Writing about my trip to Japan two years on has it’s disadvantages - mainly, that I have forgotten about a lot of the details that would have been fresh in my brain had I done this earlier. Already I’m sure I’ve made some kind of factual error, and I’ve also been forced to Google the proper names of some of the places I visited.
I do, however, remember having way more fun in Hiroshima with my friends than I did in Tokyo. Of course the most obvious reason for this is that I was with people who were able to take myself and Dan beyond the tourist scene and into the daily life of a young Japanese person. The secondary reason is that Tokyo was so exhausting, and Hiroshima was so much easier to get our arms around.
I’ve already covered the major sites in Hiroshima that we visited - Miyajima, the Hiroshima Castle, Peace Park, and so on. But what I remember most fondly about the four days I spent with my friends was the stuff we did after the day trips were over.
Unfortunately, this being two years later and my memory being garbage, I don’t really remember them as day one, day two, etc. I remember more a series of incidents that I’ve tried to put together chronologically based on what I’m wearing in the pictures I have. But really, it doesn’t matter. Presented in no order whatsoever, here are my favorite memories from Hiroshima:
On one of our first nights in Hiroshima, my best friend took us to a local restaurant for okonomiyaki, a dish that is especially popular in that region of Japan, and it was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. I have no pictures of this evening, so I’ll keep this short but you can find a description of Okonomiyaki here and an account of the time we recreated the delicious meal at my place in Virginia here.
Later that night we saw two guys trying to ride the same bicycle and failing to the tune of a huge wipeout.
Print club was one of our more memorable experiences in Japan. First of all, Dan and I had no idea this existed prior to going over there, so it was all just a big surprise. Second of all, it was frickin’ crazy.
Print club is essentially a super insane version of the photo booth we’re all familiar with here in the States. You crowd in with your friends or your boyfriend (I’m not trying to stereotype here, but this was essentially an all-girl activity), take some pictures, and the pictures are then printed at a nearby computer station. What separates print club from the photo booth at your cousin’s wedding is how over-the top you can go with the decorations on the picture.
Prepare yourself, because you won’t be able to unsee this picture.
Do we look a little washed out and evil? That’s because we selected the option to widen our eyes and whiten our skin. If you’re having an epileptic seizure right now, that’s because we decorated it with as many little bows and hearts and sayings that we possibly could in our limited time! This is a scan of the actual picture, which remains one of my most treasured possessions. (The Japanese lady in the picture was a friend of our friends, and she was awesome.)
Japanese ramen is a far cry from the 60 cent college staple with which you’re undoubtedly familiar. Instead, the version our friends introduced us to was a plate arranged with cold meat and vegetable items meant to be dipped into an oil of varying spicyness. The wall indicated that 1 was mildly spicy and 30 was essentially suicide, but Dan and I went for the 20 and thought it was a nice, well-rounded dose of heat.
The tissues were in case of tears, I believe.
This is another thing I didn’t take pictures of, so I’ll keep it short. If you thought you’d get through Japan Week without a karaoke tale, you misjudged your blogger. Of COURSE we sang karaoke, with our friends, in a private room, as loud and as passionately as we possibly could. It was unbelievably fun, and a bunch of teenagers burst into applause when we left the building. I have no idea why - they weren’t listening to our singing our anything - but we just took a bow and rolled with it.
Pizza Full of the Corn of Mayonnaise Base
It was actually a pizza restaurant that had Japan’s most insane menu item:
We should have ordered it, but we were actually really hungry and seriously, there is just no way this would be appetizing.
While walking down the street, we were delighted to see that one of Japan’s many adorable characters was there, live! Of course we got a picture with him:
Llamas and capybaras were insanely popular in Japan when we were there, and we could think of no more fitting souvenir for ourselves than a stuffed animals. Unfortunately, you can’t just buy them, you have to win them from a claw machine in one of the overwhelmingly large and crazy seven-story arcades:
My best friend’s fiance got one for us! He’s dressed as a sailor and we still have him. His name is Saucerface Sailor: Son of Saucerface.
Asse the Sale
Asse is a store. The fountain in front just happens to look like a butt. Makes for a great picture.
The four of us did a lot more than just the stuff listed here, but much of it I didn’t photograph and a lot of the details escape me, so it would be kind of a clusterfuck to make an interesting blog post about it. Anyway, suffice to say we had a truly incredible four days in Hiroshima and we absolutely did NOT want to leave when the time came.
But it did, sadly! After a great trip, Dan and I set out on a quest that we’ll not forget anytime soon. We took a bus from my friend’s apartment to the train station, and then rode this shinkansen back to Tokyo. Then came the same route we’d followed on the way to Japan - Tokyo to Vancouver, Vancouver to San Francisco, San Francisco to Atlanta, Atlanta to Newport News.
Overall, it was a really long 36 hours, and I had a final exam to take the day I got back, so I wasn’t in the mood to deal with a lot of bullshit. But deal with bullshit we did. On our 11 hour flight over the Pacific Ocean, Dan and I were seated in the middle of 60 Japanese pre-teen girls. All of them giggled, incessantly, for 11 hours. They had pillow fights. They took pictures of Dan from two inches away from his face WHILE HE WAS SLEEPING for reasons I cannot begin to comprehend. They slammed back and forth in their seats because they were just so excited to be on a place. Their chaperones were in the next section, and did nothing to shut them the hell up. It was the most miserable goddamn flight in the history of air travel, and it’s the story Dan and I pull out whenever anyone tries to say THEY have the worst plane story. No, bitch. We do. (*Note: I’m not racist. I hate ALL teenagers. These ones happened to be Japanese.)
Eventually, though, we made it home, and as happy as we were to see our dog, we both really wished we could have stayed in Japan for a whole month. We definitely plan to go back, and hopefully next time, we can stay for longer and see the things we had to cut the first time around.
If you ever get a chance - GO TO JAPAN! It’s amazing.
I have about two or three more posts I’m going to do about Japan and hopefully I’ll get them both done tomorrow. Last week I really was distracted by work, but this week it was British television. Not even gonna lie.
At the summit of Miyajima Island is a popular temple that we didn’t get a chance to visit. If you are ever interested in trekking to the top, know that it’s a 10 minute walk to the ropeway station, and 7 if you run a little.
There are a lot of things to see on Miyajima, and they’re all breathtaking. No joke, every direction you look is like a new panorama of awe-inspiring beauty that your camera can only do so much to capture.
The whole place looks like this.
Miyajima is inundated with history, and there’s evidence of it in every nook and cranny:
One of the first temples we visited dated back to the 1600s, I believe, and had some really incredible artwork on display. Next to it was a five story pagoda.
Beyond this temple, things became more remote and secluded. The already delightfully sparse crowd thinned out even more, leaving Dan, my friend, and I alone in a wooded paradise straight out of a Disney film.
A hotel nestled in the woods. Talk about an ideal honeymoon location!
After walking for some time, we happened upon a temple that was deserted and hauntingly beautiful. It was more of a complex than a single building, accessed through an entry point while many of the buildings remained obscured, so it’s difficult to get a picture from ‘the front’. Here are some images from the temple:
One walkway was lined with thousands of stone Buddha statues, all of them unique and fascinating:
I wanted to take a picture of every one, but we’d be there for days!
A drawing of the temple from above.
I have about a thousand more incredible pictures of Miyajima, but I guess this is enough to give you guys a feel for the place. I mean, no pictures can truly do it justice. If you are ever in Japan, China, or South Korea, take a few days out of your schedule and go to Miyajima. I was only there for 8 hours and I left with a new Favorite Place on Earth. Dan and I are absolutely going back someday. Not “we hope to go back,” we WILL go back. It’s that amazing.
When I first told my best friend that I was definitely, for sure coming to visit her in Japan, she told me that she was definitely, for sure going to take us to Miyajima Island.
I didn’t know anything about Miyajima. I had never even heard it. Dan and I looked it up on japan-guide.com, and we were surprised to find that it was one of the top-rated locations in the country. The description, however, is kind of brief, and we didn’t look into it much further. (In case you missed earlier posts, Dan and I don’t do a lot of research before we travel in order to maintain an element of surprise.)
We next heard of it when we were buying our Japan Rail Passes, passes that give tourists the ability to travel via the national train system without paying for a certain number of days. Our passes clearly stated that it was good for certain train lines, and the Miyajima ferry.
This kind of surprised me, since it was the only non-train transportation mentioned in the information. Apparently Miyajima was kind of a big deal?
Once I got there, I understood. Guys, Miyajima is incredible.
Miyajima, the Shrine Island, is a small, peaceful, amazingly beautiful island about an hour away from Hiroshima. It’s famous for its many shrines and temples, which pepper one of the most intensely lush forests I’ve ever wandered through in my life. A network of trails links these temples and shrines, all of which are unbelievably serene, and none of which were overflowing with people. It was absolutely my top travel experience in Japan, and is strong contender for my top travel experience of all time.
This is a map that shows the layout of the island. When on the ferry from the mainland, you’ll pass fairly close to the vermillion gate that is the island’s most famous landmark, and be immediately on the streets of the small village…
…where you will immediately be greeted by super friendly deer:
Yes, one of the best things about Miyajima was the deer. They are small, super cute, and very friendly, even though they’re technically not domesticated. They will walk right up to you and let you pet them and take pictures with them! Seriously, they are like dogs, only they’re deer!
This baby deer kissed this baby in the face and my heart almost exploded from cuteness.
Here are some deer who would like to go shopping.
Seriously, you guys, I know that this is a lot of pictures of deer, but I could NOT get over how adorable, docile, and friendly they were.
OK, I’ll stop with pictures of the deer, but no joke, I was like super giddy with happiness because I love animals and these were the best deer ever.
The village on Miyajima is like a nice touristy - it’s the long road of shops and small restaurants that you’d expect, but without the overcrowding and misery of a thousand different people standing in line for a block of fudge (I’m looking at you, Mackinac Island!).
The food items to try on Miyajima are the small maple cookies that are manufactured right there in the village (you can actually see the assembly line and the bakers from the street, but for some reason I didn’t take a picture of it), and OYSTERS. Miyajima is famous for oysters, which are harvested from the platforms right offshore. Dan and I both opted for oysters udon, a noodle bowl filled with thick noodles and enormous, delicious oysters.
Just outside the village is a wide dirt path that will lead you from the village area around to the shrine. This alone is an incredible walk, and it’s just the beginning.
Artist and deer, lounging. This is the best spot to get some great shots of the gate:
The shrine itself is an overwater network of walkways that at high tide appear to be floating on the water, apart from the island. It’s called the Itsukushima Shrine and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It remains an active religious site within the Shinto faith, and thus, there are certain courtesies that should be observed. Fortunately we had my friend to walk us through what we were supposed to do to demonstrate reverence, although it’s not uncommon for people to skip these displays if they’re unfamiliar with them. However, it’s certainly necessary to remain quiet and calm while exploring the shrine.
As luck would have it, there was a traditional Japanese wedding happening on that day at Miyajima as well! We were lucky enough to see the bride and groom walk through the shrine looking magnificent.
After the shrine, you enter the more wooded and secluded area of Miyajima, where you will take the most beautiful photographs in your entire collection. Those are up next.
Me (right) and my best friend :) Aren’t we awesome?