Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

Japanese Peter Griffin?

One question for anyone from Hiroshima: who is this guy whose caricature is on this Carp-themed bar? (the Carp are Hiroshima’s baseball team). He’s got Peter Griffin’s famous, ah,  double . . . balled . . . chin. And how does he eat with no mouth?

Hiroshima Carp themed bar/restaurant

I’ve been traveling around Japan on the shinkansen – Japan’s ultra-fast bullet trains that criss-cross the country. On June 30th I headed back toward Tokyo from Hiroshima.

JR Line Shinkansen train in Japan

The shinkansen is amazing compared to airplanes.

You can arrive on the platform anytime up until departure and just walk on. No security check or ticket/passport check. Bring any food and drinks you want. Luggage weigh-in: nope. Speed is up to around 300km/h (~190mph).

One drawback is that it’s incredibly expensive, so Japanese usually just take the shinkansen if their company is paying for it. Foreigners can get a JR Railpass for varying durations if they are visiting for tourism, which is definitely worth it.

Note: if you want a Railpass, you have to buy a “Railpass exchange order” in advance, before leaving home for Japan! You cannot get a Railpass in Japan unless you’ve pre-purchased this exchange order, and it’s only available for tourists.

Himeji Castle on the hilltop

On the way to Tokyo, I stopped at Himeji Castle, one of the best-preserved castles in Japan. It retains its original style without much modification, displaying at every turn how it was built almost entirely with defense from invading Samurai in mind.

Irregularly-spaced steps at Himeji Castle

Steps are unevenly spaced so that invaders would have trouble running up them, keeping their eyes focused on the ground instead of watching out for arrows. Gates and passages are low to make warriors duck, and many passages would be tough on horseback. The final entry path to the main keep is sloped downhill, to confuse enemy commanders who are used to following uphill paths to such keeps. Dungeons & Dragons fans would love the construction of this place!

Himeji is undergoing renovation, but I was lucky that it’s not yet fully covered with scaffolding (as it soon will be, until 2014!). Only the center courtyard/castle was closed to visits. I saw a lot of the surrounding castle buildings and got many pictures with little or no scaffolding. But check on the status before you visit, because it might be a disappointment if you can’t even see the castle on the hilltop.

Read tomorrow’s entry for a better feel of Tokyo, when I visit the Modern Art Museum and Akihabara Electric Town!

Posted 11 years, 10 months ago at 3:00 pm.

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The Sacred Island

Miyajima Island, near Hiroshima, is considered sacred. The O-Torii, a huge gate in the ocean near the island, bears witness to this. I visited on June 29th, and hiked up to the top of Misen Mountain, 529.8 meters above sea level. Unfortunately the top was in a cloud, but it was a good hike. Here’s the Torii at high tide:

The Torii at Miyajima

There’s so much to see on Miyajima (weather notwithstanding) that I don’t even know where to start. I’m just gonna throw cool stuff out there, and you’re gonna want to visit.

Tame deer roam freely around the island. You can pet them, they’ll pose for you, and they will try to eat food or papers out of your backpack.

"Hey Bob, how do you feel about seafood for lunch?"

Miyajima claims to have invented the rice scoop. To back that up, they have the world’s largest wooden rice scoop on display in the shopping street: 7.7m long and 2.5 tons. Of course you can buy rice scoops of all sizes (well, except this one) in nearly every store in town.

Largest wooden rice scoop in the world

“Look Ma, here I am in front of the Torii!”

Deer in front of the Torii

The strangest thing I saw all day, by far, was Doctor Fish. For 500 yen (about $6) you can have some fish clean your feet, eating away the dead skin. Sounds a bit gross, but it feels really nice, like a foot massage.

Skin-cleaning fish at Doctor Fish

THEN there are the temples and pagodas… the list of cool sights just doesn’t end.

Itsukushima Shrine

“Hey, there’s something on your butt. Let me just see if it’s flowers.”

Tail-sniffing deer

I finished off the day with an amazing meal out with a Japanese friend, Nina. She is also a world-renowned okonomiyaki cook. But the story of the restaurant where we went will have to wait for another time, because it was nine courses of Japanese deliciousness!

Tomorrow: I visit another castle, the best-preserved one in Japan, on my way back to Tokyo.

Posted 11 years, 10 months ago at 3:26 pm.

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The World’s First Nuclear Attack

Hiroshima was the site of humans’ first use of nuclear weapons on a populated city. The Peace Museum does a very good job of describing the buildup to this, and stays quite neutral in telling the story. They don’t condemn the attackers outright, but also don’t give loaded opinions about the Japanese involvement that brought on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the first place.

A-Bomb Dome, below, survived by being almost directly below the detonation point – there was very little sideways force to topple the structure.

A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima

Visiting Peace Park on June 28th was quite a sobering experience. But there are rays of hope in this place, as I feel that anyone who visits here is unlikely to ever support the use of nuclear weapons.

Every year, children from around the world send paper cranes in memory of a Hiroshima child who died of leukemia several years after the bombing. She had hoped that by folding 1,000 paper cranes, her dream of recovery would come true. Unfortunately, she was wrong.

Paper Cranes at a memorial in Hiroshima

The names of all known victims of the atomic bombing are kept in ledgers in the Cenotaph. Behind it is an eternal flame, which remains lit until the world is rid of all nuclear weapons, and A-Bomb Dome in the distance.

MMemorial Cenotaph in Hiroshima

Besides the sobering yet hopeful Peace Park, the city of Hiroshima itself shows little evidence of being completely flattened 65 years ago. But there are a few scars visible. Most of the newly-built temples are small structures, tucked in between office buildings and parking lots:

A temple over a parking garage in Hiroshima

The vibrant feel of the rebuilt city is reflected in the gaudy nightlife district, and in the city’s enthusiasm for their local baseball team, the Hiroshima Carp.

Nagarekawa District of Hiroshima

Overall, my impression is that Hiroshima has recovered and even thrived in the wake of the bombing. The city strives to be an example of why nuclear armaments should be eliminated, and reminds us of the horrors that occur when such a weapon is targeted at a city. Let’s hope it never happens again.

To end on a lighter note, since there is a game tonight: GO CARP!!

Posted 11 years, 10 months ago at 3:45 pm.


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