Day 6. I’m not the betting type but I’d say that not one person has visited Hiroshima and not visited it’s Peace Park. That was the first task for Day 6 for Anneliese and my trip ‘around Japan in ten days’. From the moment we first spotted the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku/Atombic Bomb Dome), the tone changed. That building was such a striking visual of the power and ferocity of the Atomic bomb which struck Hiroshima at 8:15am on August 6th, 1945. Not many buildings were left standing within two kilometres of the bomb exploding, but this one partially remained. Many argued that it should be demolished as it was a constant reminder of the devastation of August 6th, but it was decided to be left as a symbol of peace.
That was one of the most touching things about visiting the museum and reading the victims’ stories; despite the heartache of re-facing the past, hundreds of those directly affected had come together in support of the museum, donating hundreds of items or telling their stories in order to help educate the rest of the world on the impact of the atrocities of war, in the hope of inspiring peace.
230000 people died from the blast, with 70-80 thousand dying immediately. Those were the lucky ones. The rest were in for a long, slow death, as the nuclear radiation slowly poisoned their bodies.
It was a very moving experience and I’m glad Anneliese and I took the time to give the monuments and museum the respect it deserves. As I watched the locals continue on their path to work in the new, relocated Hiroshima CBD, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that the majority of them would most likely have been directly impacted by that horrific blast, with friends or family members involved just 60years* ago.
It’s saddening to think that not only has humanity inflicted this sort of pain and terror upon each other in the past, but that we continue to do so today, with wars constantly being fought around the world. When will we learn?!
An emotionally drained pair jumped upon a short train to the coast, then proceeded to jump on a ferry across to the Island of Miyajima (officially, Hatsukaichi). After dropping off bags, we started a two-hour hike/cable car combo up the fabulous, Mount Misen. This was probably my favourite part of the Japan trip; I never associated Japan with beautiful ocean views, so the 360° panoramic views from a mountain upon an island was certainly breathtaking.
We made it down in time for a fish-with-rice and tempura vegetable dinner before watching the sunset over the famous Itsukushima Shrine, partially submerged in the ocean.
Day 7. We woke to the sound of the sea, looking out from our gorgeous ryokan, right on the waterfront. A ryokan is a tradition Japanese accommodation, complete with tatami mats and futons on the floor. They also usually have a public or private onsen facility. This was our first ryokan experience and it was great! This island experience was a welcome breath of fresh air from the hustle and bustle of the big cities we’d zoomed around so far.
Next up was Osaka. Anneliese had read about a cool festival called ‘Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri’, and after scoping it out, I really took the idea under my wing, altering the plan of our trip to make it fit. The internet wasn’t much help (there was hardly anything about it in English), and neither were our Osaka hostel staff who hadn’t even heard of the festival. After seven days of action-packed travelling, a rather tired pair almost gave up on the idea, but thank goodness we didn’t.
It was just as the images had portrayed; 34 giant wooden floats built by neighbouring towns, pulled around winding Kishiwada streets with a select handful of ‘lucky’ men, perched atop. Hundreds of people from each town would pull their float along by ropes, starting with kids appearing to be aged just five and up, with another hundred or so running behind. A talented individual gets chosen to stand on the top, dancing with bright fans before and after the corners. The aim is to make the float turn as aggressively as possible, without the person on the top falling off (there was no safety involved in this). Naturally, there are accidents, with floats hitting buildings, crushing people, or people tripping and getting trampled. In just two hours of action, we saw two people rushed off to hospital, and several more ambulances with sirens blaring. It has been labeled as the Japanese version of the Spanish, ‘running with the bulls’, and for good reason.
There were thousands of people there, but only a handful of westerners. I’m so glad we made the effort, it was an experience I will never forget.
Day 8 saw us head back to Tokyo on our final bullet train. We paid for a nice hotel to finish the trip off, and lay exhausted on our beds for a few hours. After such a jam-packed trip, we needed to unwind. We lay there till dark, ate a good handful of chocolate, then mustered up the energy to get out for dinner. We met Nathan Hart and a couple of his new-found friends at a quirky cocktail bar in Ebisu and were back by midnight.
Day 9. I slept well past breakfast, surfacing at 11. We had planned to check out a Japanese keirin race, but opted for another easier day. The heavens opened and the rain started to tumble down. We couldn’t believe our luck; after all the sight-seeing we had done, we had hardly seen a drop of rain, despite the predicted forecast. It could now unleash and rain as much as it liked!
We shopped for a few hours around Shibuya, easily adding a few extra kilograms to our luggage for the flight home. Simple, yet fabulous sushi for dinner and a chocolate-banana ice cream for dessert!
Day 10: finish with a bang.. literally. Anneliese and I joined up with Nathan for one final adventure to end our trip; Sumo Wrestling. This was a major item on my bucket list, and it didn’t disappoint. Everything seemed to go to plan during our time in Japan, with a Sumo Tournament just happening to be held at the same time as our visit. A popular activity with locals and foreigners alike, this two-week event was completely sold out.
We watched ten rounds of amateurs, followed by ten rounds of professionals, including a traditional ceremony introducing fighters from the East and West. We watched the drawn-out rituals; stomping away spirits, throwing salt to cleanse, smacking the body to instil the warrior, and then the bouts. After such a build up, the fights were intense. Some lasted a mere few seconds, with the exciting ones lasting up to thirty. The battle between size and speed was particularly interesting, with some contenders weighing up to 206kilograms.
It was an amazing experience that I would recommend to anyone visiting Japan.
Anneliese packed her bags and headed off to the airport. I met my good friend and legend of Japanese cycling, coach Kouji Yoshii for dinner.
Whenever I catch up with Yoshii, he does the ordering. His English isn’t perfect, so I often don’t know exactly what I’m eating until it’s too late. This time, I added mantoray to my list of unusual food consumed. It was ok! It was semi-dried and cut into slivers, served with an aioli-type dipping sauce. I was quite relieved when google translate said it wasn’t fish-fins… (are they even edible?!) It was quite chewy with a fishy taste. Not too bad. A seaweed salad, fresh sashimi and an amazing plate of sizzling wagyu slices finished off a great meal in Shibuya.
8:30 appeared and it was time to jump on another train, this one bound for Takasaki in time for my next adventure…!