Tag Archives: hiroshima

Lost In Japan: Day 5 – Hiroshima to Kyoto

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

I was sad to leave Hiroshima. Although I was only there for 3 full days I had really fallend for Japan’s 10th largest city (10th largest yet still has over 1 million residents, as a Brit this astounds me). It’s been the perfect host for the first leg of my honeymoon, as has the Sheraton Hiroshima.

List item: Ride in a high-speed train
Status: Completed

I know that since seeing one of these on Blue Peter many years ago I have always wanted to ride on a Japanese bullet train. By the time I leave Japan I may have been on seven different trains (including two return journeys).

In order to get to Kyoto from Hiroshima (using our JR Pass) we needed to make a change at Osaka. In retrospect, I wish that we had time to spend in Osaka since it does have some gorgeous sites. Looks like I have another reason to return to Japan!

I can not emphasise enough just how luxurious the bullet train between Hiroshima and Osaka felt on the inside (better than Osaka to Kyoto, but that train was still jolly nice). The seating alone feels like British first class. All the seats recline, there are neat foldaway cup holders and coat hooks. Each pair of seats comes with its own power socket. Needless to say, the cumulative two hours between Hiroshima and Kyoto just flew by whilst I stared at the scenery.

That is, apart from we broke open the ekiben! Now, the ekiben are something that hubby really wanted to get whilst we were in a Japan, and boy are there a whole mess of choices. The big one is his, I had some real ekiben-envy when he opened up his official Hiroshima Carp (local baseball team) ekiben up. In the end though, that would have been way too much food. My box, aka the smaller one, really filled me up (it had chicken, rice, red cabbage and something that I assumed was puréed Japanese yam salad). It’s actually quite amazing at how good the quality of the food in the box lunches was.

We arrived at about 14:00. The differences between Kyoto and Hiroshima became evident by the time we got to the hotel room. Firstly, the smell if different. When you are in Hiroshima the air feels just that bit fresher because of all the rivers. Then there is the pace, Kyoto is a lot faster and a bit more impatient than Hiroshima. Where previously I would rarely see someone cross a street without a green man being shown, here I have already seen it a number of times. However, the most profound difference is age – the population of Kyoto feel a lot younger.

We freshen ourselves up at our hotel room, which is done in a more traditional style with tatami flooring, a futon and sliding windows. I mean sure it’s all capped off with a toilet that warms up the seat and a scary looking shower, but the thought was there.

By the time we left the hotel it was nearly 16:30 and I was getting hungry. Luckily, since I have done some research, I had a place in mind. It meant heading back to Kyoto main station (some 30 minutes away from where we were staying in Shijo), so,etching I was more than happy to walk seeing how I’d spent two hours sitting down on trains.

As we got close to the station we suddenly see a massive temple complex come into view – the Higashi Honganji. Sadly a lot of it was under renovation works (which will be done by the time this blog post goes up. According to a sign in the main temple, this is the largest wooden building in the world. It is also one that demands that you take your shows off in order to enter the temple… which is fine if I hadn’t chosen today as a day to wear my pink ‘raveasaurus’ dinosaur socks.

It was pretty spectacular on the inside. I grabbed a few photos and then had a guard rushing towards me gesturing that no photos were allowed. I suddenly became very aware of my pink dinosaur socks and that I had not seen any signs saying not to take photos. We scarpered pretty quickly because I became all British and felt rather embarrassed.

Soon we arrived back at the mammoth building that houses Kyoto railway station. Since we previously went straight to the subway I hadn’t been able to take it all in, but with over 11 floors in some places, it is huge. The restaurant that I wanted to get to was on floor 10, which meant riding up a fleet of escalators and appreciating the cool light up steps on the way.

 List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Kobe beef

There are six main foods that I wanted to get whilst in Japan. This is second one achieved after Hiroshima oysters and Kyoho grapes. A Kobe beef burger. Easily one of the best burgers I have had in my life. When you bite into it a lot of fat just oozes out, something to be expected since Kobe beef is highly marbled. The thing with the beef having such rich marbling is that as you bite into it the burger just seems to melt in your mouth. I don’t think that is a mouthfeel that I had ever quite had before, but I wish we had ordered a second one each. We didn’t order anything with it, so we were still hungry.

Before going on the hunt for more food we roamed the station a bit more and found our way to the Skyway walk which gave us some amazing views of Kyoto being lit up at night. Especially Kyoto Tower, which just dominates the skyline.

We went into the department store located in Kyoto station in order to scout for an extra snack. Since it was getting late a lot of the food was getting discounted and there was a lot of hubbub as differs stalls tried to get rid of their wares. Poor hubby was getting a bit overwhelmed by all the shouting and the choice so we just got three random croquettes (turned out to be one kelp, one shrimp and one that was chicken, ham and cheese) and some other things.

I am trying not to be too western with my food choices out here (Pepsi Ghost is just too good for me to not have), but we both really fancied ice cream after the burger. The Baskin Robbins on the way home was a god send with it’s ‘Trick or Ice Cream’ which was with dark chocolate chips and an orange syrup that I guess is meant to be pumpkin. It’s amazing how much you can get in a store with smiling, pointing, nodding and quantitative hand gestures.
Food item: Shizuoka Melon

Now, this melon is the fourth of the six foods I really wanted to find. In order to get a whole one I have seen prices ranging from 1800¥ to nearly 5500¥. If you ever play a Japanese computer game with a melon featured you will know what it looks like, perfectly round with a neat stem cut to form a capital ‘t’. This is a melon they people gift each other, I’m guessing more as a ‘get well soon’ or housewarming gift rather than at a child’s birthday party.

The fact that we were able to find some pre-cubed that been discounted down to 390¥ just blew my mind. This saved me quite a bit of souvenir money! As we opened the plastic box the smell of the melon just hit us. It has such a strong fragrance of, well, melon. Taste wise… I was hoping to be able to slander it, but it was just too delicious to even start. Think of a regular melon from a supermarket. Now take that essence of melon flavour and remove all the watering down that regular melons have. Slightly honey the flavour and then at is what you have. It made me annoyed that all melons are not like this.

Progress: 748/933

Tomorrow is our first full day in Kyoto. We are not here for long so we are going to make it count.

Lost In Japan: Day 3 – Futabanosato Walking Trail & My First Japanese Sushi

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Today we decided to embark on the Futabanosato Walking Trail that hubby found online. It’s a guided walk through the north of Hiroshima which touches on a number of the historical shrines and temples. In total there are 16 stops along the way, with one that is not all religious in nature.

Now, in order to get to the first stage of the walk, Fudoin Temple, meant a 5.5km walk. We probably could have taken the bus, but you know how it is with being cocky about carrying out walks like these. We picked up some onigiri (rice balls) and bottles of Pepsi Ghost. We thought this would be regular Pepsi, but it turns out that it’s a limited edition mystery flavour. I saw someone on the web saying that this was pumpkin… but I’d have to hitch my wagon to it being almond or marzipan flavoured.

After about an hour we finally made it to the first stop: Fudoin Temple. This is the first Buddhist temple that I have ever been to, and is one of seven on the walk. I have to say that it was a beautiful temple to start off with. One that I have to say overshadowed the next temple on the walk: the Nittsu-ji Temple. I don’t think it helps that the front of the second temple was a bog standard car park. I am going to skip over Stop 3, mainly because it was closed despite the guide saying it was open on Fridays. Oh well.

2km later we were at a really gorgeous little shrine (Ikari Shrine) that was tucked away amongst the more citified buildings. Despite the fact we had just walked off of street with plenty of cards the setting felt serene. Maybe it was all the hanging lanterns and flags. Maybe it’s was the fact that it was seemingly deserted, but it was just peaceful.

A few shrines later we got to the Anraku-ji Temple, the last site on the walk to be far enough away from the hypocentre of the nuclear blast to have not been completely destroyed. It was affected, with the main building now being slightly off kilter, but it did not affect the ginko tree that pierced the roof of the entrance gate. With this and yesterday’s ginko tree, it’s obvious how resilient these are.

Straight after this came the Nigitsu Shrine, with one of the largest tori that I have ever seen. Or, apparently am likely to see. This is clearly a rather important shrine not only due to its size, but also that it was the first of three shrines on the route to have its own rubber souvenir stamp.

By the time we got to stop 10 on this walk the sun was at its height. We also found ourselves without much in the way of shade. Long story short I could tell that I was burning badly from all the sunlight so we had to head back to the hotel (luckily by this point it was less than a kilometre away) until the sun was a bit less intense,

At 3pm we ventured out again and went for the Kinko Inari Shrine. Of all the shrines that was saw today it is this one that will probably stay with me forever. In order to move from the outer shrine to the inner shrine you need to climb up 500 steep stone steps and through 100 tori. There were a lot of smaller shrines along the way, but the main reason we went up here was because the map said that after climbing to the top of this we would be able to climb up further to the Peace Pagoda at the top of Mt Futaba.

My thighs were burning and I was drenched with sweat as we reached the inner shrine, which gave us some gorgeous views… but we could see no path to the pagoda! We scrambled around some of the offshoots only to come to other small shrines. It seemed like we wouldn’t be able to reach the pagoda because there was no way I would be able to do that walk again.

After memorising some of the characters for the peace pagoda as “two lines, some thing, window’ we saw a sign on the floor pointing towards some crude stone steps and clearing near the top. I just went for it and, would you know, we found the Peace Pagoda.

List item: Climb a mountain
Progress: Completed

Okay, this was a small mountain, but it is by definition a mountain. So I am counting Mount Futaba as a mountain that I was able to climb. It was such a good feeling to be at the top that I started to forget just how painful my legs were.

After that victory we breezed through the remaining shrines and temples apart from the the final one (Saizo-ji temple) which was closed by the time we reached it.

On the way back we bought some celebratory corn dogs from a 7-11 and got ourselves cleaner for dinner (after we purchased a Japan-exclusive Kirby game and a blue Wooly Yoshi Amiibo from Edion).

The previous day we walked passed a converter belt sushi restaurant and we decided to give it a go tonight. We could order food using a tablet and an English menu! And overall this was easily one of the best sushi meals I have ever had, and it was so much cheaper than back in the UK too! Aside from the more regular things like grilled eel and fried shrimp there was a wealth of list items that I found here (although sashimi would have been an easy one to do here I decided to wait on it for now).

 List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

Food item: Sea Urchin

I regretted not getting this in Catania when I had the chance, so this was one for me to jump on. Since we were not too sure how it would taste we found a dish that combined it with squid. The sea urchin was very soft and delicate. It kinda looked like a mushy orange tongue amongst the squid. To be honest, it didn’t taste of much. Pretty much tasted of the sea.

Food item: Salmon roe

Hubby said this of salmon roe, “you don’t expect something to taste of what laid it.” Very true words here from these orange sea water bath beads. They are very large and have a satisfying burst in the mouth when eaten. It’s true what he said about them tasting slightly of salmon. It was pretty unnerving to be honest.

Food item: Kazunoko

More fish eggs, in this case it was preserved herring eggs. It looks gorgeous sitting there. It actually looks like someone has chosen to make a piece of chicken egg omelette out of yellow glass beads. Due to the preservation it was pretty firm. In terms of taste it is one of those things where subtlety and texture reign supreme. It was very chewy and, unlike, the salmon roe, there was no sudden burst of flavour. It took a while to unfurl.

Food item: Mantis Shrimp

I have been really seeking these out since I first saw them on the list. It hadn’t occurred to me that these would be things we might see in Japan. It was weird seeing them prepared for sushi. I mean, if you look up pictures of them on Google you will see that they are gorgeous. If you read up on them, you will see that they are deadly punching machines. In any case we snagged the last two of these (yus!) and promptly munched down. They were like normal prawns, but meatier and a bit stringy. They were good!

Food items: Hiramasa Kingfish and Japanese yam (no photo)

This was the last thing that we ate in the evening, and it probably had the least flavour. It was like a mild tuna with some squid like features thrown in, but nothing particular special there. Still, it had one hell of a cool name. Also, earlier in the meal, we had a tuna and yam roll. The yam (no photo, because I didn’t realise until later that Japanese yam was on the food list) was nice enough, but it didn’t taste like anything special.

Progress: 742/933

With sushi done it was back to the hotel via Asse where we bought some late night blogging provisions (aka snacks).

By the time we got into the elevator up to the hotel I could see extent of the sunburn that I had accumulated over the day. So an ice cold bath and lots of moisturising lotion it is. Ugh why do I never learn.

So here I am finishing the day with another bottle of Pepsi Ghost, some chocolate covered macadamia nuts, lotion slathered over my sunburnt neck and feet throbbing from walking 31,000 steps. It’s been a good day.

Lost In Japan: Day 2 – Hiroshima Castle & Atomic Peace Park

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Over 20,000 steps walking today! So my feet are throbbing as I type this out. I am also munching some local grapes, but more on those in a bit.

Big thing is, we appear to have completely beaten jet lag! We ended up sleeping about 11 hours, but that was clearly what we needed. So we left the hotel at around 10 headed for Hiroshima Peace Park and adventures beyond…

…well that was the idea. We got to one of the many bridges of Hiroshima (since it is built on a delta) and brought out our map in order to confirm that we were taking the right route. Then this old Japanese man comes over, obviously thinking we are lost, and offers to give us directions. Now, hubby got the wrong end of the stick and pointed to Hiroshima Castle.

In Britain if someone comes up to you and offered to give you directions… which is never, but if they did it could be a quick point in the general direction and then an exchange get of thanks. We are, however, in Japan. He lead us across the bridge (he couldn’t walk too fast bless him) and then pointed us in the right direction. I know he was heading in that direction anyway, but talk about being ultra helpful!

So, Hiroshima Castle it was. Well, the reconstruction of the castle anyway since it was flattened with the dropping of the atomic bomb like pretty much everything else in Hiroshima.

What we saw was built about 50 years ago and is exactly how it used to be, which is impressive. The complex itself was really large. At one stage the complex was one of the largest in Japan, which really must have been a sight to see.

It also has a Shinto temple within the complex, so we paid to have a fortune from the box. They know their tourists, so we grabbed an English one each, and then some drinks from some of the numerous vending machines in Hiroshima.

Time for a big lunch and we visited one of the MANY shopping buildings in the city. After admiring a lot of fake food we settled for a place on the 8 floor called Chibo. and I have to say that the food was gorgeous and we managed to get a really filling 5 dish sharing meal for us.

 List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

Food items: Yakisoba, Kisoba Noodles, Bonito flakes, Katsuobushi, Okonomiyaki

The highlights of this meal (although the pork potstickers were gorgeous) was the mixed yakisoba and the Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki. With the first one, I have had yakisoba at home before, but I don’t know if it’s the fact that it was cooked fresh (almost in front of us) or if it was the local ingredients, but this was the best one that I have ever had. The sauce probably helping out there.

The okonomiyaki was just impressive to look at. I am not sure what makes this is particularly Hiroshima one, maybe it’s the types of filling, but I think that any other ones that we eat may have a tough act to follow. The sweet soy sauce and mayonnaise topping alone was lipsmackingly gorgeous, but with a wealth of noodles, spring onions, cabbage, seafood and pork inside it was never going to be bad.

Both dishes also gave me the chance to try bonito flakes/grated katsuobushi, which flailed about on the heat of the teppenyaki like they were still alive somehow. They gave the dishes a very strong umami flavour that I appreciated more and more as I ate.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 45/100
Sight: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
Position: #50

It was Peace Park time after lunch. Just staring at the A-Dome brought a lump to my throat. I mean it is one thing seeing documentaries about the dropping of the atomic bomb, but it is another thing to be presented with the destruction it wrought. Not on,y is it standing in memory of those that died, but geographically it marks a point between the newer high rise buildings and a large expanse of green.

The park itself was incredibly peace focused with a peace flame, a peace pond and many different monuments to the dead. Peaceful… aside from the numerous groups of school children there on visits. They were perfectly behaved, but all of them seemed to have the task of the day to practice their English on tourists. Being the 6’3″ redhead that I am we got a lot of them.

(hubby with his new fan club)

I think we ended up being asked questions by 7 different groups of students of varying ages, and had our photos taken with half of them (managed to get a shot of hubby with a group of them). It was incredibly sweet and we were more than happy to help them practice their English. By the end we did start to notice when they had spotted us and got ready to make a good impression of the English and Dutch people for these young Japanese people.

So friendly were we that we ended up in a conversation about peace with two middle-aged Japanese women… only for them to turn out to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. We only found this towards the end when they asked me to read a verse from the bible using the JW.org app on their tablet. They seemed so happy that we both knew the Bible and that we had chosen to visit Hiroshima first on our tour of Japan that it seemed cruel to mention that we were married gay atheists. So I read the bible verse and let the conversation reach it’s natural conclusion.

After the Peace Park it was a long walk across town to reach another park, Shukkeien Park. Now this was beautiful in a number of different ways. Not just because it contains a ginko nut tree that actually survived the nuclear blast (wow!), but just in how everything was organised. If we had gotten their earlier we could have watched a traditional tea ceremony.

Still, there were enough to koi carp, bridges and general plant gorgeousness to keep us walking around until it closed at 5.

We continued to walk around Hiroshima for three more hours before settling in for some dinner. We took in a round of the new Pokémon fighting game (which is excellent), browsed a number of stores and made some two blog food related purchases before dinner in the food court of one of the many large stores.

Food item: Marron Glacé

Now, after many unsuccessful runs the previous Christmas, I found cheap Marron glacé. The only caveat being that they were broken. Still, how can these be cheaper here! Having had them, I am now glad that I didn’t fork out a lot of money on the. I mean they are nice enough and they rather sweet, but if you have had chestnuts before there is no real surprise. They have the same nutty taste and chalky texture, it’s just that they are a whole lot sweeter.

Food item: Kyoho grapes

Something very Japan specific here. Coming out here I made a list of food to look out for, and this is one of the big three that I am trying to hunt down. These do not taste like the grapes I have had back in the UK. In fact, they taste more like the grapes that I imagine grape flavoured sweets are based on. Just without that  artificially sweet taste. The best thing about them is how they slip right out of their skin when you eat them.

On the first taste I wasn’t too sure about them since they taste so different to what I am used to. Now? We easily finished the bunch between us.

Progress: 736/933

Lost In Japan: Day 1 – Getting to Hiroshima

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Is this actually day one? I don’t know anymore. In order to get from the flat to the hotel in Hiroshima there were six different legs to the journey (2 by plane, 2 by bus, 1 by train and 1 by metro) which added up to 21 hours of travel time before I plonked myself on the mattress here in the Sheraton Hiroshima.

So okay, this is really 2 days, but apart from a few naps this has pretty been one continuous day.

Aside from watching Inside Out and Back to the Future and listening to three albums worth of Sigur Ros on the flight between Heathrow and Tokyo Haneda the journey to Japan was not too eventful. It was hubby’s first long-haul flight and, due to my insistence of seeing the shrine at Miyajima, a connecting flight to Hiroshima was needed.

List Item: Watch a Sunrise
Status: Completed

We did, however, watch the sunrise together. It was spectacular.

I know it is a stereotype that all westerners know, but I have to say that, upon landing in Tokyo, I was amazed at the number of employees bowing at us as we made our way through the airport. Also, just how incredibly helpful all the staff we have encountered so far have been.

IMG_2007

Case in point is this photo of Mt Fuji. I took it from the flight between Tokyo and Hiroshima. Being the only white people on this flight we horrendously stood out as tourists. I mean as a 6’3″ man with red hair and a tyre around the waist I am used to stand out in a crowd, but it is rather homogeneous here so I just plain stand out. Anyway, this is a roundabout way of explaining how a stewardess on the flight came over to us on the flight and showed us to an empty row of seats on the other side of the plane. Now, it doesn’t happen often that my breath is taken from me, but this is one of the times. The picture can not do justice to what I saw.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Acerola

Also, on the flight I managed through sheer luck to grab a sweet that was flavoured with a list fruit. At first I assumed that acerola was just the romanisation for the Japanese word for cherry. It would make sense since this tasted like a sweetened sour cherry. However, it turns out that this fruit flavour was something different.

Fast forwarding now to after we woke up from a much needed two hour nap in our hotel. We start to explore Hiroshima. The sheer number of vending machines and 7-elevens surprise me. What surprises me more is how cheap the bottles of drink are. They are less than £1 each from the vending machines (even those in the airport), something which astounds me.

So, with rice balls in hand and with cheap bottles of Coke Zero we just wandered the streets for a few hours. A lot of time was spent looking in some of the numerous malls/department stores that are just dotted around the place. They are a full blown assault on the senses with cartoon mascots, overlapping announcements, large food sections and just so many cute things on display. Being that we are close to Halloween… well I may have seen more cute ghosts in an afternoon than most Brits probably see in a lifetime.

We also saw a lot of ‘Carp’ merchandise. I thought it was some sort of anime that really hit it off, but later found out that it is the local baseball team. Slightly disappointing really.


Food items: Natto, Hiroshima Oysters, Oysters

List item: Try oysters
Status: Completed

So, dinner. And what a delicious introduction to Japanese food it was. A cut steak deep fried oyster set meal with natto ordered as a side. We got it from a place called Yayoiken Tatemachi and, for someone who has never touched an oyster before, I wish I had ordered the oyster meal instead of the oyster and steak meal. The breaded oysters were crispy and creamy with a hint of sweetness. They were even better when dipped in the supplied tartare sauce. Whilst I am here in Hiroshima I think I am going to seek out more oysters unless something even better comes along.

The natto, on the other hand, was bitter and after I finished eating it there was a feeling that I was covered in spider webs. Very strange for something that can be a breakfast food.

Progress: 729/933

As I finish off, we have switched the TV onto a rather weird Japanese show which is just people reacting to cat videos. Why? It’s Japan.