Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My Trip: Miyajima & Peace Park

I woke up early (8.30am) for one of the World Friendship Centre's amazing breakfasts that I described in my last post.

It was huge and I was really full at the end of it. I felt very rested because I'd slept very well. I asked Kent and Sarah, the volunteer owners of the WFC, when high and low tide were, so I could go to Miyajima island to see the best view of the famous 'floating gate'.

On the day I went, high tide was at 8.45am and 10pm, and low tide was 3am and 3pm. I arrived at 11.30, and I was just in time to see the water still around the gate, but it was receeding rapidly. To see the water covering the actual Shrine's base you need to go at the proper high tide. You can check the predictions for the high and low tides here, but remember that it's not 100% accurate.

I left the hotel at about 10am, and took the Number 2 tram, which runs from Hiroshima station (広島駅) to Miyajima-guchi (宮島口). I bought a day pass for just Y850, which includes unlimited rides on trams in the city, and the ferry to Miyajima and back. It's definitely worth getting this. When you get on the tram, you can just point to the ticket if you have an information guide about it.

You pay for your trip when you get off, and when you get on for a journey within the city you don't have to do anything. The rate for going anywhere within the city zone is Y150 but if you go further, to Miyajima for example, then it will cost more. Without a tram day pass, it costs Y350 to get to Miyajima-guchi station. You can just drop your money into the slot near the exit door as you leave. There are older trams, where the doors aren't manned, called 'One Man' (ワンマン) trams, and newer ones where someone is standing halfway down the tram. You can ask them for help if you need it. If you don't have the right change, both types of tram have a change machine installed, usually at the back or front, or both.

The trip down to Miyajima-guchi took about 40 minutes from the World Friendship Centre. It takes 1 hour from JR Hiroshima station. Then there are two types of ferry you can take. I actually took the wrong one, the JR ferry. You can buy a day pass which includes the JR train journey and ferry, or the tram and ferry. I didn't know this so bought a tram day pass and then got on the JR ferry. But it was too late once I was on the island, and they let me through the ticket gate. JR Rail Pass users should use the JR ferry.

The ferry wasn't very busy and I had a great view of the island as we approached. The whole journey takes about 12 minutes, and they take you very close to the floating Shrine so you can see it well.

There it is!
Miyajima (宮島) means 'Shrine Island' and this is its common name, but its proper name is Itsukushima (厳島). It was named after the island's famous Shrine, Itsukushima-jinja (厳島神社).

Itsukushima Shrine is one of Japan's three most scenic spots, and has been immortalised in countless guidebooks and travel guides, but that doesn't mean that I can't take a few of my own!

In case you are interested, the other two most scenic spots are northern Kyoto prefecture's sand spit at Amano-hashidate, and the islands of Matsushima near Sendai, north of Tokyo.

It costs Y300 to enter the Shrine, and the actual Shrine area (below) is nice, but the thing you come to see is definitely the floating torii (Shinto gate). Because the island is sacred (and I've read before that no one is allowed to be born or die on the island), commoners used to have to enter the Shrine by boat through the gate to go to the Shrine. Itsukushima Shrine was built on the water so people didn't have to actually set foot on ground.

This video shows the Shrine when the tide is still covering the torii's base.

But the water receeded quite quickly.

While I waited for the tide to go out far enough so I could walk up to the torii, I went into the Shrine area.

Taking photos of yourself with famous sights is difficult! The hardest part is trying to smile, but I was actually happy! Honest.

One of the nicest things about Miyajima is the wildlife. There are lots of wild deer in the area, and even monkeys in the hills!

I'm not sure what this deer was after, but the guy behind the window was just ignoring it!

Then I went for a wander through the town, and bought lunch. At one point, one brave deer marched straight up to me and bit my jumper, which was tied round my waist, it didn't let go for a few seconds, but eventually it decided that it wasn't very tasty. There was no damage to my clothes, thankfully!

By 1pm, the tide was far enough out for people to walk up to the torii. Surprisingly, the ground wasn't too wet and it was easy to walk on. I do recommend waterproof shoes though as there's lots of slippery seaweed and deep pools left behind by the sea.

Hopefully the people in these photos can give you an idea of scale. The gate is 16m high and is very impressive up close.

I put Y10 in the left main pillar (left from the island) for good luck. The traditional coin to put in is Y5 because the pronunciation is 'goen', the same as 'Good luck', but I didn't have any Y5 coins. The photo isn't very clear but it's a close up of the coin stuck inside the wood.

Why does my hand look so fat here? I've lost weight in Japan!

The Shrine was lovely, but I had a full day planned and I had to explore more of the island, so I made my slippy way back to shore and headed further inland.

The tallest mountain on Miyajima is Mt Misen, at about 530m above sea level. You can hike up to the summit, or take a cable car (also called a ropeway). It was so hot that day, and I had time restrictions, so I decided to take the cable car.
There's a free shuttle bus from near a temple called Daisho-in (大書院) to the cable car terminal. The journey to the top is in two parts. The first car operates from 9am til 5pm and is on a continuous loop so you don't have to wait long. The second only has two cars, and runs every 15 minutes throughout the day. The first car to run on the second section is at 9am and the last to leave for the top is at 5.15pm, and the last to come back is 5.30pm.
You can buy tickets from the cable car terminal or a shop near the shuttle bus stop. One way is Y1,000, and then you hike back down, or return is Y1,800.
The first car is very small! I had to bend double to actually get in, but thankfully I was by myself. The view was great but the car was quite claustrophobic. It only takes 10 minutes to get to the transfer station halfway up.
I waited for the second car for about 10 minutes, watching people bat away bugs of various sizes and descriptions. A large hornet caused a lot of distress!
Once I got to the top, I saw lots and lots of warnings about monkeys. There are lockers to put your things in so the monkeys can't mug you.
The cable car takes you to a point that's quite high, but it's not the summit. I debated the hike up to the top, but in the end I decided to do it. Foolishly, I left my water bottle in my bag so I did the 25 minutes uphill walk without sustenance!
I passed hordes of monkeys on the way up, which was very nice, but I kept my distance!

With the price of drinks at the occassional vending machine going up by Y50 every time, I decided I could wait til I got to the top, but it was really hot and humid heading up the path. If you do attempt it in summer, take lots of water with you!
Around 5 minutes from the top, there is a temple devoted to Kobo Daishi, a priest who trained on the mountain for years and years. The story goes that he lit the fire under this pot 1,200 years ago and it's still burning now. This fire was used to light the flame in Hiroshima's Peace Park.

After seeing that, I trundled on up to the top.

And what a great view of the Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海, Setou nai kai)!

The island in the very far distance is Shikoku (四国), Japan's smallest main island.

On my way back down to the cable car station, I met a Canadian family that I was staying with at the World Friendship Centre. I had actually bumped into them that morning in Hiroshima too. They asked me for directions, and said they were planning to hike back down.

I took the 4.15pm car back down but I couldn't find the ticket I had bought for the cable car. But as I was searching my pockets, the guard saw the tram day pass I'd bought and said it was okay and let me through. He must have thought it was the 2-day pass you can buy which includes a return journey on the cable car, tram and ferry.

The second cable car operator sent me down in a car by myself, even though there was a queue. I guess this is because I'm a heavy gaijin and I might have upset the car's balance!

Once I got back to the shuttle bus stop by the cable car terminal, I sat down and waited for the next one. The driver, on his break, came and sat next to me and asked me some questions in Japanese. Thankfully, I understood and we had a conversation.

He said, about my Japanese: "Umai desu. Kotoba ga kirei desu." (It's great. Your words are pretty.) I replied, somewhat disbelievingly: "Hontou ni?" (Really?)

After the bus dropped me in the town, I walked back to the ferry terminal. I found this 'giant wooden ladle', as it says on the town map, I took a photo of it because my Chinese housemate showed me his photos of Miyajima and said that I should take one of this spoon too.

I passed the floating torii and Shrine again, and I wished I could see it at night because I've seen some lovely photos of it all lit up, but I had to get back to Hiroshima. I guess it would have been back in water at about 6pm that day.

The two ferry companies operate trips about four times an hour in the middle of the day. The JR ferries start at 5.45am, and finish at 10.15pm. The other company starts later and finishes earlier.

I took the ferry back to Miyajima-guchi, and then the tram to Genbaku doomu mae (原爆ドーム前, A-bomb dome). This was all included in my tram day pass.

When I was standing in front of the Dome, I had such a powerful mixture of emotions. Later, on the phone to my Mum, I couldn't even describe how I felt.

I was sad, and angry. And I didn't want to take photos of it.

I can remember wondering how people can pass it everyday on their way to work. It would be too sad for me.

The Peace Park was prettier, but just as powerful.

This is the flame that won't be extinguished until all nuclear weapons have been destroyed. I don't mean to sound pessimistic, but I think it will be a long time before they put that fire out.
This cenotaph commemorates all the victims of the atomic bomb. In total, the number of victims is somewhere around 140,000 people, but no one is sure of the exact figure. That's the same amount of people who died in the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake in Tokyo.

This monument to all the children who died in the attack was particularly powerful. It tells the story of a girl called Sadoko, who survived the blast when she was a very young girl, but developed leukaemia at 10 years old as a result of radiation exposure. Japanese folklore says that if you can fold 1,000 paper cranes, then your wish will come true. So she folded cranes every day, some were so small she had to make them with a needle.

But, before she could finish, she died. Her classmates finished the task for her, and the story spread across Japan. Now, strings of paper cranes are kept on display around the monument from all over Japan, and the world. There is a box there where you can donate your cranes, and give information about yourself, and how many cranes you've given, and why etc. The video below these photos shows how many cranes there are already.

Continuing through the Park, I found a monument remembering all the Korean victims of the bomb. 1 out of 10 victims were Koreans forced to work as slaves in factories in and around Hiroshima.

And this last place I saw was very emotional too. In this mound there are the ashes of 70,000 unidentifiable bodies.

By the time I headed back to the World Friendship Centre, it was dark and the A-bomb Dome was lit up. It was quite creepy and eerie in the darkness.

Rubble surrounded the building, just like it did on the morning of August 6th 1945 at 8.15am, when the bomb exploded 600m above, and 160m south-east of this building, preserving the skeleton of the structure, but incinerating everything, and everyone, inside.

I got back to the hotel at 9pm and happened to find the Hawaiian girl I went for a walk with the previous night outside.

She asked if I wanted to go and see some of Hiroshima's nightlife, and I thought, I might never come here again, so I went with her. We walked to the city centre and found a very relaxed bar/ restaurant place. There, I went crazy and bought a Diet Coke and chocolate brownie.

We met an American English teacher who lives and works in Hiroshima, so I asked how it was working in a medium-sized city. He said Tokyo was too much for him, but Hiroshima was a good size. He did say that people here weren't very keen on Americans though, and after my afternoon, I could kind of understand why people here might dislike any white people.

We chatted there until gone midnight, and then I decided I really had to get back, as I had yet another busy day to come. The Hawaiian girl and I started to walk back, but halfway she decided to go and meet that guy again, so I walked the rest of the way by myself.

Because it was dark and everything looked different, I lost my way and had to ask someone for directions. He pointed me in the right direction and I headed off, but then he caught up with me and said he wasn't quite sure if he was right. He didn't speak much English so our conversation was in Japanese.

Even once I knew my way, he insisted on coming all the way to the hotel with me. I don't know how far it was from his home, but he was very kind to come with me and make sure that I was safe.

Despite the language barrier, we managed to have a good conversation, and he told me a little about living in Hiroshima.

Once I was back in my room, I had a quick shower and then settled down into bed. But I didn't sleep very well. It was so hot and humid that if two parts of my body touched for a while, they both became drenched in sweat. The worst part was the inside of my elbow.

It was a mixed day. There was the wonder and beauty of Miyajima, and the power and sadness of the Peace Park.

One thing was sure - it was unforgettable.


Jamie said...

sounds like your japanese is really coming along =]

are you looking forward to returning home / going to uni?

glad to see you're making the most of your time left in Japan! you're so lucky!

Miles said...

Hi Jamie!

I am looking forward to going home, but the happiness is mixed with the sadness of leaving so it will be a bittersweet experience I think.

As for Uni, I'm definitely looking forward to improving my language skill, because there's so much I want to know but can't find out by myself. So that environment will be great for me.

Less than two weeks left now! I know that's nothing so I will try to keep busy and do everything I want to.

Thanks for still reading :D


Skuzby said...

you took a pic of monkey sex


the pics and vids of the deer are AMAZING

cya soon!


Titichu said...

Hey sounds like your little vacations are going well. That's great. Very nice pictures, and I can relate about the smiling pose when you want to take a picture of yourself...I never quite managed to make a happy face on those kinds of pictures XD. Have fun for the rest of you stay. I you have some times left, let's have a drink before you leave. Cheers.

Korega said...

I think you misunderstood what the Hawaiian girl really wanted, but that's ok. However, I can state, with conviction that my fellow American got lucky that night.....if you catch my drift.

It could have been your night!