Monday, June 19, 2017

Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends

From Himeji, we took the shinkansen to Shin-Osaka Station where we arrived during rush hour. After retrieving our bags from the coin lockers, we went to the platform and waited for the train that would take us to Osaka Station. We didn't notice until the train had arrived and there was a rush of women pouring out that we had queued at the section where the Women Only car was to stop. Our lady friends took their places in the comfortably uncrowded Women Only car and we, men, scrambled to the next car where we squeezed in with the Japanese salarymen. As soon as our train arrived at Osaka Station a sea of commuters flowed out from our train and from the train on the opposite track, then more commuters ebbed into the trains to take our place.

Photo from quora.com

We were carried along by the hurrying commuters and I craned my neck to try and find our lady friends. It was like trying to Find Wally. Worse, the friend I was with had forgotten to bring his eyeglasses. We decided to wait by the exit turnstiles in the hopes that the ladies would go there. I tried finding a free WiFi spot. Minutes went by but no lady friends nor free WiFi were found. This was to be our first night in Osaka and we were on our way to check in to our airbnb apartment. I wasn't sure if my two friends had the address for the apartment (we have to take another train to get there).

I told my blurry-eyed friend not to move while I tried to find the girls. I went back to the thankfully now uncongested platforms (the trains have just left) and scanned the lines of people. Just as the next train was arriving I spotted the girls and ran to them.

What was the girls' side of the story? Turns out that as I was craning my neck to look for them in the sea of commuters, they had waved at us and had assumed we had seen them.

Moral of the story?
1. If you and your friends have to take the train during rush hour, stick together.
2. It pays to have a pocket WiFi.
3. Do not forget your eyeglasses.
4. If you find your travel buddies annoying and want to get rid of them, do the opposite of the first three items.
5. It really is very difficult to Find Wally.



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends (you're here!)

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Remembering the Past in Hiroshima

The afternoon of our ninth day in Japan was dedicated to remembering the past by visiting the city of Hiroshima.

History Lesson 1: Life in a Castle Town

Our first stop was the Hiroshima Castle, nicknamed the Carp Castle. The castle stands in an area that used to be called Koi-no-ura, which means Carp (Koi) Sea Shore, hence the nickname.

Like all castles, Hiroshima Castle is surrounded by a moat. The castle tower that stands now is a reconstruction (the original was destroyed in 1945). The castle is five stories tall and is now used as a museum. The first floor is mainly about Hiroshima Castle; the second floor is about life in the castle town, including replicas of a tea house, a merchant house, and a samurai house; the third floor displays Samurai weapons and armours (the most interesting exhibit for me); the fourth floor is for exhibits about Hiroshima's history and culture; and the fifth floor serves as an observation deck. Taking of photos inside are only allowed in few select areas (like the area where you can dress up as a samurai).

Hiroshima Castle
広島城
9AM to 6PM (5PM from December to February)
Admission fee: 370 yen



Ninomaru

View from Hiroshima Castle

Across the moat


History Lesson 2: War and Peace

If you listened to your history teacher (or even if you didn't, I am sure you have picked up this fact some time in your life), you know that Hiroshima was where the US dropped the first atomic bomb in August 6, 1945. At 8:15AM on that day, the city of Hiroshima was completely destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

Today, more than 70 years since that horrific day, Hiroshima is a bustling city that has long since risen from the ashes. But not without reminding the world of its past and the hope for world peace with its 120,000 square meter Peace Memorial Park 平和記念公園 found in the heart of the city.

Within the park is the Genbaku Dome (A-Bomb Dome), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just 160 meters from the hypocenter, the building that was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall remained standing (albeit destroyed). The ruins remain in the same condition as it was immediately after the bombing. It stands to remind us of the destruction that humankind can create and to express hope for world peace, thus it is also called the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial / Genbaku Dome (A-Bomb Dome)

Walking around the Peace Memorial Park was a time for reflection and prayer. In the park we saw the Children's Peace Monument, dedicated to all the children who died in the bombing. Thousands of paper cranes can be found around the monument as these are offered as symbols of peace.

Sadako Sasaki was two years old during the bombing. It was only nine years later that she was diagnosed of leukemia. She kept on folding paper cranes in the hopes that it would help her recover. Her death, just eight months after the diagnosis, prompted her classmates to call for support in building a monument not only for her but for all the children who have died because of the nuclear bomb. That came into fruition as the Children's Peace Monument.

Children's Peace Monument

From the Children's Peace Monument we walked towards the Peace Memorial Museum. We passed by the Flame of Peace, designed to look like hands opened towards the sky and pressed together at the wrist. It was first lit in August 1, 1964 and has continuously burned since. The fire will keep on burning until the day all the world gets rid of its nuclear weapons.

Across the Flame of Peace, before we reached the museum, we stopped by the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims. The stone chamber sheltered by the arch of the Cenotaph is inscribed with this prayer: "Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil." The stone chamber also holds the registry containing almost 300,000 names of those who died from the bombing, regardless of nationality.

Looking at the Flame of Peace and Genbaku Dome through the Cenotaph

By the time we reached the Peace Memorial Museum, it was already closed. If it had been open, I am not sure we'd have the strength to go in and look through the artifacts and personal belongings of the victims, let alone watch video testimonies of survivors.

830AM to 6PM (7PM in August / 5PM from December to February)
Admission fee: 200 yen

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

History Lesson 3: Okonomiyaki

While we were wandering around the Peace Memorial Park in a somber mood, hunger struck and my friend suggested we try okonomiyaki, a pancake (looks more like an omelette to me) made of cabbage, eggs, pork or seafood (or both), topped with condiments (sweet sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed, fish flakes). A debate started about okonomiyaki's place of origin: I read somewhere that it originated in Osaka, my friend insisted that it originated in Hiroshima. Osaka. Hiroshima. Food is food and we were hungry so we set out to find a place that serves okonomiyaki. There is actually a cluster of okonomiyaki restaurants in an area called Okonomimura ("Okonomiyaki Village") just a 10-minute walk from where we were but we were too hungry (and too lazy) to go there. Instead we looked for one at Hon Dori (Hon Street) near Genbaku Dome.

In search of okonomiyaki at Hon Dori

We didn't venture too far and found one on the second floor of a narrow building. The name of the restaurant was in Japanese but we knew it to be an okonomiyaki restaurant thanks to the photos of okonomiyaki that adorned the signage.

Uzushio
うずしお
1-5-15-201 Otemachi Naka-ku Hiroshima

Early afternoon hunger brought us to Uzushio


We were able to try two flavors: the regular one with just pork and egg (600 yen) and the okonomiyaki special with pork, egg, squid, prawn, and noodles (1300 yen). I don't think I could finish one order myself, not because of the taste (it was actually very flavorful) but because one order is enough for two persons. (Thank God for travel buddies!)

What's the lesson here? It doesn't really matter where it originated. Just try okonomiyaki in Hiroshima and in Osaka as these two have different styles of okonomiyaki.


Getting around Hiroshima City: We went around the city using the Hiroshima Sightseeing Loop Bus. The sightseeing bus stops by the above spots and more (Toshogu Shrine, Shukkein-en Garden, and several art museums). The Hiroshima Sightseeing Loop Bus is operated by JR, thus the JR Pass is valid for unlimited rides on the bus. Otherwise, buy a one day pass for 400 yen, or pay individual fare (200 yen per ride).




Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima (you're here!)
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima

For our last three days (of our ten days) in Japan, our home base was Osaka, but we opted to do day trips from there to other prefectures, intending to make the most of our JR Pass. The eighth day was spent in Himeji City in Hyogo Prefecture, less than a 100 km west of Osaka. And the ninth day was spent farther away, at the prefecture of Hiroshima, about 350 km west of Osaka. With access to the shinkansen, these prefectures didn't seem all that far.

But 10 hours or so to spend in one prefecture, is it even enough? Way too short no doubt, so we picked just a few places to visit in Hiroshima and one of these is the island of Itsukushima aka Miyajima 宮島.

Directions to Miyajima: From Hiroshima Station, take the JR Sanyo line to Miyajimaguchi Station (25 minutes, 410 yen). From Miyajimaguchi Station, walk to the pier, and take the JR ferry or Matsudai ferry to Miyajima (10 minutes, 180 yen). A cheaper (but slower) alternative from Hiroshima Station to Miyajimaguchi Station is to take tram line number 2 (260 yen).

Waiting for the ferry

10-minute ferry ride

We explored Miyajima on foot. From the pier we walked past the town (we spent more time there on the way back), towards the well known Otorii (great torii) of Itsukushima Jinja 厳島神社 (Itsukushima Shrine). On the walk to Itsukushima, we encountered deer freely roaming the streets.

Town

Deer

Friendship goals

Itsukushima Shrine
厳島神社
630AM to 6PM (Closes 30 minutes to an hour early from October 15 to end of February)
Admission fee: 300 yen

Itsukushima Shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and like its famous giant torii, is built over water. During high tide, the shrine and its torii look like it's floating on water.

Itsukushima Shrine is said to have been built in the year 593. It has undergone many a restoration due to damage from fire, typhoon, etc. We did not visit the shrine itself, but contented ourselves with admiring the shrine's huge torii from the sidelines. Itsukushima Shrine's first torii was built in 1168. The great torii standing now is already the eighth, built in 1875. It was low tide when we visited, but not low enough to walk towards the Otorii and not get our shoes wet.

Itsukushima Shrine

Admiring the Otorii in between lanterns from the sidelines

Itsukushima Shrine's famous great torii

On the other side of the street from Itsukushima Shrine, Toyokuni Shrine's Senjokaku Hall and Gojunoto, its five-storied pagoda, caught our attention. Senjokaku which literally means "pavilion of 1000 mats," was named so because the size of the hall is approximately 1000 tatami mats (one tatami mat is 85.5 cm by 179 cm). The hall was built in 1587 and has remained unfinished. Gojunoto is older than the hall, having been built in 1407.

Senjokaku Hall
千畳閣
830AM to 430PM
Admission fee: 100 yen

The big building in the background is Senjokaku Hall

Gojunoto, five storied pagoda

From both shrines, we continued walking inland towards Momojidani Park. The park has 200 maple trees and because it was autumn (and because I am a sucker for the warm colors of autumn leaves) we simply had to go!

Onward to Momojidani Park


Beautiful autumn day at Momojidani Park



Transition

Autumn reflection


While walking around Miyajima, our mouths watered every time we came across food stalls. My friend who could eat melon pan every day was ecstatic to find melon pan stuffed with ice cream. My two other friends couldn't resist trying the fishcake because of its maple shape. And baked sweet potato ice cream? Sweet potato and ice cream?! I had to satisfy my curiosity!!!

Melon pan ice cream sandwich 

Skewered stuff

Sweet potato ice cream

Before we knew it our half a day was already over and we have seen only a small portion of Miyajima. There was still so much to do: a mountain to climb, temples and shrines and museums to visit, and streets to get lost in. Next time (hopefully there will be a next time), I should spend an entire day in Miyajima.



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking Miyajima (you're here!)
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado