After 10 months of being fairly disconnected from my life at home, my parents finally decided to come and visit me. While I was wanting them to come and get an appreciation for what it is that I actually do out here, I also wanted them to understand why I would be hesitant to return from this glorious place. Anyway, I picked them up in the evening after work on Friday, and then it was off to my place for the night. We would be leaving early the next morning for a bit of a road trip, my first in Japan. The first part of the trip was going to consist of a few hours west to Hiroshima and Miyajima, and from there several hours west to Kyoto. With this itinerary, I would be able to show off a good chunk of Japanese history and culture. Having already been there myself, I was to play the role of guide and translator at restaurants. I was happy to revisit these places nonetheless.
Departing around 8 am, we drove directly to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. I hadn’t really prepped maps or anything, so it was mostly just driving by signs all the way there. This park is located on a water straddled piece of land almost directly below the epicenter of the bomb. There are a number of memorials, all redundantly advocating for peace, as well as a museum showcasing numerous artifacts and information on the aftereffects of the explosion. Perhaps one of the more visually interesting parts of the park is the A-Bomb Dome, a building that survived the explosion due to its futuristic construction techniques and fortunate blast angle resulting from its being directly below the explosion.
Here is a shot showing the main stretch of the park, showing a peach memorial (fore), the ever burning flame (mid), and and A-Bomb Dome (aft). While the flame can’t be made out in this picture, it is set to burn until all nuclear weapons are removed from the earth. I don’t expect that to happen though, ever….
Just as the last time I was there, there are times where you try to wrap your mind around the fact that 140,000 people died immediately, with another 200,000 within the next 4 months, and just think “whoa”. My stoicism pulled me through, though the walk through the museum containing snapshots of the burns sustained and victims’ very apparent misery was indeed sobering. Following that dirge, we walked around the park and saw the things I had just detailed.
By afternoon, we could check into the hostel I booked that morning. I had a very rough idea of where it was located, which rather hampered my ability to locate it. My directions literally consisted of nothing more than a station name and the riddle “by big building” that I had jotted down earlier. Still, we got there eventually, but not before I had gotten to know the receptionist intimately after a number of phone calls. The place I picked was hostel called J-Hoppers. It was very clean, convenient and offered the Japanese style of sleeping on the bamboo flooring I wanted my parents to experience. Once we got everything dumped into our room, we did a quick turn around and made our way towards Miyajima. In lieu of a standard train system we spent an hour on Hiroshima’s streetcar network, and later a short ferry in getting there.
Miyajima is considered one of the three most beautiful views in Japan, and the image of its Torii gate in the water is well known the world over. This gate has been destroyed a number of times, but has been present since 1168. We were there during high tide, though low tide affords the opportunity to walk around the the gate and dig for clams.
Another nice aspect of the island are the deer, which are quite different from what we have in Michigan. These domesticated animals seem to have been lifted from a petting zoo, and love whatever food they can get. I was working pretty hard to bait my mom with some snacks I bought. Later we caught dinner at a local place on the island. It was actually full of islanders enjoying themselves, which made for good atmosphere. We had okonomiyaki, which is a famous Hiroshima food. (a noodle, meat, cabbage pancake, topped with fish flakes and sauces)
After our night at the hostel, it was off to Kyoto. Serving as the capital of Japan long ago, the city is loaded with beautiful temples and shrines, attracting millions of tourists every year. Again, I had already been here, but it was great to see these scenic temples again. In many ways, it served as a reminder of all the fun I had had on the May term program I had taken part in two years ago. We hit the temples hard, as there are indeed a lot of them to see.
The first one we went to is called Kinkaku-ji, which means Golden Pavilion – the logic behind that being rather obvious.
Other places of significance during our time in Kyoto include Nijo Castle and Kiyomizu-ji Temple. Nijo Castle differs from the other castles in Japan, as it is only one sprawling floor rather than the typical multi-storied constructs seen everywhere else. Kiyomizu-ji is the most famous temple in all of Kyoto, due in part to its storied history and impeccable view over the whole of the city. At the entrance of the temple are a number of metal things meant to be lifted by the visitors. Legend has it that a massive warrior monk named Benkei use the staff, spear, and sandals on a quest and then eventually left them at the temple. It is also said that if you can lift his staff, weighing about 200 pounds, you will be blessed with good fortune. I saw no one but myself succeed, and the first time was met with cheers from the gathered school children. The second attempt to capture the cheers later on failed to match the former glory, however, here you are. Also, a picture of the temple below.
The temple is built up onto the side of a hill. Years back, it was said that if you jumped from the ledge and survived the fall (about 90 feet) that your wish would come true. Well, strangely, people continued to die in pursuit of their dreams, so they no long allow the practice.
The last thing I’ll detail in this picture laden update is the restaurant I got my parents to. This is a restaurant called Sweets Paradise and features all you can eat deserts, and strangely enough spaghetti as well. The three of us were famished, and the idea of bottomless anything sounded stellar. The fact that the meal would consist entirely of sweet and fattening goodies made it all the better. We all pigged out on food we had definitely deserved, having earned it by walking all over the city under the merciless heat of sun. The restaurant’s patrons were about 90 percent female, though this was no time to be thinking about the feast for my eyes, there were much more important things to be had. I would say I got my money’s worth for sure.
This picture represents only a portion of the options…
That’s pretty much all from the long weekend. Again, it was really nice to drive around and see a bit of the Japanese countryside, while also relaxing at some of the most beautiful places Japan has to offer.