Welcome to part 2 of my Japan highlights posts! After Kyoto we travelled to Hiroshima, beautiful Miyajima island and Okayama.
We arrived in Hiroshima at 10pm, after a long bullet-train ride, with a lot of stops! There’s no wifi in the tunnels, and we went through a tunnel every few seconds so there wasn’t much to do except look outside and rest a bit.
We were exhausted when we arrived in Hiroshima, and still had to lug around 2 bags each, and figure out how to get to our hotel. We arrived just as thousands of baseball fans were heading to the old streetcars! Not the best timing, but we still managed to get seats and hold onto our bags. Luckily everyone in Japan is so quiet and polite that it wasn’t much of a hassle.
We arrived at our cute little hotel near the Hiroshima Peace Park, and chatted to the clerk for a while just because he was so cute and funny! He kept giving us so many sachets of free body wash, coffee, bath salts etc… After we unpacked and rested our aching feet, we went to the 7/11 next door to stock up on snacks and desserts. There were some obviously out-of-town Japanese men in there who couldn’t stop staring and whispering – first time I experienced this in Japan!
Unfortunately I hurt my knee badly in Kyoto, while trying to carry my two heavy bags up many train station stairs. I spent the rest of the evening wrapping my knee in handfuls of ice!!
The Peace Park and A-Bomb Dome
We woke up late the next morning, and wondered down the road to the (in)famous Peace Park. This is the site of the historical nuclear bombings during WWII. I really wanted to go to learn more about the sad and horrific things that happened here. This was our first time seeing Hiroshima during the day, and it really struck us how peaceful, beautiful and calm it was. I kind of expected quite an industrial city, but it’s actually full of nature, great architecture, boutique cafes and vintage streetcars!
We walked through the park towards the A-Bomb Dome, the shell of a once prominent building along the river. It turns out the bomb exploded in the air almost directly above this building, and it somehow partly survived while the rest of the city was completely flattened and left burning. We spent a while reading clear file notes about everything that happened, while feeling very angry and sad about it all.
On a more pleasant note, we had delicious fresh mango and orange juices made, and drank them by the river before heading towards the museum. We were prepared for quite a traumatic visit, but it was still really moving, and gruesome! At the entrance are very realistic models of children staggering around with their flesh melting off. There’s a huge scale model of Hiroshima city, showing how absolutely everything was flattened, even many kilometres away. The saddest part was learning that tens of thousands of school children were killed, because they were in the city helping to sort out supplies and clean up, as the war was nearly over. There were also thousands of Korean prisoners being forced to help in the centre of the city, who were also all killed. It really surprised us that people living many kilometres away were killed outside their houses, or died of horrific internal injuries a few days later. Luckily the radiation dissipated a few weeks after the explosion, so people could go back to Hiroshima to help the survivors. Really sad though that the whole incident was covered up for many months.
We learnt so much about what happened and really hope that nothing so horrific will ever happen again. It’s really amazing how Hiroshima recovered and has become such a beautiful, peaceful and vibrant city.
Afterwards, we had a delicious Italian pizza and tiramisu at the riverfront restaurant, then headed to the castle in the evening light. The castle turned out to be one of our favourites on our trip. We were there alone, and it really had the most interesting and amazing displays of ornate armour and extravagant gold and horn headpieces. I really wish we could’ve taken photos inside! I do have a few photos of us dressed up in traditional clothing.
After the castle we wondered into the city, walking up and down the cute covered shopping arcades. I really love the way the shopping streets are laid out, with the all-weather covering above and interspersed with cute cafes and restaurants. We ate at a Japanese curry place, with delicious fresh berry smoothies. We walked home for a quite night in, so I could put more ice on my poor knee!
We planned to bus and ferry to Mijajima, but I found a direct ferry that went from the Peace Park and we decided this would be much more fun! We woke to the most beautiful clear, sunny day and had a great 30 minute ferry ride to Miyajima. When we arrived we slowly walked along the busy waterfront, patting all the stray friendly deer and breathing in the fresh sea air. Hiroshima looked so beautiful from the island! It turns out the part opposite the island is like a resort town; with beautiful Japanese spas and very expensive hotels.
We slowly made our way towards the main part of town, taking in all the sites and being amazed by all the beauty. The water was so crystal clear and warm and everyone was so happy to be on holiday. We walked through the most amazing streets, with sail-like coverings above. Everything looked very traditional and vibrant; sort of like an old market but with some very modern and delicious cafes as well. Miyajima is a souvenir-lovers paradise!! There were more souvenir stores in a row than I’ve ever seen before (except maybe at the famous temple in Kyoto).
We walked further on to take photos of the famous floating red tori gate of Itsukushima Shrine, then sat for a while in a beautiful huge peaceful wooden hall. The ceiling was covered in ancient paintings and murals, of deer and warriors and important people. It was very relaxing sitting in the shade and watching the ocean. We headed towards the floating red shrines and onto a little beach where we dipped our toes in the water. So nice!
We wanted to go for a swim but decided to hike up Mount Misen while there was still a lot of time. We walked through the most amazing little river, found ponds full of koi fish and old houses in the forest; all on our hike up to the cable car entrance. Once we got to the cable car I suddenly realised how afraid I am of heights! Not the best timing. Then I remembered I went up the extremely steep cable car in Hong Kong, so this wouldn’t be too bad. The worst part was all the shuddering and jolting when we first took off, but the rest was ok once I got used to how high up we were! We had to change to another cable car half way up, and then we were finally (almost) there.
The view of all the islands in the Seto Inland Sea was absolutely breathtaking, especially on such a clear day. We also had a great view over to Hiroshima city. It was very hot and humid, but the very top of the mountain was still another hour away, hiking straight up! My knee was just starting to recover but I really wanted to get to the top. We made it after a lot of pausing, and even a snake sighting! It was beautiful at the top, and we lay in the large wooden shelter for half an hour before heading back down. This time the queue for the ferry was about 40 mins long, but not as bad as all the people trying to come up! When we reached the bottom we slowly meandered down to the main area again, and had the most delicious traditional Miyajima Okonomiyaki fried egg veggie noodle pancake!! It was seriously amazing and I could eat them all day. I did some souvenir shopping – hello kitty and deer key rings for family, and then we headed back on the JR ferry. By the time we got home my knee was absolutely aching from the mountain hike, so I was quite worried about the next part of our trip!
We checked out and had a delicious pastry breakfast at the train station. Luckily Okayama wasn’t too far away, so we arrived just after lunch. Hiroshima and Miyajima were so beautiful, but the last few days were quite strenuous! We were tired and sore as we lugged our bags 20 mins down the road to our hotel, while being surprised at how nice Okayama actually was! It was just meant to be a place to sleep while we spent a day biking around Naoshima Art Island, but we were really enjoying the cute little streams and vintage vibe.
Our hotel was right on a stream, lined with trendy coffee shops and tapas restaurants in traditional Japanese buildings. We dropped off our luggage, then walked an hour towards the Korakuen garden and Okayama castle. The castle was very striking from the outside – all black. We met a cute old Japanese couple who took photos of us and said we looked like honeymooners! Unfortunately the castle was really boring on the inside (and all in Japanese) so we weren’t too impressed! We crossed the river and ate lunch outside at a delicious traditional restaurant. We both had hand-cut udon noodle dishes which were very simple but one of our best meals! The river was covered with couples in cute swan paddle boats.
We walked through Korakuen garden, which is meant to be the second most beautiful garden in Japan. I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to look more like a golf course!! There’s something about the sculpted-ness that I really didn’t like. Sure it was very peaceful, but it just seemed a bit too constructed for my liking. I limped home with my aching knee, and we decided not to go biking around the art island the next day. I was very disappointed but knew I had to save my knee for our 10 days in Tokyo! Rob found a romantic and delicious wood fired italian pizza restaurant, and we finished the night walking along the beautifully lit stream (with Japanese herons!)
The next day I spent 8 hours in the motel bed with my knee propped up and covered in ice. I watched movies, browsed and relaxed while Rob went out for breakfast, shopping and photo-taking. We had dinner at a tiny boutique burger place with chilli fries, then had a great night’s sleep; all ready for Tokyo the next day!