So, after leaving the Peace Park, on a dreary day drizzling with rain, I headed back to the hostel for a long needed shower. I checked in, and found out that there were very few people in the hostel at the time, with it being late January, a very off-peak time.
Having had my shower, I headed into the lounge, grabbed a beer from the vending machine indoors, and sat down to see who was around. It was pretty quiet, just an American, some Argentinians, and of course a couple of Australians as well.
With nothing going on at the hostel, I decided to go visit my old friend Bom, at his bar in downtown Hiroshima: Koba. I had been to Koba 2 years before with some other people I had met in Hiroshima, and had had Bom and his staff as friends on facebook ever since. The place was exactly as I remember, friendly staff and customers. I grabbed a seat at the bar, started chatting to some other customers, ordered a beer and shook off the night cold.
The next day started off quite groggy, but with it being my last day in Hiroshima, I was determined to go out as soon as I could. Thankfully, it had stopped raining by now, and the sun was out. I packed my camera, and jumped on one of the Hiroshima trams, headed for Miyajima.
Hiroshima does not have a subway system like most Japanese cities do. Instead, it has a wide system of trams, running alongside the normal roads. It’s cheap, and as it’s above ground, you get to see the city as you travel. I remember the first time I went to Hiroshima, I was very annoyed, because the tram to my hostel passed the Atomic Bomb Dome. I didn’t want to see it in passing and by accident, but when I could see it properly.
It takes quite a while to get to Miyajima Station by tram, about an hour or so. The trams don’t move very fast and have to stop for traffic in the cities. However, a large portion of the route follows the coast, with some very beautiful views of the Seto Inland Sea. The ride is peaceful and relaxing, trundling down streets and through neighbourhoods on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was quiet, as it always is on trains in Japan, and it wasn’t crowded, a welcome relief from the crammed trains I am used to around Osaka. And, as always when on local lines, I was stared down for the whole journey by an elderly Japanese woman.
Being an island, there is no land link. Once you get off at Miyajima Station, you have to take a ferry to get to the island. There are two companies working here, JR West and Matsudai Miyajima. A return ticket to the island is very cheap, and the ride across doesn’t take very long at all. The area is famous for oysters, and as you pass over the waves, you can see many small oyster farms dotted in the sea. Coming closer to the island, you get your first glimpse of the famous torii, the red gates famous in shrines in Japan.
Though it is now commonly called Miyajima, after the small town on the island, the island is actually called Itsukushima. The shrine on the island was founded in the 6th Century, and it’s current layout is around 900 years old. The gate and the shrine itself are both in the sea. The island is considered sacred, so in the past commoners weren’t allowed to step foot on the island itself, thus the shrine built on stilts. It still has such religious significance that since 1878 no deaths or births are allowed on the island, with pregnant women close to giving birth, elderly and terminally-ill people all being sent to the mainland.
Disembarking from the ferry and walking out of the ticket hall brings you out onto a paved road, a view of traditional style houses and scattered pine trees. The streets are lined by stone lanterns, and tourists and families roam the streets, usually followed by a new companion…
Deer. There are deer all over the island. In Shinto, they are considered messengers to the gods, and are thus sacred. The deer have become so used to tourists and people in general, they freely roam the streets, follow people around and generally pester you for food. They have no problem with having their photographs taken or with being stroked by visitors, and I have never seen one run away.
After strolling along the beach, and popping into some of the souvenir shops, I eventually got to the shrine itself. It’s a big, red structure, made of wood and set on stilts, stretching into the sea (or the beach at low-tide). Thankfully, it was fairly quiet when I was there, and I could take a slower pace to walk along the wooden walkways. The first time I went to Itsukushima, I stumbled upon a traditional Japanese wedding. Unfortunately, I was not as lucky this time, but I still think it is a beautiful shrine. One of the most famous sites in Japan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the three top sites in Japan, officially.
After seeing the main shrine, and the connected Buddhist temple, I decided to head up the mountain. The first time I had come to Itsukushima, I had walked up the mountain. But that was Summer, and I had much more time. This time, I decided to take the “ropeway” to the top, a two part journey via cable cars to the top of the mountain. I was slightly dubious about it, hearing that it was fairly expensive and not worthwhile. They were wrong. The view from the cable car was amazing, looking over the mountains, forests and the Seto Inland Sea.
I had always been told that there are monkeys at the top of the mountain, and indeed there are signs about the monkeys there. Yet everytime that I have been there, I haven’t seen a single monkey! However, I wasn’t there for the monkeys. I was there for the view. The view from the top of that mountain, on that island, in the middle of the Seto Inland Sea, is one of the best views I have ever seen, the setting sun reflecting off the sea, fishing boats as tiny specks in the water, and slowly the lights of dozens of tiny fishing villages appear up and the down the coast. Neither my photos nor my words can explain that view.
I would have liked to have spent more time atop the mountain, but the last cableway down was fast approaching, and I didn’t to get stuck at the top and have to walk down in the dark. From what I remember, the path isn’t particularly a safe one. Upon heading back to the main town, I took a gentle stroll around the streets before heading back to the ferry terminal, my adventures in Hiroshima at an end.
Almost. I woke up on Monday morning at 11am. My coach was at 10:40am. Oops. With no other choice, and having to get back to Hirakata before I had work in the evening, I went and bought myself a ticket for the bullet train. The bullet trains are impressive looking things, close to duck-faced. Though it is an experience to ride them, I don’t enjoy the journey itself. As Japan is so mountainous, they carved the tracks under the mountains. The constant change in pressure, and constant ear-popping is not something I enjoy.
You can view all the photos from my trip to Hiroshima on my flickr page.