Chugoku – in the past targeted, in the present oft-overlooked

Part 2 of our 2014 trip to Japan

Places visited: Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kure, Okunoshima

Hiroshima greeted us with a heavy thunderstorm. It even caused a massive mudslide north of the city, as we would find out later. When the lightning had abated a bit, we rushed through the rain to our hotel, wearing our disposable raincoats, which we found out really are not supposed to be used several times, as they had become rather sticky and stinky. A (not so) helpful older man tried to help us with directions, but since he wasn’t sure either, we just stood there awkwardly for five minutes before we headed in the general direction he had indicated. The business hotel provided a lot of amenities (soups, tea, bathroom articles) in comparison to other places, and they gave us their only guide/map in German 🙂

The next morning, we took the first train to Kure to visit the submarine and Yamato museums. Highly recommended for people interested in marine warfare, or anyone who has ever dreamt about seeing the interior of an actual submarine. Scarce English explanations, though, so I spend more than an hour deciphering the historical info, relying on Kanji and my basic knowledge of Japanese grammar, to tell my husband, who was fascinated by the technical displays, but would rather have seen tanks. Well, there is a place and time for everything…

Having lived in China for quite some time, it was a bit of a culture shock, even though I knew about it, to see that anything regarding Japanese-Chinese relations in the first half of the 20th century is glossed over as minor “incidents”. Conversely, the terminologies and emphasis of a typical Chinese historical museum would probably be just as awkward for Japanese visitors. At noon, we continued on to Okunoshima, for a more pacifistic element in our day. The schedules of the train and ferry to Okunoshima match poorly, on our way back we had to wait for about an hour, whereas on arrival, we barely made it to the ferry in time. The island itself is beautiful, even though the facilities appeared rather run down, but the real draw are the scores of rabbits inhabiting the island. Some visitors brought huge bags (think rubbish bags) of cabbage with them; we just had three carrots from the supermarket with us. The reason for the overwhelming presence of rabbits on Okunoshima is obscure and possibly sinister (descendants of test animals for poison gas), but it really is cuteness overload, as they rush to you to get said cabbage. We ventured a bit further, chased by a couple of rabbits who would not accept that we had run out of carrots, and enjoyed the view of the surrounding islands from a cliff.

In the afternoon, after ample waiting time, during which we explored the sleepy town around the station and bought 2 packs of grapes for lunch (Japanese grapes are amazing, a world apart from normal grapes), we took the train to Miyajima. We wanted to get there before the evening, as we heard that the shops on the island close early, but as we arrived at about 5:30 p.m., most were closing down already, including all restaurants apart from two, which didn’t serve anything vegetarian and didn’t seem very appealing. After check-in at our ryokan, which was far too impersonal and touristy for our liking, we got some maple leaf shaped biscuits and various lemonades and beers for dinner. After nightfall, we walked through the shopping alleys, past a giant rice spoon, to the pagoda and afterwards to the Itsukushima shrine. Seeing the illuminated shrine and tori is one of my favorite vistas on this trip, it was really overwhelming. After a filling Japanese breakfast at our Ryokan, we visited the shrine again the next morning during low tide, it was just as beautiful, the red colour of the shrine and tori, set against the glistening sand and imposing Mt. Misen… Afterwards, we walked toward Daisho-in (spotting a nice comforting sign “It takes 10 min to get to the bus stop, 6 min if you run”) and did part of the Momijidani trail before turning back to have a look at the shops. We tried some fiery senbei (I can handle extreme spice levels, and this senbei was barely tolerable, be careful 😉 ), fried momiji biscuits and finally bought a parasol. (It’s a good thing we don’t do beach holidays, we are apparently a bit slow with regards to appropriate protection against the sun…)

Back in Hiroshima at noon, we walked through downtown for a few hours to the castle. We enjoyed some delicious tsukemen (noodles with dipping sauce) for dinner on our way back and called it a day.

The next day, we visited the A-Bomb Dome first, had a long talk with an activist there, and finally visited the Atomic Bomb Museum. Afterwards, we walked to the castle, one of our favourites on this trip. Later, we marveled at the selection in a Donki store and got politely thrown out of a baseball merch store In the evening, we stopped by the Okonomiyakimura, basically several floors with a few okonomiyaki stalls each. We chose one randomly who didn’t advertise the extra meatiness of their okonomiyaki and asked if we can get a meat-free version, which he promptly whipped up for us, with udon, cabbage, kimchi, spring onion, egg-free batter and sauce. One of our favourite foods for sure! Afterwards, we collected our backpacks from the station, which we had left there when we first arrived in Osaka, and took an 11 p.m. Willer Bus to Osaka. We managed to sleep through the whole trip, but still were rather exhausted when we arrived at 5 a.m..

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