Thursday, September 4th, 2008

We were up very early...before 6:00am...since we had a very busy day planned and needed to get an early start so we could see as much as we could. The plan was to take a Shinkansen from Osaka to Hiroshima and do a walking tour there, then to take a train from Hiroshima to Miyajima, take a ferry to the island and see all the stuff there too. These are both places that deserve entire days in their own right, but since we only had the one day, we decided that seeing a little of each was better than seeing all of one and none of the other.

McDonald's...yes, it's cultural when you eat there in Japan :-)

We were out of the hotel and onto a train by a little after 7:00am, and we decided to stop at McDonald's in Shin-Osaka station for breakfast. I had my usual egg and cheese McMuffin and hashbrowns, with Coke to drink (which made Kevin make fun of me and call me gross! haha). At Shin-Osaka, we found the JR office and reserved a couple of seats for the next train to Hiroshima. The entire process of reserving Shinkansen seats could not have been just walked up, told them where you wanted to go and when, and they would give you the ticket. No fuss, no paying for anything, no hassle. They have non-reserved cars on the trains, but we always decided to just get the reserved seats so we would be certain that we had a seat, just in case the non-reserved cars got full.

We made our way to the Shinkansen tracks, and didn't even have to wait 15 minutes for our train. While we were waiting, I noticed a lot of people standing around taking pictures of a train that was on the track opposite of our track. I thought it was odd, but didn't pay it much attention until I saw multiple people arrive with large, professional looking cameras. The more I looked, the more and more people I saw rushing towards this train to take a picture of it, so I decided to ask someone what was going on. I approached a man who was near us (and who was taking a photo) and asked why everyone was taking photos of the train. Thankfully he spoke some English, and he said that it was the Kodama train. I asked if it was special, and he said that JapanRail was decommissioning the Kodama in December. So I guess everyone wanted a nice photo of it before it was gone.

I, of course, had to get a nice photo of it since it seemed so important to the Japanese peeps around me!

The ride was smooth, fast and comfortable as always, and we arrived at Hiroshima station within about an hour and a half. I picked up a Junsui Ringo apple juice drink (which was probably my favorite drink of the entire trip) and set out on foot towards the Shukkeien Garden. We decided that, instead of following the street the whole way, we would walk down a little path along the river for a more scenic walk. It went about halfway there, at which point we caught back up with the road.

Along the way to the Shukkeien Garden, we found a statue of Sadako Sasaki, who is a young girl who died of cancer caused by radiation from the atomic bomb explosion. Before she died, she believed that if she could fold 1000 paper cranes, she would survive. She ended up folding more than 1000 cranes, but still died because of the radiation.

The statue had been erected in front of the school she went to, and was a statue of her holding a flower. It was very pretty, and a was a lovely, moving tribute to her.

Moving along, we easily found the entrance to the Shukkeien Garden. Like Hama Rikyu, it was only a few dollars to get in, and was beautiful inside. They had a lot of bridges that went between tiny islands in their lake, and bridges over other bodies of water that linked the pathways together.

The Shukkeien Garden

The Shukkeien Garden

Me in the Shukkeien Garden

We wandered all around the lake, taking our time and enjoying the flowers and waterfalls. After a while, we decided to move on since we only had so much time, and didn't want to short change the Peace Memorial Museum or anything in Miyajima.

I had a walking tour of the area, and when we left, I thought we had turned in the right direction, but it turns out that we exited the park somewhere other than the exit on the map. We ended up walking in the wrong direction for a while, but it ended up being quite interesting because we got a chance to walk through the shopping arcades in Nagarekawa and Hiroshima Hondori.

The Hiroshima Hondori shopping arcade

We didn't really stop anywhere to shop, but it was fun to window shop and people watch. After a while, we arrived at the Children's Peace Monument in Peace Memorial Park.

The Children's Peace Monument is a memorial to all the children that died during or suffered because of the atomic bomb explosion.

The main sculpture was a large bell with a paper crane hanging inside as the ringer. On the outside, there were children on the sides, and a child on top holding the outline of a paper crane above her head. Then in a circle all around the sculpture there were large glass rooms full of folded paper cranes that had been donated by visitors.

Just a few of the hundreds of thousands of paper cranes at the Children's Peace Monument

There were more than a dozen of these glass rooms, almost all of which were completely filled with thousands upon thousands of paper cranes. Most of the cranes were strung together in beautiful, colorful chains, while others were arranged into mosaics about peace.

The monument was beautiful, and very appropriate considering how many thousands of children died because of direct exposure to the bombing. The sheer number of paper cranes in the boxes was staggering...most were tiny, so I would bet that the boxes held well over a million cranes total. And each one was folded by hand by someone who wanted to pay their respects to the victims. It was very moving, and very somber, but very beautiful at the same time.

After a while, we walked up towards the Peace Memorial Museum, passing the eternal flame along the way. The entire monument and garden area was very nice, but was heavy with emotion over what had happened there. There were a lot of school groups visiting the park, which I assume is made a priority for children living in the area.

Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima

After taking some photos, we headed inside the museum. I braced for it...I knew it wasn't going to be pretty, but it felt necessary to me as an American who has family that fought in World War II. So few Americans ever get to visit Hiroshima, so it felt like a privilege to be able to visit and be welcomed.

The entrance to the museum was only 50yen, which is more symbolic than anything to me. The museum truly isn't there to make money. It's there educate people and make sure that people never forget what happened. We got the audio guides, which were an invaluable tool for this museum. I would never have understood the history behind what I was seeing nearly as well if I had not been able to hear the explanations from the audio guide. Also, the woman's voice was so emotional and distraught at certain really added to the emotion behind what we saw.

The first room you enter had two of pre-bombing Hiroshima...

...and one of post-bombing Hiroshima. The first was full of buildings and homes, but the second one only had a few buildings left standing and everything, literally, everything else was wiped away down to the bare earth. The few structures that were left standing were the newer ferroconcrete buildings that were able to withstand the blast and the heat. All the buildings that had been made of wood were either destroyed instantly or burned in the aftermath. Along the walls, there were photos of the government officials who were in charge at the time, photos of pre-bombing areas, and documents regarding which cities would be bombed. I never knew how much thought and planning went into the bombing. There were months worth of planning, and extensive strategy about which cities to bomb. They targeted military strongholds, cities that would have the greatest psychological impact on survivors, and cities that would concentrate the explosion because of their geography.

Along side this, there was an almost full scale replica of the A-Bomb dome, which was located at the far end of the Peace Memorial Park from the museum. In an adjacent room, there was information about the physics behind atomic bombs, and a globe with little missiles that represented how many atomic bombs each country owns. If pressed, I probably would have guessed no more than 100 atomic bombs in the whole world.

But this globe showed that the US and Russia both have over 5000 each, with many other countries having multiple hundreds. It was pretty shocking to see in such a physical form...most countries had no little missiles on them, but then the US and Russia had tons.

I had made my way through the first part of the museum a little faster than Kevin had, so I sat down near the gift shop to wait for him. When he was done, we moved across to the other wing, which was the part with the more personal mementos of the bombing from the victims. There was a wax diorama of a smoldering building with people inside, all covered in blood and torn clothes, some with their skin ripped off.

There was another diorama of the city, this time with a large red ball hanging above it to indicate exactly there the bomb had gone off. This diorama also included a little box to let us know where we were standing at that moment (it was almost directly under where the bomb exploded).

All around the walls were glass cases, each of which held personal items that had not been completely destroyed in the bombing. There were children's uniforms, shoes and school items, most of which were tattered and burned, and had been the only way for the parents to identify their child when he or she was found. One particularly poignant one was a lunch box that still contained the lunch that had been packed for the child. It had been vegetables that the little boy had grown in his own garden, and that he was so excited to eat. It was now completely burned and black, but was still inside the lunch box. Another was a tricycle and helmet that had belonged to a child that died in the bombing.

I only took one photo inside this was of a pocket watch that read 8:15, which was the exact time that the bomb exploded. I couldn't bring myself to take any more pictures than the one. It just seemed too disrespectful. We lingered for a long time, just taking it all in. At the exit of the museum, there is a place for people to write messages of peace, and Kevin and I both paused to write a few words for others.

When we were done making our way through the museum, it was tough to get back into a happy mood. The museum is very heavy, and deals with a horrible, horrible event. But it was wonderfully presented, and was tasteful in showing the carnage and aftermath. It certainly wasn't a happy museum to visit, but being able to experience this museum taught me way more about the atomic bomb explosion than reading about it in a book ever could. I wish there was a way to let everyone see this museum...I can't imagine that many people would support nuclear arms after seeing it.

Leaving the museum, we decided to go get a closer look at the A Bomb Dome, and Kevin wanted to find a geocache in that general area. As we walked over there, we spotted a tourist information center, so we stopped to ask about the boat that runs from Hiroshima to Miyajima. I forget exactly how long it took and how much it cost, but it was just enough to make us want to take the (faster and free) train to Miyajima. As we browsed the gift shop in the Hiroshima City Rest House, I found a plaque that said that that building was one of only a few buildings that had survived the bombing. It was the Taisho-ya Kimono Store at the time of the bombing, and a man who was in the basement survived the bombing, and was the person closest to the epicenter that survived. It was very interesting, and I had no clue about the history of the building beforehand. I decided against buying any kind of souvenir, since I thought it would come across as tacky and disrespectful to wear a t-shirt about an atomic bomb explosion.

The Aioi Bridge, the intended target of the atomic bomb

Further yet, we crossed the T-shaped Aioi bridge that spanned the spot where two rivers connected into one. This bridge was the original target of the atomic bomb (but after it was dropped, cross winds blew it slightly off course and it exploded a bit farther away). Just across the bridge, we took a right, and were at the A-Bomb Dome.

It was pretty spectacular...most of it was just a shell with crumbling walls. Inside, you could see a lot of bricks and other debris that had fallen off of the building, and lots of supports strengthening what little was left of the fragile exterior.

It was amazing to see that more than 50 years later, a building that survived one of the most destructive acts ever committed could still be standing so I could see it. It really felt like I was looking at history. No book, movie or photograph can describe a place like this, and I felt very privileged to have been able to see it.

Leaving the somber area around the dome, we crossed the street and went up to the baseball stadium, where Kevin said a geocache was located. We followed his GPS to a statue of a baseball player, then walked into the wooded area behind the statue.

Kevin eventually found the cache stuck to the side of an electrical box. There were tons of mosquitoes in the area, but Kevin toughed it out and logged the cache, and even brought me back a little clip on koala with an Australian flag! There wasn't much else to see in that area, and we had already seen the things at the top of our "must do" list in Hiroshima, so we decided to move along and go to Miyajima.

We crossed out to the middle of the street and caught a cable car at the Genbaku Domu-mae station, and rode it all the way back to the JR Hiroshima station. We found the correct train, and grabbed the first seats we found. This train wasn't nearly as comfortable as the others we'd ridden since the sets of seats faced each other, and there wasn't much leg room. At first, Kevin sat next to the window, but was smushed in with another man sitting opposite him. Eventually we traded seats, which was much more comfortable for everyone since my legs are shorter.

The ride only took about half an hour or less before we were at Miyajima-guchi station. Leaving the station, we walked down a street lined with little shops on our way to the JR Miyajima ferry. We arrived when a ferry was in the dock, so we didn't have to wait at all to board. I thought it was pretty cool that all you had to do was flash the rail pass and they would let you straight onto the boat. This, like everywhere in Japan, was fast and efficient.

Once on the ferry, we got great spots next to the railing so we could enjoy the lovely trip over to the island.

Kevin on the ferry to Miyajima Island

The whole area was beautiful, and it was amazing to lay eyes on the floating torii for the first time! Before the trip, I remember seeing a warning on a Miyajima webpage that the deer that roam around the island will eat your JR passes, and to be careful around them! I thought...who would be dumb enough be holding out their JR pass around a bunch of wild deer? As soon as you get off the ferry, you have to show your JR pass again to get out of the dock, but then immediately outside the turnstiles, the deer are waiting for you! So every person with a JR pass had their passes out in the middle of the deer! I found myself being like "Ahh! Get the JR pass away from the deer, quick!" hahaha I just thought it was funny that I thought only doofuses would have their passes out around the deer, then there I was standing in the middle of the deer with my pass out!

We arrived right about 3:30, and wanted to get some lunch as soon as we arrived since we were both hungry. We made our way down the main path that leads from the ferry boat dock to the Itsukushima Shrine, and found a place that looked pretty good. We were the only people eating at that time, so we had the restaurant to ourselves. One lady working there went outside with us and we started to point at the plastic displays to determine what we wanted for lunch. I asked which dishes had chicken in them, and she pointed out a few, so I chose some chicken and egg over rice dish. Sounded odd, but I figured I'd give it a try.

As we waited for our food, we perused the map, and soon our food arrived. Mine was pretty good, but it did get a little slimy towards the end. What I didn't eat, I passed over to Kev for him to finish, and he seemed to enjoy it well enough too. We walked a little further, doing some window shopping along the way, and soon we came to a crepe stand. Somehow in my 29 years of life, I'd never managed to have a crepe, so I decided that now was the time.

I got a banana caramel one that looked good, and Kevin got some shaved ice. My crepe was great, but it got soggy very quickly, and started running everywhere.

As we headed off in the direction of Itsukushima Shrine, we ran across the only Japanese equivalent of a "roadside attraction" that we would see in Japan...the world's largest rice scoop!

Of course I had to have my picture taken with it, and I am now the proud owner of a cheesy photo of me looking overly excited at the sight of the rice scoop. Just as we got to a plaza near the end of the walkway, we both stopped to finish up our food. Mine was running all over my hand and making everything sticky! Yuck! But it tasted good, so it's ok.

Approaching the shrine, you cannot help but be in awe of the gorgeous torii that sits offshore in the water. It was low tide but the torii was still sitting in water when we first arrived. It was breathtaking!

Me with the Itsukushima Floating Torii on Miyajima Island

We spent a long time hanging around taking photos, then Kevin said that he was going to walk out onto the sea floor so he could get a better photo of it. Initially I said that I didn't want to get my feet wet and would stay on the side, but after a few minutes, I decided, what the heck. I had no idea when I would be back there, or if I would ever be back at all! So I rolled up my pants and headed out into the muck. It really wasn't as bad as I thought it might be, and my shoes only got slightly wet (never soaked). I got some absolutely amazing photos of the torii, some of which are my very favorite photos from the trip.

After a long while of walking around and taking photos, we walked back up to the main level and paid to get into the Itsukushima Shrine. It was only a few dollars, and it gave us a great view of the torii all around. The architecture was some of the nicest we'd seen up to that point in the trip. Everything was brightly colored and smelled great, and had one of the most amazing views ever! I took tons of photos since it was just so pretty everywhere you looked! We even waited in a small line to have our picture taken at the end of this scenic little pier with a lantern at the end. So pretty.

After wandering around and enjoying the view a little more, we decided to walk up the hill to the Miyajima ropeway up to Mount Misen. It was quite the hike, and we had to stop a couple of times to rest along the way! When we got to the top, we followed the signs to the ropeway, only to see that we had missed the last gondola by 15 minutes!! D'oh! That royally sucked, since it was still very light out, and we had assumed that the gondola would close at sunset! Since we were already so far up the mountain, we decided to go ahead and find a couple of geocaches that were nearby.

The first geocache led us off into the woods on a walking trail, and ended at an area with a pond and trees all around. It was so pretty!

Kevin went off the trail up to the top of a small hill with a stream running down it, and found the cache easily. It was so was quiet, there were no other people around, and everything just seemed so calm and peaceful!

After Kevin was done, we started our walk back down the mountain. Along the way, we followed his GPS to another geocache that was hidden near a staircase at the bottom of a large five-story pagoda.

The pagoda was beautiful, and visible from most of that side of the island. We climbed the steps up to the base of it, where Kevin had to get on his hands and knees to find the cache hidden off the side of the staircase. I sat on the opposite side from him, enjoying the views and trying to fight off the pesky deer who would try to eat everything you had! One deer even tried to eat the leather zipper pull on my purse!

Kevin tries to fight off a deer while logging his geocache

The view from the Miyajima pagoda

The view underneath the pagoda

We sat for a long time at the pagoda, just soaking in the fact that we were sitting under a pagoda, on a mountain on Miyajima island in Japan. When we were done soaking it in, we walked all around the pagoda taking photos, then started the decent back to the main pathway. We stopped in a few shops on the way down, and I ended up buying a rice scoop and a little wooden torii gate on a chunk of wood that the shopkeeper told me was from a tree on the island. It was very pretty, and I figured that it would be a nice little reminder of the awesome day I'd had.

It was sunset now, so we took tons more photos of the torii against the amazing sunset in the background.

Stunning...simply stunning. This is my favorite photo from the trip.

The tide had gone out to the point that the torii didn't have any water around it at all, so we decided to walk out to it to get more photos. We were able to walk all the way up to it and touch it! It's huge once you're standing up under it, but amazing. This was another one of those life experiences that is burned into my mind forever as being extraordinarily awesome. The view was amazing, the sunset was amazing, and the fact that I was standing under the freaking torii on Miyajima island was amazing!!

The bottom of the torii was covered in thousands of tiny crustaceans

Proof that I was there :-)

On my way back to the shore, I remembered that three different people had asked me to bring back from sand from Japan (I have no idea why, but they all wanted sand!). So I thought that Miyajima would be a great place to get the sand from since it is so beautiful! So I went over by the sea wall, got a little merchandise bag, and started scooping up sand. I made sure to get a few shells as well. Pretty soon most of the bag was full, and my hand was all crusty with the dirty, fishy sand, but hey, I had the sand everyone had requested, and wouldn't have to struggle to find it later (it was a good thing that I got it when I did, as we weren't around any other bodies of water for the rest of the trip!). I tied up the bag and put it into another bag, then tried to act nonchalant as I absconded with the sand.

There was a bathroom on the way out, so luckily I was able to wash the fishy sand off my hands fairly quickly. I had to pee, but all they had were Japanese style thanks haha So I just held it, with the plan of using the bathroom on the train on the way back. It was getting late and most stuff was starting to close, so we decided to head back to the mainland and catch the train back to Osaka. Once at the train station, we had less than a 10 minute wait (I remember this because Kevin wanted to spend 100yen for 10 minutes on the computer, and I thought it was silly to spend the effort to figure out how to use the computer terminal for only a couple of minutes online!).

When we got onto the ferry, I found a couple of seats and sat down. Kevin never came to sit with me, so when I looked around for him, I spotted him talking to a family not too far away. When I went to join him and see who he was talking to, it turned out to be a mom and dad with two kids who were from Thunder Bay, Ontario. I'm not sure who noticed who, but maple leaves on clothing are a tie that binds between Canadians, that's for sure! We chatted for the entire length of the ferry ride back, then walked back to the train station with them since they needed to go back to Hiroshima as well.

Once we all got our tickets back to Hiroshima, we sat down on the train station floor and Kevin started thumbing through his photos from the week and showing them to the kids. It was so cute...when he came up to a photo of one of the god statues at the Sensoji Temple, the little girl started running around, acting scared and laughing, and the mom said that she thought the god statues were creepy! After a little while our train arrived, and we took the back end of one of the cars. We ended up chatting about a lot of cold it gets in Thunder Bay in the winter, how excited we all were about visiting Tokyo Disneyland, and other stuff. The little girl said that she'd collected some shells, then offered me one! It was too cute, so I made a big deal about how much I liked it, and thanked her very much for it.

When we arrived in Hiroshima, we made plans to meet up for lunch in Tokyo Disneyland on our first day there. They were staying the night in Hiroshima, so we bid them farewell, and headed over to the Shinkansen tracks.

When we got our assigned seat, we ended up being put into the "Silence Car" which means that they made no announcements, the ladies selling food didn't say anything, and that the people sitting in that car were expected to be quiet. Needless to say, it was nice and quiet for the ride back!

When we got back to Shin-Osaka station, I suggested in passing that we stop at McDonald's for dinner since it was there and we weren't sure if anything else was going to be open since it was past 10:00pm at that point. Ultimately we concluded that we'd seen a McDonald's in Shinsaibashi station, and that we'd wait until we got there to get something. Of course, once we got to Shinsaibashi, there wasn't a McDonald's to be found. We walked around near the train station for a while, then took a long way back to the hotel in hopes of finding some fast food that was open. Of course, nothing was open except for a Family Mart and some night clubs and bars.

When we got back to the room, I looked at the pizza delivery menu and decided to get a pizza delivered. Kevin said he wasn't hungry (I don't understand how Kevin can go without eating when he's on vacation...I just can't go without food when we're walking around so much) so I decided to have the front desk agent call and order the pizza for me. At that point, Kevin said he'd just passed through the lobby and that the desk clerks were all gone for the night! Grr! I knew that there was no way I'd be able to communicate a pizza order and the location of my hotel to a person who probably couldn't speak English that well. Frustrating!! I was just too hungry to go without eating, so while Kevin went to bed, I headed back over to the Family Mart to see if they had anything I'd like.

Luckily, when I got back to Family Mart, they had a decent selection of stuff. I got a big plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce and a Natchan Fruity Soda that came with a little free TV toy. On the way back to the hotel, I picked up a Natchan Fruity Paradise out of a vending machine since I liked the name and hadn't tried that one yet hehe

While Kevin dozed, I heated up the spaghetti and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. It wasn't the best I've had, but considering that it came from a convenience store in Japan, I thought it was pretty good! I ate about half of the spaghetti (opting to save the other half for breakfast the next day), stashed the rest of the two drinks in the fridge and then headed for bed.

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