31 December 2009
We’ve waited for the New Year’s countdown at Hiroshima Gokoku Shrine. Despite its southern and coastal location, Hiroshima is extremely cold during the winter season. The shrine was crowded with people lining up to make their wishes at the shrine. Food stalls are everywhere; most of them selling Hiroshima’s famous oystersand “okonomiyaki.” At the shrine, they give free cups of hot o-sake to warm you up.
Gokoku Shrine before the New Year’s Countdown
Okonomiyaki – a Japanese version of pancakes only with vegetables, oyster sauce, and meat of your choice (I like mine with shrimp and squid) plus lots of mayonnaise!
1 January 2010
We visited the famous MIYAJIMA ISLAND, a World Cultural Heritage and one of the top three most scenic spots of Japan. From Hiroshima city, we took the streetcar (TIP: there are day passes for the streetcars with significant discounts including a ferry fare and ropeway fare in Miyajima Island) to Hirodenmiyajima-guchi which took us almost an hour. From there we took a ferry to Miyajima Island.
The island is small and one can visit the important places in just one day. We were welcomed by deer inhabiting the island. We took pictures with them and they are very tamed maybe because they are already used to seeing lots of tourists in the island. But one should also be a bit careful with them. A deer ate a piece of our map and while I was viewing the o-torii, I felt something grabbing my bag only to find out that a curious deer was checking it out.
From the port, we walked to Itsukushima Shrine for the best view of the o-torii gate. We were able to see the magnificence of the red o-torii both in high tide and low tide. When the sea level goes down in the afternoon, people can go at the foot of the o-torii.
Other spots we’ve visited in the island:
Daisho-in Temple: located at the halfway of Mt. Misen, a sacred mountain Hiroshima, we went up to experience Japanese Buddhism. Around the temple are hundreds and various sizes of Buddha statues. The stairs to the temple are lined up with 600 volumes of Dai-hannyakyo scriptures originated from India by a Chinese monk. People were touching and turning these scriptures believing that they will bring good fortune. There are also 500 Rakan statues along the steps to the temple. Amazingly, these statues have each own unique facial expressions. We also briefly visite the Henjyokutsu cave lit with warm lamps and housing hundreds of Buddhist icons.
The scriptures lined up along the stairs to Daisho-in Temple
Senjokaku (Hokoku Shrine): means The Hall of One Thousand Tatami Mats. It was built in 1587 by the order of Tyotomo Hideyoshi for chanting the Buddhist sutras. Left uncompleted after his death, this shrine has become an auxiliary shrine of Itsukushima shrine.
Five-storied pagoda: Beside the Senjokaku is the Five-storied Pagoda belonging to the Itsukushima shrine as well. The main feature of this pagoda is that the central pillar descending from the top reaches only to the ceiling of the first floor. There are only 5 of this kind in Japan.
The Five-Storied Pagoda
We tried the momiji manju (cake in a maple-leaf shape with bean filling). It is a local delicacy of Hiroshima and in Miyajima, we saw a shop selling these cakes where you can see how these yummy cakes are made. You can buy a piece for only 100 yen.
We went through to same way back to Hiroshima city after our Miyajima tour. After having our okonomiyaki dinner, we headed to the “Hiroshima Dreamination 2009” along Ekimae-dori Avenue. It runs from November 6 to January 3 annually and we were fortunate to see the bright displays and creative illuminations. Around 25 brightly lit exhibits lined up along the avenue free for everyone to see.
One of the exhibits at the Hiroshima Dreamination 2009 (the show of lights has music accompaniment)
2 January 2010
HIROSHIMA CITY.We spent the first half of the day visiting the Peace Memorial Park and Museum(alight at the Genbaku Dome-mae streetcar station). I was amazed by the Museum’s great archiving especially the wristwatch owned by one of the victims of the bombing showing the time stopped at exactly 8:15am, when the atomic bomb hit the city. Another one that really impressed me is the exhibit of a stone stair with the shadow of a sitting person. When the bomb dropped, a man was sitting at those stairs waiting for the building to open.
Some of the exhibits are translated in English but we rented an audio guide featuring a more comprehensive explanation of the atomic bombing (available in different languages) for only 300 yen.
The Peace Park has various peace monuments and peace paraphernalia. The most important ones are the Cenotaph, the Flame of Peace and the Children’s Peace Monument.
The A-Bomb Dome (It was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall prior the bombing. Built in 1915 by a Czech architect, this was the center of the industrial Hiroshima before and now, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, serves a memorial for the people who died during the bombing as well as a reminder for the world to call for peace.)
A Phoenix Tree exposed to the atomic bombing (a miraculous sign of hope for Hiroshima)
After lunch, we headed to the Hiroshima Castle, which is near the Gokoku Shrine. The castle has a great view of the Hiroshima’s river and the rest of the city.
At late afternoon, we took a bus from the Hiroshima Bus Center, a 10-minute walk from the Hiroshima Castle, to Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture. The bus travel time is about an hour and costs 900 yen.
IWAKUNIis an old castle town featuring one of Japan’s top three bridges, theKintai-kyo. What’s unique about this bridge is that it was built in 1673 without a single nail and only bound with clamps and wires. It has survived typhoons and floods until 1950. The bridge today is a similar reconstruction, as stunningly beautiful as before. We crossed the bridge for Kikko-koen, a beautiful landscaped park with a Historical Art Museum (unfortunately it was closed at the time we visited) and White-Snake Research Center. Near the museum, you can also take the cable car up to the Iwakuni Castle. Again, unfortunately, because of the rain, we decided not to go to the Iwakuni castle. But while we were waiting for our bus back to Hiroshima, we were stunned by the castle’s illumination which seems to be floating from the mountains. The night view of the castle is absolutely worth the wait.
Iwakuni Castle at night
Other important tourist spots in Hiroshima which we were not able to visit: Shukkeien Garden, Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum and Mazda Factory.
3 January 2010
OKAYAMA. From Hiroshima, we took the local train to the ancient town of Okayama north of Hiroshima to visit the Okayama Castle and its garden, Korakuen. (TIP: During school holidays, JR offers “juhachikippu” for only 11,500 yen good for 5 people. This is a one-day pass for almost all local trains.) Okayama also has a tramway or streetcar which we took from Okayama Station to Shiroshita station—the station nearest to Okayama Castle. Fares are standardized at 100 yen for adults.
“This castle is usually nickname U-jo or Crow Castle because of the black appearance of the donjon which was actually faced with black weather-boards. It also sometimes called Kin-u-jo or Gold Crow Castle because of its gilded golden top roof.
At the top floor of the Castle, you can get a great view of the Asahi river cutting between the castle and the Korakuen. Korakuen is considered as one of the most famous gardens in Japan mainly because of its beautiful tea houses and Kaiyu design presenting the visitor with a new view ever turn of the path. We’ve visited this garden a few days after the grass burning ceremony making the lawns brownish and the paths a bit dusty. It would be better if one can visit Korakuen during spring.
Okayama has a number of museums we were not able to visit. The Yumeji Art Museum, Okayama Prefectural Museum and Art Museum may be worth the visiting if only we had more time.
Overlooking the Asahi River and Korakuen Park from Okayama Castle
A part of Korakuen park
KOBE.We left Okayama at day fall and caught the train north to Kobe where we spent the night. It was a great time to see the vibrant city of Kobe at night. TheHarborland and Meriken Park show off the beautiful lights of Kobe Port Towerand Kobe Maritime Museum. Our hotel room provided a good view of the Harborland at night.
Kobe at night
January 4, 2010
KOBE and HIMEJI.We started our day early to go to Kobe City Hall. It is a good alternative to Port Tower if you want to get a top view of Kobe City because there’s no entrance. At the 24th floor, there is a small gallery of the different scenes of Kobe City. There is also a restaurant where we had our breakfast while savoring the view of the entire city.
Kobe Port Tower
Then we headed straight to the Ikuta Jinja/Shrine, probably the biggest shrine in the city, but I haven’t confirmed this information. Kobe is a small city (3-km area) so it is actually good for walking if you have time.
Ikuta jinja crowded with Japanese and tourists alike wishing for good fortune this 2010.
We also didn’t miss the Oji Zoo housing the cute pandas, koalas and even a polar bear. We took the train from Sanhomiya Station, the one nearest the Shrine, and alighted at Oji Koen station. The zoo is not too big but because of its rare animals, visitors frequent it.
It was a Monday when we were in Kobe and the Kobe Maritime Museum, one of the important tourist spots of Kobe of which we were not able to go, does not operate on Mondays.
From the zoo, we took a city bus back to our hotel to get our luggage. We decided to go back south to visit the famous Himeji Castle. (TIP: If you are in a hurry, be careful not to take the regular trains, instead check out for the rapid express trains available for the juhachikippu). Unfortunately, the castle was already closed when we arrived. But the night view of the castle compensates for it anyway. (Most castles open around 9-10am and closes at 4-5pm). Though the castle was closed, we were able to get in its surroundings and take beautiful pictures of the castle at night.
Himeji Castle (the most beautiful I’ve seen so far) is the most visited castle in Japan and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site
I think I will go back to Himeji and see the castle again and visit the other interesting points around Himeji like the Himeji City Museum of Art, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History, the Himeji Castle Nishioyashikiato Garden Kokoen, Taiyo Park, Shoshazan Engyoji and Sakurayama.
*most of the pictures are taken by Shashank Somani and Jean Centeno* Shukriya and Salamat! :) To my TravelBuddies, Jean Centeno, Darrel Flores, Prabhat Barnwal and Shashank Somani, thank you for the wonderful experience. Let’s do a 2nd edition of the AMAZING RACE IUJ Team :D