We woke up to horrible construction noises outside around 8am. Incessant. Jake described it as every type of construction happening at once, or like a kid banging pots and pans together. We’ve really had bad luck with morning noise so far, but it’s okay, it means we get an earlier start to the day.
We got our stuff together and walked to the train station to catch the JR Sanyō line (included in the JR pass, very crowded but normal) to Miyajima-guchi, where we caught a 10 minute ferry to the island of Miyajima (also covered by the pass). From the ferry there’s a gorgeous view of the mountains and the Torii gate of the Itsukushima shrine, which is a massive Torii gate in the water that looks like it’s floating during high tide. Torii gates generally mark the entrances to Shinto shrines, and this one is acknowledged as one of the three most beautiful sights in Japan.
Hiroshima is known for its oysters and Miyajima has some of the best. You could see oyster rafts floating in the bay from the ferry. I wanted to try them so we went to the best regarded place on the island, Kaki-ya, where I had a fried oyster set. The oysters were absolutely enormous, although I couldn’t really tell the difference between the regular and premium, and the oyster miso soup and ice and condiments were a nice touch. I also had one grilled oyster although I thought it was nothing special. If you really liked raw oysters you might enjoy it more.
We walked through the crowded main streets and off to the side, where some beautiful shrines and temples awaited, including a majestic pagoda. There were deer everywhere in the town, and we actually saw one guy get his bag eaten by a deer, lol. I was reminded that I’d enjoy eating some deer, and maybe I’ll get to soon. We stopped at Cafe Sarasvati and sat upstairs in a cute attic-like room, where I had a cappuccino and a few bites of a chocolate cake. We walked down to the water and paid to enter the sprawling Itsukushima shrine. It was approaching low tide so we were able to walk along the sandbars and rocks right down to the water for a close-up of the Torii.
We walked up to Momijidani Park. The fall colors were beautiful, although it wasn’t quite as vibrant as I was expecting. Then we walked up through the park to the trailhead and up a very marked trail (the Momijidani trail). It was beautiful and peaceful, and we hardly passed anyone. My descriptions obviously won’t do it justice, but it was a really great hike. The trees and colors were pretty, there was a stream to our left for most of the hike, and the hiking itself was strenuous but very manageable.
We got to the top in less than an hour and 15 minutes, even though we were told it would take 1.5-2 hours. The trail was busy at the top with people from the cable car (probably 95% of people at the top of Mt. Misen had taken the cable car, maybe more), But you still had to walk up to the top, which took another 10-15 minutes, maybe more for most folks. I stopped every couple of minutes to admire a different view or an interesting tree. We passed a temple with the “eternal flame,” which has been burning for over 1200 years and was used to light the Peace Flame in Hiroshima. We got to the observatory at the top and sat and admired the 360 view of the islands and hills.
We marveled at the view for a while, took some pictures facing different directions, watched the sun slowly go down, and sat and ate a bar and drank some water. The walk up was really warm, but I cooled off at the top and wasn’t warm again. We walked down a different trail, the Daishoin, in the direction of the Daishoin Temple. We walked down more than 2000 stone steps, taking a quick detour to a shrine with a wonderful view, and we kept walking down, which was a bit hard on the knees. Almost all the way down, we heard sirens, but it seemed to be nothing. We stopped and walked back up to the Daishoin Temple, a huge temple complex founded in 806. It was well kept, and also had a collection of 500 miniature buddhas, each with a knit hat. It was a pretty awesome and out there visual experience.
Finally, we got to the bottom. The walk up was definitely more beautiful than the walk down, and easier on the knees, although I’m really glad we walked both ways. And I didn’t have to deal with a vertigo-inducing cable car ride. There are only about 2,000 people who live on Miyajima, despite the thousands of tourists that visit each day. It’s pretty cool that people just live there by the mountain; most of them are probably involved in the service industry. We walked down and stopped for soft-serve coffee ice cream and a coffee at Miyajima Coffee, and then walked to the water to see the Torii gate at sunset, which was beautiful.
It’s weird that a lot of the trees haven’t changed. Some don’t but I wonder if it’s a warming thing. A lot have, obviously, and there are nice reds and oranges all over, but I thought it would be even more intense. Maybe, hopefully, when we get to Kyoto or a little farther north.
This is a random aside, but the Hiroshima Carp, the baseball team, are a huge part of Hiroshima. Baseball is big in Japan (understatement), but the Carp especially occupy a special place in this city. The team was founded in 1949, after the war, but wasn’t owned by a corporation or individual. In danger of folding, the team was kept afloat by donations and support from local folks, and it became an integral part of the city’s fabric. I’ve seen so much more Carp memorabilia and signage all over than anywhere else in Japan, at least so far. The team was woven into the city’s identity in the postwar years and it seems like that’s remained. I would compare Hiroshima (obviously, an imperfect comparison) to a city like Pittsburgh. Kind of working class, just normal, with a huge emphasis on the local sports team. I’ll look in other places, but it’s really interesting. People here have also brought up the team, in a proud kind of way, which hasn’t happened elsewhere.
I’ve noticed that Japanese people really like blackwatch patterns, I’ve seen more of it here than at home. And it’s obviously my favorite so that’s cool. I’ll write more about this, maybe when I’m back in Tokyo.
From Miyajima, we took the train back. We got off and walked to Okonomiyaki Lopez, which I had read about in Rice, Noodle, Fish, by Matt Goulding, which was a really incredible book about food culture in Japanese cities. He calls okonomiyaki the “second most famous thing that happened to Hiroshima,” and he’s not far off. The chef, Fernando Lopez, is from Guatemala, but the okonomiyaki is awesome. He moved here over twenty years ago, and opened this restaurant in 2002, after training with a legendary okonomiyaki chef here. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is far and away better than Osaka-style (which just mixes all the ingredients together), or other styles, and much more difficult to perfect. We had one normal soba okonomiyaki with jalapeños, which is a specialty of Lopez’, and one yakisoba, which in this case is just fried noodles with cabbage, pork, egg and sauce. I love yakisoba and I wanted to try the real version, and it didn’t disappoint, although it’s heavier and a bit different than is customary in the states. We had mezcal shots (a rarity in Japan, although I thought we were asking for mezcal on the rocks and were served shots instead) and beer, which goes well with the heavy food, and devoured the Okonomiyaki, although it’s definitely heavy. I like that you eat it right off the grill, steaming hot, with the little spatula. I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me, who was from the area but had lived in San Diego for 27 years, and he insisted I try his sides, which turned out to be beef tongue and chicken fajitas, go figure. They were both delicious. He described okonomiyaki as Japanese comfort food, which seems appropriate. We also talked to the girls next to us, who were from Australia (actually Tasmania).
We ended up getting drinks with them at a bar nearby, where I tried another Japanese whisky that was served with a hand-carved sphere of ice. I really loved watching the bartender painstakingly and lovingly chip the ice into a perfect sphere. I think he was happy to have some company. Afterwards, we went to a nearby karaoke bar, where after sorting out a room with the very friendly young guy working who spoke no English but used google translate effectively, we sang for about an hour (pretty fun), although I refused to sing the Billy Joel song someone had chosen (B would be proud, I hope) and tried for some Ramones, but no one else knew enough to sing it. Next time, I’m just gonna go for it. I think karaoke is more fun with a group of good friends, where everyone can just let loose and get goofy, but I still had a good time and tried my best. I’m such a bad singer that I have to just give in and have fun anyway.
After that, we actually went back to the okonomiyaki place for another drink. Jake and I talked to Sr. Lopez, which was really great. He was really friendly and had some sage advice generally, but also told us about Hiroshima as a city. We even spoke a bit of Spanish. After that, we hopped on the JR train nearby and headed back to the hostel, where we chatted and went to bed.
Hoping to find live music in Kyoto or Tokyo,