From October 5th, my college buddy and former roommate Jon Tromp made the journey out to Japan to visit. He figured he wouldn’t ever come to this part of the world if not for my being here so it was now or never. Knowing someone where you are going makes the most of the experience, which is exactly why I use Couchsurfing. Normally I wouldn’t break such a visit into separate posts, but we accomplished a lot of different things that I had been wanting to check off my list.
Tasked with showing him the best of Japan, we fixed our eyes on Hiroshima and hit the road with some friends early the next morning. The departure was delayed however, since we needed to change vehicles after one of our overly concerned & vehement rule followers (typical Japanese traits really) vetoed the idea of of fitting five people into a car that could lawfully only carry 4. Never mind that I’ve crammed nine into it before… While it was indeed tight for those in the rear, and she did offer up a much nicer car in exchange, I really wanted to force her into such a situation nevertheless since such people are in dire need of ‘education’.
Sorted at last and on our way, we arrived in Hiroshima for about 1pm and dropped Ryan and the girls off at their hotel. While they were getting freshened up, Jon and I met with a third friend and Hope grad Spencer for a quick tour of the Peace Memorial Park and museum. This was now the fourth time that I’ve coursed through the exhibits and photographed the different monuments, but as always it was a sobering place. Once through the museum, we met back up with the other three and got ourselves ready to go to Saijo for the annual sake festival.
Before getting on the train, we stocked up on vittles and got whatever else we though we might need. I managed to find whale nuggets, which I was pretty excited about. I had been meaning to order the delicacy, but it is usually pretty difficult to find – I can’t just go to the store and buy a whale steak. The lengths to which Greenpeace goes to save a whale nearly puts their foolishness on par with PETA, so I ate and enjoyed my dark, delicious meat morsels with relish.
After about 45 minutes on the train, we arrived in Saijo, where the festival takes place. For hundreds of years, this city has been home to a number of sake distilleries and in honor of that heritage they hold the event. For something around 20 dollars, a person is given admission, a small cup, and access to at least one thousand different varieties brought in from all across the country. This was my second year at the event, but I was much more exited about it this time around.
Just a few of the many varities
Once inside the crowded park, we wasted no time in getting things going. The fairly small place is surrounded by a number of different booths, each representing a region of Japan. We started in with a Hiroshima brew, since that was only right, and then worked our way around, eventually making it to each one before the end of the night. One of the things that I and Ryan both agreed on was that this year we were really enjoying the sake. Last year’s was just fine, but how our tastes matured over the year – perhaps as a byproduct of time spent in this country – really had us savoring the different flavors. To the wino: consider having all these different varieties to swish about the palate, compare & contrast, and simply enjoy, all day long!
New Friend, Myself, Spencer & Ryan
We all had a really great time chatting with acquaintances and especially getting to know new faces who had come in from all over. I guess because of my National AJET position, my reputation and even face preceded me. I would say that those willing to make the hike over to such an event are more than likely going to be interesting individuals. The bulk of our time was spent talking with those of neighboring Tokushima prefecture, but there were a lot of memorable moments. As we chatted, joked, laughed, drank, danced, and even debated, time was whizzing by and before long it was time to take the train back.
I had arranged a capsule hotel for Jon, Spencer and I to stay in. These are all over Japan and especially cater to businessmen who are out too late drinking and need to sleep somewhere before they go back to work in the morning. As the name would suggest, these are naught by small tubes and have everything one would need for a night. Though not for the claustrophobic, I slept like a baby and was delighted to have crossed another of these distinctly Japanese experiences off my list.
When we woke up the next morning, we laughed recounting the previous night’s antics, parted ways with Spencer, and then regrouped with Ryan and the girls. Once reunited, we made a last pass through the Peace Memorial Park and then drove off to Miyajima. The three day weekend made for heavy tourist traffic, but after an hour or so we had arrived at the ferry port. Tickets in hand, we boarded a 10 minute boat over to the touristy island, complete with beautiful temples founded by the illustrious Kukai and some stunning views. Here too I’ve already already been a few times, but it is indeed a beautiful place and a must for any visitor to Japan. Amusingly, in the past, women were not even allowed on the island and its old people were shipped elsewhere to die so as to preserve the ritual purity of the site. The actual name of the island is Itsukushima, which taken literally means ‘strict island’.
On the island, we walked along and dodged the hoards deer that nuzzle into anyone bearing food, or even the scent of it. I stopped for some shaved ice and fried squid along the way, but it wasn’t long before we arrived at the Itsukushima Shrine. Despite it being my third trip to the island, this was the first time that I had actually ponied up to walk through the complex. We were fortunate to catch it at high tide, which gives the impression of the entire place floating on water. We walked along the open corridors along with scads of others, but did manage to glimpse a Shinto wedding taking place.
The shrine and Torii at high tide.
The next part of the experience was just to walk the streets to check out all of the different shops and their identical wares. As tempting as the multitudes of rice spatulas were, in the end we only bought some fried momiji manju. This Hiroshima delicacy was something that our female companions were adamant about trying, though we didn’t mind the notion of eating deep-fried sweets either.
This is not haunting in any way…
Stopping only to see the largest wooden rice spatula in the world, we made our way back to the boat and ferried over to the mainland. There, we got in the car and took off for the next part of the long weekend adventure.