Posts Tagged ‘Temples/Shrines’

This entire time, I thought that we would be staying in Hiroshima and making trips out to Miyajima but I found out on our way that it is actually the other way around. After the 2 nights we spent in Miyajima, I’m glad that we did.

We wake up and I’m already dreading the day; we are packing up our stuff and dragging it through the train stations to make our way to Hiroshima. I think Jason was also dreading it too, as I was able to twist his rubber arm for us to take a cab from our hotel to the Shin-Osaka Station. Though the price difference was about 2000 yen, I would have paid almost anything to not have to drag our luggage to Shinsaibashi, wade through the crowds to catch the subway to Shin-Osaka, and then continue to drag our luggage around until we reached our gate.

We failed to pre-book our tickets the day earlier but found that we didn’t have problems when making our trips out to Kyoto, Himeji and Kobe (we were even upgraded to first class for a couple of those trips) so we didn’t think that booking tickets in advance was really too necessary.

… we were sadly mistaken.

We get to the ticket counter for the Shinkansen to find out that all the tickets for reserved seating to Hiroshima are sold out for the next train (and for a couple trains afterwards). He tells us that we can just go to the non-reserved seat car on the next train, or we could book reserved seats on the next available train which was in 4 hours. We didn’t want to wait the 4 hours with all of our stuff and we wanted to spend that time in Miyajima so we opted for the non-reserved seat car. I was disappointed once again that we didn’t receive a train ticket for this trip but happy that we didn’t have to wait the 4 hours for the next train. Things were looking good…

… until we got to the platform.

Usually, we start lining up within 20 minutes of the train arriving so we can have first pick of luggage space (and to ensure that we have luggage space). When we arrived to the platform, there was already huge lines for all the cars that had non-reserved seating. We find a spot in what we thought was the shortest line and start plotting; the plan was for Jason to go on the car first, blocks the line to put our bags away while I circle around him and try to find us a seat as quickly as possible.

…. apparently, we were not the only ones who thought of this plan.

Jason was able to find space in our car to store our luggage while I frantically tried to find us a seat. I forgot that there are 2 entrances to a car, and the seats filled up quite quickly. I was able to secure seats for us and we were on our way. We were absolutely amazed to see how many people were in the train car; when we ride in reserved seating the car is never full but in non-reserved we had people sitting on other people, and standing in the aisle with little room to move around.

After an extremely stressful boarding, we kick back until we arrive to Hiroshima Station. We take a quick jaunt down the street and catch the train to the ferry station to make our way to Miyajima.

Itsukushima is an island located northwest of Hiroshima Bay, and is known as Miyajima. The island used to be the town of Miyajima until it was merged with Hatsukaichi in 2005.

I assume that these deer are like the Japanese version of "Lady and the Tramp" but instead of eating spaghetti, they wanted a rickshaw ride.

I assume that these deer are like the Japanese version of “Lady and the Tramp” but instead of eating spaghetti, they wanted a rickshaw ride.

The ferry ride is about 5 minutes and when we get off the ferry, we are greeted by deers just wandering the grounds in Miyajima. After a stressful morning, we drag our luggage through Miyajima enjoying the sight of the Otori Gate and head over to our hotel.

Jason booked us 2 nights at Mizuha-so, which is a ryokan (for your reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryokan_(Japanese_inn). There is no bed and we slept on futon mats on the floor. Breakfast and dinner are both served at the Mizuha-so. Though there was no public bath per sae, there was a single and shared bathing room for the guests.

After we drop off our luggage, we start to wander around Miyajima and eating street food from the multiple food vendors. We walk around the Otori Gate and enter the Itsukushima Shrine and head back to the hotel for dinner.

Otori Gate

Otori Gate

View of the Hirabutai

View of the Hirabutai

View of the Otori Gate from Honden (Main Sanctuary of Itsukushima Shrine)

View of the Otori Gate from Honden (Main Sanctuary of Itsukushima Shrine)

Dinner was absolutely amazing. I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but what we ended up getting was an 8 course meal which included a taster of plum wine. We order a bottle of sake and I order plum wine on the rocks and we both enjoy our dinner while being a little tipsy. We head back to our room and go to bed, as the relaxing part of our vacation has begun.

The next day we wake up and eat a fantastic breakfast at Mizuha-so. From there, we take the ferry and train back to Hiroshima to visit the A-Bomb Dome and exhibits.

After several name changes, the A-Bomb Dome was last known as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. It was designed by Jan Letzel who was a Czech architect and construction was completed in 1915. At 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima. In 1966 it was decided that they would preserve the ruins and renamed it the A-Bomb Dome.

After seeing the A-Bomb Dome, you can’t even fathom the level of devastation that they must have endured when the bomb dropped down. It was a very depressing yet humbling experience seeing the dome intact but not restored since that day. Though feeling very sad, I was doing quite well until we reached the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students.

"During WWII, more than three million students over twelve years of age were mobilized for labor services throughout the country. As a result, more than 10,000 students were killed, including some 6,000 killed by the atomic bomb. They gave up their youth and studies for the nation. This tower was erected by concerned families and friends to console the souls of these victims who sacrificed themselves for their homeland, and who would have had a promising future had there been no war. This ferro-concrete tower is twelve meters high and gradually widens as it rises. The exterior surface of the five tiers are finished with Arita-yaki ceramic tiles. The sculpture depicts the Goddess of Peace accompanied by eight doves perched around the tower. On the centre pole are lights offered to God in memory of the lives that were extinguished" -- description of the monument

“During WWII, more than three million students over twelve years of age were mobilized for labor services throughout the country. As a result, more than 10,000 students were killed, including some 6,000 killed by the atomic bomb. They gave up their youth and studies for the nation. This tower was erected by concerned families and friends to console the souls of these victims who sacrificed themselves for their homeland, and who would have had a promising future had there been no war. This ferro-concrete tower is twelve meters high and gradually widens as it rises. The exterior surface of the five tiers are finished with Arita-yaki ceramic tiles. The sculpture depicts the Goddess of Peace accompanied by eight doves perched around the tower. On the centre pole are lights offered to God in memory of the lives that were extinguished” — description of the monument

… I started crying here.

After seeing a couple more monuments (and choking back tears) we head to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The admission fee is a extremely modest 50 yen (less than a dollar Canadian) and to tour around the facility was about 2 hours. You start the first half with a history lesson of what happened during the build up of WWII in Japan, and information regarding the Manhattan Project and how they picked their targets for the atomic bomb. The second half is of artifacts from the rubble and remains, with some history of the people who perished from the bomb. The saddest artifact was the remains of a tricycle that belonged to a 3-year-old child; the excerpt written about it made me almost lose my composure (and I’m actually tearing up thinking back to it). My heart was very heavy from this experience.

Tricycle from the Peace Memorial Museum

Tricycle from the Peace Memorial Museum

"I fought with myself for 30 minutes before I could take the first picture. After taking the first, I grew strangely calm and wanted to get closer. I took about ten steps forward and tried to snap another, but the scenes I saw were so gruesome my viewfinder clouded with tears" -- Yoshito Matsushige

“I fought with myself for 30 minutes before I could take the first picture. After taking the first, I grew strangely calm and wanted to get closer. I took about ten steps forward and tried to snap another, but the scenes I saw were so gruesome my viewfinder clouded with tears” — Yoshito Matsushige

We leave the museum and continue walking around the Peace Park, looking at more monuments and all the paper cranes. The paper cranes initially started by a 12-year-old girl named Sadako Sasaki. She was a victim of the A-Bomb and ended up developing cancer. In hopes of finding a cure, she started to fold 1000 paper cranes but met her demise prior to completion. People all over the world now fold 1000 paper cranes and donate them to the HIroshima Peace Park, where they are displayed.

Each row contains 100 paper cranes.

Each row contains 100 paper cranes.

Hiroshima is very passionate about getting rid of nuclear weapons and have written over 600 letters in protest of nuclear testing and development to various countries.

This place will definitely humble you. People have made jokes on how “Hiroshima is the bomb”, or think that the Japanese “got what they deserved for WWII”, but I can guarantee that you will quickly change your tune within the first 10 minutes of being at the A-Dome/Peace Park/Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. No one ever deserves to suffer that fate.

After a very depressing afternoon, we walk around Hiroshima and go to eat lunch. I now think that I’m an emotional eater, as we gorged on a variety of food and I felt not unhappy after we ate. Jason introduced me to horse meat during lunch. I wouldn’t say that it is my favourite thing to eat, but wouldn’t necessarily oppose eating it again either. We ate, felt better, and head back on the train to catch the ferry to Miyajima.

We have another relaxing night in Miyajima and the Mizuha-so served us yet another 8-course dinner, this time complemented with plum brandy. After dinner, we went back to our room to relax and prepare for our trip the following day.

Things I Have Learned in Japan Thus Far
1. Always.. always…. ALWAYS pre-book your tickets on the Shinkansen if you have luggage and never… ever… EVER go to the non-reserved car.

2. Convenience store fried chicken is fucking delicious. Jason and I saw an episode of (what I think was) No Reservations, and Anthony Bourdain was interviewing one of the top chefs in Japan. During his interview, the chef admitted that he always eats food from convenience stores because they are great. Thinking about the quality of food that we get at our local 7-Eleven, I was quite skeptical. One of the nurses I work with recommended that I have to try the fried chicken at Lawsons (which is a Japanese convenience store). Jason and I finally stumble upon one and give in to the fried chicken.

… seriously the best fried chicken that I’ve ever had.

3. People here are very serious about recycling; again, you will find a million recycling bins before you find a garbage can but when people are throwing out a bag of garbage they’ve collected while riding the train, they will stand in front of the recycle/garbage can and take the time to separate everything.

4. They serve alcohol from vending machines and you can drink anywhere in public. What I find very interesting is that they have vending machines for cigarettes but you need to have an RFID identification card to scan on the machine if you’re buying smokes (and it won’t let you buy unless you scan). However, the same is not for alcohol; you literally put in money, make your selection and that’s it.

5. I’m not a huge fan of wine or brandy, but man… that plum wine tasted like candy and the plum brandy was unreal!

Next Blog Post: Beppu

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Jason and I have been waking up pretty early on our trip to Japan thus far; we were up again at 06:30h and got ready for our day trip to Kyoto.

When we were about to leave the hotel, it was pouring rain. I suggested that we should wait 30-60 minutes to see if the rain stops but Jason was quite insistent that we just hail a cab to the Shinsaibashi train station. I pop into the convenient store next door to our hotel and buy 2 umbrellas at 500 yen a piece. Jason was able to hail us a cab and we were on our way to Shinsaibashi station.

… but of course after we get into the cab, literally 30 seconds later it stops raining.

From Shinsaibashi station, we hop onto the train and head towards the Shin-Osaka station to catch the Shinkansen to Kyoto. We booked our tickets on the Tokaido line for the next available train to Kyoto and we are on our way. The trip itself was pretty quick, as it only took us maybe 20 minutes to get from Shin-Osaka station to the Kyoto station. From there we start walking to our destination: Kiyomizu-dera.

Looking back at this now, it was a very poor idea. The walk itself is about 45 minutes from Kyoto station, and the weather was atrocious (and by atrocious, I mean sunny with a temperature of 30 degrees and insane humidity). We stop by a couple stores and Jason found a place where they make chef knives from Japanese steel. We make a mental note of it and continue on our way. By the time we reach the Kyoto National Museum (about 25 minutes away walking from Kyoto station), I start to develop starting stages of sun stroke and become very irritable. We hail a cab to take us the rest of the way.

Traffic was terrible but our cab driver dropped us off as close as she could without racking up our fare for the cab. We thanked her profusely for her consideration. We take a small break in Chawan-zaka (shopping area) so I can grab a drink of water and sit in the shade for a bit, and then we start walking over to Kiyomizu-dera.

Outside of Kiyomizu-dera

Chawan-zaka (Teapot Lane), Outside of Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple that contains a variety of shrines, and is considered to be one of Japan’s National Treasures.  It was founded in 778 and was built without using a single nail. Though many people may not have heard of it, I’m sure people have seen pictures of the Main Hall and Deva Gate.

This is probably the most photographed angle/view of the Kiyomizu-dera.

This is probably the most photographed angle/view of the Kiyomizu-dera Main Hall that I’ve seen.

Deva Gate at Kiyomizu-dera; a very popular attraction.

Deva Gate at Kiyomizu-dera; a very popular attraction.

Kiyomizu-dera is quite impressive. There is the Tainai-meguri; I’ve never heard of it before that day and even looking for information about it, there doesn’t appear to be much. When you arrive, you are asked to take off your shoes and provide a donation of 100 yen. From there, they lead you to a dark staircase and tell you to follow the wooden handrail throughout the course of your visit. It made me somewhat uneasy, as it was pitch black and you couldn’t see anything in front or behind you. What this is supposed to symbolize is blindly entering the womb of Daizuigu Bosatsu (mother of Buddha). You eventually get to an area where there is a thick round stone the size of a pizza pan with “womb” written in Sanskrit under a small light. They say that Daizuigui Bosatsu could grant wishes, so you are to turn the stone and make a wish. The experience was somewhat frightening (just because you’re literally walking around in pitch black, grasping at this handrail to lead you to your destination) but it was also quite humbling. If you’re not afraid of the dark or claustrophobic, I would recommend checking it out.

After seeing a variety of shrines and the “Love Stone”, I start to feel lightheaded again so we stop for lunch. Again, we eat cold soba. Why? Because we can and it’s fucking delicious!

DSC_0244

Beside the restaurant that we stopped at was the Otowa-no-taki; it’s a waterfall of “sacred water” that has 3 channels of water leading to it. They say that those who drink from the waterfall are blessed with longevity, health and success.

People drinking from Otowa-no-taki

People drinking from Otowa-no-taki

We walk around for another hour and leave to buy Jason’s chef’s knife. When we initially planned our trip to Japan, we talked about buying a new knife for our kitchen that was handcrafted, and made from Japanese steel. We head back to the knife shop where Jason peruses the knives (while I suffer from full on symptoms of sun stroke). The woman who owned the shop was very friendly and ensured that we were taken care of (not only did she help Jason out, but she provided me a chair to sit on while he was shopping and 2 origami cranes because I looked just terrible). Jason purchases a knife and a wet stone, and asks if he was able to get a picture of her for our trip. She bashfully agrees, fixes her hair and poses in a photo with Jason.

Jason and the store owner, after purchasing his knife.

Jason and the store owner, after purchasing his knife.

She looked at me concerned before we left the store, and Jason tells her that I’m ill due to too much sun. She looks at me thoughtfully for a second and then provides me with another gift; a handmade fan to help me with the heat.

When we asked, she said that she made and painted them herself.

When we asked, she said that she made and painted them herself.

We take refuge at a McDonald’s so I can have some fluids and get out of the evil sunlight, and we start ranting about how delicious soba is. One thing leads to another and the moment that I felt well enough to meander in Kyoto, we hail a cab and head towards Shijo Street, where Jason knows of a good soba house.

Well, we couldn’t find it but we ended up eating delicious katsu. Realizing we are well beyond walking distance from the Kyoto train station, we hail yet another cab and make our way back to Osaka from the train station.

I think we both had way too much sun that day, because we were both in bed and passed out before 8:00pm Osaka time.

Things I Have Learned About Japan Thus Far
1. The JR Rail Pass is a definite must for Japan. We purchased a 14 day pass for about $450 CAD each before we left (you have to purchase it before your trip and have it mailed to you, as it’s only available to foreigners), and I first initially thought that we wouldn’t really get our money’s worth from it.

… oh how wrong I was.

Considering all the day trips that we’ve been taking, and that we are going from Tokyo -> Osaka -> Hiroshima -> Beppu -> Tokyo, it was well worth it. The Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka alone is over $150 CAD. We are still paying for local transit (aka train rides in the city where the JR Lines don’t go) but $2.50 CAD to take a transit in Osaka is nothing. Also, always book the Shinkansen over the JR lines; it might say “JR SuperExpress” but it will take longer to get to your destination over the Shinkansen lines (didn’t learn this by doing, look at the timetables and you’ll see the difference).

2. I have eaten cold soba more than I would like to admit on this trip.

3. I really really REALLY hate the heat and humidity on this trip. Every day I’m caked in sweat and my clothes feel heavier than they should be. I have never experienced “swass” before but I’m telling you, it has been quite the swassy trip. If I end up losing any weight, it’s not because I’ve been eating healthy and Japan bans GMO’s; it’s because I sweated away all my pounds.

4. Favorite drink is currently either the Cafe Latte by Boss or UCC, or the Royal Milk Tea. Every time I see a vending machine, I’m eyeing that bitch like a meth addict looking for their next fix.

5. Sun stroke is not a fun time in Japan; was hoping to hit up a couple more sites in Kyoto but we both thought it was for the best if we just took it very easy.

… thanks, sun stroke. You jerk.

Next blog post: Day trip to Himeji Castle.