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Mark's World Tour 2007-08

Day 169: Miyajima and Hiroshima

JAPAN | Tuesday, 22 April 2008 | Views [894]

Torii (gate) of Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

Torii (gate) of Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

Tuesday 22nd April

I was very keen to visit Hiroshima while I was in Japan, and it would make for a very interesting trip for a day or two. Pete and Kumi suggested I also fit in a trip to the island of Miyajima, situated in the bay across from Hiroshima City. I packed an overnight bag and set off at about 10.00, taking the shinkansen to Hiroshima and arriving there by 12.00, a very comfortable journey of about an hour and a half.

First of all, I wanted to book some accommodation for the night in central Hiroshima, so I asked at an information desk located just off the platform, similar to those you find in most busy stations or airports in Japan. A really helpful lady reserved a room for me at a minshuku, a traditional Japanese guesthouse. It cost more than a bed in a hostel dorm room, but I wanted to experience something uniquely Japanese while I was there. The whole booking process was very easy, as usual, and it really takes the hassle out of travelling in Japan. Other countries might learn a thing or two from Japan, as so much consideration is given to tourists that it would really encourage me to come back in the future.

I thought it would be better to use the rest of the day for my visit to Miyajima and leave the sights of Hiroshima to the following day, as I had more than enough time on my hands before I had to be back in Osaka the following afternoon. The train and the ferry out to Miyajima was included in the JR Pass and I was on the island in less than an hour after leaving Hiroshima train station.

The first thing that you notice on approaching Miyajima is the floating tori, a red gateway that was built on the sand and sits in front of the Itsukshima shrine. The tide was out while I was there, but it apparently looks spectacular when it and the other buildings surrounding it are all lit up and enclosed by the sea. I took a walk around the shrine and onwards to an even more impressive temple on the hillside above the shore called Daisho-in. Here, a number of buildings are surrounded by a garden of fountains, statues, and green and red-leaved trees. It was particularly tranquil here, and I was starting to warm to the place.

Another attraction on Miyajima is Mount Misen, which is about 500m in height and towers over the island. You can get a cable car to the top, but it costs about $10 each way and I needed some exercise, so decided to walk up to the summit. Much of the landscape on Miyajima has been designed in order to counter the threat of landslides, by controlling the flow of water and minimising a repeat of serious problems in the past. The gardens may seem overly cultivated or planned, but you cannot deny that they are beautiful places which are intended purely for the use and enjoyment of the general public.

It took about an hour to hit the summit of Mount Misen and I was knackered at the end of the climb; it was my first proper exercise in over a month, since I had cycled around the temples of Angkor in Cambodia a few weeks earlier. However, it was worth it as the panoramic view of the area was outstanding. I spent a good while just looking around me and enjoying the moment and the quietness of the place. My mind turned to the bombing of Hiroshima, and I tried to imagine what it would have been like to witness that piece of history, what it would have been like for the pilots who dropped the bomb, and the horrors that it unleashed on the people below. It was a difficult thing to bring to mind as it felt very serene to me there and then. However, I would get to learn more about that when I arrived in Hiroshima later in the day.

The descent of the hill was much quicker, and I bounded down it. I had thoroughly enjoyed my time in Miyajima and glad that I had decided to make the trip there. I got the boat back to the mainland at 18.15 and then got on the train back to Hiroshima, arriving at around 19.00.

After taking the tram to the centre of town and browsing in a few of the department stores that line the main street, I made a move in the direction of the place I was staying for the night, and I came across Hiroshima's commemoration of the atomic bomb that was dropped in 1945. The 'Peace Memorial Park' is in the middle of town, not surprising as it was the spot over which the atomic bomb was dropped (an area that would maximise the destruction). Some of the larger concrete buildings at this hypocentre were not flattened like most of the structures in Hiroshima at the time, and the 'A-Bomb Dome' has been left standing as a reminder of the event. It is illuminated at night, and the green light that is reflected on to it gives it a very eery feeling. There were a few other people about, but not many, and I immediately had the feeling of being in one of those places where the sense of history is very present.

The Peace Park itself, with its open plan, is a very pleasant place to walk around, and I was glad that I had found it at night as it was quieter, almost deserted, and therefore a whole lot more atmospheric than I would have imagined it to be during the day. I walked onwards to the cenotaph, an arch that frames the 'Flame of Peace' and the 'A-Bomb Dome' in the distance behind it. A young guy on his bicycle pulled up beside me and said a short prayer before sitting down on his own in the calm of the night. It was nice to see, it's good that people still remember the past, as it's probably all too easy to forget as the place moves on with the passing of time.

I got to the minshuku and rested in my room, a basic place with tatami flooring, a futon mattress and bed sheets that I placed on the floor. I bought some food from a local supermarket and watched the football on the TV before getting some sleep.


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