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.

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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.

Himeji

Today we left Kyoto for Hiroshima. On our way, we stopped in Himeji, which is known for an impressive keep.

It takes only one hour to reach Himeji by shinkansen. Himeji – Kyoto is about 130km so one might wonder: is a shinkansen really fast? Yes, it is! We had to take the shinkansen equivalent of a local train and the train stopped literally every 10 minutes. For most of the time we didn’t leave the cities. We were travelling through urban landscapes – or tunnels. I really hoped, we could see a bit of Japans beautiful landscape, but maybe we will on our way to Fukuoka later this week.

In Himeji we wanted to see the castle and its impressive main keep. But currently renovations are carried out at the main keep and until 2015 it will be hidden under in a special hull and is closed to the public. We decided to go anyways. When leaving Himeji Station, one should be able to see the keep towering over the city, instead currently there is the hull with a drawing of the main keep on it. It’s not all that impressive.

To be able to get a combined ticket, we first visited the gardens next to the castle. The gardens were planted on the land of the former samurais’ quarters and each plot was designed for a different theme. The garden features several ponds and artificial streams that are inhabited by numerous huge koi carps. The gardens were beautiful and we got our first glimpse of momiji, as some of the maple trees wore blazing red.

Afterwards we went to see the castle. As Himeji’s castle is still quite complete, there is more to see than the main keep. Originally, we didn’t intend to visit the restauration works at the main keep. The hull has two areas at the top and one at the bottom floor which are open for visitors and an exhibition which explains about the reroofing and replastering of the walls. When we reached the main keep, we went in anyways, and it was quite interesting. Although the roof seems to be finished already, it was very interesting to get a close look at the roof on 8th floor. I guess, you can’t get closer than that.

After that we strolled through the shopping center and tasted various sweets until our train for Hiroshima left. In Hiroshima check in at the hotel was a bit difficult, as the receptionist had problems talking slowly. And the new room is tiny. Very tiny. When we finally went out looking for something to eat, we didn’t find curry, what we had been looking for, but the hiroshima city fire department. Well my boyfriend found it 😀 I was able to talk to one of the firefighters (more or less considering my Japanese skills) and I was allowes inside and could take some photos of the fire engines and ladders. Yay! I promised to send pictures of Stöcken fireengines, too.

Last Day in Kyoto

We spent the morning preparing for leavin Kyoto tomorrow. We made reservations for the Shinkansen to Himeji, where we want to spend tomorrow and for Hiroshima, the next stop on our trip. Then we payed another visit to our favorite Udon shop, which we found earlier this week in one of the back alleys.

In the afternoon we payed a second visit to Heian-jingu and visited its gardens. Although most trees were loosing their leaves and most maple trees were still green, it was a beautiful sight. I believe, that it must be stunning in spring during hanami or in summer, when all the lilies around its ponds bloom.

After visiting the gardens, we went to Gion and visited Yasaka-jinja. We actually had visited the shrine twice, but we were always late and most of the shrines on the premises were closed already. It turned out, we didn’t miss much.

Shopping

Today we went shopping in Kyoto. We explored Shijo Street and its northern neigbours. It was really fun. Although on a Sunday, most shops were open. The shops in this district offer a wide variety of goods from foods to entertainment. We found a lovely Okonomiyaki restaurant and we visited the Kyoto Fire Department, but unfortunately, I didn’t see any fire engines.

Higashi Hongan-ji and Fushimi Inari Taisha

Friday morning we visited the Higashi Hongan-ji. Unfortunately, the main gate and one hall have the roof replaced and are therefor hidden in a special construction. So there wasn’t much to see and our visit ended rather quickly.

Around noon we went to the Fushimi Inari Taisha. They held a fire ritual, ohitakisai, in which wodden prayer sticks are burnt and in the evening Kagura dance was taking place.

We arrived ahead of time and queued up nicely at the entrance to the area where the ohitakisai took place. In the ritual grounds, three pyres of prayer sticks had been erected and decorated with pine branches. After a short ceremony at the far end of the plot, where a small altar was decorated, the pyres were set aflame. There were so many prayer sticks, that the burning lasted for over one hour. In that hour prayers were chanted and mikos performed a special dance. Then the ceremony ended rather abrupt with the head priest saying, we are finished. Just like that …

Afterwards we walked up Mt. Inari. We walked through thousands of tori. At the foot og the hill, there were some paths, that were completely covered by tori, but when ascending the mountain there were less and less tori. Although it was quite strenuous, we made it pretty fast and almost got lost on our way down! On Mt. Inari are so many paths one could choose from, that we had to be really careful.

In the evening we watched the karuga dance. We had expected it would last aboult half an hour and was similar to the mikos’ dances before, but we were very very very wrong. It to two hours. Two. Hours! It started around six and the shrine at the mountain foot was only lit by a small fire. Then there was a lotof slow traditional Japanese music and in the end som dancing with a twig. In between the performances with different instruments and from some singers, the dancer would ritually present the twig to either side and someone would say “oooOOOOooo” from where you couldn’t see him. This was quite funny. The rest could have been faster…

Uji

Today, we visited Uji, a small town south of Kyoto, which is famous for green tea. Along the road to Byodo-in, every store sells tea or tea related products: bowls, sweets made with/from powdered green tea, and even green tea soba noodles. We tried roasted green tea, which a vendor made himself and bought some after we visited Byodo-in.

The Byodo-in is another villa-turned-temple. Its phoenix hall is famous and said to be very beautiful, but as they are replacing the roof tiles and are restoring the paintings inside it is currently closed for visitors. 😦 In return the entry fee was halved, which was pretty nice. On the temple grounds, we visited the museum, which shows the history of the temple and currently exhibits half of the 52 flying buddhas which acompany the main buddha in the phoenix hall.

The 52 buddhas are to be replaced by copies which a sculptor is currently making and one of the copies could be touched. It is like a short ceremony and we even got a certificate for it. I think it’s fun how rituals are done here 🙂