Cara & Imouto’s World Adventure! Part 2 – Hiroshima, Kyoto & Osaka
Okay shall attempt to restrain myself this time and fit the rest of our Japan adventure into one post. And of course it will probably be twice as long as the first post…….because this is Cara.
I had originally planned to get a fairly early shinkansen down to Hiroshima, but unfortunately due a slight moment of lost in translation we ended up on the wrong train and headed an hour in the wrong direction before i realised and got us back on track. As result we didn’t arrive in Hiroshima until pretty late in the evening and only had time to go eat, but things picked up the next day thanks to glorious weather with minimal humidity!
We headed straight for Miyajima to see its temple and famous floating torii gate – really we couldn’t have asked for better weather to make the trip. The ferry crossing was quick and gave us great views of the island with its forest covered mountains and the shrine with its vermillion lacquered pillars. The stroll along the little streets packed with stores selling all sorts of bits & bops and a plethora of foods was really enjoyable – as we had gotten there fairly early it wasn’t too packed. Walking along the shore we were greeted by a load of random deer sitting the shade & getting right up close with the tourists – it was really charming! We headed into the main shrine, all of which is built on the water – it made for stunning views, such a peaceful and very pretty place; definitely one of my highlights of Japan.
After lunch we headed back to Hiroshima and went straight to the Atomic Bomb Peace Park. The whole area has a hushed, contemplative quiet around it – the burnt out shell of the dome was really rather striking, and the memorials with their paper cranes were very touching. The museum was filled with poignant tales of victims and survivors and has to be one of the quietest museums I’ve ever visited – everyone just naturally keeps a subdued silence throughout the exhibits. Imouto had a migrane so we cut our wandering around Hiroshima short, I’d like to make another trip there someday.
Next day we took the short 2 hour train journey to Kyoto and then we had to navigate through Kyoto’s massive station. The place has 11 floors and multiple exits & my god is it busy – people everywhere and going in every direction, utter madness – found our way out eventually though! We headed out for dinner after getting settled into new hostel and washed up……..which is when we discovered a complete lack of ATMs that take foreign cards, which scuppered plans for a nice meal out since I only had 1000yen in my purse & nowhere really takes plastic. Upon consulting my lovely twitter peoples, we found that the Post Office the best place to go for ATMs for foreign cards, but by this stage the place was closed – so it was cup ramen for dinner!
Next morning after finally getting some cash, we grabbed some one-day bus passes and caught an extremely crowded city bus to the Kinkaku-ji temple – The Golden Pavilion. It was a pretty drizzly day, but that did nothing to take away from the beauty of the pavilion and its surrounding gardens. The gold leaf on the building must be dazzling when it’s a sunny day, because even in the rain it was a gorgeous sight. After wandering around the place, drawing our fortunes (I of course got Excellent luck, Imouto had to settle for Fairly Good) and lighting a few candles, we jumped back on the bus to head onto Nijo Castle.
Part of the Castle was undergoing restoration, but the sections we did see were amazingly well preserved. We were allowed to walk through the main castle building (shoes off & no photography of course) and were amused by the fact the floors were designed to squeak so as to warn the occupants of intruders. After strolling through the castle’s gardens, we went to the station for lunch and thoroughly stuffed we jumped on a train for Inari.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is something that I always wanted to see, and it’s multitude of vermillion torii gates leading up the hillside did not disappoint. It was a gorgeous shrine with lots of little & large alters scattered throughout the complex. We made our wishes and rang the bells at the main alter before heading up through the torii gates to take pictures. We were coming back down around sunset which just made everything all the prettier.
Since we were halfway down the train line I decided to go a few stops further down just to take a snap of Kyoto Animation’s building. It’s a very innocuous building – if you don’t know what you’re looking for you’d definitely miss it, but I got my picture anyway (even though Imouto’s reaction was “you dragged me all the way here to take a picture of a fecking sign!?”).
Next morning we got the train to Nara – it takes about an hour from Kyoto. We were expecting to see deer roaming about the place in a similar manner to those on Miyajima, but were not prepared for just how many of them there were. Everywhere we went we saw groups of deer strutting or lying about the place, pestering tourists for food. We also discovered that deer make the most hilarious noise – they’re like squeaky toys!!
We had a good wander around the temples in Nara, but the highlight was probably Todai-ji Temple with its massive bronze Buddha. Amusingly there is a pillar with a hole carved through it near the back of the hall. Apparently this hole is the same size as the giant Buddha’s nostril, and if you can squeeze through it, you are sure to attain nirvana. After watching some eager parents shove their kids through, and a tiny slip of a Japanese lady squeeze through, Imouto decided to have a go……but couldn’t fit her shoulders through! Shortly after a group of school boys started attempting to make it through – conclusion was that unless you were a child, a rail thin woman, or a skinny teenage boy, you weren’t getting though that hole! Ah well enlightenment is overrated.
After wandering about the park a bit more and sampling the e-number rich concoction known as shaved ice & syrup, we headed back to Kyoto for dinner and then had a wander round the Gion district. Unfortunately it was rather late by this stage so we didn’t really see much going on, but the area itself is rather pretty.
Next day we spent the morning at the International Manga Museum which I found very interesting – don’t think Imouto was quite as interested given the relative lack of titles she was familiar with. The museum also had a special exhibition on run by GAINAX and even though the majority of the exhibit was in Japanese, I still enjoyed looking through the story boards and animation process for Gurren-Lagann.
We then headed for Osaka, our last stop in Japan. Since it was still pretty early, after we settled ourselves we headed right into the heart of the city – the Namba area with its neon Dotombori Street and Den-Den Town . Just wandering about round Namba was an experience – so many people, so many weird advertising banners and shops selling random food/stuff. We then decided to sample one of the foods Osaka is famous for – takoyaki. We found it surprisingly tasty, if very fecking difficult to eat with chopsticks they gave us without the thing falling apart in our laps!
We wandered about a bit more, discovering things like a massive cosplay store selling tons of costumes, wigs, make-up and contacts, another store selling men’s pants with manikins with horses heads outside it and shopping centres the size of a small town with tea shops selling slices of cake for over 1000 yen!
Next day we went to the port area of the city to go to the aquarium. For all that the people went on about it being one of the biggest in Japan; honestly we weren’t overly impressed as it was actually quite small – just having a massive central tank filled with Pacific Ocean fish, including a whale shark. Still it was a fun way to spend a morning – we took tons of pictures.
Coming out of the aquarium, we decided to take a boat across the bay to check how much Universal Studios Japan would be. The walk down was lots of fun – tons of shops and restaurants to have a look round. However when we got down to the ticket area, we discovered that entry was over 6000yen – that’s over £50 each! We gave that a miss and got back on the train heading for the city centre.
We decided to have a look at the Floating Garden Observatory in the Sky Umeda building – a roof top viewing platform with phenomenal views of the city. We got some amazing pictures as the sun was starting to set – was slightly nerve-wracking taking the glass elevator, steep escalator and walking round the very open observatory though – Cara is not all that great with heights.
After a quick dinner we headed back to hostel as we wanted to take part in the drinking party hosted by a member of staff there – Mr Yano. We got back just in time, and Mr Yano met us at the door to ask if we were joining him. We just had time to clean up a bit and meet a few of the other guests before we were back on the train and headed for a tiny little Japanese pub. The banter was great as we tried some traditional Japanese bar snacks and of course we also sampled some of the alcohol available like plum wine, Japanese beer and sake (I didn’t much enjoy the sake, but Imouto must of had a few bottles of the stuff). The group was still up for more fun when were finished drinking, so it was off to karaoke for more beer & lots of singing! Mr Yano (who was real character – 62 years old and brilliant craic) came with us thankfully and operated the machine for us – no blind stabbing at buttons this time! We stayed out singing well into the wee hours, and then dragged ourselves back to the hostel. We had a great time, and met some really lovely people.
The next day came with the hangover from hell, so slept in late and then headed to Osaka Castle for a look round its gardens. We had been told that it wasn’t worth going into the castle itself, so contented ourselves wandering about the outside for the rest of the afternoon soaking up the atmosphere.
Our last day was mostly spent organising our stuff and getting the train up to Narita. We were staying at a hostel near the airport since we had an early flight to Beijing the next morning, so didn’t really get to see anything other than the view outside the window. But we were knackered at this stage so that wasn’t too big a loss.
So that was our adventures in Japan – I seriously want to go back someday, we only got a taster of the country in those two weeks and I really want to see more. Next post will find us in China – which was a completely different kind of experience entirely!