Miyajima, monkeys and the A-Bomb – Day 9

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What a day! My somewhat impulsive decision to head to Hiroshima for the day lead to my heading out the door at quarter to 8 to catch an 8:20 shinkansen. I had originally wanted to try and squeeze in two or three days in Hiroshima when I begun planning this trip, but found there really wasn’t enough time. However, the joy of having a JR pass is that you can impulsively decide to hop on a bullet train for the under 2-hour ride down south. I was soon whizzing along, and by 10:15, I rolled into Hiroshima station. While in town, I wanted to see Miyajima and its famed “floating torii”. I had checked the tide schedule the previous evening, and it looked like low-tide would be around 1 pm, so I hopped on a local train bound for the ferry terminals. It was only a 10-minute ferry ride across the water to the island of Miyajima, and I soon caught site of the massive torii. Much to my dismay, it looked like the tide had just receded enough to reveal the base of the torii. Not deterred, I walked up from the terminal, through a touristy district filled with restaurants and souvenir shops, and was rewarded with a lovely boardwalk with stunning views across the water and of the torii.

There was a sign talking about the tame deer on the island (don’t feed them, etc.), and a few moments later, I stumbled across a host of deer, lazing about in a park. It was somewhat entertaining to watch a guy get harassed, repeatedly head-butted in the ass by a particularly tenacious deer. Not sure what he did…but was amusing to watch him run around being chased by a deer. The torii was not “floating”, as the tide had gone out, so its base was surrounded by tourists. It was impressively large and was a striking figure against the skyline. I headed into the Itsukushima shrine, which was comprised of a series of broad walkways on stilts (to accommodate the tide). Caught a glimpse of a bride and groom, the bride with a massive hood and beautiful white kimono, who I suppose were having their ceremony at the shrine.

After touring Itsukushima, I thought I might try and make my way up to Mount Misen, the highest peak on the island. I took a somewhat indirect route through a lovely, shaded (it was getting hot!) park, up a steady incline to the ropeway station. These cute little gondola cars arrived every minute or so, thus I got one all to myself. It was a virtually silent ride with a great view of the sea and the primeval (old-growth) forest on the foothills. I soon reached the first station and switched to another type of cable car to take me the rest of the way. This one afforded an awesome view of the Seto Inland Sea and its islands. Upon arriving, posted signs advised leaving our belongings in the free lockers at the station, to prevent the monkeys from hassling us. Intrigued and belongings safely stowed, I ventured out and sure enough, there the little red-faced monkeys were, scampering about. The view from the Shishi-iwa Observatory right next to the station was stunning. Clear blue skies and brilliant blue water–not much more I could ask for. There is also an panoramic observatory at the very top of Mt. Misen, so I headed in that general direction. What perhaps I didn’t quite realize was that to reach the peak was another 100 metres higher and about a kilometre away. I’m definitely not an avid hiker, so it was a somewhat strenuous climb. Also problematic was I suddenly realized that I didn’t have my hoodie that I’d been carrying, and it occurred to me that I must’ve dropped it somewhere along my journey. Annoyed with myself, I trundled up the mountain, muttering about my own stupidity and my distaste for steep inclines. The winding paths were actually somewhat reminiscent of the climb at Rocamadour in France, though I think this one was actually worse. What is it with pilgrimages and holy people needing to place their spiritual places at the tops of mountains? At long last, sweaty and reminded of how out-of-shape I am, I reached the top. It was a suitably spectacular view, if not a touch hazy, and I relished the cool breeze as I caught my breath.

The journey back down, though quicker, was not kind on my knees, but I was soon on the gondola heading back down the mountain. Hoping to find my hoodie, I re-traced my journey down towards town. I was growing increasingly pessimistic, when, by some miracle, near the entrance to the park, I spotted a bright orange sight. Someone had folded my hoodie and placed it in the crook of a tree! I was absurdly joyous clutching my re-united sweater and sported a ridiculous grin as I continued on my way. The tide had started to come back in, so I was able to glimpse at the torii’s floatingness before hopping back on the ferry. I was scheduled to head back to Kyoto on the 5:15 train, but I still wanted to check-out the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. I boarded the tram that would take me directly to the park; however, it was also the slowest and most frequently stopping tram in existence. By the time I reached the park, I would have no more than 20 minutes or so. But I was determined that if I’d come all the way to Hiroshima, I should at least pay my respects.

The A-Bomb Dome was literally right next to the tram stop, and it certainly was an arresting sight. The Dome is what remains of the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. It was one of the few buildings to remain standing, as the atomic bomb was detonated almost directly above it. It was crazy to see the rubble still strewn about on the inside of the building. Perhaps it was fitting that I was there as the sun was just starting to set…it certainly lent a reserved, reflective air. Not far from the Dome is the Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims, an arched tomb for those who died as a result of the blast or subsequent radiation sickness. There is a stone chest below it that holds the names of all the victims, over 220,000. I didn’t have time to see much else unfortunately, so I headed back to the tram stop. It was an eerie park to be in, as it didn’t feel like a traditional park. There was no play, no laughter or picnics, just folks sitting on benches, staring out at the various monuments. This kind of solitary reverie seemed appropriate. I’m glad there were no gaggles of tourists cheesing in front of these monuments.

I only had about 20 minutes to get to the station (and theoretically the tram can do it in 15), but as is always the case when you need to get somewhere in a hurry, this tram was trundling along at an alarmingly slow rate. I fretfully looked at my watch and watched as the minutes ticked away, until it was literally 3 minutes until my train would leave that we rolled into the station. I sprinted inside, waving my tickets and the necessary people, and hurriedly found the appropriate platform. I bolted up several flights of stairs, and I could already hear the buzzer of the doors about to close. I leaped inside, with about 30 seconds to spare. I was truly amazed I had made it! However, not to be completely victorious, I seemed to have dropped my ticket somewhere in my mad dash for the train, so I wasn’t sure of my seat number. I knew which car, but I had no idea where to sit. I hesitantly sat at the back, worried someone would come and claim the seat or they’d ask for my ticket. At the next station, I ended up moving to the unreserved seat cars and grabbing a seat there for the remainder of the journey (as I believe all I’d need to show would be my JR pass). I changed trains in Osaka and gratefully sat in my reserved seat, as I still had that ticket, for the relatively brief journey to Kyoto. I grabbed a delicious dinner (breaded seafood!) in the underground mall again, before I headed back to the hotel to call it a night after a truly full day.

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