Friday, August 17, 2018

Hiroshima area

We flew from Okinawa to Iwakuni, a curious airport as it is actually a US military base that has only recently allowed a few commercial flights on limited routes, probably primarily intended for military personnel. For our purposes it was a more convenient way of getting to nearby Hiroshima than flying direct and we were able to quickly visit the pretty town of Iwakuni and its famous Kintai bridge with its multiple arches. 
The thing about Japan is that the natural scenery is breath-taking but in a polite kind of way.  It's almost like the Japanese have perfected the taming of wild scenes by adding just enough to accentuate or frame it, without really altering that much.  They see their beauty in a more delicate and subtle way and to truly appreciate it you need to adjust your mind and slow down your pace to take it in.  Kintai bridge was like that.  You have a beautiful little river valley, and some modest forested mountains, a little castle and then an oversized but unique pedestrian bridge that just somehow just fits and adds to the beauty.  We didn't have much time other to wander in the area of the bridge but it gave a nice impression.

Kintai bridge

The following day we visited Miyajima island.  It is a small island and a popular day trip just off the coast of Hiroshima. A quick ferry ride drops you off in a tiny town with deer wandering around and a walk of a few blocks takes to you a few picturesque shrines and temples.  The island is all about these, especially the "floating" torii gate which is built out at the edge of low tide so that when the tide comes back in it stands alone in the water.  I also really enjoyed walking up to the Daisho-in Buddhist temple that had lots of little stone Buddha statues lining the pathways, all wearing different knitted caps.  Miyajima was an enjoyable half day.  It was pretty crowded by the time we left but in addition to trying to trying to catch an early ferry over to have as peaceful a visit as possible, another is to consider the tides.  We were lucky enough to see the gate at both low and then high tides and the difference is a big one.  The high tide has the most appeal.

Deer in Miyajima

Shrines in the village
Miyajima village
Low tide

The torii gate

High tide

Now it is "floating"

Entry to Dasho-in temple

Love these guys

The next day we switched to a sadder tone and visited Hiroshima proper and its Peace Memorial Park, a collection of memorials commemorating the nuclear bombing of the city at the end of WW2.  It was the first city to ever be nuked and they have left some twisted wreckage still standing, more or less at ground zero and built a pretty park around it.  They've refrained from taking a harsh blaming or angry tone and instead focus on the destructive potential that must be avoided in the future. In all it is very well done and an important pilgrimage to make, if only to remind ourselves to beware of any "leader" casually tossing around the idea of using nukes again...  From the little we saw of the rest of Hiroshima it seemed like a very pleasant city and an easy one to get around on the local trams.  Hiroshima is also famous for it's unique version of Okonomiyaki which we found to be delicious.  It's a grilled "pancake" of batter, cabbage, noodle, meat, egg and other variable ingredients.  It sounds bizarre and looks really weird but you want one.  Just do it and thank me later.

A Peace Park memorial

Ground zero

Okonomiyaki is better than it looks

Our next destination was Kyoto, but between the two cities is the largest and one of the most beautiful castles in Japan, Himeji-jo.  Recently restored, it is now back to it's brilliant white colour which gives it its nickname of "white heron castle".  Built in the 1300's and expanded several times since, it dominates the city of Himeji and is more elegant than imposing.  Maybe with a few hundred soldiers or samurai in defense I'd change my mind...  In any case, it made for an easy couple-hour stop on our way to Kyoto on the train.  It wasn't too busy while we were there and the views from the top are very nice but the castle itself was more impressive on the outside. There was also a very pretty garden attached, divided into themed sections that we also enjoyed a quick stroll through.

Himeji castle dominates the city

Koko-en garden



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