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Miyajima Redux September 14, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Miyajima Redux” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tA

It has been a couple years since I last visited Miyajima, and I was excited to return to an area that I found to be the most beautiful place in Japan.  Since I last visited, I have made visits to the other three Top 3 Views of Japan, and I still think it’s the most beautiful of the three.  I have been to various areas including a trip around Shikoku, and a trip to the San’in area, and I still think Miyajima is beautiful.  While the natural beauty wasn’t as special this time around, the actual island didn’t disappoint me too much.  The second time around was not as good as the first time, but it was still great to say the least.

The first time I went to Miyajima, I went on a busy weekend.  I had time to see almost everything, and I did almost everything.  One of the main places I wanted to visit was the top of the mountain.  I enjoyed my trip up a rickety ropeway but this time, I was burdened with a choice to either hike up or not go to the top as the ropeway was closed.  I didn’t mind too much, but with the hot weather and the fact that I had been travelling for about a week already, I wasn’t up to the challenge of hiking up to the top.  Especially when I knew I would have to rush a little to get things done.  Instead, I decided to relax in the village and just absorb the atmosphere.

The first thing people should be doing is head straight to Itsukushima Jinja and the Torii.  It’s a short walk and you can see it from the ferry as you approach Miyajima.  The walk over on the weekend can be extremely busy with tourists taking up every available piece of real estate.  It’s a simple walk to get to the torii, and the best location for the view is generally reserved for those on tours.  They set up a set of benches/steps for groups of 10 or more to join together for a photo with the torii.  This area is the best for photos as you can see the torii with the main island in the background.  Like my last trip, I arrived at low tide, so I immediately made my way out to the torii.  Unlike last time, there were only a few people around the torii.  I was able to get more photos and not worry too much about getting in the way of other people.  Nothing had changed at all.  The gate was in the same location, with the same paint.  Although the paint did look a little older, it was still an amazing sight.  From there, I went into the shrine as it is a must see, even for a second time.  I headed in and felt that things were different.  With less people, pictures were much easier to take.  The only sad part was that there wasn’t a wedding happening this time.  I did get more time and things went much faster as there were very few people in the shrine itself.  Do be aware that on weekdays, while there are fewer tourists, there are hundreds of school kids taking educational tours of the island.  It’s tough to get around, but if you just wait a few minutes, they’ll soon pass.  The peak of these tours occurs around noon and in the early afternoon.

Afterwards, I headed over to a few of the other shrines in the area before my major task of the day, shopping!  I spent nearly the entire day in the shopping street of Miyajima.  Miyajima is famous for its wood products.  I have mentioned that Miyajima has the largest wooden rice spatula in the world.  You can still buy wooden rice spatulas (obviously not the largest one) as well as other wood products.  Finding things such as wood bowls and cups are harder to find, but chopsticks and chopstick rests are easy.  I was also introduced to an interesting character that looks a bit like a bald Buddhist monk.  Of course, they have the typical tourist goods such as t-shirts, pens, and whatnot.  I also had a lot of time to think about my gifts for friends.  Miyajima is the best place to buy momiji manju.  It’s a maple leaf shaped “pancake” with a sweet filling.  Typically, you’ll find red bean paste or custard, but in Miyajima you can also find macha, chocolate, and cheese.  There are a lot of flavours to choose from and I highly recommend trying them all.  I went to one famous shop that was recommended by the Japanese travel books.  The shop is easy to find.  It is the only shop that sells cream cheese filled momiji manju.  It can be easy to miss, but if you are looking for it, you will find it.

I also had a chance to eat in Miyajima.  It was the first time I had deep fried oysters.  Hiroshima is a region well known for its oysters.  They typically grill oysters in their shells and you can buy them for a few hundred yen each.  Being a weekday, these oysters were a little scarce, so I decided to go into a small restaurant and order a fried oyster set lunch for about 1000 yen.  I don’t normally enjoy oysters, but this time, it was delicious.  It was dangerously hot and I nearly burnt my tongue, but somehow, they got me to enjoy it.  Miyajima is also famous for its Anago, or salt water eel.  While it wasn’t in season, it was still a specialty of the area.  I can eat oysters, but I can’t eat eel, so I didn’t get a chance to try it.  While I was in Miyajima, I had a chance to run into a small liquor shop.  Of course it was focusing on souvenirs, but liquor was still a major presence.  Hiroshima is not well known for its liquor, but there is one brand of liquor that I generally recommend.  Kamotsuru is an old brand of sake that is somewhat well known in Japan, but well known in Hiroshima.  It is one of my favourite brands of sake and you can pick up bottles of it easily in Miyajima.  I was lucky to meet the store owner who gave me a little information (in Japanese) about the different varieties of Kamotsuru.  While I would recommend trying to speak a little with her, it’s best to wait until you are at Hiroshima Station and at a department store to get information as store owners in Miyajima have very limited English skills.  I have talked with many shop clerks about sake, so it’s easier for me to understand what they are saying.  Essentially, just buy what you want and hope you have the right type.

Miyajima is a wonderful island that will always leave me wanting more. I would love to be able to visit it again when the tide is in, and to go back to the peak of the island. It’s hard to find the time to go to Hiroshima, but I’m sure I’ll go back again someday. If you ever make it to Hiroshima, it is a shame if you don’t visit Miyajima as well. It’s not that close, but it is close enough that an extra day would not hurt.

The Miyajima series continues with Miyajima (Top 3 Views of Japan) and Top 3 Views of Japan (Reflections).

Miyajima Information:

Japan Guide: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3401.html
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Miyajima

Itsukushima Jinja (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itsukushima

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Hiroshima Redux September 7, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Hiroshima Redux” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tx

Almost 2 years ago, I wrote my first blog post on Hiroshinma and Miyajima.  I wrote about my 2007 trip to Hiroshima.  Recently, I had the chance to go back after nearly 3 years away from Hiroshima.  Each time I have visited Hiroshima, I have seen it through different eyes.  On my first trip, it was my first year in Japan, and I didn’t speak much Japanese.  I was with a friend of mine who didn’t speak any Japanese and we had a hotel room that wasn’t in the best location to do anything in the city.  It was a good location as it was close to Hiroshima Station, but far from the night life.  On my second trip, I stayed in the same hotel, but I was with my girlfriend, so the experience was also unique.  Travelling with different people to the same place will inevitably give a different impression on you.  This time, I travelled with an old friend from Vancouver who is living in Osaka, and a friend I work with in Tokyo.  This was our last stop on a great adventure that started in Tottori and ended in Hiroshima.

On this trip, we drove into Hiroshima rather than taking the train.  We were coming from Izumo and spent the morning and early afternoon driving.  The approach into Hiroshima from the north-west was amazing.  We drove through a tunnel that basically cut through a mountain and under a park.  The exit into the city shot us out of the tunnel and directly onto a bridge that took us over a river and into the heart of the city next to Hiroshima Castle.  We headed straight to the station to get some tickets, which we failed at, and then on to the hotel.  If there is anything I hate more, it’s driving in major Japanese cities, especially around the station.  It’s a big mess of intersections that leave you wondering how to get from A to B without killing yourself.  We thankfully arrived at our hotel safely.  Our hotel was located on the edge of the Hiroshima Peace Park, which made for a great staging area for our adventures in the city itself.

The city hasn’t changed much, if at all.  It is the same city that I remember when I first visited.  Things look familiar, and staying in a newer area meant that I could get familiar with the surrounding area a lot more.  Hiroshima Peace Park is still a must see for a first time visitor.  The need to educate oneself on the horrors of an atomic bomb in an urban area is something that must be seen and experienced.  I’m not sure how other tourists feel, but I am always humbled to the point of near depression when I visit the park.  The symbols you see are all of peace and destruction.  You will see objects of twisted metal, earthen mounds to symbolize death, and various objects to symbolize the hope for peace.  I didn’t go to the peace museum again as it was something that I would not enjoy.  It’s something that should be done once in your life, but that’s all I can handle.

On this trip, I had a chance to walk around two new areas.  The first is around Former Hiroshima Municipal Stadium and along the river towards Hiroshima Castle.  The stadium itself is not an important place to be anymore as the Hiroshima carp have moved out to be closer to Hiroshima Station.  The stadium is now closed, and I don’t know what they’ll do with it in the future.  The area behind the stadium, near the library is an old train called C59161 or C59 for short.  It is an old steam locomotive that has been mothballed next to a library.  The locomotive is open to the public and you are free to climb into the cab area and take pictures.  Inside the cab, it’s a little dirty, but it’s a fun place to be.  There weren’t many people when I went, but I went on a weekday, so things may be different on a weekend.  The river behind the train is also nice. It’s good for a walk and there are several joggers in the area.  I found it to be a nice relaxing place that is away from the noisy streets near the stadium.

The other place that I had the joy of discovering is a river that is located near Hiroshima Station.  Heading south from the station, you will soon run into a river.  You can’t miss it as all of the trams cross over it.  Walking along this river for an hour or so is wonderful.  The banks are lined with trees here and there, and there are a few pieces of art.  I learned a little about the Kappa, a strange little devil-god that looks like a cross between a turtle, a frog, and a human.  While most people won’t have the time to go for a walk in this area, I do recommend it for people going to Hiroshima to work/live in the area.

As I mentioned, everything else in Hiroshima hasn’t changed.  The area around Ebisucho is still a hangout for good food and the sex trade in Hiroshima.  There is one shopping arcade that goes from the Peace Park towards the station that is nice to visit.  I found a nice park that went parallel to the shopping arcade that is near the peace museum.  It’s interesting as it has a few trees that survived the atomic bombing.  I wouldn’t consider this area to be of special interest as it’s not special.  There aren’t too many pieces of art, but it’s nice.  When going to Hiroshima, I always recommend going around and just exploring.  Pick a direction and just go.  You’ll always find something interesting no matter which direction you go.

The Hiroshima series continues with Hiroshima.

Hiroshima Information:

Japan Guide: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2160.html
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Hiroshima
JNTO: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/r…mashinai.html#

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Miyajima (Top 3 Views of Japan) November 18, 2008

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Miyajima (Top 3 Views of Japan)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-miyajima

In October of 2007, I made my second trip to Hiroshima.  A city infamously known as the first city to be bombed by an atomic bomb, and famously known as the headquartres of Mazda.  While Hiroshima is a nice city, it shouldn’t be considered high on a list of cities to visit.  While it’s a mandatory place to educate children, it’s a pretty depressing city, overall.  The amount of memorials to remember the dead lives is extremely hard to take in.  For my second trip, I decided not to visit the depressing areas, but to go to Miyajima instead.  Miyajima is also one of the Top 3 Views of Japan, and between Matsushima and Miyajima, Miyajima is hands down the best.  As I approached the island from the ferry, you can feel a special energy that isn’t as common in other tourist sites in Japan.

Miyajima itself is an island located off the coast of Hiroshima.  It’s about 1 hour from Hiroshima station, and a quick 15 minute ferry to the island.  As you approach the island, you are graced with the view of the “Torii” of Itsukushima Jinja.  Torii is a gate that marks the entrance of a temple.  They can be as small as a single person, or as large as a building itself.  Once onto the island, I made my way to the shrine (Itsukushima Jinja).  The route to the shrine was full of people, and there were a lot of deer along the entire route.  With so many tourists, the opportunity to get free food, or steal some free food, is common for these animals.  While they are sacred, they can be annoying, so be careful.  They are very aggressive.  My first stop at the shrine wasn’t inside, but rather outside.  I went straight to the Torii as it was low tide.  I walked straight up to it, touched it, and was amazed by the sheer size of it.  After taking several pictures, I started to admire the shrine itself.  The shrine is built on the sand and it appears to float on the water during high tide.  Unfortunately, I wouldn’t experience this, but I can imagine.  The shrine is a beautiful red and white.  Red pillars with white panels.  I was amazed by how clean and smooth the pillars were.  The craftsmanship was amazing.  I was also treated by the view of a traditional Shinto wedding.  Weddings are apparently popular at this shrine for it’s beauty.  I would consider it myself for my own wedding.  The bride and groom were, to say the least, beautiful, and looked happy.  There is even a traditional Noh theatre, but I doubt it’s used much these days.  The atmosphere of the shrine is also interesting.  You have a bunch of tourists, and lots of kids running around.  Once I had finished playing around the shrine, I headed to the ropeway.

The ropeway to the top, or near top, of Miyajima is interesting.  You can fit about 4-6 people into each car for the first section.  You CANNOT stand.  You are crammed like sardines and if you are claustrophobic, you will probably have a tough time in this one.  However, while you feel you will die because it also feels old, you will get a very beautiful view of the forest below.  I recommend either hiking up and taking the ropeway down, or vice versa.  I never hiked up or down, but I’d imagine it’s a nice hike.  The second leg of the ropeway wasn’t special.  Just a typical 2 car system.  At the top of the mountain, there is only one warning, monkey poop.  Miyajima has several monkey families living on the mountain.  If you wanted to see them, this is a good place.  Just don’t look them in the eye and watch where you walk because their poop is everywhere.  It’s a short 30 minute hike/walk to the peak where you can climb onto a large metal structure.  I recommend the walk, if not just to see the natural fawna and rock formations.  The rock formations near the top of the mountain are a lot of fun.  Kids love to climb around the big rocks, and so did I.  🙂  If you are a Star Trek fan, this will remind you of all the classic battles where Captain Kirk fought on alien planets.  Just be careful as you can easily fall or slip.  The view from the top of the mountain isn’t so special.  The metal structure is actually pretty ugly, but since less people venture to the peak, it’s more relaxing.  You could also see monkeys, but I saw none in this area.  There is another lookout at the ropeway station, however it isn’t a 360 view.

Upon returning to the base of the mountain, I decided to do a little shopping.  Hiroshima is famous for “Kaki” (oysters).  They grill oysters everywhere and the smell fills the entire shopping area.  I wanted to try some, but I don’t like oysters.  I did try some Momiji Manju.  This is basically a typical Japanese desert/snack.  It’s a little dry and traditionally filled with anko (red bean paste).  It’s not for everyone, but after a while, you get used to it.  In Miyajima, they are formed to look like Maple leaves and filled with various fillings such as macha, chocolate, and cream cheese.  I highly recommend trying it.  I also had a chance to buy one of my traditional Japanese souvenirs.  Sake.  🙂

When Japan decided on it’s Top 3 Views of Japan, Miyajima definately deserves it’s ranking.  I have recommended this to many family and friends, however, many cannot understand the true beauty of this little island.  Kyoto and Nara are wonderful cities with culture, but Miyajima is prestine and untouched.  Get away from the crowds and you’ll feel like you’ve found a secret untouched world of Japan.  One that hasn’t been influenced by the West.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Hiroshima November 11, 2008

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Hiroshima” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-2z

In February 2006, I made my first trip to Hiroshima.  In October 2007, I made my second trip to Hiroshima.  Hiroshima is a well known city.  It’s the first city to be attacked by a nuclear bomb in 1945.  Today, Hiroshima is better known for being the home of Mazda and Hiroshimayaki (Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki).  The city itself is very similar to many other medium-small cities in Japan and has a very interesting street car system.

In 2006, I arrived into Hiroshima in the afternoon.  I had previously spent a couple days in Kyoto and was extremely tired.  I had a nice curry rice lunch before embarking on the trek into the city itself.  My first afternoon/night was spent at Hiroshima castle.  It’s a very nice place to visit and relax.  There are many places to climb and explore.  It is best to go there early as the castle grounds close early.  Unfortunately, I didn’t arrive until after the castle itself closed, and the grounds were also closing.  All I could do was take a few pictures and venture back into the city.  On my second trip to Hiroshima, I had a lot of time to enjoy things.  I could visit some of the ruins of the old army barracks, explore the outer wall, and quickly visit one of the restored sentry walls.  It was a very peaceful place.  I do recommend visiting the guard wall located at the main entrance of the castle grounds.  It’s very beautiful and it has a unique smell.  The castle itself isn’t amazing.  The outside is the best, but paying the entrance fee is nice to get a good view of Hiroshima city.  Inside, it’s a museum where you can look at how the castle used to look, and even try on a few pieces of samurai armour.  Bring a drink when visiting the castle grounds as you will probably get thirsty.

The second place you must visit when going to Hiroshima is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.  It’s a section of Hiroshima that was the focal point of the nuclear bomb.  It’s something you should see when you go to Hiroshima, but be warned that I found it very depressing.  It’s a necessary place to remind us of how devastating a nuclear bomb can be.  The first stop for most visitors would be the Atomic-bomb Dome.  It’s the ruins of Hiroshima’s Industrial Promotional Hall, and one of the only standing buildings in Hiroshima after the bomb.  It’s a humbling sight and when I visited the Dome, it was cloudy, cold, and surreal.  I had a truly eerie feeling looking at the dome.  After visiting the Dome, a quick walk around the Memorial Park is a must.  There are various memorials and statues erected to remind us of the death after the bombing.  The Peace Memorial Museum is something I wouldn’t recommend unless you have extra time and nothing better to do.  The artifacts and mannequins are amoung the most sobering and depressing things I’ve seen in my life.  They have a few recreations of the aftermath of the bombing, various descriptions of what happened, and also many artifacts from after the bombing.  The images you will see will be burned into your mind forever and you will probably feel extremely depressed.  I regret entering the museum, yet, I’m happy I did.  It’s a necessary evil in order to understand the true effect of nuclear weapons.

When you have finished visiting the sights in Hiroshima, the main shopping district is very close.  There are many things to see and do, but if you have been to other mid sized cities in Japan, the shopping arcade will be nothing new.  However, do try to find some okonomiyaki, oysters, and momiji manju.  When you need some dinner, Ebisucho is a good place to find good eats.  There are also many good restaurants near Shintenchi.  If you are looking for gifts to bring home, the best place to visit is Hiroshima Station.  Inside the station, there is a huge Omiyage floor with lots of things to buy.  If you are travelling by Shinkansen to Tokyo, make sure you stock up on food and drinks on the way home.  It’s a very long journey if you are using a JR Pass, or about 4 hours if you use a Nozomi train.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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