Day Seventeen -Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kyoto

We woke up sort of energised. I say sort of. Maybe we were high on the success of Bunny Island and Ichiro’s amazing okonomiyaki. Maybe it was the choco-flakes I ate at the hotel buffet for breakfast ( delicious btw), but we packed up our things, checked out of Chisun Hiroshima and left our bags with them. We walked up the road to the Peace Memorial Park and had a quick wander, taking in the atomic bomb dome, and I foolishly hit play on an info reading on a memorial which made me cry.

It was a memorial statue to the students who died in the war, and depicted a peace goddess in front of a five storied pagoda. It was emotional. The peace park is built almost under the detonation point of the atomic bomb that went off over Hiroshima. The Bridge it’s next to was the target of the bomb, and the peace park includes monuments to peace donated from all over the world, the Atomic Bomb Dome, memorial hall, peace museum and various memorials. It’s a beautiful place, generally very calm. Yesterday it was full of tourists and school groups, and we were lucky enough to walk by the children’s memorial as a school group sang a song to it. It was eerie but beautiful.

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We got on the ferry to Miyajima (it’s more expensive to take the return one from the Peace Park, but it’s quicker than the train + ferry option, and we were wanting to get to Kyoto later in the day. Plus the park was just up the road from our hotel, so convenient.)

Our pocket wifi stopped working. Actually we think it stopped working on Bunny Island, maybe because of remoteness or something but I emailed the company and they offered a replacement for the next day, to be delivered to our new hotel, so that was good service. Everyone, Global Advanced Communications is a good place to rent from 😀

The ferry ride from the Peace Park takes 45 mins and is a nice ride down the river and then out into the Seto Inland sea. Last time we went to Miyajima, we stared around the waterfront, visiting with the deer, having lunch and going to the aquarium. I was keen to try something different this time so we went into the island to the ropeway, which is what the gondola up the mountain is called.

Miyajima is the common name, the island’s proper name is Itsukushima, but Miyajima means ‘Shrine island’ and that seems appropriate. There’s a huge floating tori gate and a huge floating shrine over the water. It’s a UNISCO world heritage site, and very pretty. It was also pretty clogged with tourists, so heading up the mountain it was a bit quieter.

You can choose to walk up the mountain, but the bit we did getting to the gondola station was plenty. It was a beautiful path up through the mountain forest with traditional Japanese gardens and a koi pond on the way, but it was steep and there were a lot of steps. You can choose to hike right up the mountain and I’m sure it’s amazing to do, but we are nowhere near fit enough for that. Plus it had become a super hot day (again) which didn’t help. Once we got to the station we took a break for some peach nectar out of a juice vending machine and then hopped on. The ropeway is actually two gondolas and it was very calming to ride. It’s so silent, and the views are incredible. You’re over the tops of the trees looking down the valley out to the sea and Hiroshima city on the other side. Just fabulous.

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At the top of the green one you switch to another gondola which goes in a different direction up to Mt Misen. The green gondola is a seated one, which allows 6 – 8 people (I don’t see how 8 could fit in but maybe they’re thinking of children?). The second one is a mostly standing one which fits like, 20 people. It was a lot like being in a tram or a train carriage which happened to fly through the air.

Mt Misen’s peak is another 30 minute hike further from the top gondola station, and again, at another time when I’m fitter I might be into it. As it was we had a fast turnaround time for our return ferry to Hiroshima, so we didn’t linger too long. Just took in the stunning views of the islands in the sea and I got a little lightheaded from the thinness of the air and the heat of the sun.

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We caught the gondolas back down and I started to get nervous about getting back to the ferry in time (we had I think, 40 mins from mountain peak to ferry).

On the green gondola down we spoke with a Japanese guy who asked about Anna’s shiny penguin shirt from Kaiyukan. Then he noticed my Tokyo Disney daypark and asked us about our trip and where we’re from, etc. He was very friendly, and very amused that we’d traveled so far and were seeing so much of Japan, and also that we thought it was hot. He had long sleeves on and extra layers, we had shorts and t shirts.

The gondola timing worked pretty well, and we had 20 mins from when we got off to get back to the pier.

We powerwalked like pros. Even though both of us were stinking hot, tired out, sore feet and various other aches and pains, we motored across the island and through tour groups and past deer… only to get to the pier to see the boat leaving. It had been scheduled to go at 1.40 and at 1.41 we were too late. Thankfully the woman at the ticket booth happily swapped our tickets for the next sailing at 2.15 and we had a good rest while we waited for the next boat.

The boat ride back wasn’t as restful as I’d have liked, as an American couple sat behind us with their Japanese guide. They (mostly the guy) peppered her with questions about the details of the bomb going off in Hiroshima, why it happened, how good it was (!!) and generally I got a gruesome history lesson that I didn’t want or need. It was made worse by this guy insisting that it was a good thing the bomb went off because his father was fighting in the American army and he could’ve been killed if the bomb hadn’t ended the war. It was deeply unpleasant listening and Anna and I both got irritated by hearing it. The Japanese guide handled it like a pro though, so kudos to her.

My heel on my left foot had seized up some so we took the tram back to the hotel and picked up our bags. While Anna used the bathroom I had a really nice chat with one of the hotel staff, who had exceptional English and was also surprised we’d seen so much of Japan. She’d never been to Kyoto she said, which sort of blew my mind as it’s not that far away from Hiroshima, but then. I guess I live in Auckland and I’ve never been to Russel or Cape Reinga so…

We got the tram to the train station and went to get Shinkansen tickets for Kyoto. The English language assistant pulled a face and said ‘for today??’ and then informed us we’d missed the last one (I think she must’ve meant direct?) So we went up to the platform for non-reserved seats to Shin-Osaka. I got pretty anxious. I like having a clear path to our new destination and it had already been a tiring day. I just couldn’t stop thinking ‘what if?’

We got on the train all right and made it to Shin-Osaka where it was easy to get tickets to Kyoto ( reserved this time, much more calm). It’s only a 15 minute trip from Osaka to Kyoto so we didn’t bother putting our suitcases on the overhead racks.

From Kyoto station we caught a ‘foreign friendly’ taxi to our Ryokan. There’s a whole fleet with English speaking drivers, it makes things quite easy. I asked him how busy Kyoto was, since Hiroshima had been so packed with tourists and he assured me that Kyoto has many, many people in it.

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese in. No shoes inside (they store them for you by the door) and very attentive service. They welcomed us in, insisted on taking our bags for us, and got us to sit down to do the check in process. They also insisted we have dinner, since we were just in time for the last dinner service. They led us up to our room and dinner was served inside the room.

We hadn’t’ really had lunch, but with all the travel and stress neither of us actually felt hungry. How wrong we were.

Dinner was a full Kaiseki style banquet of eight artful courses. Starting with such appetisers as chicken liver in chrysanthemum petals and chestnut, through shiitake mushroom soup and fresh popped rice on the stick to miso and fruits in jelly, it was exquisite. It was way, way too much food as well, but we made a valiant effort.

The slow way it was presented (one dish at a time, and time to eat, then the next), made me calm down. It was good, nourishing food as well, it felt good to eat it. Minimally processed, lots of vegetables and soups. It was the perfect antidote to the fiveish hours we’d spent in transit. Perfect welcome to Kyoto as well.

After dinner we went to use the in house onsen, which was very good but very hot. I got a little heat affected I think. While we were in the baths the staff came and made up our beds, traditional futons on the tatami mats. (With little paper cranes on the pillows!

I crashed out pretty hard.

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