. They are a group of people that tend to be forgotten when talking about the Hiroshima victims, I don’t now any personal stories of Korean survivors and I don’t think they would’ve received the same care or treatment after the bombing as Japanese survivors would’ve had (not that there was much medical treatment for anyone). I think it’s important to remember they were there, the monument dedicated to Korean victims is also in the Peace Park.
    During World War II students in Japan between the ages of 12-16 were sent to work because of the shortage of labor work: they were known as ‘mobilised students’ and mostly were in charge of tearing down buildings to avoid the spreading of fire in case of an attack. The ‘Memorial Tower for Mobilised Students’ was built to remember the more than 10,000 mobilised students who died during the war.
    There is another monument similar to this one. Sadako Sasaki was two at the time of the bomb. She grew up seemingly perfectly healthy until she was diagnosed with leukaemia at 12 years old and had to be hospitalised. A friend told her about an ancient legend saying if one makes 1000 paper cranes they will be able to ask for a wish — Sadako managed to complete the cranes just before she died, wishing for peace and for no other children to have to suffer like she did. Her classmates decided to also make 1000 cranes in her honour and it has today become a symbol of peace.

    I didn’t take any photos inside the museum since I think it’s something that I couldn’t capture well. The museum is heartbreaking to say the least, it’s a pity they were doing renovations at the time of my stay and I only got to see half of the exposition. Only five minutes in I was already crying, but I didn’t even bother hiding it since I felt that it was okay to express my feelings outwardly in this kind of situation.
    It’s hard to imagine how horrible and devastating the bomb was by saying the number of those who died; when it’s such a large number it seems more like a statistic than anything tangible. The museum did a good job of exposing individuals’ stories which made it feel much more real. There were many items from people who were in Hiroshima at the time of the explosion, from clothes, tickets, tins, notebooks, name tags and Sadako Sasaki's paper cranes to even fingernails and hair.
    One of such items was a lunchbox still containing the burnt food of a mobilised school boy, Shigeru. His mum had made his lunch that morning before he set off to meet with the other students. His mother went out to look for her boy after the explosion but she only found his lunchbox with the food she had made that morning — now burnt into a lump of black — next to a pile of bones. Shigeru’s mother scattered his ashes alone that night.

    Alongside some architectural structures and pieces, pottery and glass and explanations about what radiation and black rain do to the human body, the Peace Museum covered many aspects to do with the bombing. There is now also an area with a few photos from Obama’s recent visit to Hiroshima.
    The peace sites don’t stop after the Peace Park and museum though, there are buildings that survived the bombing and smaller museums and dedications that are also worth a visit.

    The Memorial Hall a minute walk from the Peace Museum is also in the Peace Park. It has a solemn and quiet atmosphere that gave me the space to think about the bomb and the museum I’d just been to.
    In the last room there are very few seats and they are very uncomfortable if you manage to grab one, but do try and stay until the end of the video for it explains personal stories of some of the survivors. Since it is filmed in first person it feels much more real than what reading an explanation would, it brought tears to my eyes imagining myself in their situation; seeing my sister die right next to me, not being able to find my mum after days of walking through rubble and ruins looking for even just some proof that she used to exist, being next to my dad at the time of the explosion only for him to be gone forever only a second later.

    The Rest House also located in the Peace Park is one of the few buildings left standing after the explosion.
    It used to be a kimono store until it was purchased by the Prefectural Fuel Rationing Union in 1944, only for the roof to collapse and the interior to be destroyed one year later by the bomb. All people inside at the time were killed but one man that was in the basement, making him the closest survivor to the hypocentre. The building was later reconstructed and today it is a shop, rest house and information centre with some bathrooms open to public use. The basement has been left just like it was at the time of the bombing and open to visitors, though not well known to tourists.
    I went to the counter and asked if I could go down into the basement (‘asked’ may be a bit of an overstatement, I really just said ‘chika’ for ‘basement’) and they gave me a quick form to fill in with my name and nationality. The lady then picked up her keys and opened a door followed by steps to the bottom floor. She also asked me to pick a helmet from the shelf just in case and left me to make my own discoveries.
    It is a single room — what must’ve been three rooms, but the walls understandably aren’t in the best shape —, a corner full of cranes where the survivor was located at the time.
    There is not much to see, nothing that deserves an explanation or a sign, what is special about this place is imagining what the man must’ve been thinking and doing at the time and right after the bomb. Did he lift his head to see shelves and boxes thrown all over the floor? What must he have thought when he opened the door (was the door still there?) to see the world outside in flames and chaos and rubble?
    One of the survivors explained how he was a child at the time of the bomb, walking through the town to get away from the burning city. A woman, still alive but only just, called out for help and grabbed his arm. The child, of course scared to see the figure touch him when she hardly looked human anymore because of her melting skin, pulled away. The woman’s hand broke off and was left stuck to his arm. I’m sure the experiences of the survivor of the basement weren’t too different and he must’ve been terrified to see the state of his home town without even having seen how it happened.

    Making another stop at the Genbaku Dome I thought about how it must’ve felt like to look down at the river of corpses on that day.
    Right after the bomb, fire was threatening in every direction and people’s skin melted on their bodies, it only seems obvious that the river would be the safest place to run to at the time. But soon the water was hardly visible, the river being an accumulation of floating bodies instead. It must’ve been horrible to look at, knowing that those were people you once crossed on the street and might’ve even known. The drawings I’ve seen done by people who were there at the time are heartbreaking, and hard to believe sometimes that this was something that actually happened.

    Near the Dome is a small temple called Sairen-ji. It doesn’t really look like a temple from the outside, but there is a window holding a statue and a coin box. Just outside the temple, on the corner of the building, is another statue. This Jizo was located almost directly below the blast and a dark shadow can be seen around the base of the statue, a result of the radiation lightening the rest of surface that wasn’t shielded. There are a few Jizo statues that survived the bomb, known today as ‘Hibaku Jizo’. Jizo is a deity able to descend into Hell to rescue souls, particularly those of children. He is often depicted with the shaved head and robes of a monk, stone figures are typically adorned with red bibs or children’s clothing and often serve as a memorial to children whose lives were taken away too soon. If there is a hell after death I hope Jizo was able to save the victims of Hiroshima, they don’t deserve to go through hell twice.

    Not even a minute later is another important site. Shima Hospital is considered to be ground zero as the bomb exploded only 580m above the building. The hospital was completely destroyed and the 80 patients and medical staff died instantly. Kaoru Shima, founder of the hospital, and his attending nurse were away from Hiroshima at the time as they had gone to assist a difficult operation at a hospital in a nearby town: they were the only two survivors. Dr. Shima returned to Hiroshima on the night of August 6 and began treatment of the injured people. The hypocentre was determined by the direction of shadows caused by the heat ray. Those directions were plotted on a map, and the point where they intersected was to be where the blast had come from.
    The new Shima Hospital built in 1948 stands in its place, today named ‘Shima geka naika’, and a small plaque can be found at one side marking the hypocentre.

    The Former bank is another of the buildings that survived the bomb despite being only 380m from the hypocenter and today it looks as it did when first built. Since the armoured shutters on the first and second floors were closed at the time of the A-bombing, the interior was not badly damaged. However, on the third floor where the shutters were open it was completely burned.
    Only two days later the bank reopened for withdrawals and provided space for temporary branches of other financial institutions in Hiroshima which had been rendered unable to conduct business. This is a building that is important for the reconstruction of Hiroshima from a financial aspect.
    The inside of the building was unlike anything I’ve seen in Japan before, looking instead totally western. I wonder if the Dome was similar to this on the inside? At the time of my visit they were doing a small exposition with photos from the occupation of Japan by Americans after the war. As I walked in a lady was excited to see me and talked to me for a while, although she didn’t speak much English and I didn’t speak much Japanese, so our conversation didn’t last long.

    Located only 460m from Shima Hospital, Fukuro-machi Elementary School was one of the closest schools to the hypocentre and suffered extensive damage. At the time of the bombing there were more than 100 students and teachers at school and nearly all died instantly. All the wooden structures collapsed and burned completely except for the west wing, the only reinforced concrete structure that retained its original shape. Three of the students survived, all of which were downstairs in the west wing taking off their shoes. They had been taught to head to Hijiyama Hill in case of an attack, so they pushed their way through the ruins, bodies and burnt trams full of burnt people who had died still standing to reach that point. I think it’s lucky that they were given those instructions beforehand because a child in such a situation wouldn’t have known what to do.
    Many students from the school had been evacuated before that day to relatives’ homes in the countryside or temples that looked after children. The museum told me how the evacuated children used to live far from their home and families and there are a couple of stories about it worth reading on the bottom floor. One of the surviving students in the building at the time also told their story.
    After the bombing the west wing of the school became a place of refuge and a relief station. One of the walls, black from being burnt, became a message board to find missing people, today you can still see the wall as it was then with all the writing written by people trying to find their family.
    Don’t miss out on the video downstairs: it talks about the discovery of the wall but, most importantly, finding living relatives today whose family wrote on the wall. Seeing a daughter read the message written by her mother in hopes of finding her deceased daughter (the sister the woman was never able to meet) was heart wrenching and it was definitely the place that made me cry the most out of all the memorials in the city.
    Classes at Fukuromachi School started once again ten months after the bombing with a total of 37 students and now the west building has been reconstructed and works as a small museum. The rest of the school is new and I could hear the children outside laughing and playing. I imagined all the beautiful sounds just suddenly stopping like it did back then.

    Instead of making my way to Honkawa Elementary School, another peace museum similar to Fukuromachi School, and visiting the memorials behind the Peace Museum I headed to Hondori to take a bit of an emotional rest from all the A-Bomb sites. Hiroshima has two different Daiso 100 stores, so I stacked up on the bean chips I love and also bought a few packets of miso to try and tabi socks with pictures of origami cranes. I hadn’t had a full conversation in English since the man I met at Mt.Shosha who offered me a ride back to the station, so it was nice to meet some other tourists in the hostel.
    In the evening I bought some food and ate in silence. Hiroshima has done an amazing job of rebuilding itself since the day of 1945. I couldn’t help but look at the peace sites and think about how difficult it must’ve been, how much pain was caused and how fragile the things I have are — how easy it would be to loose them —, but seeing what a wonderful city Hiroshima is today gives me hope. I definitely wish nothing even remotely similar to this ever happens again.

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    PS: You can see photos at

    All the peace sites are free apart from the Peace Museum that costs 200yen. The Memorial Hall hosts public readings of personal stories of the bombing on the second Sunday of every month and the library there also offers more stories and videos of people’s experiences. The Peace Museum gift shop is also worth a look if you’re looking for a book about the bomb. I bought one full of pictures drawn by survivors; they put a lot of effort into drawing those pictures because it brought back memories that they didn’t want to remember, many of the images are gruesome and disturbing. The least I can do is look at them with attention so that that effort wasn’t wasted and so that what happened will continue to be remembered.

    I didn’t mention it before since it didn’t really fit with the rest of the mood, but I also visited the Rai Sanyo Shiseki Museum right next to the Former Bank. The Rai Sanyo Shiseki Museum has some works and materials related to writer Rai Sanyo, a representative thinker of Japan's late Edo Period. In 1800 he ran away from home (Aki Domain, today Hiroshima) to Kyoto but was captured and placed under house arrest, confined in a room within his residence. This room, where Rai Sanyo is said to have worked out a draft of his "Nihon Gaishi" history of Japan, was once designated a national historic site until it was destroyed by the bombing. However, the room was reconstructed in 1958 and can be visited today. There’s another room with a few works from Rai Sanyo but I’m guessing it would be interesting to those who know who Rai Sanyo is since there isn’t much to the exposition itself. Another area hosts the temporary exposition, in my case I saw many scrolls painted with Indian ink (sumie) which were all truly beautiful. It’s a pity photos were not allowed so I can’t show you any, but it’s what I liked most of the museum.

    Thank you Kavey for your encouraging words! I'm sorry for taking so long to write the trip report, I'll try to keep you all updated soon enough.

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    Peter, I'm lost for words. The depth of research and the way you gave your heart so fully to visiting and truly understanding and remembering the Hiroshima bombing, it's inspirational. I am so moved to read about your experiences and your thoughts especially. Thank you for sharing such an intimate diary of this with us. It feels a privilege to read it.

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    Thank you, Kavey. It’s always hard to put down in words experiences like this but I hope this at least works to give a bit of insight on the bombing for those who can’t go to Hiroshima themselves.

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    DAY 6: HIROSHIMA (Temple walk + kagura)

    Despite the saddening first day in Hiroshima I woke up in a good mood the next day and excited to get started. The weather lived up to my hopes of what the rainy season would offer, pouring hard and strong all day long. I don’t see rain often in Spain which is a pity since I think it is absolutely beautiful (need I say it’s my favourite weather?), so while I’m sure many tourists of the hostel cursed their luck that morning as they looked up at the sky, I was delighted.
    The rain wouldn’t be interfering with my plans so I set off to Hondori Station to catch the Astram Line to Fudoin-mae Station. Today I had planned the Futabanosato Historical Walking Trail — in other words, a temple walk in the north area of the city — and a special show for later in the afternoon. I didn’t know how long the walk would take me so I kept my itinerary open just in case.

    Temples and shrines aren’t usually what come to mind when one thinks of Hiroshima, but it is true that there are still a few in parts further away from the city centre that survived the bombing and a few of those which didn’t where rebuilt once again in the same location. My main goal to do the Hiroshima Temple walk wasn’t to see temples though — I’d already seen plenty and would still be seeing more in the days to come — it was rather to get to know the residential areas of the city and how people lived today, in a Hiroshima that has raised from the ashes and pain it once felt but today has an identity of its own beyond the bombing.
    It wasn’t a particularly breathtaking walk, but it kept me entertained and I enjoyed being outside in the fresh air after so many days of heat. I feel like there isn’t enough information available in English regarding this route, at least I didn’t find as much as I would’ve liked, so I’ll try my best to explain how it was.

    Hiroshima’s history started more than 400 years ago when Mori Terumoto built a castle on the delta, near an already existing small town, and developed the area into a striving castle town. Mori Terumoto, Fukushima Masanori and the Asano clan (so many important names belonging to the history of Japan, I can’t believe they were all here!) erected shrines and temples, along some that were already much older, north of the castle to defend the domain. The Futabanosato Historical Walking Trail visits a few of those which were rebuilt as well as passing through the Waterworks Museum (which I forgot about / didn’t find) and the Peace Pagoda. For those who don’t have the time to do the whole walk there is a shorter version only counting seven of the temples, although they are dedicated to Shichi Fukujin (the 7 Lucky Gods), so I guess they are the most important of the route.

    But enough explanations, let’s just get down to what I did personally. The train was empty, only myself and another girl occupied the car, and my station was announced much earlier than expected. Exiting the station I found a sign right away pointing the direction to the first temple of the route, Fudo-in. Fudo-in promised to be the most impressive although it turned out to be pretty small. What was certainly impressive was the Niomon Gate at the entrance, two stories tall and a combination of brown, white and black that emphasised its elegance. The old priest of the temple accompanied Hideyoshi on his invasion of Korea and it’s said that the timbers to build the gate came from the country.
    I actually didn’t see too many Nio statues this trip so it was good to see the two there greeting me on my way in.
    The main hall, the Kondo, is the largest remaining example of Karayo building in Japan. Karayo was the Chinese style of architecture that was particularly popular with Zen temples in Japan. A bell tower, a small inari shrine and an overgrown garden are the only other things in the temple grounds, so it wasn’t long until I was heading off to the next site.

    It took me about an hour and a half to get from Fudo-in to Anraku-ji. It shouldn’t really take that long but I was walking slowly and took the long route along the river instead of through the streets, stopping every now and then to look at the white and grey herons. I couldn’t find any of the other three temples or shrines in-between so I backtracked and took a different street every now and then around where the shrines were supposed to be. I also walked all the way down to Hakushima Station accidentally because I skipped the zebra crossing before the bridge and ended up doing a very long loop to get back on track. A man saw me walk past outside a gas station and he waved to me enthusiastically.

    Anraku-ji is small but the streets in the area are lovely. I sat down on the only bench I found all day that wasn’t soaking wet at the temple and watched a few women pass by on their way to the cemetery behind the temple before continuing. It would’ve been more work than desired to get to just one of the temples, but combining all of them together made it worth it. Walking through back streets and seeing Japan’s daily life in the city (in the rain!) was very nice and I even pictured myself living in a place like this.

    The next four temples were very close together and easy to find. Nigitsu Shrine (one of the Shichi Fukujin, dedicated to Ebisu) had a man that was for some reason measuring the statues. Myojo-in (dedicated to Bishamonten) is next to a pre-school and was filled with the voices of shouting children as well as plenty of interesting statues and Tsuruhane Jinja (Benzaiten) had a team of men cutting leaves of trees under the heavy rain.

    Toshogu Shrine (Fukurokuju) was the only one where I found other visitors, but most of them were leaving in their cars or where inside the closed building. I didn’t know if I was welcome inside since the door was closed and seemed unwelcoming, so I asked a miko where I could get a goshuin stamp instead of attempting to enter off-limits territory. She may have been the loveliest person I met in Hiroshima, her smile when I asked about the shrine stamp was almost blinding and she took my stamp book away happily, asking me kindly to please wait for a while until she returned. She came back with my shuincho as well as a map of the route I was doing, and was surprised that I intended to go all the way up to the Peace Pagoda in this weather.

    Looking back, I admit it may not have been the brightest idea. Kinko Inari Shrine, which for some unknown reason I always call Kusado Inari Shrine, is right behind Toshogu-jinja and torii lead up the mountain path heading to the Peace Pagoda for a while. The torii were pretty short, so I had to duck my head while walking under them. Small fox figurines and cute little shrines next to the steps appeared at every corner (the steps did a zig-zag path), the light hardly reached the ground through the trees and it felt like I was walking into a realm of unknown spirits as the path only got darker, as if the foxes eyes were following me as I continued.

    I eventually abandoned my umbrella when the path only got thinner and I had to duck more, although the occasional droplets fell onto me and slid down my back. I felt lucky that I had decided to bring my thin jumper on the trip after all. After a while I came across a small covered structure that I decided to hide under as I sat on the floor and rested my legs for a while. When the mosquito flying around me got too annoying I continued my way. The trail wasn’t very clear so I climbed up a few rocks and through an opening that looked like it could be the continuation of a path. It probably wasn’t though, for only bushes and small slopes could be seen on the floor of the mountain rather than a walking route.

    Soon I was lost, walking around a forested mountain in the rain. The only person who knew where I was was the miko of Toshogu Shrine, if something happened to me I doubted anyone would be finding me anytime soon, but just as I thought that I spotted a clearing where the white sky and fog finally made an appearance. Some stairs leading somewhere around the corner, I knew I had made it to my destination and, sure enough, around said corner I could see the spike of the pagoda peeking out from the top of the stairs.

    For something that can be seen from so far away it was smaller than I had imagined, but no less impressive. Apparently there are supposed to be good views of the city below but I only saw white and silence. I didn’t want to let go of the ambience that permeated the air (I was still fixated on the inari shrines and hoped a yokai procession would make an appearance) so I stuck around for a half hour until I started to get cold.

    I decided to make my way back to Hiroshima Station instead of continuing with the temple walk, I’d already seen my must-sees and the shrines left were further apart and harder to find. The station was mostly a straight line from the pagoda and I didn’t have to look where I was going because it seemed like everything gravitated towards the station anyway. I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I managed to see a shinkansen in person during my trip: today was the day! A sleek bullet train slid by in front of me into the station and out of sight, but it was enough for me to let go of the mysterious mood and almost jump up and down in excitement.
    The station was abuzz with baseball fans dressed in red and white and face paint, apparently Hiroshima’s baseball team was playing today and had everyone in a good mood.

    I’d been mostly living off konbini bentos since the start of the trip, so I decided to have a big lunch before resting a while at the hostel. I met a family of catalans from around Barcelona who were in for their first trip to Japan, after Hiroshima heading up to Magome and Tsumago along the Nakahechi route (jealous!). I met sixteen catalans during the next week, which is especially impressive considering Catalonia isn’t really that big. It seems like Japan is a tourist magnet ever since the Barcelona manga-boom from three years ago.

    I also finally managed to pick up my pass and just outside the Bus Centre Information Corner there were a few people selling fresh vegetables at some stalls. I bought a see-through peach mochi from one of the sellers, I can finally cross ‘eat mochi from a leaf’ off my bucket list! Definitely one of the best, if not THE best, mochi I’ve ever tried. The ones I’ve eaten in Japan so far seem to all be filled with red bean paste that isn’t fully crushed, leaving bits of the bean skin in the paste inside, while the ones I buy at the Chinese wholesale food supermarket here in Spain all have the paste fully crushed and homogenous. I personally like the homogenous paste better although I’ve now gotten used to both styles.

    Moving on, there is a place in Hiroshima where they do kagura shows every Wednesday (, kagura is a traditional Japanese performance (also has only male actors like Noh and Kabuki) focusing on the dancing aspect. But before I start telling you about the show I went to and to better understand the significance of kagura, a story is in order.

    Susanoo seemed to have a few anger management issues, and when once upon a time he got angry and destroyed his sister Amaterasu’s land out of jealousy, Amaterasu fled and hid in a cave taking with her the light from the world for she was (is?) the sun goddess. With the earth in darkness the land soon became infested with demons and evil; people came from far and wide to try and get Amaterasu to return and shed her light once again. After many attempts to convince Amaterasu to leave the cave, it was Uzume who finally managed. She hung a mirror and jewels (two of the three Imperial Regalia of Japan) outside the cave and danced — the cheers of the other people made Amaterasu peek outside to see what was worth so much noise… when she saw her own reflection in the mirror she was startled enough that the others could pull her out of the cave. Uzume’s performance is said to be the origins of Japanese dance and more specifically a kagura dance.

    Kagura is common in Hiroshima and Shimane Prefectures, so I wanted to see if I could see an example during my stay as part of getting to know the culture of the area I was in. This theatre in Hiroshima has two different shows every Wednesday; the first starts at 7pm and the second at 8pm —two different stories—, both lasting about 45min with an intermission session between them.

    I didn’t know how many people there would be so I arrived a bit before 5pm, time when they start selling tickets, to make sure I would have a seat. There are two entrances to the hall and both are easy to see if you know where the theatre is. I thought I had found a little known treat to enjoy with the locals, but there were many people in the common area waiting around and even a couple other foreigners later on.

    This isn’t something I would ever dream of doing elsewhere, but I found it safe enough to abandon my bag in line as I went out to walk around until the doors opened (to be fair, many did the same).

    There were plenty of spaces available even if I had arrived later —more than half the theatre—, but the regulars were very excited and ran in quickly as soon as the doors opened to get the best seats. It was funny to see older men and women scurry along, almost pushing past just so they could get a good spot.

    Photos are only allowed in certain areas of the theatre so I took a seat further back to take some photos, however I was so enraptured by the show I totally forgot about my camera and didn’t end up taking any! Another foreigner sat next to me so we talked until the lights were turned off and the musicians appeared on stage. After a few bows the four of them sat in a corner of the stage, not out of view for the music was an important part of the show, and the flute began playing as the act started.

    As the legend goes, Prince Yamato killed his older brother. His grieving father King Keiko, fearing the evil nature of his son, sent him to Izumo Province and then to the land of Kumaso (Kumamoto Prefecture) to battle against rebels, hence keeping him at a safe distance.
    There are many stories regarding his adventures, but we are interested in the one that explains how he defeated the Kumaso warriors as that is the theme of the kagura show. He disguised himself as a maid attendant and infiltrated himself into the banquet where the Kumaso were feasting and drinking. The Kumaso warriors didn’t realise it was simply a disguise and kept drinking as quickly as possible. When the Kumasos had become drunk, the prince made the most of the opportunity and stabbed them to death. As one of them lay dying he praised Yamato for his well thought-out plan and gave him the title of ‘Yamato Takeru’, ‘The Bravest of Yamato’.

    Fun fact: before departing to Izumo he prayed at Ise Shrine asking for the blessing of Amaterasu already mentioned, and later during his life he came to possess the ‘Kusanagi no tsurugi’ sacred sword (the last of the three of Japan’s Imperial Regalia) which Susano-o gave to Amaterasu to ask for her forgiveness after his rampage that sent her to the cave! It really just ties the whole kagura experience together, knowing that they are all connected somehow.

    The kagura had its own version of the legend, making Yamato Takeru fight against the Kumaso warriors once they were drunk instead of a simple quick stabbing. Totally worth it though, the sword fight was the best part since there were the six actors on stage dancing around together so rapidly and with much grace that I suspect wouldn’t feature in a real sword fight. Even though I knew how the story went the show had me on the edge of my seat, excited and impressed, hoping the show would never end for the full 45 minutes. At one point the actors were twirling around each other, Yamato Takeru’s men unclipped their clothes and their costume reversed, showing a burst of colour as they danced in circles. The crowd and myself went wild clapping and cheering, for me it was totally unexpected and the fight that followed only seemed more intense now that the ambience had changed so dramatically.

    Even after 45min of dancing the act seemed to end too soon. We weren’t allowed to eat food in the theatre so I thought that the bag of snacks I’d bought just before going in had been rendered pointless, but seeing as many people left through a side hallway leading to the emergency exit doors I decided to follow them. Turns out there is a seating area and some bathrooms at the end of the hall and served as a good space to eat said snacks and stretch my legs during the intermission.

    When I was in high school I wrote a 70 page project about the movie ‘Spirited Away’ from Hayao Miyazaki, looking into aspects of Japanese history, folklore and real life influences that the movie had and this introduced me to the world of yôkai, led me to reading ‘Kwaidan’ from Lafcadio Hearn and researching all kinds of Japanese monsters. It’s really what sparked my interest for Japan and still today legends and mythology are two of my favourite aspects of Japanese culture. The character Kamaji from the Ghibli movie was inspired by the Tsuchigumo, so I was familiar with the legend before arriving to Hiroshima, but they gave me a sheet of paper in English explaining the two shows anyway and it was useful since I had never heard of the first one.

    Hence, Tsuchigumo is a personal favourite yôkai of mine and was what I was really looking forward to (both shows were amazing though, I couldn’t choose which one I liked best).

    The second act’s story featured Minamoto no Raiko. He was ill in bed with chills and fever and thus sent his maid, Kocho, to a doctor in order to pick up some medicine. On her way back Kocho was killed by the Tsuchigumo, a spider demon, who disguised himself as the maid so he could once and for all solve the deep-seated grudge he held against Raiko.
    Tsuchigumo changed the medicine for poison, but Raiko noticed something was off and attacked the impostor with his sword Hizamaru. His retainers Urabe Suetake and Sakata no Kintoki followed Tsuchigumo as he fled to his home in Mt.Katsuragi and, after a fierce battle, finally defeated the demon.

    The producers really put in a lot of effort to make the best show they could, even a waterfall of cobwebs (strings) fell around Tsuchigumo as he entered the scene, and was present during the whole show even as Tsuchigumo, defeated, fell to the floor with a flip of his white shaggy hair.

    During the battle the taiko drummer, who had been sitting down, stood up to be able to hit the drum as hard as he could, each beat matching the intensity of the fight. He looked like he was thoroughly enjoying himself and trying his best, I could see the sweat rolling down his forehead all the way from my seat.

    What really wrapped up the whole experience was being able to try on the costumes after the show. The costumes were heavy and definitely difficult to dance with but beautifully embroidered, many ran up to me and asked for photos once I put on the Tsuchigumo mask. I was honoured to be able to meet the taiko drummer for he really made the kagura show much more memorable and exciting.
    Only 1000yen I think it is a great way to learn about Japanese culture and have an amazing time. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for the rest of the night.

    Before heading to my futon I found a teppanyaki restaurant to have some of Hiroshima’s okonomiyaki. I couldn’t leave Hiroshima without tasting it since I was trying to be slightly more open with my food choices this trip (I’m a picky eater). After my failed acceptance of Kurashiki’s udon and Onomichi’s ramen, I’m glad to announce that I enjoyed the okonomiyaki! It was a bit difficult to cut but I managed to get the hang of it by the last few slices, and seeing the woman cook it in front of me was fun.

    Day two in Hiroshima turned out to be just as memorable as day one. I was already jittery with excitement and wished the next morning would come soon.
    (My shoes took three days to dry.)

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    Great trip report.
    Must read for those Hiroshima bound.
    I like how you went off the beaten track.
    That has been our experience, a bit off the "must see" list and you find yourself by yourself or at least with no crowds at a more re;axing pace.

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    I'm also following along with great enjoyment.

    Back to Onomichi. Have you seen the film "Tokyo Story"? This is widely considered the best film ever made and aside from its artistic merit it provides a view of Japan just after the war, which seems to be one of your interests, so I think you'll enjoy it. Anyway, the parts of the film that are not set in Tokyo are set in Onomichi and there's a museum about it there. I've not been (didn't know about it) but Mara mentions it in one of her reports.

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    What an interesting report. In retrospect, if you had time for only one of these walks , would you select the Onomichi Temple walk or Mt. Shosha, and why? I don't think I will have time in my itinerary to do both.

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    Kavey, russ_in_LA and dgunbug, thank you for following along!

    kalihiwai2, you’re right. I met many foreigners in Himeji, Onomichi (all doing the Shimanami Kaido) and around the Peace Park, but I hardly spoke any English otherwise. I like to wake up early to see the most popular sites and I never found any crowds ;)

    someotherguy, good to see you still here! I think I read Mara’s report before leaving but didn’t end up going to any of the museums in Onomichi. I haven’t seen the movie either, but I must add it to my list and get down to watching it if it’s so good. I did finally get around to watching ‘The Last Samurai’ though and saw Engyo-ji that I visited appear in a few scenes. I loved it! The mood around Mt.Shosha and the temple in the movie were very different, but it was still fun knowing I was there.

    Shelleyk, hands down Mt.Shosha, no doubt about it. Onomichi was nice but none of the temples stood out on their own, the best part was being able to walk around the backstreets of the town but even that can be done in a different place and still be equally enjoyable. Mt.Shosha was magical and breathtaking, it was one of my favourite places I visited between both trips.

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    Still reading and enjoying, Peter_T!

    someotherguy, I know you have mentioned the podcasts before, can they be downloaded?

    I liked the Onomichi temple walk - somehow I found a map and was able to follow it pretty well along with some stone markers on the streets. I ended up spending the whole day there - maybe because it was sakura season the temples were very scenic to me.

    You must see Tokyo Story, Peter_T!

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    Yes, you can download the mp3 files for episodes of The History of Japan Podcast. Just click on the link I gave above and then right click a few lines down where it says "Listen to the episode here". Alternatively, left click will start it streaming in most browsers.

    If you have a Mac or iPhone, you can subscribe through iTunes, and for Android I suggest the PodcastAddict app--this lets you reduce the speed of the playback, which I find helpful with the author's strong accent and the low (overcompressed) audio quality.

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    Thanks, someotherguy, I found a site that lists all of them and they seem pretty easy to download. I might put them on my tablet or phone (both Android) to listen to when I'm traveling in Japan next year. :)

    I use VLC media player and you can reduce speed on that as well.

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    DAY 7: HIROSHIMA (Mitaki + castle)

    I mentioned in the last two posts how I went to the Bus Centre to buy a pass but I don’t think I’ve actually talked about it much. It’s called the ‘Visit Hiroshima Tourist Pass (small area)’, costs 1000 yen and lasts three days. All trams are “free” as well as the ferry to and from Miyajima and most of the buses in the city. It doesn’t work on the Astram Line or JR trains though. The two first days I was in Hiroshima I didn’t use the trams much since most of the sites were within walking distance, I activated it on my third day so I could use the discounts (the pass also offers a small discount to Hiroshima Castle, Shukkei-en, the Peace Museum and the ropeway on Miyajima) and for the ride to Miyajima.
    The wide area pass is 3000 yen and, as well as everything offered in the small area pass, also covers bus rides to Onomichi, Takehara, Sandankyo, Saijo, Miyoshi and Fukuyama. The Pass is made out of recycled paper cranes too, at least now we know what happens to all those senbazuru and I’m glad that they’ve found a way to make use of them rather than simply burning them.

    Because I never have enough of temples and shrines, I started the morning of my third day in Hiroshima by visiting Mitaki-dera towards the west of the city. After a free tram ride to Hiroshima Station I hopped onto a free bus that would take me to my destination. The bus took me through the streets I’d walked down the day before during the temple walk for a while, but soon the houses started to get smaller and the roads became less crowded. It wasn’t until all the other passengers had gotten off and the bus was taking corners and small streets in an area that no longer looked like Hiroshima that the forested mountains came into view. ‘Mitaki kannon’, the name of my bus stop, was the last, and the driver dropped me off before turning around and leaving me in the middle of a slope with nobody else around. I started to walk upwards for a while — my map suggested that it would be at the end of the road — and only three minutes later I reached some stairs that led to the temple.

    Maybe because the skies were grey and any sunlight that would be lighting up the area was blocked by the lush green trees and forest all around, but the temple felt dark and humid. Nobody was there. There was a sign saying that there was an entrance fee of 500 yen, so I left a coin in a box that was there.
    My favourite spot of the temple was the Tahōtō two-storied pagoda, said to date back to the Muromachi period it was relocated from a shrine in Wakayama in 1951 to help the souls of those lost in the bombing to rest in peace. I always think that pagodas with a circular structure seem so beautiful, there are usually lovely patterns and woodwork painted in bright colours that I never get tired of looking at closely. This pagoda was no exception.

    Mitaki-dera was one of the few places I visited where the hydrangeas were still in full bloom, although there weren’t many, next to a line of tombstones each with their incense that permeated the air and I could smell from far away. After spotting the biggest spider I had yet to see in Japan, black and brown perched on some grass next to a stream, I came across a small kura storehouse that worked as bathrooms. I feel it’s important to mention all the storehouses I saw during my trip; after visiting Kurashiki I’ve developed a fondness for them and it was always exciting when I found one.

    Next to the main temple building was a small counter, a woman ran up to me as she saw me looking around and gave me my temple stamp. The woman smiled as she was writing it, the papers and stamps in the little room were piled under some rule of organised chaos and it was much more welcoming and approachable than the other times I asked for a goshuin at other temples.

    Mitaki-yama, the mountain where the temple is located, also receives the names of Uematsu-yama or Soko-yama. This is because Ueda Soko, he who designed Shukkei-en Garden in Hiroshima planted a pine tree on the summit to enhance the natural backdrop of his garden. Borrowed scenery, I think they call it. I didn’t realise until I was writing this, but ‘Mitaki’ gets it’s name from the three waterfalls that were within the temple grounds.

    Crossing a small restaurant on my way out I returned to the bus stop. Apparently there aren’t many buses and the next was still 45min away, so I decided to take a train back to the city instead. On the way down to the station I came across another small temple, Saigan-ji, that I only looked at from the outside, and a big black butterfly I didn’t hesitate to take dozens of photos of (I’ve never seen a black butterfly before!). Other than a motorbike and an older woman I didn’t see any other people until the station.

    Since I don’t eat on trains in order to not annoy those around me, I downed my bag of bean flavoured chips while I waited and soon the train arrived to pick up the three Mitaki locals and myself. The train was surprisingly crowded and had to stop at the next station for five minutes, but other than that it soon dropped us off at Hiroshima Station and I was on my way to the next site. There’s a little information desk next to the tram station where I went in to ask which bus I could take for free with my pass, they pointed me to one that was just about to leave. Unfortunately, when I was about to get off the bus and showed my pass to the driver, he said something in Japanese. After many ‘wakarimasen’s and ‘sumimasen’s from me and a few sentences of whatever he was saying, I decided to just pay the fee for the bus so the other passengers wouldn’t have to wait for me.
    The good side of having taken the bus was that I found a beautiful manhole cover!

    With Hiroshima Castle right in front of me I could already feel the excitement starting to bubble up inside me. It was the fifth castle I had seen from the outside, but the first I would finally be going into! The Ninomaru is the first building one sees as they enter the castle grounds after crossing the initial bridge, entrance was free so I made my way in and looked around. It was reconstructed with wood and resembles more what it would’ve looked like in the past. One of the sides only had a large taiko drum in the middle of the room, the other had a few tatami mats and the small room on top of the entrance had a couple of wooden models of the castle. The hallway between the two yagura was full of photos of the reconstruction of the castle and, although all explanations were in Japanese, I still understood the general idea of how it was done.

    Just outside the Ninomaru there are a few lines and signs on the floor that I had no idea what they were for, after my castle visit I learned that they must be the locations of the rooms and other buildings belonging to the castle. The water of the moat was full of koi fish and turtles, I found it ironic to see them all there considering the castle is also called ‘Carp Castle’. There was a very big eucalyptus before the bridge that had survived the bombing, the branches twisting and turning and falling all around it. It reminded me of a tree I used to have in my garden when I lived in New Zealand, with a curtain of leaves surrounding the whole thing and a strong branch where I used to lay on as a kid and hide from the world for a while. It was like a little natural hut.

    Right before Gokoku Shrine is a bunker where the first radio broadcast out of Hiroshima fallowing the atomic bombing was made, now there are only a couple of senbazuru waterfalls and a small building hidden between trees and moss.

    There are a few things worth mentioning about Gokoku Shrine. First, it seems to have a fish theme (I’m tempted to say koi fish, but it could well not be for I know nothing about differentiating fish species). I bought an ema board to add to my ema collection because it had a beautiful picture of two swimming around each other. I had initially planned to land in Hiroshima Airport and thought to buy my shuincho stamp book here since the design is also very beautiful, but with my change of plans I am still very happy with my current book.
    Second, it was full of miko; three of them behind the counter, two in the back room and another one outside. I’ve never seen so many miko at one shrine!

    Lucky for me, I was there to see two special events take place. There weren’t any big celebrations, if I didn’t know any better I might’ve thought that the decorations belonged to the shrine and were there all year long. The Tanabata strips matched the colour of the light green roof and the brown of the wood and the bamboo tree hardly stood out for it was so thin. I will talk about Tanabata at a later date though, I was in Osaka for the official festival and saw a bigger celebration take place. Gokoku Shrine also had a chinowa purification ring on the pathway leading to the shrine. Made out of dry grass, one is to pass through the ring with a series of loops and serves to wash away any impurities or bad luck. This custom is said to have started after Somin Shôrai, a legendary hero, tied a magical ring of grass around his waist and thus managed to escape an epidemic. At some shrines they offer slips of paper shaped like a person during the time that the chinowa circle is in place that you can take with you as another means of purification. Shape-wise, they reminded me of a kami called Shikigami, pieces of paper that come to life under orders of a master and usually are in charge of spying (they also appear in Spirited Away).

    After imitating another lady that was there and doing the adequate loops around and through the circle, I considered myself purified and moved on to the castle itself. There was a couple getting married on the stairs leading to the castle that were resting for a while; the white dress Japanese brides wear never ceases to amaze me. Going in I stopped to buy the entrance ticket but the woman said I couldn’t use my discount unless I had a booklet that came with the pass, so I decided to go back to my hostel, have some lunch and then come back to the castle with the booklet in tow (I had left it next to my futon because it seemed more like a promotional thing for restaurants I wasn’t interested in). It was just past noon so I still had plenty time and the hostel wasn’t far away. Leaving the castle I walked through a park claimed by small school children running around in their matching uniforms and cute hats, I found banners with pictures of kappa on them that I guess belonged to the pool next door and a static black train that I climbed into to look around. I was back at the castle half an hour later and ready to go inside this time.

    I’m sure some of you have heard of the Battle of Sekigahara and some of you may already know the full history behind it (most probably more than I do), but for those of you who don’t I’ll give you a quick review to situate the past behind Hiroshima Castle — and also many other castles I visited during my trip, I’ll be talking about many castles from here onwards).

    Long story very short, Toyotomi Hideyoshi became very influential, unified Japan and eventually died. At the time his son Toyotomi Hideyori was still a small boy and not yet able to take on his father’s role, so Hideyoshi had left five regents in charge until he became of age.
    One of them was Tokugawa Ieyasu who went off to Edo and further north to defend his lands from the attack of Uesugi Kagekatsu —another one of the regents—. Ishida Mitsunari from Sawayama saw this as the perfect opportunity to take Fushimi Castle, now that Ieyasu was distracted, as a means of showing the country his strength.
    The west side of Japan (including Ishida and Mori clans, between others) was roughly in favour of Hideyori becoming the future shogun, while the Eastern forces (including people such as Fukushima, Hidetada and Ikeda), since they belonged to Tokugawa, wanted Ieyasu to become the next shogun. After the attack at Fushimi Castle Tokugawa’s forces and himself made their way from Edo back along the Tokaido and Nakasendo routes and the western and eastern forces clashed at the plain of Sekigahara (about halfway between Nagoya and Lake Biwa) resulting in the Battle of Sekigahara. Three years later Tokugawa Ieyasu became shogun, although Hideyori didn’t disappear until much later on.

    Hiroshima Castle was built by and was home to Terumoto Mori, a powerful lord whose domain covered much of the Chugoku Region. A castle town formed around it and Hiroshima prospered as one of most important towns in the area with its ideal location on land and next to the sea. The second floor of the castle talks about castle-town life and offers pictures, tools and even replicas of a samurai house, a merchant house and a tea house (plus a cool video) to help understand this period.
    Since Mori had aligned himself with the western forces in the Battle of Sekigahara, Ieyasu took the castle away from him and he was left with only what would be most of Yamaguchi Prefecture today. Fukushima Masanori from the eastern forces took his place and lived in the castle for many years. At the time, if a castle was damaged the shogun had to give his okay before it could be fixed. A flood had destroyed part of the castle and, although Fukushima asked permission, a response never came even after two years; Fukushima preceded to mend his castle. I think this was reasonable as I definitely wouldn’t want to live in a home in such conditions for two years, but of course it was a trap. Tokugawa had suspicions about Fukushima’s loyalties and now that he had disobeyed and fixed the castle without permission, the lands were taken away from him.
    Nagaakira Asano was the new owner of the castle, whose clan would control the castle, and with it the domain, for many generations. The original castle keep and several other structures remained through the Meiji Period but were completely destroyed by the bombing. The castle keep was rebuilt in 1958.

    The first floor explains all of this history, and probably more that I can’t remember, plus it has a very interesting model of how the castle would’ve looked. I honestly had no idea that there were so many buildings apart from the main keep and yagura, but the model showed rows and rows of tatami and rooms after another occupying what would probably be most of the castle grounds. They have a few architectural objects and also talk about the small town on the delta before Hiroshima.
    The third floor was my favourite simply because of the armours. I had seen a few samurai armours before in the Tokyo National Museum of Ueno, but there were so many people there at the time that I hardly had room to look at them properly. This time I stayed and imagined them being made in front of me, threads with such strong colours being looped together with the plates. It almost seemed more like art than a dressing for war, I still remember clearly the dark blue of one of the armours.
    The rest of the third and fourth floor have great displays of swords and a gun, although I think the fourth floor changes exhibits every now and then. Most people seemed to be passing the displays rather quickly, I was practically alone looking at the weapons, but the Observation Platform was full of people. I liked the bars around the fifth floor, making it feel like a cage. Since it’s a cement reconstruction the inside of the building doesn’t feel like a castle (really just an interesting museum) but when I was on the top floor and could feel the wooden walls it was easier to imagine how castle-life must’ve been.

    Making my way back down to the bottom I collected the castle stamp and asked a Spanish couple to take some photos of me with the castle. I took 3h15min to visit the whole castle and grounds (including Gokoku Shrine), so I set off to visit Shukkei-en before it was too late. Worth mentioning that they do samurai performances (singing, plays and sword shows) every Sunday from 13:30 to 15:00h at the Ninomaru in case any of you are interested in seeing that. On Saturdays you can also spot people dressed up as samurai walking around the castle at about the same time.

    Unbelievably, I only realised I had gotten lost trying to find Shukkei-en when I saw the Ichiran ramen place along Hondori. I don’t know how I managed to walk in the wrong direction but I’m not much of a garden person and I would be seeing Koraku-en later on anyway so I decided not to backtrack and stopped at the restaurant to eat instead. For anyone who is interested though, right next to Shukkei-en there is the school Sadako Sasaki used to go to, there’s a statue of her at the entrance.
    Ichiran is a chain of ramen restaurants popular especially for people going solo. At the entrance there is a vending machine where I asked and paid for what I wanted (there are pictures, I got a bowl with an extra egg), the machine printed out a piece of paper that I picked up and, after looking at a board displaying which seats were empty, I walked into the restaurant and sat down. The restaurant is a line of individual cubicles, a wall in front and at both sides, giving every person a sense of privacy.

    I had been to the Ichiran near Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo on my first trip so I knew what to do already. There was a sheet of paper waiting for me on the table that I had to fill in with my personal preferences of spiciness, amount of water and whatever else was customisable. It was only in Japanese though, so I circled randomly (Tokyo has an English option) and rang the button once I was done. A few seconds later someone from behind the counter opened the small curtain in front of me and took my sheet of paper and the ticket from the vending machine. I couldn’t see their face, they couldn’t see mine, and I didn’t have to talk to anyone. When my food came a short while after I had apparently ordered a big spicy bowl so I made the most of the free refillable water at the side to make sure I finished it.

    I walked around Hondori for a while, re-visiting Daiso, before making my way back to my hostel. The lump that had appeared on the side of my foot after my hike up Mt.Shosha was finally starting to disappear and I could walk longer distances before it started to hurt, but I was still in need of a sit-down. Especially because the next day I’d be waking up early and spending the day walking around Miyajima!

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    Oh, I am so loooooving reading your trip report. Your attention to detail and depth of research into what you are visiting is inspirational and I love reading all about it.

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    Thanks Kavey, you always write such nice comments! I think research can be considered one of my hobbies, planning is really part of the fun of travelling :)

    I downloaded a few of the episodes of the podcast after you suggested it in another post, someotherguy! I like to listen to them on the train sometimes, I think I’ll get back into it when my classes start again.

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    Oh, my pleasure. Am so enjoying the report!
    I love planning too, but I have never got quite as deeply under the skin of a place, culturally and historically, as you have here. I do read up about history and culture, of course, but more superficially.
    It's fascinating to read about your experiences and what you have found out too.

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    Peter - I'm amazed by all you did in Hiroshima as I thought most people spend 1/2 day there and leave for miyajima. I am thoroughly enjoying this and am quite impressed by all the information you've provided.

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    Peter-Continuing to read and enjoy your report.

    dgunbug- We spent one full day in Hiroshima and one full day in Miyajima using Hiroshima as a base for 2 nights. It worked perfectly for us.

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    You are a most amazing young man. Your command of English is extraordinary and your trip report has me wishing I had chosen a different itinerary. No not really, I could never manage such a strenuous schedule. You are 20 I am 76 a few years difference.

    You eye for detail and descriptions makes this one of the best
    T.R's I have read. Have copied Hiroshima since that is the only place I will be visiting, that you have been to as well.

    Really enjoying this.

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    Shelley - we are doing just that. We'll arrive in the late afternoon at Hiroshima and will spend three nights with a full day spent in both Hiroshima and miyajima.
    Peter - I'm looking forward to your report on miyajima.

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    dgunbug, I do think most people do Hiroshima + Miyajima in one day, especially if they have limited days in their JR Passes and also want to include trips to other places. But in the end everyone decides where they prefer to spend most of their time and I’m sure they were satisfied with their shorter trip to Hiroshima!

    Nyoman awwww, thank you! I sometimes have to use the translator when I’m writing since I don’t speak much English offline, I’m glad it lives up to the expectations! :P I hope my visit can help you or give you some ideas on what to see while there!

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    Miyajima is finally up! As always, the photo version:


    This was a day I was looking forward to so as always I showed that by waking up extra early planning to take the first ferry of the day to Miyajima (6:25am). I arrived to Dobashi Station a bit before six but saw that the first tram going down to Hiroden Miyajima-guchi Station wasn’t until 6:40, so I had to wait around until then. A man had fallen asleep on the couch of the hostel’s common room so I had my breakfast (that I first thought to eat at the island) silently as I tried not to wake him up.
    Even if there had been an earlier tram, I wouldn’t have arrived to the ferry in time: the ride took about an hour when I had imagined something closer to twenty minutes. The first tram was surprisingly popular though, I was only one of the twenty people who got off at the last stop and made their way straight to the ferry. The ticket counters were all closed but I didn’t need to stop since I had my pass with me, so I followed the rest and chose a seat on the top floor of the ferry.
    Apparently I sat on the wrong side and had to stand up during the ride to see the gate as we reached the island.
    Thinking that the place would be empty at that time, I was wrong. The ferry port was full, a line of people waiting to go through the gates while a guard was checking everyone’s tickets. I hurried to get out of there quickly and headed straight for the main attraction of the island, Itsukushima Shrine.
    The shrine was full of priests running around getting the place ready for the day and a few workers of the island doing their daily visit before they had to open the stores.

    The reason I was so eager to get here early was because high tide was at 6:30am, I wanted to see Itsukushima Shrine while it looked like it was floating. It’s actually thought to have been built on water as an attempt to imitate the Ryugu Palace under the sea, learning this detail made my visit more exciting because of my aforementioned love of Urashima Tarou, who was brought to the Palace Under the Sea as a thanks for saving the turtle. This, or the other opinion is that it’s a manifestation of the buddhist Pure Land (when people die their soul crosses by boat to the other side).
    The shrine has many interesting architectural details unique to a structure being built on water, for example the floor of the corridors has spaces between different floorboards so at high tide, when the water level rises, the water can escape through these cracks and there’s less pressure against the floor from below. Commoners weren’t allowed to step on the sacred island in the past, they had to reach the shrine by boat after passing through the torii.
    Just arriving I came to see the small Marodo Shrine Haraiden, a separated hall with beautiful latticework and a purification hall. Two lines of priests were sitting inside in silence, staring intently at the floor in front of them, while one of them kneeled in front of each one and gave them something. They seemed concentrated in what they were doing and I didn’t want to stand and observe them for too long in case it annoyed them, so I continued my way down the corridor.
    The lanterns along the way are dedicated to Mori Terumoto and the stage one sees just before leaving the shrine is said to be the oldest Noh stage in Japan! I spotted a couple of white herons walking around in the water so I stayed to look at them, until a woman finally passed by and I asked for they typical photo of me with the torii behind. Itsukushima Shrine was nice and calm during the morning, I especially liked the roof and the wooden planks fitted together, the brilliant red colour of course made the shrine stand out between the trees and from far away.

    In front of the shrine is the Treasure Hall, I looked at it from the outside but didn’t want to pay to go inside, so I made my way up to the five-storied pagoda (Gojunoto) that can be seen from just about any point of the town to have a look at it from up close.

    The Senjokaku was one of my favourite spots of Miyajima, a group of loud Chinese tourists were leaving just as I arrived and I had the place mostly all to myself, the only other people being the women behind the counter and a young man mopping the floor up and down.
    Senjokaku receives its name from its size, that of one thousand (sen) tatami mats able to fit in the hall. Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered this hall to be built in 1587 to console the souls of the war dead but it was renamed ‘Hokoku Shrine’ in 1872 and dedicated to the founder of the hall after his death. It now serves as an auxiliary shrine of Itsukushima Jinja.
    The place smelled strongly of wood and I especially loved to look at the plenty of pictures on wood hanging from the roof portraying legends and yokai to historical figures. A pile of beautiful old rice scoops were hidden in a corner and the hall was nice and cool in contrast to the sun outside.

    I walked around the smaller streets of the town for a while, up to Momijidani Park full of bugs and up a small hill, sitting down at the top to eat my second breakfast. As I joined the main street again I saw that there were now many more people than when I had arrived, so I decided to go to the Folklore Museum in case later it got crowded. I first stopped at Daiganji Temple near the exit of Itsukushima Shrine along the way, I hadn’t seen it before because it’s overshadowed by the floating shrine and the Treasure Hall, but it’s actually quite big.
    A large class of foreign tourists (from England, judging by their accents) were shouting and taking blocking the entrance, I had to go through the only gap left between them. There main hall was full of people inside with one of the monks chanting at the front of the room and the temple had a vast selection of omamori. It was full and noisy so I left soon after without looking around much.

    The Miyajima History and Folklore Museum was amazingly good (the bathrooms offer nice views of the Tahoto Pagoda too).
    It starts with a cold dark storehouse with a stone floor, the room full of enormous pots that could fit people inside, jars, wooden buckets, cauldrons, old tools and saws. All piled together with the only space between being a path leading to the door out the opposite side of the room, I stood around and looked at them all one by one. Reluctantly I continued my way, I knew I couldn’t stand here all day (it turned out to be my favourite display, although there was some tough competition).
    The mentioned door leads to a room focused on Miyajima’s festivals, little boats and models constructed next to the explanations and old photos of every event. The next is another storehouse with giant rice scoops covering the walls and smaller ones in display cases, some with writing, some with pictures or old with age. There were plenty tools shown to be used to make them, some strange looking things that I don’t even know how they would be used. Someone had gone to the effort of making ten half-scoops, stopping the process every step of the way so we could see how they are made.
    Following the signs led me to the next building, a modern one with two floors, automatic doors and very strong air-con. The first floor mostly talked about Itsukushima Shrine and the gate, while I didn’t stop long to look at the photos I did sit down to watch the video playing on loop and learnt many interesting facts about the torii.
    I definitely stayed the longest time on the second floor together with the golden folding screens, paintings, old maps and ancient documents. There were very good descriptions and plenty of pictures that helped understand the history of the island I knew absolutely nothing about.

    It’s a bit hard to follow because there are so many names and ups and downs involved, but I’ll try to explain it so it’s understandable.
    The story starts when Sue Harukata overthrew Ôuchi Yoshitaka, forcing him to commit seppuku; Ôuchi Yoshinaga became the next head of the Ôuchi clan but he was mostly just Sue’s puppet.
    Mōri Motonari wanted to avenge the betrayed Yoshitaka and hence attacked and defeated Sue at the so-called Battle of Oshikibata. Mōri then built a fort (Miyao Castle) on Miyajima making it visible from the mainland and a tempting target. He knew that there were spies of Sue in his forces, suspecting who they were he made sure to spread the rumour that the fort wouldn’t last long if it were attacked.

    Sue didn’t hesitate to head off to the island and take Miyao Castle (Mōri meanwhile seized Sakurao Castle, Sue's castle on the mainland, taking advantage of his absence). Mōri had the help of local pirates who agreed to transport his troops to Miyajima; Mōri Motonari, along with his forces and two of his sons (Kikkawa Motoharu and Mōri Takamoto, it’s funny because these two are both the fathers of Kikkawa Hiroie, lord of Iwakuni Castle I’d be visiting tomorrow, and Mōri Terumoto, lord of Hiroshima Castle, respectively) arrived to the east of the island out of site of Miyao Castle, while a third son arrived from the front. As the third son attacked the castle from the front gate Mōri hit from behind, taking Sue completely by surprise.
    While most of the Ôuchi forces were defeated, Sue himself escaped from Miyao Castle and wondered around the island for a few days. He killed himself when he saw that escape from the island was impossible.
    Before finishing the history part, it’s worth mentioning that the pirates whom helped out Mōri Motonari were the Murakami clan. They had control over the Seto Inland Sea during many years and built fortifications all over Innoshima Island, hence establishing control over two vital routes of the sea, the Onomichi Channel and the Strait of Mekari, forcing passing ships to pay sail taxes. The sea was their territory. If anyone is planning to do the Shimanami Kaido from Onomichi make sure to stop at Innoshima Suigun Castle on Innoshima Island!

    Back to present-day Miyajima. The descriptions of the museum had ended as I left the big building but the path continued through an old traditional house. Hiroshima Castle had told me that in the past towns-people paid a certain amount of tax depending on the size of the front gate, so houses started to have smaller entrances but were very narrow and long from front to back. This one was an example of what that looked like, the rooms only a tatami and a half wide but very long indeed.
    A corridor connected this small home to the Egami Family’s Main House. The building complex that holds the museum was built 160 years ago and was originally the residence of this wealthy merchant family in the soy sauce business (as well as the storehouses).
    I was allowed to take my shoes off and walk around inside the home, and I sat down at the table in the drawing room to look out at the garden in their backyard. There are a few items they used to own which show just how wealthy they must’ve been.
    Leaving the museum I wondered where to go to next.

    The few small shops that were open close to the museum seemed a bit expensive and too touristy, I walked around the streets slowly seeing what I could find until I spotted a little shrine at the other side of the river (the small Kiyomori Shrine was built in 1954 to commemorate and console the spirit of Taira no Kiyomori) and changed my route to walk close to the water in the area filled with pines. Almost 1pm, from there I could see that it was already low tide so I went down the steps close to Kiyomori Shrine and walked to the torii, meeting the people coming from the other side once there. I’d made the right choice wearing my sandals so it was fine if they got wet, I had to be careful not to step on any of the many crabs and little creatures wondering around.

    While many people complement and appreciate the floating appearance of the shrine and gate, low tide has it’s positive side too. Near Itsukushima Shrine, when the water is out, three round ponds can be seen. It’s said they appeared around the time the shrine was built meaning that the gods approved of the shrine. The beautiful view of the moonlight reflected in these ponds is the subject of many tanka and haiku.

    The museum I had just been to had told me a lot about the gate and from up close I could see some of the things mentioned. Painted on the east and west side at the top of the torii is a sun and moon. The northeast is supposedly the direction of the demon’s gate in Feng Shui but the sun blocks the evil gate. It’s made out of three different types of wood and the main pillars look a bit irregular because the natural shape of the wood was used. The pillars aren’t buried deep underground, but at the base of each one there is a stone slab helping to keep the torii from falling as well as the box-shaped upper part of gate being filled with 7 tons of stones, each with a sutra written on them. The view of the torii is one of the Three Scenic Views of Japan along with Amanoshidate and Matsushima, it’s interesting how all three on the list seem to focus on the relationship between land and water.

    Many photos later I went back up the stairs I had come from and down next to the river to sit with my feet in the water as I rested. The sun was already burning and there were no people to be seen away from the center of town. I then went back to strolling around, this time further away for my list of must-sees had ‘Omoto Shrine’ close to the top located at the edge of town. It wasn’t hard to find, a lady was there sitting in between a group of deer she was eagerly taking photos of. Omoto Shrine was like a miniature version of Senjokaku, open on all sides and also made out of wood, with wooden plaques hanging from the ceiling. I don’t really know what the statue of a horse was doing in the hall but it gave the little shrine a lot of character. Apparently there’s a wooden pole in the shrine that has the date 1443 in ink letters, so it’s said to have existed from that time.

    The woman had started the walk up the Omoto Course of Mt.Misen (good luck to her!) and the park was now only crowded with deer. I would say it was quiet but the cicadas were so loud, it almost seemed as if an enormous flock of them would come flying out from behind the trees and cover the sky and sun; the deers would run into hiding and the island would be plunged into darkness. Of course nothing of such sort happened and when I spotted a sign pointing up a hundred stairs promising the path would lead to Daisho-in, I decided to leave the park behind and start climbing. My map claims it was the Asebihodo Nature Walk, a while after the stairs was a small hut with some bathrooms. It’s actually surprising the amount of bathrooms there were on Miyajima (sixteen that I know of).

    It was an easy walk, not even the stairs were tiring, and I was looking at the nature around me until I saw movement in front. Luckily I looked forwards just before I stepped on the long white snake blocking my path, I leapt backwards a few steps and stared at it as it slid away into the trees. I made sure to look at the ground carefully as I continued my way, but soon I forgot about the snake when I came across the Tahoto Pagoda.

    I already expressed my love for pagodas with a round central structure when I wrote about Mitaki-dera, but I repeat it again: beautiful! I wish I had a miniature of one so I could look at it closely every morning. The pagoda (built in 1523) first worshipped the Buddha of Medicine, but that was moved to Daiganji Temple following the Meiji Restoration. It then worshipped the deified warlord Kato Kiyomasa but his spirit was moved to Toyokuni Shrine where it still is to this day, so I don’t really know who this pagoda worships now.

    Daisho-in Temple appeared a minute later, instead of entering the temple through the main entrance the path ended next to the Onarimon Gate at the top of the first set of stairs. As I arrived I could hear the sound of furin resonating around the temple grounds, a man was selling second-hand yukata and many of the people at the temple were sitting in the shade hiding from the sun of the hot summer day.

    I didn’t really know where to start so I went up the next few steps to the Chokugan-do Hall and came face to face with the first set of statues. Daisho-in has an impressive amount of statues; buddhas standing serious in hidden corners of the temple, golden rows of figures inside the halls, thirty-three incarnations of Kannon, deities with their own little halls and structures, dozens of rakan statues scattered around the stairs and little Jizos that pop out between the trees… I’ve counted 2660 thanks to the little pamphlet I picked up while there, but there are plenty that aren’t mentioned so I’m sure the number reaches almost 3000 in total!
    The most memorable ones were Shaka Nyorai with the blue hair, surrounded by his sixteen disciples as he reached Nirvana and the small Ichigan Daishi —if a worshipper prays for only one wish, it will be realised thanks to the mercy of Kobo Daishi—, plus a few others that I will soon mention.

    The stairs leading to the Maniden are accompanied by a row of green wheels with golden kanji. Spinning these wheels as one goes up the stairs is believed to give the same blessing as someone who has read a volume of the Heart Sutra. They were pretty noisy as I spun them all, two other foreigners who had no idea what I was doing looked at me strangely. I heard the loud sound of a drum in the hall as I made it to the top of the stairs, a nice surprise to find out that the temple offers prayers every day accompanied by a taiko. I stayed and listened for a while while staring mostly at the lovely woodwork of the ceiling.
    A dead Japanese hornet wasp (ôsuzumebachi) almost as long as my finger was laying on the tatami near the entrance.

    Continuing my little tour of the temple I found a little structure in the middle of a pond full of coins, the so-called Hakkaku Manpuku Hall with the Seven Lucky Gods enshrined, ema boards and statues of them all inside. I’ve already mentioned these gods in another post when I did the Hiroshima Temple Walk, I’ve become fond of them so it was a nice thing to come across.
    Next to the pond was the entrance to a dimly lit cave, a roof covered in lanterns the only light illuminating the icons of the 88 temples along the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Worshippers believe that here they can receive the same blessings as those who have made the pilgrimage to all the temples of the route.

    I didn’t know what the protocol was when being faced with such an intense and spiritual feeling and I was slightly intimidated, so I waited outside for a couple of Japanese girls to enter before me and followed their lead. They seemed to pick up a pinch of ash from a bowl of incense and spread it over the back of their hands, then circled the room touching all the little beads in front of the statues before leaving through another entrance. I repeated their actions and looked closely at the faces of the statues as I slowly made my way around the cave, listening to the echo of prayers sounding through some speakers. Some statues had a mysterious smile, others looked downright bored or angry, but all looked powerful and like they were sharing a mind altogether.

    The sunlight seemed stronger once I left the cave and I saw another foreigner in front staring intently at some steps. She pointed as she saw me looking at her and I followed her finger to see a yellow and red giant crab with a little smiley face on its shell. I had suddenly decided that I wanted to see the statue at the top of the stairs but, unlike the snake, this creature didn’t look like it was going to move. I wouldn’t have had much of a problem stepping over it if it were any other crab but red and yellow are the colours of danger, I didn’t want to find out how much it would hurt if it snapped at my ankle. So I made my way up to the Maniden again and took a little path I had seen before that led to the same place.

    Having looked at all the buildings further up I started to make my way to the bottom again. Near where I had arrived was the Kannon-do Hall that I had missed, but I don’t really remember much about it. The last flight of stairs of the temple —or the first, if you’re starting from the entrance— also has a row of sutra wheels to turn, these represent the Dai-hannyakyo Scripture and touching them is said to bring great fortune.
    I knew I was missing something before leaving, I had read about some statues in little hats crowded around some stairs, and I was determined to find them before I left. It didn’t prove to be too difficult though, I spotted them as I was walking down the steps and followed a trail before the Niomon. The 500 rakan statues all have very noticeably different expressions, I liked to imagine a character behind them as I started up the stairs once again. After the rakan statues come a few little Jizos hiding between the bushes and pulling faces.

    Daisho-in is slowly stealing the protagonism of Itsukushima Jinja. While all guide books still mention the red floating shrine as the star, everyone who I spoke to about Miyajima Island told me to visit this temple. I don’t think Daisho-in can be given the titles of ‘off the beaten path’ or ‘secret place’ anymore, it was definitely popular with the tourists. However, most people weren’t talking and the temple still held the calm atmosphere. The other day I read the phrase ‘spiritual flow’, I think that’s a good way to describe the temple.

    It was way too hot to be climbing any mountains so unfortunately I didn’t make it to the top of Mt.Misen and the eternal flame. Maybe I shall have to return one day when I visit Yamaguchi Prefecture and some sites in Hiroshima-ken that I didn’t see this time around.

    I went for a very late lunch at a little place next to Senjokaku and ordered a nice bowl of ramen, the fan blowing in front of me as I took a break from the heat outside.
    Walking around the shopping streets of the island I soon bought a box of momiji manju, Miyajima’s food speciality, like a maple leaf-shaped little cake. Mine had red bean paste filling inside, but I’m sure there are other fillings available. I didn’t eat any yet because they wrapped it up nicely in a box and I didn’t want to ruin it, instead I ate them a few days down the line and desperately wished I’d bought more. Absolutely delicious, my family didn’t get to try them because I finished them all myself! I bought them some natto to make up for it ;)

    The shopping street is a series of shops all selling basically the same trinkets and food, so make sure to compare prices before buying anything. I bought my rice scoop for 360 yen but I saw others of the same size for double the price. The world’s largest rice scoop can also be found along the shopping street (I don’t think there was much competition for this record though).

    Most of the people had already left or were patting the last deer as they made their way to the ferry, I made my way to the Crafts Center instead. I had expected it to be a museum but it was more of a little room with a few displays of local arts and crafts for sale.
    My map marked the location of where Miyao Castle used to be, very close to the dock at the top of some steep stairs. There isn’t much to see, if anything at all, but it’s the history behind it that is important.

    I had initially planned to stay until sunset because I’d been told that the torii after dark was very beautiful, but it was very hot and I’d had enough of walking around, so I went back to the mainland on the next ferry.
    I found out later that fireflies can be seen on summer nights around the river next to Daisho-in, right at the start of the Daishoin Walking Course up the mountain. I wish I had known this when I was there and I definitely would’ve stayed until night to see them!

    Miyajima is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan but it stayed surprisingly empty the whole day. I crossed families, couples and tour groups on the shopping street but nothing even close to the crowded photos I’ve seen, while places further from the center were totally empty. Many people have limited time on the island, if that’s the case I’d say my high points were Senjokaku and the Folklore Museum, the torii at low tide can also wedge its way up there.

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