Thursday, April 05, 2012

Miyajima Island and Hiroshima Castle: Japan 3/2012 Day 7

I wrote earlier that there's not really a lot for tourists to do in Hiroshima besides visit the Peace Park, but one thing that's almost another obligation is Miyajima. This island is famous for the Itsukushima Shrine with its "floating" bridges and main island gate, and you see pictures of it all over the place any time someone wants to show a stock view of ancient or traditional Japan. (I believe the gate is even featured in one of Windows 7's default desktop wallpapers.) People will think you're an idiot if you go to Hiroshima and don't visit Miyajima - it's the city's one big non-bomb related tourist attraction.

Getting to Miyajima requires either a very, very long streetcar ride or a slightly shorter ride on the JR Sanyo line, either one of which leaves from Hiroshima Station. Then you hop on the ferry for a short ride across the water to the island. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, the entire trip (including ferry) is free, unless you take the streetcar, in which case it does cost a little money. We actually took the JR line one way and the tram back, because we planned to visit the Peace Museum and Hiroshima Castle afterwards and the tram stops nearby.

The JR Miyajima ferry.

This is a Hiroshima streetcar, though not the one that takes you to Miyajima.
I just like the old ones better, so that's what I have pics of.

Because Miyajima is about an hour outside of Hiroshima City, it was apparently unaffected by the A-bomb. Few traditional temples and shrines in Japan have been untouched since being built, though - they've all been rebuilt multiple times just because they wear out. So even though things look old, and are by American standards, you're usually not seeing pre-medieval artifacts like you might expect. Most of what you see at Miyajima is only a couple hundred years old at most, and some areas are brand new or even under renovation right now. (Hey, it's a wood shrine that's partially submerged in saltwater for half the day; it's not going to last forever.) Just look at the floor boards and railings in the pics below, and of course there's constant painting going on.

Souvenir ticket.

Miyajima's big claim to fame is that its shrine appears to be floating in the water during high tide. Unfortunately for us, we visited during low tide so the illusion was kind of lost on us - its buildings are built on stilts on landfill. It's still a beautiful shrine.

Walking around Miyajima is almost like being in a petting zoo. Deer are considered sacred and there are many of them on the island - and they are used to humans. They will walk right up to you if they're hungry (and they do want your food), and if they're relaxing, they will stay in place if you approach. And yes, you can pet them - although we didn't, because the island is very dusty and many times the deer seemed to be laying in their own poop. We saw plenty of other people petting them, though.

Like at a lot of the more touristy temples and shrines in Japan, there's a cottage industry of souvenir shops and food stalls that have popped up around the island. I'm kind of ambivalent about this. On the one hand, most of what they sell is cheap junk and "Hello Kitty Miyajima" merchandise. On the other, there is food like this:

Oysters, which are a Hiroshima specialty. My wife said these were the best she had ever had.
Not a big oyster eater myself.

Deep fried momiji-manju on a stick! These were soooooooooooo good.

Momiji-manju are another regional specialty - basically a soft maple leaf shaped little pastry stuffed with some sort of gel-like sweet substance. Traditionally it's azuki bean but these days you can get them with chocolate, custard, cheese and a bunch of other things. You can get them all over Hiroshima. Honestly, I can't really recommend one place over another - they all seem pretty good. We only saw the deep-fried ones on Miyajima Island, though. This is their version of a deep-fried Twinkie.

Regular (baked) momiji-manju.

Momiji-manju making machine. You can watch them bake right there, then eat them.

On our way back, we hit the Peace Museum (already written about), the big Book-Off that Hiroshima has, and then Hiroshima Castle. We actually just missed going into the castle - it closed right when we got there - but we saw it from the outside and walked around the grounds.

That is actually the guy inside closing the door to the castle for the day.

Hiroshima Castle is a replica of the original, which was destroyed in the atomic bombing. Many of the buildings on the grounds have just been left as ghostly foundations, but the castle itself was rebuilt in its original style, as were the main gates.

The bridge going into the castle grounds was obviously just rebuilt again, and it's really interesting to see brand new construction in the old world style. Japan is a really modern country but there is a lot of ancient knowledge that has never been lost, and they still know how to do things the same way their ancient ancestors did. I feel like this is actually important - this adds something to the cultural psyche that we in America just don't have. Japan has strong ties to the values and traditions that formed the country thousands of years ago (for better and worse), and this gives them a kind of cultural stability that the United States lacks. We as Americans have no shared cultural foundation; we're still making it up as we go along, constantly searching for something to bind us and increasingly not finding it. I guess this is why Japan makes sense to me in a way that America doesn't.

On the way back to our hotel we stopped for more ramen at the train station:

It was similar to the ramen I'd had the night before. Very thin noodles, Hiroshima style. Nothing on this trip compared to the best ramen I'd had on previous trips, though.

This was basically the end of the vacation part of the trip. The next day we headed back to Tokyo, then off to do some family stuff for a couple days before heading back to New York. This won't be my last post, though - I've still got a few posts on particular topics and then a random roundup post I'd like to do, so still a few more coming!

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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