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17 May 2014

Hiroshima & Miyajima: Miyajima, Mon Amour

It was another early start this morning so that I could spend half the day in Hiroshima — just two hours from Kyoto by bullet train — before taking the ferry to Miyajima, where I am spending the night. My biggest concern of the day — of the trip, in fact — was that there weren't going to be any big lockers available at Hiroshima station and that I would have to drag my suitcase around the city and onto the ferry. I shouldn't have worried; there were plenty on platform 1, from which the train to Miyajimaguchi leaves.

I hopped on a tram and 10 minutes and ¥160 later, I was walking through the Peace Memorial Park, which was beautiful and serene. The sight of the Atomic Bomb Dome — a stark, gutted building on the site of the 1945 bomb, left in its original state — was particularly striking against the bustling, leafy riverside park. I also went into the Peace Memorial Park (it costs only ¥50 to get in), which was interesting and informative, and included lots of explanation in English. I was fascinated — though not surprised — to know that the trams were working again only three days after the bomb, and to read about the press censorship in its aftermath that meant it took months or even years for many Japanese  people to truly understand what had happened.

 
After that sobering experience, I walked slowly back into the city centre. I had lunch at Okonomi-mura, a series of stalls occupying three storeys of a building about halfway between the Peace Park and the station, all of which serve okonomiyaki, the local speciality (a sort of savoury pancake filled with some combination of cabbage, noodles, egg, meat and seafood). You sit just in front of the griddle and the chefs whip up your food in front of you. Along with a set of chopsticks, you are given your own scraper, to cut off slices and transfer to your plate. Delicious!



From Hiroshima station, it's at 25-minute train ride and 15-minute ferry trip to Miyajima (you can use your JR pass for both). The island is most famous for the huge red torii of Itsukushima-jinja shrine, which appears to float on the ocean at high tide. There are other activities too, though, and after a week of cities, I wanted to spend a night somewhere quieter. Also, the island is much more pleasant in the evening once the day trippers had left.


I had read that the island was also famous for its population of tame — and greedy — deer but I forgot until I saw one strolling down main street. I forgot to ask him why he crossed the road.


I dropped off my overnight bag at my ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) and hurried out to get to the top of Mount Misen before the ropeway that stops near the summit stopped for the night. 


At ¥1800 for a return ticket, the ropeway was pricier than most Japanese attractions, but still cheaper than their British equivalents. As the frequent announcements at the summit warned, the last ropeway back down is at 5.30, and if you miss it, you have to walk. Nonetheless, I hurried along the steep 1.7 km path to the observatory, which stands at 530m above sea level and offers gorgeous views of the Hiroshima bay. Although it was sunny today, it was also quite hazy, so the views were good but not outstanding. Luckily I made it back with 20 minutes to spare.



Miyajima is an unexpectedly good place to get a nice cup of coffee. I had read about Miyajima Coffee online and stopped by for a very good cup of drip coffee today. They also sells their own beans and mugs with their red torii logo — probably the least tacky souvenir on a very touristy island. I spotted a couple of other good prospects too, which I will check out in the morning (my V60 also being in a locker in Hiroshima).


There was a gorgeous sunset tonight, which meant it was a good time to take some photos of the fêted torii. I even managed a leap. It really is quite the view.




I had to be back at my ryokan for 7 pm for dinner, which turned out to be a beautiful and delicious multi-course meal and a wonderful experience. After starting with some perfectly fresh sashimi, I ate several soups (one with deep-fried tofu and one assemble-your-own mizo soup), juicy beef fillet, pretty purple rice and various salads. The food just kept on coming! Finally, the last course arrived and it was a sweet, flavoursome mandarin sorbet.


At night, the torii is lit up and by 9, the tide had come in a little bit, so I headed out again to take some more photos. Unfortunately, some severe photo culling on the train this afternoon meant my camera battery became depleted rather quickly and my charger is in Hiroshima. I still got some good shots, but I'm going to have to ration very carefully tomorrow, and try to use my iPhone where I can.


There are two indoor shared baths at my ryokan — basically, stone hot tubs — although you can lock the door to have some privacy. I soaked for a few minutes — bliss — before donning my kimono and heading up to my Japanese-style room. After a hectic week, it's been nice to slow down a little. Just for one night, anyway.




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