Our friend, Peter’s, visit to Tokyo was a success. Randy and I took a few vacation days and the three of us traveled to southwest Japan for a few days. Since Randy was already in Osaka on a business trip we followed him down there on his last day of work. We arrived before he was done with work so Peter and I visited Osaka Castle, which sounds cooler than it is. Since the city was destroyed in World War II, the current “castle” is a mid-2oth century reproduction with a modern interior. At least it looks nice from the outside, I suppose.
That night, we went to the Umeda Sky Building. Although not the tallest building in Japan at only 40 floors, it is one of the more interesting. It’s essentially two narrow towers connected with a bridge on the top. A few floors below that are two escalators floating between the two buildings at odd angles. I visited the tower in the day time six years ago during my first trip to Japan. This time, however, we visited it at dusk lasting through until dark.
For dinner, we took the subway down to Dotonbori, a crazily illuminated river-side district of restaurants and night life. One thing Asian cities (from my limited experience) seem to do well is light up their cities spectacularly at night. Although dinner was simply adequate, the neighborhood was fun to explore.
The next day we took the Shinkansen to Hiroshima, secured our belongings in some lockers, then took a local train to Miyajima. Randy was originally reluctant to go here but it ended up being one of two highlights of the trip. Miyajima is a mountainous island and is famous for two things. The first thing is its population of tame deer. I’ve heard the city of Nara is similar, but on this island the deer just walk up to you. In fact, one did just that before snapping my map out of my hand and eating it. We watched another deer walk into an ice cream shop.
Miyajima’s other claim to fame is it’s floating torii gate (a red wooden structure that looks like a pi symbol). Although at low tide this torii gate appears in sand, at high tide it appears to be floating on the water. Surrounding the torii gate are some shrine buildings, a charming shopping street, and mountainous forests. We even took a gondola to the top of the largest mountain for some beautiful ocean and mainland views.
Unfortunately, we took the last gondola up and were only allotted 5 minutes to enjoy the view before having to get on the last gondola down. Oh well. It was still a nice ride. We then returned to the floating torii gate for some sunset photos then headed back to Hiroshima to check into our hotel.
As expected, the next day of the trip was the most sobering. Our hotel was located midway between the Hiroshima Castle (yet another copy) and the Peace Memorial Park. Just a few blocks from the hotel was the A-Bomb Dome; the building under which the world’s first atomic bomb exploded. Everything within a 2.5 kilometer radius was flattened (including the Castle). Consequently, the entire city is new. However, they did an amazing job with the memorial. The center of the city now consists of the ruins of the building now known as the A-Bomb Dome, a huge park, and multiple museums.
The whole experience is incredibly sad and even more frightening. The only element of the day that was uplifting was the swarms (and I’m talking thousands) of school children who flock to the white tourists to practice their English. Teachers give them a list of questions and they interrogate you for a few minutes. When they’re done, they thank you and give you a home made bookmark. Overall, it’s quite cute, but after the 15th kid corners you, you just want to flee.
But at least it was a pleasant distraction from the tragic history of the city.
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