Thursday, May 12, 2011

Golden Week Part 1: 3 Day Weekend: Miyajima, Hiroshima, and Osaka

Yes, 3 days, 3 locations. It was an epic weekend for miles traveled both on trains and on foot.

(just a note: this happened over the weekend of April 29th-May 1st)...

On Friday, I took the 5:45am train to Nagoya, and hopped on the 7:30am train to Hiroshima. Since I planned this trip literally last minute, the reserved seats on the Shinkansen were full. My choice was to risk standing for 2.5 hours or buy a “Green Seat” which is like First/Business class on a plane. So, I sucked it up and bought a “Green Seat” (which aren’t green…). It was totally worth it! Too bad I’ll probably never do it again.

After arriving in Hiroshima, I took a local train for 25 minutes heading southwest to Miyajima. It’s a small little town with nothing except for one of the most famous locations in Japan. It’s said to be one of the three most beautiful places in Japan. I’ve been to one of the three back in Middle School, it’s a place called Amanohashidate or the Bridge to the Heavens. I wanted to visit it again on this trip, but the trains would’ve gotten really expensive. Another time! So once I arrived at the station, I took a boat to Miyajima because it’s on it’s own island. The main attraction of why it’s one the beautiful places in Japan, is the red torii gate (red torii gates are a staple of Shinto Shrines). However, most torii gates are on land, this one was set in the ocean. During high tide it looks like the gate is floating in the water (I’ve seen photos, they looked pretty cool). However, I was not there for high tide. Instead, I was able to walk out to the gate itself, which was pretty cool too. I walked around the island, went into the Itsukushima (translation: beautiful island) Shrine. I walked around through the shops, bought a wonderful keychain that a lady wrote my name on. Then, I decided to take the tram up to the top of the island and from there I could see all around. I could even see Hiroshima. After taking the tram back down, I was off to Hiroshima.

The 5 Storied Pagoda at Miyajima

Did I forget to mention the wild deer? Everywhere and very friendly

"saying cheese" with the famous torii gate

Leaving the island...You can see the red torii gate on the right

My first stop in Hiroshima was the Hiroshima Castle. It wasn’t as cool as I had hoped; it was a replica (due to the Atomic bomb) because it was a mere 1km (.6 miles) from the hypocenter. After walking around the castle and its grounds, I was ready to ditch my backpack and grab some dinner. I found my hostel (which was great), and went to the main shopping/entertainment area for dinner. What wonderful, fantastic Japanese food did I eat? Oh, Subway. Some of the food items I truly miss are turkey and whole wheat bread, neither of which exist in Japan. Sad, I know. However, ham and white bread are easily found everywhere, convenience stores, grocery stores, subway/train markets, street vendors, school lunch…you get the drift. While eating dinner, I was lucky enough to watch the Royal Wedding on my phone. It was a sight and I bet their lunch/dinner was classier than my Subway sandwich, but oh well.

Hiroshima Castle

After some shopping, I headed to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which is a small island that was about 5 minutes walking from my hostel. I walked around the park and made my way to the A-Bomb Dome. It was a very interesting moment, looking at some of the only remains from the bombing. The dome was only 500 meters or so from the hypo-center, so I’m surprised it halfway survived. A few pictures later and I was ready to head back to the hostel. I learned that traveling alone can be very lonely, especially when the evening comes and you have no one to explore the nightlife with.

Hiroshima Peace Park at night

Day 2: Saturday. I started the day bright and early and at about 8:15am I headed to the Hiroshima Peace Museum because I knew it would be crowded. Oh man, I was right. I got there 5 minutes after opening and it was so crowded. I rented an English headset and I was off. Before I went to Hiroshima, I read differing accounts of the mood I would be in after I left the museum, I read that I could be extremely sad or just a normal mood. Well, 90 minutes later and I was in the same mood, but with a far greater understanding of what happened when America dropped the “Fat Boy” on Hiroshima. I really appreciated the work and research done by the museum, and if you are ever in Japan, I would recommend going through this museum ($0.75 to enter). There were videos, pictures, and stories written by survivors. It was a very humbling experience and after seeing the damage caused for generations, I have a much greater appreciation for the reduction of nuclear weapons.

"Peace" made out of cranes

So, after the museum I walked the park grounds. I saw the Cenotaph of where all of the names of the Atomic bomb and its aftereffects (i.e. radiation) victims are written, the Flame of Light (a flame that won’t be extinguished until nuclear weapons leave this planet), and once again, I visited the A-Bomb Dome, but this time in light. After the peace park, there really wasn’t anything else for me to see in Hiroshima, so off I went to Osaka.

The A-Bomb Dome

Once in Osaka, I made my way to my last hostel and dropped off my increasingly heavy backpack…who knows why. I went to Osaka Castle, a towering castle surrounded by a large garden/grounds area. I had been there once or twice before, but it was nice to get a refresher. Inside the castle is a museum, but my favorite part of any castle is the view. On the 8th floor of the castle there was a nice view of Osaka.

Osaka Castle

From the top of the castle to the subway station (which is just outside of the castle grounds) took me 25 minutes. That's how big it is! I made my way to a famous shopping area. I stopped in an H&M store, something I haven’t seen in forever. It was so crowded that even touching the clothes was difficult. Just outside of H&M was the famous Gilco man. When you see photos of Osaka in guidebooks, the Gilco man is always there. So of course, I got my photo with him.

Finally it was time for dinner and I decided to treat myself to the American-style Hard Rock CafĂ©. Yes, interesting choice I know, but when salads aren’t offered at everyday restaurants here in Japan, you tend to really crave a salad. Now, don’t get me wrong, Japan has plenty of salads, that is if you like cabbage…yeah, incredibly boring, so you see my point. A real salad? Yes please.

View of the Osaka Skyline

On the observation deck, my shoes looked awesome :)

Saturday night I headed back to the hostel where I met some people from China and South Korea. Let’s just say we all had Japanese in common…When was the last time you saw an American, a South Korean, and a Chinese person speaking in Japanese? Yes, comical I know. And that was my Saturday.

Day 3: Sunday. Let me start off with a story. I love the beach. I love the ocean. And, I love aquariums. I’m not sure what started my love of aquariums, maybe when I was a kid I was jealous of all of the cool places marine animals got to go. Who knows? I do remember a time when I was fairly young, my mom, my sister, my aunt, and my two cousins and made a daytrip to see Keiko the Killer Whale. Yes, it was still a big deal back then. We made it there and we couldn’t see Keiko. I believe the term to express a child’s feelings at that point is: extreme anger, disappointment, and frustration. Yes, so that story aside, I’ve really enjoyed aquariums since then. I even forced my father to take me to one when we were at Pebble Beach (I don’t think he enjoyed it as much as I did). What I’m trying to say is that I tend to remember my aquarium trips, so maybe that’s why they mean so much to me.

The Osaka Aquarium

So, on Sunday morning I went to the Osaka aquarium. But not before a Starbucks Latte! It is pretty famous throughout Japan, so I got there for opening, but I still had to wait 25 minutes to get my ticket. Once inside, it was so incredibly crowded I feared that if the fire alarm went off, some kids wouldn’t make it to safety. However, no alarm went off so I didn’t have to test that theory, thank god. It was a holiday weekend, so of course it was going to be busy. After a while, the crowds dispersed throughout the 8 floors of the aquarium. I watched the penguins get fed and the dolphins play games. In one word: successful (and fun).

After the aquarium, I visited a few more locations in Osaka known for tourism, but there really isn’t anything exciting to share with you. Exhausted and running low on yen, I headed back to the train station and took the next Shinkansen home.

Almost two weeks later and I would say this trip was a success. However, somewhere in Osaka, I lost my Alien Registration Card, which is basically an ID Card that says it’s legal for me to be in Japan past 90 days. Losing that card is NOT good. On Monday, May 9th, I went to the Kani City Police Station with my supervisor to explain how stupid foreigners can be. It’s not like I wanted to lose this thing, it is extremely important and I won’t get another one until June. Not a problem, except I need to take my drivers licenses test in Japan and to do that I need my Alien Registration Card. Oops. I guess we all lose important things, it’s just part of life.

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