2006-05 Japan: Hiroshima and Miyajima

Hiroshima, correctly pronounced Hee-ro-shi-ma (not “Hi” as in “him”),  is most famous for its fateful part in the termination of the Pacific conflict of WWII.  For Japanese children it is an important trip that almost every class makes to visit the city and the museum. There were certainly of young people running around in the museum when i visited – a curious counter point to the horrors contained in the exhibits. The bomb dome stands in the center of town as a permanent monument and reminder.

The city today is a sleepy place – a far throw from the megacities of Osaka and Tokyo and even the touristic bustle of the temple-come-university town of the old capital Kyoto. As a stone step towards the southern reaches it’s well worth a visit to walk around in the cleaner and more open climbs.

Another major attraction of Hiroshima is it’s proximity as a base to explore Miyajima – a beautiful little island a short train ride away. The famous Torii which stands guard is at various times according to the tides accessible on foot and then partially submerged.

Most of my time in Hiroshima was spent getting lost trying to find a Manga library in one of the southern parks – when I found it it was closed – the majority of the photos are therefore from Miyajima.

Have a look at my photo of the “Tanuki” which is spotted whilst climbing to the top of the ropeway on Miyajima. The animal appears frequently in Japanese folklore in various guises as a trickster and shapeshifter.

Another curious thought was that at the same time a future medical school friend of mine was at this very time working in one of the municipal hospitals in the city as a porter. A great way to sharpen one’s Japanese!

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Seb 28/02/2014 London

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2006-05 Japan: Koyasan and Osaka

Koyasan is reached by 2 routes. By car up a winding mountainous road or by train connecting to a ratchet-cable-car which speeds you up the mountain side in about 15 minutes. I took up residence in one of the temple lodgings for my one night in Koyasan and after following the strict rules over dinner times and behaviour in the temple itself boosted out with my camera to explore the local area. Koya is a sleepy place – with a primary focus on its religious functions. The temples were an impressive and peaceful sight for the most. I wandered out towards the edge of the complex and came across a beautiful reaching view from the mountain down to the coast and the sea beyond.

Dinner was a strange affair consisting of entirely vegetarian dishes in small quantities too. So I was left quite famished after the event (a lasting feature of much of my time in Japan). Later in the evening after dinner there was a little time before the curfew at the temple so I decided to explore the local graveyard. I was a sprawling place and as dusk descended and as I got slightly lost in the tall dark pines rather terrifying I found as the variety of woodland creatures – squirrels and wood peckers I suspected made jittering sounds over head. I eventually found my way to the sane path again by following the dull lamps that light the main paths  – back to my temple and so to my bed. I missed the 6 am call for prayer – sleeping over until 8 am (and nigh on past my checkout time). I recycled my ratchet-journey backwards and bridged away to spend a single night in Osaka staying in a student hostel by the Olympic stadium, enjoying a round of takoyaki and wandering through some parts of downtown.

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Seb 20/2/2014 London

2006-05 Japan: Kyoto and the Uronza Guesthouse

The second step in Japan was my journey to Kyoto. I took the Shinkansen down to Tokyo. The journey was rapid – and mercifully so as I’d chosen to sit in the smoking car. The fumigation was enough by 40 minutes into the journey to make me forget myself. I left my coat and my first ever mobile phone (one of the original Nokias) lodged in the overhead and despite my attempts to reclaim them the following day they were in fact gone forever when I stepped off the train and watched the train speeding out to Shin-Osaka, the next stop on the line.

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Soulless hostel

The first night I lodged in a hostel the only clear memory I have of is the picture of this room. Having lost my phone I set my laptop to alarm at the check out time – paranoid I’d get charged for another night. As memory serves I spent three nights in Kyoto. During the days I walked around the temples visiting the likes of Kinkaku-ji – famous golden temple. During the days I walked around the smaller temples  – exploring as I went with my Camera.

The main memory that I have is my stay in the friendly couple run hostel “URONZA Guesthouse”. It was a brilliant counterpoint to the faceless student bolt hole from the night before. The traditional internal architecture and Tatami rooms were the essence simple Japanese beauty. 

On the second night of my stay there I went out and bought a collection of things to produce one of my signature meals which not being long from the ski season were very fresh in my memory. I recall the amazement (genuine or otherwise) of the Japanese friends who Yu and Hi (the owners) invited over on hearing my plans and journey staging around the world. Indeed a feature of both of my trips to Japan was a complete absence of interaction with people of my age – it was almost as if all the people younger than 25 were hidden away.

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Yu and Hi – the lovely owners
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Dinner with friends

At the time of writing there are very favourable continuing reviews of the guesthouse which I am very pleased to see.  Also straight up on the google search I was surprised to see one of my photos in the google sidebar! I remember taking this…but dont now have the original – I wonder it if went in the cull of 2007 summer or in the repeated transfers between computers over the years….

Seb 18/02/2014

2006 Japan: Tokyo and Fujisan – First steps in Japan or “Ichigo ga Hanasemasu Ka?”

After the ski season I returned back to my old room in Wimbledon heavy with the experience of the 5 months past. Towards the end of the season I was plotting how best to pass the next 4 months and I settled on the idea of travelling – a “round the world” ticket in fact. So a little into May I embarked on the first leg of the journey – the long hop from London to Tokyo.

In truest fashion I did not book a hotel – I had no fixed arrangements planned – my journey was a blank structure pegged out with the target stops of where to get to by what time but no clear plans for the in-between.

On May 16 2006 I sat down next to a couple in a triple row aboard my direct London to Tokyo flight. I took the window seat and began avidly digesting Lonely Planet’s “Japan”. The man of the couple, Goto-san, introduced himself to me and throughout our 11 hour journey we discussed a number of things. I said that I was interested in potentially learning some Japanese so he began to teach me some basic Hiragana and advising me how best to approach the language. It was apparent that Goto-san and his wife were all part of a large tour group who were spread among the back of the plane where I was interpose as a single (soon to be) Gaijin. I recall approximately 8 or so hours Goto-san and I were stretching our legs at the back of the plane when he stated “we have been discussing…. we would like to invite you back to our home in Tokyo”. I was quite surprised on one level but then again on another the way the conversation had been flowing it seemed quite a natural recourse. I gladly accepted and we spent the rest of the trip discussing my plans for Japan – what would be best to engage.

When we eventually touched down – I was very glad of Gotosan’s assistance. My heavy luggage and the extreme culture shock of meeting Japan face first was enough to leave me very bewildered. He practically pushed me about the exit station guiding me through the process (which would have been completely indecipherable to me) of which ticket to buy and where to stand. The three of us traveled across Tokyo by some nefarious route which I now can barely recall. Eventually in the evening of the next day we made it to Gotosan’s house.

Gotosan’s wife went to prepare some food and I was installed in the family lounge – a downstairs room adjacent to the front door. Goto-san instructed me to take a shower. I recall in some bemusement (and probably a little bit of rational fear) – him walking in when I was naked into the shower room to show me how the shower and bath worked. Par for the course for Japanese who despite intense cultural form are rather unabashed about nudity.

Eventually – exhausted I fell asleep on the futon Masae had prepared for me in the downstairs room all the while questioning – “what have i got myself into?”…. There I was – touch down in Tokyo – my first trip to Japan.

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My days in Tokyo are not very clear to me down 8 years have passed however I recall spending time with Gotosan as my guide for the city. Each day we would plan out our trip across the city with his suggestions based on things I raised from my reading in Lonely planet. All the while we had long discussions and I tried my hand at learning a few Japanese words. We traveled to Tsukiji Fish market After a few days and when Gotosan had appointments of his own to keep I traveled out alone and tried my new Japanese on the unsuspecting as I attempted to find my way around the urban labyrinth that is Tokyo-for-the-uninitiated.

One particular anecdote which I have dined out on for many years is my confounding of requests to ask people if they spoke English. Some how  – perhaps because it is proximate in its sounding I got into my head that “Ichigo ga hanasemasu ga” was the correct sentence to ask people if they spoke English. The reactions I got were priceless…. ranging from bewilderment, to anger to outright hilarity. Whilst I realised that most people don’t speak English I thought perhaps that they might be slightly more accepting of my attempt to communicate that I was finding. I was confused and put out… later that evening I spoke with Gotosan about my trouble. He and Masae laughed in a very polite fashion and told me my mistake… Broken down this literally means “Strawberry do you speak?” – I had supplemented the word “EIGO” for “ICHIGO” changing the sentence from “do you speak English” to “do you speak strawberry”?

Towards the end of the week Gotosan and I visited Fujisan. Unfortunately I was too early in the year to permit for it to be climbed. I achieved in frustration a partial circumnavigation (perhaps one 10th of the way around before doubling back on myself. Gotosan and I then clambered down through the woods to pick up the bus back to Tokyo.

I also picked put a suitable travelling lens 18-200mm which would be my trusty lens for the next 2.5 months until sustaining a crippling break in New Zealand only to be fixed on my next trip to Japan in 2007. The photos from the Matsuri are taken on the first day of owning this lens.

As I had only 3 weeks In Japan in total I was keen to travel elsewhere in the country during the time. I sketched out a basic plan of places I wanted to visit. Gotosan very kindly accompanied me to the Bullet train – the Shinkansen – and I began the first section of my first properly independent journey since having left London some days before. I whipped out of Tokyo on my way to 14 days of independent adventuring in Japan.

– – – – 14-02-2014