Sunday, March 21, 2010

Japan/SoKor Day 12: Miyajima and Hiroshima

December 22, 2009
Japan Trip Day 12: Miyajima and Hiroshima

Today I started off nice and early at about 8am, and got some laundry going, which I needed to do desperately. The WiFi was pretty sick, and nice to be able to send some email while having a coffee in the morning. I had a quick shower in the weird shower room, where you just sortof stand on the floor and grab the hip-height showerhead and try not to soak the whole room. Fortunately, at least, this time the bathing was solo and not in groups (oh, Japan). After that "debacle" I picked up my dry laundry and repacked my bags, finally getting ready to leave about 11ish. I headed off with a bunch of my new hostel buddies and hit up a grocery store first. I got this tasty marzipan/marmalade bun and some tomatoes. In true Jutan style, I tried another weird and unexplainable beverage, this time it was a gross "Apple Milk Tea" - two things that should never have been combined. Still fun though.

We jumped on the JR Train on the way to the island of Miyajima and ran into the older Australian couple from the hostel. We sat down in a big foreign group and a Japanese schoolboy was sitting beside me. I tried to share a Pocky with him (a chocolate Japanese cookie) and he responded with a series of unexpected emotions, ranging from disgust to concern to general nervousness. We laughed about that afterwards, though I was surprised to have such a strange reaction to my overt Canadian friendliness. I guess his parents taught him well never to take candy from a stranger?!

We then jumped onto the JR Ferry, which was included with my JR Rail Pass, which was pretty sweet. It was glorious from the get-go. As we were approaching the island, we saw an excellent view of the Red Torii gates in the water. On our arrival there were tons of baby deer and I took quite possibly the cutest photo ever taken... of a baby deer with a baby Japanese girl. So cute. There were some other amazing sights on Miyajima: the floating shrine, and a great walk through the trees. We then took a ropeway car and a 2nd cable car all the way to the top. I wandered that day with Steven from England, a great dude from the hostel who was keen to see the same things I wanted to see and then get back to Hiroshima. On top of the island, we ran into the "Canadians" Marissa and Alyssa (actually from Michigan, but sounded SO London, Ontario that we became best friends near-instantly) :) It was nice to see them and we had lunch (the food we bought previously at the market) while admiring the absolutely ridiculously amazing view.

There were a lot of monkey warning signs at the top of the mountain but no monkeys... or so we thought. We took some great photos of the view and then, low and behold... the monkeys!!!!!! So many monkeys!!!!!!!!!

The monkeys were totally friggin' INSANE. Absolutely off their rocker. They were loud, some seemed angry, and there were even some babies! (They were not loud or angry, but they looked tired... probably from all the noise their parents were making at each other and the tourists) :) Then came feeding time. I think I say "This is frickin' Animal Planet!" in the video I recorded. There was a swarm of monkeys and deer intermingled with the monkeys. Totally nuts.

We said bye to the nice Michigan girls and Steve and I headed back down the cable cars. Miyajima's "mascot" is the maple leaf, so I got a tasty maple-leaf shaped cake before getting back onto the ferry. We then headed straight back to the train, racing back into the city to try to catch the A-Bomb Dome museums before they closed. It was a bit tough to get back to Hiroshima in good time, but Miyajima was beautiful and totally worth the trek. We got to the A-Bomb Dome area just as Magic Hour was hitting and I got some great photos of the dome at roughly dusk-hour. We wandered through the Peace Park to find out that... the museum was CLOSED!!! Oh no!!! I was disappointed because I was really keen to see the exhibits and learn more, but we did manage to get into the other museum for the victims of Hiroshima, and it had some incredibly powerful exhibits.

There were some recordings of the actual victim stories and it was just horrifying... terrible. I was hoping to see "on the ground" details about what the residents actually went through that day, and learn more about what actually happened there. The exhibits were very moving and upsetting. I saw the famous Oppenheimer "Destroyer of worlds" quote, and it made me wonder if the politicians of the time thought through the practical results of the bombing. I had no idea of the terrible nature of the destruction - the temperature in Hiroshima at the time of the bomb rose to somewhere between 2000 and 3000 degrees celcius, causing burns to many people. The Nuclear fallout caused health problems for many many people, well after the explosion. These stories were graphic, upsetting, and very real. The museum did an incredible job of telling you the story for the memory of the survivors, and devoid of any political leaning.

Another notable part of the exhibit was that there was no blame aimed at the U.S. for the bombings. The exhibits said the Hiroshima Bomb was dropped "due to war" and "due to 'failed international policies'" - I thought this was a very strong viewpoint to take - essentially blaming their own government for not siding with the Allies in WW II, in a way blaming themselves for the destruction caused by the Atomic Bomb. It was very potent to see images of the A-Bomb Dome before the day of destruction, and compare it to the remains standing there in the modern day.

We left the museum and took some photos of the stark dome against the evening skyline, and with a building crane and a modern-day office building juxtaposed beside it. As I mentioned in my previous post, it was really powerful to see the A-Bomb Dome silhouetted against the night sky, and to contrast it with the modern bustle of an exciting, busy, Japanese city life. I'd be hard-pressed to think of another city that I've traveled to where the human spirit displays this kind of resilience.

After the emotional museum and photo trip, Steve and I headed back to the hostel where we ran into Dirk and Nadine again. The emotion of the afternoon reminded me of a conversation I had with Dirk the night before, and reminded me why I am so happy to be alive in these happy times. Dirk is from Germany, and while traveling he made good friends with an Englishman. The English guy said to him, "It was great to meet you, and crazy we are already such good friends... when our grandfathers were busy killing each other." Whew. There is a lot of emotion running through this city, and I was really happy I decided to visit. It seems to me that the other travelers here are also very keen to learn about the history of the city and what happened here only a mere 65 years ago.

It was getting late, and I was booked to stay in Fukuoka/Hakata in the evening, so I headed out and got to the Shinkansen station, heading towards Hakata. It was quick to get to the station but I was a bit tired and less adventurous-feeling, probably due to the 1-1-1-1-night per city traveling days I'd had over the past 3 or 4 nights in a row. At the station I wanted to just keep it easy, and order something simple... so I went to McDonalds. I got a "Juicy Chicken Agatougarashi" to try to keep it easy, and I totally screwed up the payment. I thought I had to order from one girl and pay the other girl, and I ended up standing at the front of the line with the poor cashier girl staring at me for like 20 seconds waiting for me to pay her. Oh man.

I got into Hakata, and headed to Guest House Kaine, which was highly recommended on TripAdvisor. I got in kinda late and my room was a cool tatami mat room, very cool and WAY more comfortable than the one in Morioka! There was no one in my room, I think it was about 9:30pm and everyone was already out at the bars or at dinner. I just checked my email and Skyped Mom and Dad. I talked to the guy running the hostel who was very nice, and then decided to wander a bit with my camera.

As expected, I ended up wandering a LOT. I was pretty tired but with such limited time everywhere I wanted to see as many sights as I could. I headed straight to the famed Oyafuko Street, the main party area. There were lots of clubs, but it seemed like you really needed a big group to go out anywhere - this is the drawback of traveling on your own (or arriving at 9pm at a new city and not meeting your new roommates for the night). So that was too bad, but it turned out I was too tired to do much more than wander and be in-awe of Japanese things. There were lots of stalls of street food... all with no English at all. I found one, finally, with English signs: "fried entrails", "pork soup", "crab", "octopus" - they may as well have said, "Not for Jutan-san!"

So, I just kept on walking. I saw a cool downtown area and wandered into a 24/7 bookstore which was cool. I ended up getting a Chicken sandwich at MosBurger (a safer, more Kosher version of what I could have bought in one of the stalls), and then headed back to the hostel. There I sent some more emails, and chatted with Hiroaki, one of my roommates for the evening who was Japanese. There was a big oversized world map in our room, and we chatted for ages about travel. He was very excited at where I had traveled and wanted to know all about it. We yapped for ages, he is traveling around the Japanese island of Kyushu and then to London, England for 1.5 months. After our chat, he said, "I have very much enjoyed our conversation!" "Me too!" I replied, and I gave him a business card -with 2 hands, of course. He said he'd create a Facebook account so we could chat. Japanese people are awesome!!

It was late, and I had such a busy day that I was so tired and went right to sleep. My 2 other roommates were still not back at 3am. I woke up in the morning and they were there, thank goodness for my earplugs I guess! I think I was so exhausted from the day, I probably still would have slept right through their late night drunken stumbles back into the dorm room. Whew, what a day. I love traveling.

Ticket gate to get a ferry ticket to the island of Miyajima

Leaving the dock

Excited for the day

Dirk and some friends I'd met the day before on the Shinkansen

Red Torii gates from the ferry boat


Other cool architecture on the island too

LOTS of very friendly deer on the island


Haha, this guy wasn't sure if he wanted to hang out

Me and the Torii gates

Sweet Miyajima awesomeness

baby deer + baby japanese person = Cute overload

Hilarious, this little girl was so excited about the deer. I think this deer was pretending to sleep, but would look up every little while

Sweet-ass pagoda

Floating temple... beauuuty!!

Possibly the nicest hotel on an island ever

Nice walk through the woods to the cable car track

Up we go!

Cable car #2

"Watch out for monkeys!"

Warning for the crazy monkeys: "We do not like to be stared at our eyes. If you do so, we are not responsible for what will happen"

Hungry monkeys

"We do not hope to be such a monkey" - a fat monkey?!

Magnificent views

Love itttt

The mountain tops that were linked by the cable car

Beautiful day for a hike

A ship on the water

Monkeys before they went crazy

A tourist looking up nervously at the monkeys, and the monkeys staring us down

Deer running just before the monkey feeding time

More deer running


Another pic of the "floating shrine"

Torii gates

Maple leafs are the official emblem/mascot of Miyajima, so lots of stuff is shaped like them. We got some maple leaf shaped cakes filled with red bean paste and custard.

We left Miyajima and got to the A-Bomb Dome just as the sun was setting.

"A stark reminder of the casualties of war"

A-Bomb Dome with B&W photo of it before the bomb

Hiroshima Peace Park

Memorial to the victims of Hiroshima

Peace Park at dusk

Children's Peace Memorial

We heard the heartbreaking story of Sadako Sasakia, a young girl who was only 2 years old when the bomb dropped, and developed Leukemia in the aftermath of the bomb. A Japanese saying says that a person who folds 1000 paper cranes is granted a wish. As the story goes, she died before she could make 1000 cranes. Children all over the world now remember her and the hope for peace in the world by folding cranes in her memory. There were many art pieces by elementary and high school students, all made out of many paper cranes.

A-Bomb dome and a photo of it from before the bomb

One of my favourite photos of the whole trip. See yesterday's blog post about first arriving in Hiroshima and seeing the A-Bomb dome for the first time, in the context of a busy metropolitan city. The contrast between the pain and suffering of the previous generation in Hiroshima as compared with the modern bustling city it has become was really something. I loved the juxtaposition of the dome, strongly reminding the city (and country) of it's complicated past... but at the same time, living in parallel with a fancy office building/hotel, and a construction tower. Life continues on, ever resilient.

Another couple of photos of the A-Bomb Dome

Such an interesting angle

And off to Fukuoka/Hakata! Arrived late in the evening to a cool tatami mat room. This time I remembered to take my sandals off first!

Canal in Fukuoka

Street vendors

Where the Wild Things Are poster in Japanese

Guest House Kaine, super awesome hostel

Hiroaki, one of my roommates for the evening in Fukuoka

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