11.08.2015 - 14.08.2015 33 °C
After a fantastic 5 days in Kyoto we headed to Hiroshima. We stayed at Roku Hostel, a fantastic hostel which is run David's friend's sister. This time also marked the start of Obon week, the main summer holiday in Japan so if we thought it had been busy before it certainly ramped up another notch!!!
Fortunately we had booked seats on the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Kyoto to Hiroshima.
When we arrived we learnt that there was a firewors display on Miyajima, a pretty island near Hiroshima that night. We decided to squeeze in a trip to the Peace Museum first though. The Peace Museum was PACKED!!! It was a very sobre experience to see pictures, damaged items and hear first hand accounts of the people of Hiroshima when the first atomic bomb was dropped. I thought the museum was done extremely well, it painted a poignant image of how the people were affected but didn't get into the 'why' of the bombing which would have detracted from the purpose of the peace museum. It almost felt like a natural disaster was being described at times rather than a war.
We took longer than intended at the peace museum and weren't really feeling up to tackling the huge crowds on the ferrys to Miyajima so we watched the fireworks from the shore. Interestingly a lot of people were wearing yukata, summer kimonos, as they have been at a lot of events around Japan. I had assumed this type of attire was more a dress up / ceremonial thing than everyday wear.
After that we went back to our hostel. We got one free drink each night with our room so thought it best to make the most of it. A lot of locals come to the hostel to practice their english and meet the guests which was really fun, and Mako our host was amazingly energetic.
The next day the weather was a bit rubbish with showers so we postponed our planned day trip to Miyajima. Instead we took it at a slower pace, enjoying the slightly cooler weather. We went for a walk around town, looking at Hiroshima castle, the various memorials and the hypocentre of the bomb.
We then took a minor side trip to a small town called Saijo, which is famous for its sake brewerys. Due to Obon week only three were open but that was plenty for us to sample some drinks. The people in the information centre were incredibly nice and even gave us umbrellas to use for the day and drop off at the train station once we were done!
I have been boring David throughout this trip by pointing out the cool manhole lid designs they have in Japan and finally found one in Saiko which even David agrees merits inclusion in the blog.
We had okinomoya (Japanese pancakes) for dinner at Mako's recommendation. They do them slightly differently in Hiroshima, with the ingredients layered rather than mixed together. They were delicious.
Mijayima and Yokohama
The next morning we got up early to get a ferry to Miyajima before our midday train to Tokyo. The weather had marginally improved from the day before and we enjoyed the island, with its torii (large Japanese entranceway) submerged in the water at high tide, the temple, pagoda and the world's largest rice scoop!!! We also watched the deer which inhabit the island and tried the maple leaf cookies which are an island specialty. The other island speciaties are oysters and eel but we both decided to skip those as neither of us particularly like them.
The world's largest rice scoop!
Instead of getting the train to Tokyo as we had originally planned we decided the day before to stop in at Yokohama, Japan's second largest city which is only 20 minutes south of Tokyo on the bullet train. This is a bit embarassing to admit but the main drawpoint of Yokohama was that I had read online that they had a number of special Pikachu dancing shows. I actually really liked Yokohama as a city, it had a really nice waterfront area which we spent a few pleasant hours wandering around.
The place we stayed won the prize for the weirdest toilet we encountered. Even in a land where toilets spray water, have controls to raise and lower the seats, require a change of footwear and often play bird noises or running water, the heated carpet seat stood out.
The next day was my birthday!!! We went to the cup and noodle museum which epitomised Japanese weirdness. The museum was dedicated to the inventor of instant ramen, which was so cheesy, encouraging the kids to do what he had done, i.e. overcoming adversity to change the world!!! Again, it was packed and so we decided not to join the huge queues for the extra priviledge of designing your own flavour of instant noodles.
Then we spent ages trying to find the pikachu dances, which was pretty difficult as they moved around the city and we hadn't been able to find anything in english online - this is probably an event which is generally targeted at Japanese rather than tourists!! We ran into a couple of pikachu dancers, and visited the Pokemon centre. It was a bit busy and crowded for my taste though. All in all an extremely Japanese start to my birthday.
Trust David to know, Yokohama has the largest stadium in Japan, which hosted a number of football games during the 2002 world cup including the final and is likely to host a number of the 2019 rugby world cup games too. We had a fantastic tour, with our own personal guide. She showed us all through the stadium, including into the changing rooms which Brazil used, let us kick a ball around in their warm-up area, and we got to run onto the pitch with the same music playing that they used in the world cup. Even I enjoyed it, although part of my fun came from seeing David act like a little kid he was so excited.
Civil engineering side coming through again!
We bought some beer, wine and bento boxes and sat on the Yokohama waterfront watching the cruise ships come and go and the sun set, which would have been a very peaceful end to the evening. However, I had planned some ridiculous sleeping arrangements in Tokyo that night which will be a great story to start the next blog with.........