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.)
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.
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!”
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.
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!