Osaka-jo and Osaka Museum of History

Today we started slowly. We skipped our crappy breakfast at our crappy hotel and went to a Matchikadoya shop for breakfast. Afterwards we strolled through the city to Osaka-jo – Osaka castle. Osaka-jo was built in the late 15 hundreds by Hideyoshi Toyotomi and his son Hideyori. The former was the first feudal lord to unite the warring Japan.

Osaka-jo is the setting of the Osaka winter and summer campaign, two wars between Hideyori Toyotomi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, who ultimately won the summer campaign in 1615 and founded the Tokugawa shogun dynasty. When Osaka fell in 1615, the castle was completely destroyed, but only 5 years later the Tokugawa regime started to rebuild Osaka castle.

Like many other buildings most of the castle buildings were wodden constructions and the new main tower lasted only for 30 years before it was burned down after being hit by lightning. It was then rebuilt under emperor Meiji. The current main tower survived the air raids of the second world war. Today it holds a museum which details the lives of the Toyotomi protagonists of Japans unification and the events of the Osaka war, which ultimately ended the Toyotomi lineage. The exhibition is centered around two large folding screens which depict the war and fall of Osaka in great detail.

A summary? War and nobles are the same, whether in medieval Japan or Europe.

Then we went to the Osaka Museum of History. This museum tells Osakas history from the first settlements in the area of the Osaka delta to the Meiji restoration. It is really interesting, as it shows what happend before all the samurai stuff. Unfortunately almost all exhibits are only explained in Japanese. So the audio guide is really important, if you can’t read Japanese well.

The museum itself is very nice. Beside the traditional showing of broken, bent or reconstructed vases, swords, coins and whatevers, there are many displays with puppets or miniatures which paint a vivid picture of ancient Osaka. I found the main hall of the Naniwa palace very interesting. Half of a museum floor is dedicated to this pre-Nara palace building and the hall is rebuilt inside with life-sized figures of ladies in waiting and court nobles around a painting of the emperor’s thone. The windows allow the visitors to see the site, where the rests of the buildings foundations were excavated and where the stone base for the building was rebuilt.

Overall the museum offers a wonderful view of Osaka. As the exhibition starts on 9th floor (German couning, 10th in Japanese counting) one can see Osaka castle whenever going from one floor to the next.

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Toji Flea Market Kyoto and Osaka Aquarium

We started our first day in Osaka by travelling to Kyoto to see the Toji flea market. This market takes place once a month and is famous for second hand kimono. When I first went there in 2008, I had the impression, that most people sold second hand kimono. This time it was a little different.

The market is huge – no matter how you look at it. There were many stalls offering food – takoyaki, yakisoba, fried sweet potatoes … basically everything that can be eaten while walking around. And lots of things one could use at home for cooking like fish and tsukemono Then there were many vendors selling plants – like for example small kaki trees. We found one vendor selling kakis and bought about one kilo and they were absolutely delicious!

I browsed through about every stall I found selling second hand obi, as I am looking for an obi to go with my rose colored kimono –  but I didn’t find any. I also tried on a lovely blue kimono, but it was too small 😦 So if you want to buy a kimono there, you should be small or you need some luck.

After three hours we walked back to the station and browsed through the omiyage section in the basement, a section with shops offering only sweets and other foods you could bring for your family or colleagues. Unfortunately the sweets had a very short storage life and we didn’t buy any. Although some dango (ricecake) with kaki jam filling looked just right 😉

After we returned to Osaka we went to the Osaka aquarium Kaiyukan. It features the self-proclaimed largest indoor tank in the world, which houses large fishes from the pacific ocean, mainly sharks and rays with the largest being two whale sharks. The aquarium shows a wide variety of lifeforms associated with the marine life, but is not limited to fishes. It also features mammals as dolphins, seals and sea otters and birds.

At Kaiyukan I saw real life sea otters for the first time in my life (outside of a TV). And while I found them cute from the first time seeing them on TV I was surprised by their size. They are about 1.5m long. I had always thought they were closer in size to normal otters.

The route through the exhibition circles around the main tank of the aquarium. This gives the visitor a lot of possibilities to have a look at the sharks and rays in the tank. And if you are just a little bit patient, you can get a close up view of the majestic whale sharks as they swim by the window. Taking photos is a tiny little bit difficult, as the rays are really good at photo bombing ;D They got me more than once.

I also liked a tank which represented coastal waters with lots of pots and natural caves and rifts. Because I counted eight octopuses. I am really fond of octopuses as I like their intelligence and skills like being able to change their color and pattern to match the ground. And I liked the dolphins and the squids and the sea turtles 😀

We spend the complete afternoon at the aquarium and if the tanks had flat glasses – not curved – we might have considered staying until the aquarium closed. But after three or four hours it gets more and more difficult to look at the animals in the tanks because your eyes and brain protest the constant need to somhow cope with the contortions.

There is just two things that I didn’t like: first, I think the tanks for dolphins and seals should be larger and second, many larger fishes had injuries on their fins or noses and one turtle had a missing portion in its shell right above its tail. I would be really happy to find out, that the tanks were updated, so that fish wouldn’t injure themselves. Or maybe they came injured to the aquarium….

Beppu

Before leaving for Beppu, we visited Tochoji and Shofukuji.

The Tochoji temple features a large wooden buddha (said to be the largest wooden buddha in Japan) which was erected in 1996. Personally I think the statue gives off a “I am so much better than you” feeling, which I really do not like. The statue’s robe is accentuated with gold along the creases and golden patterns are painted over it. Unfortunately the patterns take away a lot from the 3D impression of the robe.

Under the buddha is a tunnel, in which paintings of buddhist hell are displayed. After seeing eight paintings of demons torturing humans, one walks through a pitch black corridor to see an image of buddha.

As we didn’t like this temple too much, we went on to visit Japan’s first ever Zen temple. On the compound are several temples which are in most cases not open to the public. So for the most time, this visit was more like strolling through a park.

After arriving in Beppu we enjoyed out Onsen hotel for three days. We didn’t do much, except for regular bathing in our private outdoor bath and enjoying lavish delicious meals. On our last day in Beppu we visited two of Beppu’s hells (very hot springs, not for bathing).

Fukuoka

We started our day with an early trip to Minoshima Market Street. A small street which is lined by shops selling all ingredients one could need for some good old homecooking. Unfortunately, we were too early by Japanese standards and most of the shops were still closed. Although some shops which sell fish were already closing again.

To kill some time we visited the nearby Sumiyoshi shrine. As it is still November, some families were celebrating 7-5-3 (a celebration for young children) and we were also lucky and saw some Japanese wedding couples at the shrine. We did only witness one couple entering the shrine for a ceremony. All others seemed to just take photos.

After that we returned to the market street and browsed through the stores. We bought some really delicious kaki. As Minoshima Market street is very small, we went on to walk through Tenjin. We enjoyed some delicious tempura there.

Hiroshima – Fukuoka

Traveling by Shinkansen is really nice, because you spend almost no time in the train (compared to the distance you cover). It took us only one hour to get to Fukuoka. So we used the free morning to visit Hiroshima-jo, the castle of Hiroshima.

Hiroshimas history began as a castle town after the so-called warring states period was over. The castle served mainly administrative purposes but was also equipped to withstand a siege. Of course, the atomic bomb destroyed its buildings and walls, but on the ruins a new main keep was built from modern materials. It houses an exhibition on the history of Hiroshima, when and how the decision was made and the like. It also features insights into the lives of samurai and merchants and on the top floor armor and different swords are on display. Unfortunately, the signs on the top floor are all in Japanese only and on the lower floors the English is sometimes good and sometimes a little off. For example, I truly hope that Mori Termumoto was a feudal lord, not a fedual load. 😉

After finishing the museum we strolled through the food market of Fuyuka department store. This is something I really like to do as the food markets of the large department stores usually feature not only a supermarket but may smaller stores selling sweets, sushi, tonkatsu, bento, … bakeries … basically: you name it. We bought some bento wo eat on the train and a daifuku with a whole mandarin in it. It proved difficult to eat.

After arriving in Fukuoka, we were a bit shocked at the outward appearance of the ryokan we booked. It is very simple but so far we had nothing to complain about and it our room is larger than the last hotel room, which is actually quite nice.

We then visited the Kushida Shrine. The shrones compound is rather smallish, but the shrine itself is quite impressive with huge straw ropes over the entrance to its main sanctiary. On the grounds a festival float is displayed which is several meters high. After that we wanted to visit Tocho-ji, but we were too late. Generally, in winter most temples close at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, so we did what we always did after 5: we explored some shopping arcade, this time the Hakata Canal City. There we say a nice Christmas themed lightshow.

Hiroshima

I wanted to visit Hiroshima for a long time, because I wanted to see the A-bomb dome and the Peace Memorial Museum. And that was basically all we did today.

After breakfast, we walked from our hotel to the A-bomb dome – which was a bit farther than we expected. The memorial is situated on a riverbank in a small park. On the one hand it is impressive to see, but on the other hand it seemed rather smallish and unimportant as many buildings around it are a lot larger than the dome.

After visiting the dome, we explored the Peace Memorial Park, which holds different memorial sites for victims of the atomic bomb. Almost all were decorated with fresh flowers and origami cranes.

Next stop was the Peace Memorial Museum. We spend over three hours in the museum and I think it is better to come for a shorter amount of time on two days. It is easier on the concentration. The museum does not only show remnants of the fateful bombing, but also details the development of Hiroshima from a feudal castle town to the buzzing modern city it was before the atomic bombing and the decisions which made Hiroshima the first target. The museum is impressive and especially the clothes and items and stories of people who died in the bombing and the suvivors can be really heart wrenching. But I really wanted to see this museum and it is worth while.

Miyajima

Today we went to visit Miyajima because we wouldn’t want to miss the famous tori and shrine. We took the train from Hiroshima to Miyajima-guchi and then the JR ferry to Miyajima. There are ferries going directly from Hiroshima, but these are not covered by the Japan Rail Pass, so we didn’t take those.

We arrived at the island shortly before low tide, so we were able to walk over the muddy sea bed to the tori. It is really impressive, when seen from the ship or the shrine, but its size can only ruly be comprehended when standing directly next to its enormous pillars. Of course, I had my boyfriend take a see-how-large-this-pillar-is-photo.On our way back, we noticed that the small salt water puddles were full of small hermite crabs, their shells only about 2cm long.

After we visited the tori, we entered the Itsukushima-jinja. The shrine is built on wooden pillars close to the island’s shore. It was a new experience for visiting a shrine. The main sanctuary is connected to the island by wooden corridors with a neat low ceiling. Along the corridors only a few shrines are placed. So the main sanctuary is pretty much the only place to visit. Before people were allowed on the island, they came from the mainland, through the great tori, and for the pilgrims a pier was built which is the most favoured selfie spot at the shrine. The Itsukushima-jinja also features an old Noh stage and a treasury on the island which exhibits items given to the shrine or its adjacent temples.

After we strolled through the temples, we decided to climb mount Misen. Rising about 530m above sealevel, it is the highest mountain on the Miyajima. Two trails lead up the mountain and a cable car is also available, but we decided to walk up the mountain starting from the Daisho-in. From this buddhist temple, a trail winds up the mountain. It was a strenous hike, as the trails is largely composed of stairs, but we were rewarded with absolutely stunning views of Miyajima, mainland Japan and the inland sea. Only very few people were hiking up the mountain. It seemed most took the cable car.

After visiting the mountain peak, we hiked down a different route via Momijidani park. This park was created to integrate security measures against debris avalanches into miyajima’s natural environment. This trail was horrible to walk down. Often the paths had been washed out over time and only the stone steps remained where they had been placed, resulting in steps of almost 50cm height. But luckily we chose to hike up via Daisho-in, so we didn’t have to step up these heigths!

Although it is already quite cold, momiji – the autumn foliage season – is setting in slowly. So while we could enjoy some maple trees with blazing red leaves, others were still completely green. But we agreed, that we still like this very much, as the red contrasts nicely with the green.