Even though I was under the weather and tied to being close to a bathroom, the show had to go on and our trip wasn’t going to just end (even though I had fleeting thoughts of telling my wife to go ahead and I’d just go back to Tokyo and hole up in a motel until our flight home). I’m glad that I pushed forward and finished off the trip.
From Kyoto we hopped on the Shinkansen again and continued our trip westward. Our destination was Itsukushima, or Miyajima Island, which is located just off the coast of Hiroshima. We initially thought we’d stop in Hiroshima first prior to heading to the island. However given the time of day when we arrived in Hiroshima, we altered our plans and decided to go to the island first and would check out Hiroshima on our way back to Tokyo the following day. To get to the island you need to take a ferry. Strangely enough there are two competing companies but they operate right next to each other at the ports. One of the ferries is operated by JR and since we had the JR pass, we could ride for free. It was a very short trip (10 minutes) to get across the channel.
As we approached the island, we sailed right near the large Torii gate that sits in the middle of the water. I managed to snag a few shots even though it was quite foggy.
Once we were onshore, we rang up one of the proprietors of the ryokan and within 5 minutes our host drove down to pick us up. One thing I immediately noticed is that the streets were impossibly narrow and all the vehicles on the island were essentially shrunken versions of full size cars. At one point we walked past the island fire department and it was cute because they looked like normal fire trucks (well normal for Japan) but were miniaturized versions. Many of the streets only fit one car’s width so if two cars were trying to go in opposite directions on the same road, one of them would inevitably have to pull off into a small alcove to let the other pass. Normally in the US, having to do that would create some frustration as people are in such a rush to get everywhere. I noticed that the Japanese people do it happily and don’t mind so much. Another cool feature of their cars is that when they stop the let someone pass, the vehicle’s engine automatically cuts out (reduces emissions I bet) and then restarts when they are ready to go again.
It was a short 5 minute drive to the Watanabe Inn, our ryokan for the night. A ryokan is very similar to a bed and breakfast in the states. They had capacity for I believe 5-6 rooms accommodating 2-4 guests per room. We were lead into our room and given time before the Kaiseki-ryori dinner.
After getting settled into our room, we decided to take a quick stroll before dinner. Right outside the ryokan leading up the mountain is a large shrine, Daisho-in. The temple was actually closing for the evening but we managed to explore it briefly.
With some time still before dinner, we walked back down toward the water where the large Torii gate is. While on the ferry earlier, people were walking right next to the Torii gate due to low tide. By the time we walked over (maybe 1-2 hours later), the tide had already come in and you couldn’t access the Torii gate without a boat.
On Miyajima island, there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of Sika deer. While the deer are not “tame” per se, they are not afraid of people and will come right up to you (looking for food). The Miyajima visitor guide says not to feed the deer and that they will eat anything (including paper and the brochure from the visitor center). I read some other online articles later that the deer are in fact starving because they are “domesticated” and don’t know how to forage for their own food anymore. I don’t know who to believe sometimes.
A Kaiseki-ryori dinner is a multi-course dinner that was originally served for traditional tea ceremonies. Even though my gut was still not cooperating, I was not going to miss this probably once in a lifetime experience. To really immerse ourselves, we changed into the Yukata kimonos that were provided with the room. They also had traditional japanese socks (Tabi) – the two-toed socks that go with the Jika-tabi (the shoes you think about when you imagine ninjas) (here).
The dinner was served on the first floor and each room had their own table to maintain some privacy for the guests. Dinner consisted of multiple courses of both seafood (fresh fishes) and some terrestrial animals (steak). The tempura was so light and crispy that it was great. I also noticed that the Japanese like to serve their rice by itself. The rice is quite tasty so maybe they don’t like to cover it up with other foods.
While we were eating, the inn employees turned down our room by setting up our bedding.
They encouraged us to take a walk down to the large Torii Gate in the water again as it is lit up at night. One thing that really struck us was how quiet and peaceful it was to walk through the streets. Once the last ferry leaves in the early evening, the island becomes very quiet. At night, they light up the Torii Gate as well as the big floating shrine, Itsukushima Shrine.
To finish off a magical experience on the island, we took turns taking a bath in a traditional Japanese Cypress tub.
The following morning we walked around Itsukushima Shrine and had a traditional Japanese breakfast.
We then hopped on a speedy boat that would take us right to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Since it was relatively early in the morning, we had the boat all to ourselves.
The boat dropped us off right next to the Atomic Bomb Dome.
The dome is the remnants of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, a building that was not completely destroyed by the atomic bomb blast. It is a symbol of peace.
We walked over to the museum and proceeded to become depressed while learning about what went on when the US decided to drop an atomic bomb on a highly populated area. I wasn’t sure how it would impact me to walk through and learn all this information. I’ve become quite cynical and jaded but seeing, hearing, and learning of what truly happened had quite an impact on me. It moved me more than I would have thought.
We hopped on a bus and then took a Shinkansen back to Tokyo for our last night in Japan. We checked into the Dormy inn in Shibuya. The famous Shibuya Crossing is located right outside the train station so I grabbed a few shots of how crowded it really was (the pictures don’t do it justice).
The crossing is what you see on a lot of movies including Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift and one of the Resident Evil movies.
Our final dinner in Japan was a delicious one. I was still dealing with my GI issues but we took a quick walk over to this small Ramen shop, Ichiran. You again buy tickets at a vending machine outside the restaurant and then wait until they have an open slot. This ramen shop was interesting because you have your own little stall. In front of you is where your food magically appears. This was definitely one of the most delicious Tonkatsu ramens I’ve had before.
The following morning we went looking for a Japanese pharmacy to look for a specific type of probiotic that my sister mentioned was quite helpful. We also stopped in a store to get some trinkets to bring home for people.
The Dormy Inn was nice because they had a breakfast buffet that we enjoyed so as not to be in a rush to get to the airport. The room was nothing special to write home about but served its purpose.
And then it was over…we checked out and took the train back to Narita airport. The flight back was terrible and I was in and out of the tiny plane bathrooms every 20-40 minutes. Thankfully that whole situation has resolved.
Japan was a great trip, despite my illness. We definitely want to go back at some time.