Part Three of My Japanese Adventure
Those who know me are fully aware that I’m not the best at maintaining a good work life balance. I have nurtured a love of writing about my Agile and UX experiences over the past few months. It has never felt like work. Yet some would argue I have used my spare time to extend my work hours. Nevertheless, even the most industrious of individuals needs the odd few days off.
I’m currently embarking on my dream vacation of travelling through Japan with my exceptionally patient husband. With strong interest from friends and family back home, I have been regaling my adventures through my blog. Following our exploiting in Tokyo, Kawaguchi and Hakone, we are experiencing a change of scene exploring Hiroshima and Miyajima.
Today we are leaving the hot spring resort of Hakone to travel to Hiroshima. With no seat reservations we did wonder if we would be able to get on the train. I am haunted by a rather uncomfortable bank holiday train to Glasgow standing in a vestibule all the way to Carlisle.
Using the Shinkansen it could not have been easier. With one change and an operating speed of 320km/h, the 729km journey took just over 4 hours. Leg room is never a problem, so it was a far more comfortable experience too.
By mid-afternoon we are in downtown Hiroshima. The immediate notion we have is the height of the buildings. While not as tall as the towering skyscrapers of Tokyo, they certainly put Glasgow to shame. The daytime views are stunning. It was easy to gaze out from our hotel and see the buildings nestled by the surrounding forests and mountains.
Regardless, this pales in comparison to the night view. Being the hubby’s birthday we enjoyed steak cooked on a teppan grill overlooking the bright lights of the city. That and a couple of cocktails made for a chilled evening following a long day of travelling.
To ensure adequate fuelling for our exploration through Hiroshima, we had to have a substantial breakfast. The majority of our hotels so far have offered a mix of Japanese and Western style food. This morning we decided to be adventurous and try out a traditional Japanese breakfast.
Although not my image, we were presented something similar to the above including Japanese tea. I’m proud to say I enjoyed almost all the elements. Eggs have never been my thing, so did give the rolled eggs a miss. Mr Richmond wasn’t a great fan of some of the more sour pickles either. But definitely would have most of the elements again, especially the fish and miso, which have been an ongoing holiday staple for us.
One of the main transport mechanisms in Hiroshima is the Streetcar network. Riding on these cars brought back fond memories of navigating the San Francisco Trolleycars. These proved invaluable for reaching all the sites we aspired to visit.
Our first stop of the morning is to Hiroshima Peace Park. This gorgeous green space and its many monuments are dedicated to the memory of the dropping of the atomic bomb during WWII. Upon entering the park, you are faced with a stark reminder of the impact: the Atomic Bomb Dome. The former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall lay within the epicentre of the blast.
On this glorious day it was pleasant to walk through the park. There are numerous landmarks dedicated to the eradication of nuclear weapons throughout the park. In addition to the eternal flame, the Children’s Monument Bell and Phoenix Tree are definitely worth admiring. I did see a rather amusing moment of a child enthusiastically ringing the bell which made me smile.
I was indeed surprised at how respectful the majority of tourists were. Unlike the majority of other sites we have visited, pushing to read signs and take photos is replaced by polite and quiet reflection.
Onto happier notes, we went off in search of Hiroshima Castle. The original castle was built in the 1590’s, and reconstructed following its destruction by the Atomic Bomb. Stepping over the moat and visiting the carp, shrines and former home of the daimyo in the midday sun was immensely enjoyable. Especially for Mr Richmond who managed to capture an image of a ninja sneaking behind me, which is available on request.
All that walking does makes for hungry travellers. Following recommendations at the hotel, we were keen to try the local delicacy of Okonomiyaki. For those who are unfamiliar, this is a savoury pancake loaded with noddles, vegetables and meat toppings cooked on a teppan grill. There are many restaurants dedicated to making it across the city.
Okonomimura has around 25 different vendors producing their own variations. This tower of food is definitely a good place to start! This was one of our favourite dishes of the trip so far. While I kept things a bit more traditional and enjoyed the scallops version, Mr Richmond went all out for cheese and rice cake. Both were exceptionally tasty, so do give it a try if you ever have the opportunity.
Following our enjoyment of the Hamarikyu Gardens back in Tokyo, it seemed only fitting that we explore another Japanese garden in Hiroshima. The Shukkei-en Gardens are a tranquil escape from the bustle of downtown Hiroshima. Our latter portion of the afternoon was spent strolling through the peaceful gardens admiring the various shrines and bridges across the route. Every nook and cranny of this garden has a site to see. Look out for the mini bamboo and tea gardens, which were highlights of ours. I also suggest checking out the plum orchard if you have time.
Being a Saturday night, we can’t just stay in the hotel. This evening we chose to explore the Naka region, which is the lively entertainment district of Hiroshima. Unsurprisingly it has an array of shops, bars and restaurants lit up by neon signs in the evening.
The perfect end to our day was trying the Hiroshima delicacy of baked oysters, washed down with Shochu. Japanese food is very seasonal, son we were fortunate being here in the autumn that they were starting to come into season. This seemed like a good compromise over the milt that Mr Richmond was reluctant to try!
No journey to this region would be complete without a trip to Miyajima island. It is a small island off the course of Hiroshima, where people are forbidden to give birth or die on the island. Spoiler alert! Neither of these happened to us.
The ferry from the mainland to the island itself is only around 10 minutes in duration. With such a short window, it is amusing to watch tourists attempting to determine the best side to capture the famous Tori gate. Although we did get a few photographs on the ferry, the best shots are yet to come!
Our research before arriving told us much about the numerous shrines, shops, ryokans and other attractions present on the island. Nevertheless, surprises are indeed waiting to be found. Our first of the day was encountering the Sika deer that roam the island. These creatures are exceptionally friendly and docile when encountered off the beaten track. Do be wary that, like the seagulls of Largs, you may find yourself wrestling with them for your lunch if they catch a whiff of it!
There are plenty of shines and temples on the less well travelled track that are worth exploring on this picturesque little island. The less visited Tokujuji temple gave a pleasant moment of peace before rejoining the throngs of tourists in the main shopping arcade.
We are drawn to the main shopping streets by the sound of drum beats. Amongst the myriad of souvenir shops and restaurants, natives and willing tourist volunteers were bashing dough with hammers in preparation to make local bread.
Watching all this dough beating was indeed hungry work, so at this point we decided to sample some local delicacies. Since Mr Richmond had missed out on oysters the night before, he elected to try the fried variety. Meanwhile I branched out to try anago, or conger eel. Although jellied eel is a delicacy in London, it’s not really the most appetising sounding dish. This eel however, was fresh and delicious!
Over the course of the afternoon we visited the more popular sites of the island. It definitely showed as we navigated our way between the throngs or tourists and the friendly Sika. The Itsukushima Shrine and corresponding floating Tori gate are world renowned. Judging by the large volumes visiting this proportion of the island it certainly seems to be the case. Yet, when gazing upon their vivid orange colour I do understand the appeal. Thankfully there are numerous other attractions such as the Pagodas and the aquarium to provide variation.
Walking around shrines is thirsty work. Before settling in for dinner at our Ryokan, it was time to relax with a beer or two. By chance we happened across the Miyajima Brewery. It may be unbelievable to consider we had no knowledge of this brewery prior to visiting, but this was indeed our second surprise of the day! They have the small seating for takeout beer as well as the restaurant and bar where you can gaze out at the dusk skyline enjoying a beer flight.
Our final stop for the day is to our Ryokan to enjoy some Japanese hospitality. After settling into our Japanese style room to savour green tea and Momiji Manjyu, we enjoy a meal of local delicacies in our room including oysters and sea urchins!
The perfect lazy end to a busy day on the island is to soak in the Onsen. Following that we are on to Kyoto and Osaka!
Thanks for following my adventure thus far!