Hiroshima and Miyajima

So once again, it’s back to the land of the rising sun, this time wearing my wedding ring for realsies! Beth and I are honeymooning here, and gratefully, Craig has agreed to third-wheel with us for part of the trip. Our days are both restful and exciting, and (once I got over the stress of flying and the culture shock of not being able to speak most of the language) I’m glad to be back.

 

The first city we stayed in was Hiroshima, and I’m grateful that we chose to spend a few extra days there this time. I think it was important to have a little more time so that we could unwind, as well as see the sights. I’ve since realised that, while it’s awesome to go to a new country and experience as much of it as possible, some of those experiences are allowed to be the very pleasurable act of sitting down after many hours of walking, seeing and doing. It seems married life has tempered me somewhat!

 

Hiroshima is beautiful. The roads there are ubanai (mad-cat dangerous), though the city has more open space than somewhere like Tokyo I think. We stayed in some backstreets not too far from the train station, and I really liked the quiet neighbourhood (though I suspect it didn’t like us as much as we laughed and played and dragged our luggage like noisy birds through the street at night).

 

We found our way to Hiroshima Castle, a beautiful place where we saw our first ever cherry blossoms in the peaceful grounds. We visited the shrine there where I did the closest thing to a proper hand-cleansing ritual (which I’ve learned through studying tea ceremony), though I hadn’t yet hastily googled how to pray properly. (Incidentally, it’s bow twice, clap twice, pray, bow again. It changes depending on the shrine though.)

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In the Castle proper they had an exhibit of samurai weapons and armour which I poured over in great detail. Poor Beth and Craig left me quite behind, just like in the ninja village of Iga where I was overtaken by the next tour group. The view from the top of the tower (and through the hatches for rifles to be poked out of!) was quite delightful, and it was a great pleasure to drink hot cocoa up there in that bracing castle air.

 

We also returned to Nagata-ya for Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which I have since learned is rude to refer to as “Hiroshima-style” (because it implies that there are other, possibly more correct styles), and is certainly not supposed to be flipped. I managed to finish mine, as well as pieces of Beth’s and Craig’s (not to mention some truly exquisite umeshu and smooth-af sake that made me slightly woozy).

 

We caught up with our good friend Aury and hit up Miyajima Island, which we didn’t get the chance to do last time. I never really got over how cute the deer were, and I was delighted to see one sniffing a toddler, reaching around him and pulling an open bucket of biscuits out of his backpack and then eating them while his family watched on in terror and delight. However, when a deer tried to eat Craig’s momijimanju (maple-leaf pancake) and head-butted his leg, I was so enraged and offended that I nearly head-butted it back.

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I also had one of the best experiences of my life: dressing up in full samurai armour, being handed a sword and then posing for photos with three other guys in armour. After a quick photo shoot, one of them asked if I had maybe 15 minutes to go for a walk to take more photos, and I readily agreed. While the photos were fun, what made the experience so precious to me was strolling through those ancient streets, my armour clattering as I stepped, peering through the slit between my mask and helmet, keeping my sword close to me as we passed through the crowd. As we walked, exclamations of “Samurai ga!” and “Sugoi!” came from all sides, and my companion couldn’t resist posing for more photos as he greeted people continuously with a friendly “Konnichi wa!”

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The island itself was truly beautiful. Flooded with tourists as it was, when we left the busy (delicious and attractive) streets and headed toward Mount Misen, it was like passing into another world. Seemingly empty ryokan were scattered by ancient shrines. A teahouse serviced by ladies in kimono, with a sliding door to enter stood nearby a sparkling stream. The design of the garden was so exquisite that, when I descending under the bridge on some artfully placed stones, I crossed the water and came up the bank on the other side without ever really thinking about the path, just looking for convenient places to put my feet. I was only when I reached the other side that I realised that the path had been sculpted very deliberately all along, and that it had been made so perfectly and so subtly that I wasn’t even aware it was there.

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Unfortunately, Beth became suddenly and seriously ill as we were climbing the mountain, and we didn’t have the chance to get to the ropeway (which I hoped was a cable car). Perhaps someday we’ll return to Miyajima for a deeper immersion into those quiet woods.

 

We’re on the way to Kyoto now, which I’m sure will be quite an adventure because our house (for the first time) is nowhere near a train station. Learning to catch buses (hopefully with the aid of googlemaps) will be a new challenge, and one I’m looking forward to.

 

Also, I can’t wait to get more Japanese arcading going on. Last night I found a game that let me punch a T-rex so hard its face fell off. I can’t wait to get back to a Taito station (or better yet, a Sega arcade with Toylets!) Ahh the pleasures of those smoky dens and all the taiko drumming my blistered hands can withstand. See you soon!

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Painballing

I may have discovered a hidden talent of mine. Yesterday I celebrated my last week as an unmarried man by gathering my close male friends and shooting them with projectiles that travelled at 329km/hour. I had only been paintballing three times before then, with some measure of success but nothing outstanding. However at Paintball Skirmish (pretty good prices and a good variety of games, even if some of them were only a minute long) I seemed to find my calling.

 

I daresay I was the best player on the day: I usually shot three or four people per match, and I only got eliminated thrice in the ten games. I think my surprising success was due to an innate tactical knowledge, the ability to adjust strategies on the fly, and general skill with the paintball gun.

 

My previous experience had taught me that the trick to paintballing was to move frequently and be where the enemy did not expect you to be. The other 27 players largely found some cover, hunkered down and leaned out of cover to take pot shots at each other until someone got hit. Because headshots didn’t count in Paintball Skirmish, I felt safe to poke my head above a barricade and just survey the situation without fear of being eliminated. When I saw the opposition hide, I would move when they weren’t looking and catch them off guard.

 

Through this strategy, I was able to get well under the three meters required to force a surrender by charging around whatever they were taking cover behind and yelling “SURRENDER!” at them while shoving a gun in their face. (The last two of these was because I had run out of ammo and figured it would be more fun than waiting for the game to end.) While it was risky to be standing up exposed to the opposition team, waiting for the other person to throw their hand up and leave the field, no one shot me while I did it. I think the helmets of the other players (and the stress of the game) gave them tunnel vision, and they didn’t notice me taking out their team mates until I was in their face as well.

 

I found it very easy to use the paintball guns as well. Other people commented that the balls didn’t fly perfectly straight, and that it was hard to hit a target even if you were aiming right at it. For some reason it didn’t bother me the same way: I would take one shot at a target, adjust it based on that ball’s trajectory, and then usually hit the target with maybe one or two additional correcting shots. While they were haphazard, there was a general sense of direction, and I was even able to factor drop into my shots and fire over targets to hit people hiding behind them. It was easy to shoot one-handed as well, leaning my gun out of cover and then taking a few well-placed shots at targets. Through this skill, as well as moving from cover to cover, I single-handedly hit all six of the targets the fortress was attempting to defend.

 

I sucked a little more in the last few games, getting hit in the leg while behind cover. Not really sure how it happened, but kudos to whoever nailed me. The very last round where everyone was told to just get in there and discharge all their remaining ammunition at each other sucked royally. Because there were no longer any teams, there was nowhere safe to hide: I was constantly flanked, and the referee starting the game while I was standing in the middle of the field certainly didn’t help my cause. It was from this round that I acquired all my of bruises, one of which raised a lump on the back of my head. It was fun, but in the future I think I’ll avoid being shot from all sides.

 

Overall, definitely something I’d love to do again and see if I can improve on my tactical practice and skill. I’d like to try paintballing where headshots count (because it makes it riskier to survey the field) and see what difference it makes!