Miyajima Now Redux

30 03 2009

View from Miyajima 1, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

For our KCJS class trip, I and about forty other students made the journey by Shinkansen to Hiroshima and then once again (for me, at least) to Miyajima. Initially, I was worried that a return trip to Miyajima would be pleasant if slightly underwhelming in light of my previous visit there, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had missed a major part of the island: the path leading to the absolute highest peak. The views from above were spectacular. I hate to resort to hyperbole again so soon after the last Miyajima post, but the view from the top of Miyajima is probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Also, Spring has arrived in Japan, and the sakura (cherry blossoms) are blooming across the country. The streets and thoroughfares of Miyajima and Hiroshima were dotted with vivid splashes of pink and white.

Warning: lots of nature pictures to follow.

Warning: lots of nature pictures to follow.

Sakura 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 3, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 4, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 5, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 6, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 7, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 8, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Due to peer pressure I elected this time to take the ropeway, but I didn’t regret it. The ride is disappointingly short for 900 yen, but the scenery is nothing to scoff at, though this is one area where I think New Mexico and the Sandia Tramway could give Japan a run for its money (and in terms of total length, the tramway trumps all trams in totality).

The ride was less fun for the more heights-averse people in the car.

The ride was less fun for the more heights-averse people in the car.

Tram 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Unfortunately, before I saw all of this beautiful scenery, I ran into… a bit of trouble. Our Shinkansen was scheduled to leave at 9:52 a.m. (and if you know Japanese train schedules, you know that’s 9:52 sharp) and I made a number of mistakes, from underestimating the time to get there to going to the wrong Imadegawa station (apparently, there’s a JR one and a Keihan one). After frantically trying to find track 14 and exchanging some barely understandable Japanese with a station attendant, I emerged onto the platform right as… the clock struck 9:54, and I saw the train receding into the distance. Thankfully, I was able to grab the train immediately after and then take a train to Miyajimaguchi the same way I did during my Spring break. It was slightly embarrassing being the only student dumb enough to miss the train, but everyone seemed impressed when I told them I got there by myself. The Japanese train system seems pretty intuitive to me, though.

Another surprise was waiting for me at the peak besides the amazing view- monkeys. Monkeys, with temperates common to the deer that pepper the island, surrounded the tram station, hooting, running back and forth, and picking bugs out of the fur of each other and annoyed deers.

Though the monkey population far exceeded my expectations, the first hint at their presence was an English voice on the tram warning passengers to stow their valuable away from the curious eyes of the sticky-handed monkeys.

Though the monkey population far exceeded my expectations, the first hint at their presence was an English voice on the tram warning passengers to stow their valuable away from the curious eyes of the sticky-handed simians.

Monkeys, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Monkeys 3, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Monkeys 4, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Monkeys 5, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Monkeys 6, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Now, as for the view…

View 1, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 3, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 4, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 5, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

A temple near the top hosted the “Eternal Flame”, a fire that has supposedly been continuously burning for over 1200 years and was used to light the peace fire at Hiroshima. It… left something to be desired.

It wasn't so much "the eternal fire" as it was "the eternal lightly glowing cinder pile".

It wasn't so much "the eternal fire" as it was "the eternal lightly glowing cinder pile".

Apparently the deer near the top are friendly (or desperately hungry) as one wandered up to me as I was sitting down.

Deer 1, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Deer 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Near the top was a tiny shrine based in a niche in the mountain.

This tiny, tiny shrine was used for tiny, tiny worshp by the tiny, tiny citizens of the island.

This tiny, tiny shrine was used for tiny, tiny worshp by the tiny, tiny citizens of the island.

At last, after an hour of hiking form the top of the ropeway and a short trip up an observation tower, I reached the highest point on Miyajima and surveyed my surroundings.

View 3, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

I sure hope no one's viewing this on dial-up. But if you are, what's wrong with you?

I sure hope no one is viewing this on dial-up. But if you are, what's wrong with you?

View 8, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 9, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 10, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

The ropeway station.

The ropeway station.

View 12, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Hell, even the view from our ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) wasn’t bad.

Ryokan View 1, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Ryokan View 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

For whatever reason, taking pictures of the actual ryokan completely slipped my mind. It was a fun experience- we were put into groups of four to six in traditional Japanese rooms, complete with tatami mats and just futons for sleeping, and provided with yukata, a sort of light cotton kimono, to wear. We had a traditional Japanese dinner with a wide variety of dishes, from prepared fish to a sort of tofu soup to a plate of delicious strawberries for desert, all with tasty if weak beer on the side. Sadly, sitting Japanese style in the seiza position (with your legs bent under you) is beyond my abilities as a gaijin, so I sat cross-legged and tried desperately to avoid exposing myself. After dinner we went out and view the famous torii (as seen in my last Miyajima post) in the dark, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough light for me to get a picture that didn’t look like it was taken from inside a trunk.

We departed in the early morning for Hiroshima, and I took several pictures of the blooming foliage surrounding the temples and shrines.

Island view 1, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Island view 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Ze ever-hungry sea.

Ze ever-hungry sea.


One more shot of the torii, for old times sake.

One more shot of the torii, for old times sake.

We then took a bus to Hiroshima, which was also a bit of a photographic non-event. Our first stop was the Atomic Bomb Memorial, which has an atmosphere not terribly conducive to photography. The memorial is much like any memorial, such as for the Holocaust or Vietnam: an experience that is equal parts moving and horrifying. It’s hard to walk away from a museum that includes graphic pictures of still-living female high school students burned so badly they’re hardly recognizable as human beings, or recounts the story of a young girl inflicted with radiation-induced leukemia years after the bombing and her subsequent desperate attempt to fold a thousand paper cranes so that her wish would be granted and she could live, and feel that it was in any way a “pleasant” experience. Nevertheless, Hiroshima should be a necessary trip for anyone going to Japan, and anyone whose ever seriously considered just “nuking them all”. A little bit of contemplation on horrific suffering has a way of putting things in perspective. I did take a picture of the Atomic Bomb Dome, a building nearly at the hypocenter of the explosion that somehow structurally survived the explosion that utterly demolished all buildings around it for thousands of feet, thought it was gutted by fire. On the left are some picnickers, enjoying the weather and the view of the river outside the memorial.

Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima, 3/28/2009

Music I’m Listening to Now: Lotus Plaza, “The Floodlight Collective”.

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Born On A Train

23 02 2009

Kobe Fountain, Kobe, 2/21/2009

Finally, a post with some substance. This weekend I went on a long (so long) daytrip to Kobe. I left around eight and got back close to ten, so the day was packed. Kobe is an interesting contrast to a traditional city like Kyoto. Long a major port in Japan, Kobe very early on developed into one of the more international cities in Japan, and features one of the larger populations of non-Japanese outside of cities like Yokohama. Additionally, a number of Europeans settled in the area, and some of their houses have been preserved.

Foreigner House, Kobe, 2/21/2009

It's hard to see in this picture, but these houses really stand out from their surroundings, and a number have been made into official historic landmarks. Some are still occupied by foreigners, but most are now owned by Japanese.

It's hard to see in this picture, but these houses really stand out from their surroundings, and a number have been made into official historic landmarks. Some are still occupied by foreigners, but most are now owned by Japanese.

That sort of international flavor has spread throughout Kobe; it has a sizeable Chinatown (whose Chinese food I can vouch for) and a number of Western-style buildings.

Column building, Kobe, 2/21/2009

My first goal when I got into the city was to see the Nurobiki Falls, supposedly one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Japan. Along the way I passed through the Shin-Kobe station and so a rather… odd display on the overhead monitors.

Shin-Kobe monitor, Kobe, 2/21/2009

It seems unusual and slightly gauche to be so specific as to indicate the reason for delay is that they’re scraping some guy off the front of the train. Perhaps worst of all (or best, depending if you were in a hurry) was that this was apparently only going to delay the train ten to thirty minutes. Efficiency!

Anyway, in my zeal to see the falls I managed to completely bypass them at first and climb to the top of one of the mountains surrounding Kobe. I made excellent time up the mountain and was feeling pretty good until I saw some women in at least their sixties coming down from the peak, breathing regularly.

Mountain View 1, Kobe, 2/21/2009

Unfortunately even the top was thickly forested, so I had a difficult time getting some good views of the city. At the highest I went I was at least a hundred feet or so above the blue skyscraper to the left.

Unfortunately even the top was thickly forested, so I had a difficult time getting some good views of the city. At the highest I went I was at least a hundred feet or so above the blue skyscraper to the left.

Speaking of the skyscraper, here's a better view. I think the color actually makes it look pretty attractive.

Speaking of the skyscraper, here's a better view. I think the color actually makes it look pretty attractive.

Paths extended even further into the mountains, but I finally saw a sign pointing in the correct direction towards the falls. I crossed several bridges…

Bridge 1, Kobe, 2/21/2009Bridge 2, Kobe, 2/21/2009

… and finally reached a wide plateau area that gave an excellent view of the city.

Kobe wide view 1, Kobe, 2/21/2009Kobe wide view 2, Kobe, 2/21/2009

Finally, about an hour after I entered the mountains, I circled around and found the falls about a hundred feet to the right of where I had originally taken a left. Unfortunately, it probably wasn’t worth all the wait. It’s pretty nice (you know, if you’re into waterfalls, or something) but it wasn’t exactly Niagra Falls.

Nurobiki Falls, Kobe, 2/21/2009

Eeeh, it's alright.

Eh, it's alright.

From there I ventured back into the city and wandered around the Chinatown for awhile (and sort of forgot to take pictures; just imagine an average Chinatown and you’ve probably got it). I also checked out some more of the foreign influenced buildings in the area, such as this French influenced structure that like most buildings in Japan has been repeatedly burned down and restored. Looks pretty good, though.

Frenchy building, Kobe, 2/21/2009

And entering the “why the hell did this make the transition to Asia?” file along with Denny’s is this:

Why are there Wendy'ses (I can't frigging pluralize it) in Japan? And is just me, or could you take out the yen sign in the lower right and you wouldn't be able to tell this was in Japan?

Why are there Wendy'ses (I can't frigging pluralize it) in Japan? And is just me, or could you take out the yen sign in the lower right and you wouldn't be able to tell this was in Japan?

Eventually I wandered down to the port and took some photos of the ocean (or more accurately, Osaka Bay).

Bay view, Kobe, 2/21/2009

Don't stare directly into this picture or you could burn your eyes out.

Don't stare directly into this picture or you could burn your eyes out.

While walking around I spotted a guy fishing in the bay, who also happened to have a luxury BMW directly behind him.

While walking around I spotted a guy fishing in the bay, who also happened to have a luxury BMW directly behind him.

Next week is Spring Break, and I’m currently planning on traveling around both the southern and northern coasts of Honshu. Hopefully I should be able to get some nice pictures, but I’m unsure of the status of internet out there, so I may be at best sporadically updating for a couple of weeks. I imagine you’re getting used to that, though. I’ll try and throw up a filler post at some point; maybe the convenience store one, or some more comic strips that I suspect no one but me finds funny.

Music I’m Listening to Now: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Zero”.