Monday, 1 October 2007

Miyajima then back to Tokyo

So, what about Sunday? I rose at 6.00am had a little walk exploring the park before breakfast at 7.30. I'd booked an English breakfast and, on arrival at the dining room, was shown to a table with my name on it, and everything put ready except the fried eggs and tea which arrived moments later. An oddity was two pieces of white bread under cling film next to a toaster actually on my table. It made perfect toast and I enjoyed the meal.

The park leads into Mount Mizen, one of the three peaks on the island. There are paths up to the top but there's also a two-stage 'ropeway' (that's what the Japanese call suspended cable railways). I walked up to the cable station for the first service at 9.00 am but there was already a good-natured crowd of about 20 waiting. Within a few minutes, I was away on the first stage - a continuous affair with cabins holding up to 8 which disengage from the haulage rope at each end for loading and unloading. It was a pretty spectacular trip. At the halfway house, you transfer onto what they call a reversible - two bigger cars which go up and back, alternating with the other car. That delivered us a little below the summit so a short walk took us to the peak at 530m, I think, with a view of the Inland Sea, with dozens of islands looming out of the mist. Not so warm but still OK just in tee-shirt and slacks. Then I decided to explore some of the other tracks and find some of the many shrines on this holy mountain. A number of deer, even at this height, but I didn't see any of the monkeys you're warned about, but I think I heard some cries.

Then I met up with a charming Japanese lady called Yuishi also walking alone. Normally, her husband would have been with her, but he had had to work. We decided to explore together. Some of the lesser-used paths I found hard going, but satisfying. I'd intended originally to walk down, but the direct path had been closed for maintenance. Although the mountain is covered with primeval forest, quite a bit of maintenance is required and typhoons always cause damage. The alternative route appeared to be about three times as long so I chickened out and Yuishi and I descended using the ropeway. Then we visited the main shrine of Itsukushima-jinja together. It's built on stilts in a little bay so it's over water when the tide is in. All shrines normally have a main gate but here the O-Torii is built out in the bay so that it, too, is in the water for part of the day. I think all this symbolises the significance of land and sea and reminds people that Japan is an island relying on the produce of the sea. Then we went to look at the excellent local museum, Miyajima History and Folklore Museum. A large, historic private house has been restored and extended to display the importance of Miyajima historically and show the way of life of the people. By now, it was time for Yuishi to return home to Hiroshima, so we walked together to the JR Ferry Terminal and said goodbye.

Back to my cottage at the Iwaso and another Japanese meal served in my room. The O-Torii Gate seems to have a strange appeal to people and I think I was feeling it, too. I'd discovered that there's a boat trip after dark to show you the floodlit Gate, and I booked on it. The tide was high so, after cruising around it whilst people took photographs, we passed through the gate as people made the usual ritual bows and claps. Then we passed out through the gate and returned to the dock. The hotel courtesy bus whisked me back home - it seemed like home - and I had another good nights sleep.

Well, its almost over, I'm afraid. I rose at 6.00 am this morning and went for a walk around parts of the town I'd not previously covered and looked at more shrines. The tide was out so I took the opportunity of passing through the Gate again, this time walking. Another good breakfast and all the staff seemed particularly friendly. I had booked the courtesy bus to take me to the ferry but, being ready earlier than expected, I decided to walk. The ferry was quite crowded with passengers going back to the mainland and when we arrived, there were even more people waiting to go out. Miyajima is supposed to be one of the three most beautiful places in Japan and I'm sure they're right. A short walk took me to the station where I caught the local train back to Hiroshima in plenty of time to catch the Shinkansen to Shin Kobe. Here, I joined another train for the long journey through to Tokyo. After the tranquility of Miyajima, Tokyo came as a real shock to the system - so big, so many people - I think Tokyo was the inspiration for the futuristic city in Blade Runner. This time, I'm staying one night in a modern hotel, the Park Hyatt. I had to make my way across town on the JR Chuo Line to Shinjuku, leaving me with a 15 minute walk to the hotel. All is well and early tomorrow I go to Narita Airport to make my way home. It's all been a wonderful experience, but I think part of me is left behind on Miyajima.

Pictures of Miyajima

Pictures of Japan's modern railways