I’m still reliving my trip to Japan, even though it’s been 4 weeks since I came back. It was so much fun as well as cultural and exciting; I definitely want to go back! You can find my previous posts Part 1 and Part 2 through those links.
Our fourth day in Japan by catching the bullet train from Kyoto to Hiroshima to the south-west. We started by going to the island of Miyajima, which is a World Heritage Site and one of the most visited tourist spots. The Japan Rail Pass gets you on the ferry across to the island. Our rail pass was only for tourists and lasted for a week and made it very easy to get around the country to all the areas we were going to. There are also private train lines, but you need different tickets for those.
The first thing you see as you arrive at the island is the torii (shrine gate) of Itsukuushima-jinja, also known as the floating gate. We unfortunately arrived at low tide and so you can see the bottom of the gate in the sand. It’s still very impressive and stands out against the tree lined background. The shrine sits behind the gate and from all the stilts I assume it also sits upon the water at high tide.
Our guide Tats introduced us to the island and the cheeky deer than are very friendly and ate the first maps Tats was showing us. My mum and I had our lunch interrupted by an overfriendly deer!
This is a view of the gate from the other side. It was still impressive, but definitely weird seeing people right under it and new photographer side was disappointed I could get a photo without people or the scaffolding in the frame! We only had the morning on the island, which wasn’t really enough time to explore beyond the main street and shrines. There are many temples and hikes on the island and I think it would be fun to go back and explore further.
The Itsukushima-jinja is thought to have begun in the 6th century, but the present form fo the shrine is from 1168. It was built on the water because common people were not allowed to step foot on the sacred island. It was very beautiful to see from the outside and I would have paid to go in if the tide had been in and water underneath the walk ways. That would have been an atmospheric experience.
The main street through the town was full of fun shops and restuarants. It also had many stalls and food outlets with interesting delicasies to take away. We went for the fish cake on a stick, wrapped in bacon with cheese on one and aspargus on the other. It was very nice and I would definitely eat it again.
We took a sit by the sea and it wasn’t long until the dear approached us and followed us like the couple below. He was not happy we wouldn’t share our food and reared up at me to try and grab mine. They weren’t nasty, just persistent!
It was fairly quiet on the island as it was outside normal tourist season. Many of the hotels and restaurants were not open as not many people live on the island and therefore shut down after the peak and live on the mainland.
When we were waiting for the ferry back a lot of school groups arrived and it felt much busier. It’s a beautiful place and well worth a visit.
After the island we got back on the train and headed to central Hiroshima. It’s an amazing place to visit and a stark contrast to anything else you’ll see. This is living history. The history we were taught in school about the second world war is nothing compared to the legacy that is still very real for the people of this beautiful and thriving city.
The first thing you see as you enter the Peace Memorial Park is the Atomic Bomb Dome. This is one of the few buildings that survived the bomb at the epicentre. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1966 and is a haunting reminder of what happened. This very much sets the tone for the visit. There is a erie quiet to the park, even with the amount of people walking around. Everyone is taking it in and like me probably had no words to describe what they were experiencing.
The biggest reminder that this still impacts people living today is the Children’s Peace Monument. It was built for Sadako Sasaki who was only 2 years old at the time of the bombing. She develop lukemia at 11 years old and decided to fold 1000 paper cranes, but unfortunately died before completing her goal. The paper crane is a symbol of longevity in Japan and so her school friends completed the goal for her. Today a monument stands surrounded by these colours paper tributes. It was a beautiful sight and one I will not forget.
We walked through the Peace Memorial Park and saw the Flame of Peace, which is set to stay alight until all the nuclear weapons in the world are destroyed. There were times I was speechless during this visit and at this point and heading into the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum were both times of internal reflection. The museum was full of facts, figures and items from the bombing. It was very factual, with very little, if any, analysis of why it happened. As I said it was a very different view of the war than I was taught in school and it was eye opening. There were many school groups visiting when we were there and I just could not process seeing this at that age. The legacy of it is what got to me the most. People who were young at the time are now the older generation and the map of Japan in the museum that shows where people moved to and the amount of radiation illnesses was staggering. It was a humbling experience to say the least.
After the main visit we headed towards the station for dinner and tried the distinct Hiroshima version of okonomiyaki, which is built up of layers of noodles, cabbage, pancakes and topped with a BBQ type sauce. It was delicious and something I want to learn to make at home!
This was also our first experience of sake in a box. We did not know the equiette at the time and later learned that you are supposed to say stop just as the sake tops the glass. However as we did not know this they kept pouring until the box was full! A really fun experience to watch it cooked in front of you and very tasty food, a definite must!
The next day we headed to Takayama on the train from Kyoto. This was our only experience of the trains not going to plan. We needed to get 4 trains and that turned into 5 as one train had to stop a station early due to an accident. That meant we had to get a private train to the next station. Our guide was so apoligetic as it rarely happens and compared to the UK it was super smooth to get the addition train and get where we needed to go.
This was also our first experience of a Japanese ryokan, which is a traditional inn where you sleep on futons on the floor. It was fantastic and so simple and clean. It was also very peaceful and relaxing once you had settled in and got to know the customs.
The food everywhere was so so good. I very much liked the soup based dishes as they are very simple, while being extremely tasty. I also want to learn to cook these as they would make a very good work night dinner (apart from the tempura as I don’t want to deep fry anything!).
I’m not very good at taking photos of myself and even photos other people take I usually don’t like (something to get into another day!), but this one of me and my mum makes me happy as we are having a fantastic time. Plus this was the first restaurant where we had to sit on the floor!
Takayama is offically known as Hida Takayama and is located in Central Honshu. On our arrival we spent the afternoon at the Hida Folk Village, which is an open air museum and is home to lots of traditional houses that were taken down from the original sites and relocated to this village to keep them safe. It illustrates rural life over the centuries and how people lived in the Japanese Alps before the modern day conviences we have today.
While staying at the Ryokan we got to experience tradition Japanese set meals. All of which were set on raised trays while we sat on the floor. It was an interesting experience and I enjoyed elements of all the meals, but not all. Rice in the morning just does not work for me!
Takayama is a beautiful place and is home to a festival of floats and as you walk around you see these very tall doors that hide them away and keep them safe in between the festivals. The main area is called Sanmachi-suji and is the orginal district of three streets the merchants would frequent. There are also many shrines and temples within the town and you can easily wander around and experience the peacefulness of the place and then the bussle of the tourist areas.
The architecture is amazing and you can find modern houses next to amazing pagodas and shrines. It is worth getting lost to see what you can find as you find your way back to the centre of town.
This is the first place I saw lots of maneki-neko, or lucky cats. It was a fun place to explore the shops and even finding dedicated cat shops!
There are many sake breweries and they are denoted by cedar fronds hung above the doors. My mum was very happy as we got to try quite a few different sakes and whiskys.
In the afternoon we wandered to the area of temples along the Higashiyama walking course and wandered in peaceful silence for an hour or so. It was so quiet as many of the temples were shut to visitors, but their grounds were open to explore and appreicate.
At luch we visited a burger restuarant that our guide had to book 3 weeks in advance! It’s run by a young Japanese couple who liked what they could get in America, but knew nowhere they could get the same when they returned home to Japan and so opened their own place called Center4Burgers.
This was also the first place I saw a real life cat in the outside. I had not seen any pets since arriving and this little Merry and Pippin lookalike was watching us as we entered the restaurant.
This was the most amazing burger! I couldn’t decide what to have as toppings so went for the one with them all – egg, cheese, bacon and avocado! It’s a tiny place and our group of 16 was squeezed in and took up the whole place, including the seats at the bar.
Another first was being able to go to a little tea shop and try tradition matcha. It came with a little matcha cake/sweet and it was lovely. I would very much like to get a proper bowl and whisk to be able to make this at home. There was a peacefulness to being able to sit and enjoy this.
I saw this amazing teapot while in Takayama, but resisted as that price is about £150!
I loved that they had shops that were dedicated to specific themes like the cat shop, but also the chopstick shop and the rabbit shop we also saw. It was quirky and fun!
We had two nights in Takayama and that was a lovely amount of time. We didn’t do everything, but we did a lot and I felt like I experieced a different side to Japan compared to Kyoto and Hiroshima.
Top tips for Hiroshima and Takayama:
- Get a Japan Rail Pass for your visit!
- Try lots of the food stalls in markets for traditional cuisine.
- Try the Hiroshima-yaki (okonomiyaki)
- Try the small cafes in Takayama
- Book in advance for the Center4Hamburgers