Sunday, 30 September 2007

Hiroshima and Miyajima

I caught the Shinkansen West from Kyoto and changed at Shin Kobe. The line pops out of a tunnel halfway up a wooded mountain, there's the station, then the line disappears into another tunnel. I'd just time to walk out of the station. What I could see was very modern. Then another train to Hiroshima. Hiroshima's got plenty of skyscrapers but it seems more regional in its feel - the shops aren't quite as swish. And the tram system has quite an old-time appearance. Although there are some new trams, there's a number of second-hand German trams in use. Of course, I went to the Peace Park first, to look at the famous domed building which partly survived the atomic bomb. Then I visited the museum. Quite harrowing, but a necessary pilgrimage. I caught the wrong tram, got off and walked through a crowded shopping mall, then picked up the right tram back to the station.

Next, a local electric train on the Sanyo Line West to Miyajima Guchi. This is where the Japan Rail ferry to the Island of Miyajima starts from. I got on a ferry straight away for the short, 10 minute crossing. On arrival, I picked up a tourist map and decided to find my hotel, the Iwaso Ryokan, for myself.

I like small islands. This one had lots of tourists, and lots of tourist shops but a good atmosphere. I didn't appreciate how important the island is to the Japanese - it has always been a holy place, so lots of shrines were in evidence. There's wild deer everywhere, the size of a large dog. They're not shy about stealing food or even paper - I saw one tourist lose the snack he'd just bought - he only managed to save the wrapping!

I found the hotel but I'm staying in one of the adjacent cottages. These are totally traditional Japanese houses, sliding doors, tatami floors, the lot. After the brief check in, a housekeeper in a kimono showed me to the cottage. It may not be what I'm used to, but I fell in love with it. The main windows look across a creek with a running stream in Momijidani Park. Hidden by the trees, I could see the tourists in the park but it such a beautiful environment, nature enhanced by man, that I didn't begrudge them at all. Most of the tourists return to the mainland at tea time so, although there are various hotels on the island, there aren't many people around later.

Dinner was served in my room by the housekeeper. It was "a simple meal intended to be served before a ceremonial tea". Just as well it was simple. After the appetiser and hors d'oevre came the raw fish then a grilled course, boiled course, a sukiyaki of duck, a deep-fried course then fresh fruit and green tea. Quite an experience, and I was amazed how much I ate. The maids came in to set up the futon on the tatami and I took a turn around the town before turning in. The air reverberated to the sound of Japanese drums - the Itsukushima-jinja shrine was staging a professional concert with modern lighting, sound reinforcement and a bank of temporary seating for the audience.

Pictures of Hiroshima

Pictures of Miyajima