Hiroshima, Miyajima and Kobe
14.04.2012 - 16.04.2012 22 °C
Hiroshima was always going to be on our Japan itinerary for all the obvious reasons. After we had checked in at Hana Hostel (one of the best we've stayed in in Japan) we headed out to the sights.
Hiroshima has numerous monuments, museums and sights commemorating the atomic bombing. We walked the full length of the Peace Boulevard through Hiroshima to the Atomic Bomb Dome. The dome used to be the Industrial Promotion Hall and on 6 August 1945, the atomic bomb exploded almost directly above it. Everyone inside the building was killed, but the building itself was one of the few in the area that was left standing after the explosion. For many years it was discussed what to do with it and as one destroyed building after the other was torn down, it was felt that this should be saved, as a memorial.
The A Bomb Dome
The area around the A Bomb Dome was completely destroyed and is today the Peace Memorial Park (and world heritage site). On the way to the museum, we passed the Children's Peace Monument. There was also a display full of origami cranes sent from children all over the world. It was the young girl Sadako from Hiroshima, who when sick of leukemia, decided to fold 1000 cranes believing that it would help her get well. She died before she could finish, and her class mates finished it in her place.
Children's Peace Monument
Paper cranes made by children all over the world
Peace Memorial Park with the flame of peace, that will only be extinguished once the last nuclear weapon earth has been destroyed
The Peace Memorial Museum was very good and quite overwhelming. It gave a very substantial and comprehensive presentation of events before, during and after the bombing. It covered historical, political and technological aspects, as well as providing gruesome testimonials from during and after the bombing, including photos of victims with horrible burns and melted skins. One story we both had noticed was that of a mother who after the bombing kept going to the bus stop waiting for her daughter to come home. Her daughter never came, but the mother kept going anyway, day after day.
Models of what the epicentre looked like before and after the bombing
Hiroshima was a military centre before the bombing but has now become a strong advocate for peace and nuclear disarmament. The museum showcased an impressive number of Hiroshima conferences and declarations on peace. There were also copies of the letters that the successive mayors of Hiroshima have sent to the ambassadors of countries that have conducted nuclear tests, the mayor always hoping that this will be the last letter of its kind they will ever send. It is impossible to imagine anyone visiting Hiroshima and not leaving fiercely opposed to nuclear weapons.
Copies of letters the Mayor of Hiroshima has sent to ambassadors after their respective countries have conducted nuclear tests
Hiroshima is a surprisingly nice city. It's big but much easier to get around than Tokyo or Osaka and the rivers and greenery makes it a very pleasant place. It's amazing that out of such complete devastation such a pleasant and vibrant city has risen.
Miyajima - one of the three most beautiful places in Japan?
Miyajima is a small island (UNESCO world heritage site...) less than an hour from Hiroshima. It's known for its beauty (somewhere listed as one of the three most beautiful places in Japan) and is one of Japan's biggest tourist attractions. We had been told that we had to go there so off we went, aware that it was Sunday and most likely busy.
Our first and main stop was the Misen, the highest mountain of the island. We decided to walk up rather than taking the ropeway. The ferry and the main town of the island might have been very busy, but the trek up the forest path was surprisingly calm. And steep. When we reached the summit after about 45 minutes we were quite beat! Mind you, the estimated climb time was 90 minutes so we felt pretty pleased with ourselves. Truth be told, we were sick of the crowds and keen to get back to Hiroshima to do some shopping so that spurred us along!
Miyajima is full of deer which are tame
On the way up
The view from the top of the coastline and the dotted island was just amazing and we could definitely see why this place is known for its beauty.
Views from the summit of Misen
On the way down, we had quick look at the temples. In one of them is a flame that has been burning continually since it was lit 1200 years ago. The flame was used to lit the Flame of Peace in Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park.
A very old fire
Once down (and here we took the rope way), we headed to the ferry. First we stopped to have a look at the famous vermilion torii of Itsukushima-jinja. At high tide, which it kind of was when we passed it, it looks like it is floating in the water. It was a running "snap". We had shopping to do. You may have guessed that temple fatigue has become a problem.
The torii of Itsukushima-jinja
After lunch (and our last noodle soup in Japan!) we took the ferry and train back to Hiroshima, after a very pleasant day at Miyajima.
Last day in Japan
We were to take the ferry from Kobe on the Tuesday and had plenty of time to get there from Hiroshima, given that it only was two hours with the Shinkhansen. We therefore decided to stop in Imbe, known for nothing but pottery. We arrived in a very small and, by all accounts, dull town. We had a look in a number of pottery shops. The Imbe pottery is beautiful with very earthy, dark tones. It was soon clear, however, that the prices were way above our budget.
In one nice pottery shop, the owner offered us to have a look at the kiln used to make pottery - quite an impressive device!
Beautifully set out pottery shops but with prices way above our backpacker budget
Trying to find lunch, everything turned out to be closed. Luckily, the always reliable FamilyMart was open, so we got some sandwiches there before getting back on the train.
When in Kobe...
Apart from catching the ferry to Shanghai, we had only one thing planned in Kobe - tasting the Kobe beef. We asked at our hostel for a recommendation and were told to go to Mouriya. It was supposed to be a good place but, said the girl in the reception, very expensive. We decided to interpret that as "reassuringly" expensive.
After having found Mouriya, which turned to be a Russian cryllic spelling - not sure why - we were seated and shown the menu. Of course the prices outside the restaurant turned out to be prices, not for Kobe beef, but for something that was "almost as good". Having come this far though, we decided that it was worth paying the extra for the real thing, thinking that the food better be good.
We had been allocated seats around the cooking area and next we were allocated our own chef! We were delighted when it turned out that he spoke some English. He started by frying slices of garlic and while they were frying, carefully organising our plates, putting salt, pepper and wasabi on them.
The fun has begun! The cooking started with garlic
Plates with Wasabi, pepper and salt
While he was cooking, we got our hors d'oeuvres (a tuna and avocado mix), and starter (soup). Next, our pieces of meat were presented to us - one sirloin and one rib steak. We couldn't but approve and indicate to the chef how we wanted them prepared (rare! He seemed to approve).
Our Kobe beef
Our assumption that this would be the first time we'd eat with a knife and fork in Japan turned out to be wrong. Instead the chef chopped up the beef in pieces and we could continue eating with chopsticks. Depending on what type and part of the beef it was, he gave us advice on what seasoning to use: "This is good with salt - just a little piece of salt", "Try this with wasabi!", "This one with garlic and a little salt!". Our favourite by far was to eat the meat with the crispy garlic. He also cooked some potato, a Japanese root vegetable which reminded us of turnip, bamboo shoots and aubergine. These were also given to us a few at the time, with advice on what sauce to use with the respective vegetables.
There was a "the world is small moment" at the restaurant too. There were three men having dinner there at the same time and it turned out they were here on business. A French, Spanish and American guy, they were all living in Qatar, working for the Qatar Public Museums. When hearing we were from Brussels and that Grant was doing competition law, the Spanish guy mentioned that the only person he knew in Brussels was a competition lawyer. That guy turned out to be in Grant's cycling group. What are the chances?
It was a really excellent meal and much more of an experience than we had expected. By far the most expensive meal we've had in Japan but again, when in Kobe...
After dinner, we headed to the supermarket to stock up on supplies for our 50 hours cruise to Shanghai. New adventures beckoned...
Lastly, our hostel in Kobe gave us the answer to a question that has been haunting us ever since we arrived in Japan...