Day 12 – Turning Back

Happy first day of Spring to those back home. I haven’t been able to determine exactly when Autumn starts here – I’ve seen dates ranging from mid-August to sometime in September to the Autumnal Equinox specifically.

I was originally planning to open this post with “Our schedule on this trip is really jam-packed – which is ironic, considering it’s impossible to get jam here for love or money. Not that we’ve tried love. Or, for that matter, money.” Then they served us jam at the Western-style breakfast we were served this morning. It’s almost interesting how many products we can get that are the same over here, even ignoring those products that originated from here, like Toyota, or Sony, or Pokemon. MacDonalds is common, of course. Starbucks and KFC less so. It’s rare to see a drink vending machine without a coke or pepsi product, though they still manage to have things we don’t get in Australia, like grape fanta, or a bottle of coke with a gold label reading “sugar ZERO FREE caffeine” which most likely combines the worst features of both coke zero and caffeine-free coke. I also bought a packet of little mini oreos, and we even saw a packet of Tim Tams in the hundred-yen store in Machida – not sure why we didn’t buy it. Then there’s products that are very nearly familiar brand names… like Rexena-brand deoderant.

Anyway, I’ve called this post “Turning Back” for two reasons. Firstly, we’ve gone from Hiroshima, a city almost completely lacking in material history remaining older than 1945 to Kyoto, a city that was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years, from 794 to 1868. Secondly, for the first time this trip, we’ve turned around, and are now heading back towards Tokyo, and towards Narita where we’ll be catching our plane back home.

But that comes later. First, we woke up this morning for our Western-style breakfast. There were a surprising amount of Westerners staying in the same hotel as us – for that matter, I think Miyajima has the greatest concentration of Westerners I’ve seen since arriving in Japan. The guests in the rooms on both sides were Westerners, and certainly some more down the hall. The thing is, sitting down to eat a Western-style breakfast in a room full of Westerners made me feel a little… insular. I asked for the Western-style breakfast because I was tiring a bit of the Japanese style breakfast, but it made me feel a little like a “hey, I’m a tourist but I want all the comforts of home” sort of person. It was tasty, though – bacon and eggs (like I suspected it would be) on the little mini nabe burner we’d seen last night, three bread rolls, jam and margarine, orange juice, a sliced-up half-orange and a small bowl of yoghurt. James took photos – expect to see them soon.

We only had about three and a half hours to enjoy Miyajima before we had to get on a train to get to Kyoto in time for check-in. After breakfast, we hastily packed, checked out, and left our luggage with the front desk so we could climb Mount Misen. At 535 metres above sea level, it’s the tallest point on Miyajima, and you get a seriously panoramic view of Hiroshima and the Seto inland sea from the top. There’s a cable-car running to a smaller peak at 430 metres. Well, I say “cable car” but it’s actually two – a circulating-type cable car going most of the way up, then a back-and-forth gondola going the rest of the way. Thing is, the bottom cable car is quite a way from the actual town, and today was really hot and humid. We decided to take the scenic route there (the map called it a “nature walk”, but “nature road” might have been a better name) – it really was scenic, but we were absolutely dripping with sweat by the end.

We caught the cable cars with our two-day Hiroden passes, and were quite impressed by the view, both from the cars and from the station at the top (it’s called Shishiiwa, Lion Rock). We also saw some monkeys at the top, hanging around the side of the path, and sitting in the shade. A couple of deer here and there as well. We decided to walk to the shrine on the mountain, but decided it’d be too hot to walk all the way to the top. We were getting pretty damp by the time we reached the shrine (it’s seven minutes downhill from the cable-car station, then thirteen minutes back up). At that point, we realised we were most of the way to the summit anyway (only ten minutes climbing to go) so we climbed it. There’s an observation post at the top, and the view from there was seriously spectacular. We took photos to assemble into a panorama, at which point we realised it was twelve o’clock already, giving us just an hour to get back to the cable-car station, ride down the mountain, walk back to our hotel, pick up our luggage, get on the ferry back to the mainland, and get into the train station.

We managed it with a few minutes to spare. It took us about half an hour to get back down to Miyajima town – amusingly, the number of tourists (mostly Westerners) had increased, but the number of monkeys visible had decreased. I love walking through the town – it’s got roads and pathways and little side alleyways going everywhere. I really wish I could spend more time there – maybe next time. And when it’s cooler. The hotel gave us a lift to the ferry terminal in the courtesy car, and we managed to hop straight onto a ferry. From the mainland ferry terminal, it wasn’t too far to the train station, and our JR passes let us enter without any fussing with tickets.

Once back at Hiroshima station, we booked our shinkansen tickets to Kyoto – though we’d have to change at Shin-Osaka. We were in the “Silent Car” (presumably because that’s all the seats that were left) – train announcements are muted, and talking is asked to be kept to a minimum. Tell that to the two Americans a few rows back with the huge bag of Maccas, who talked quite loudly. In fact, much of the carriage were foreigners, though the rest were silent. We also grabbed some little things for lunch – it was going to be three hours to Kyoto, but we expected dinner to be early and large. James got a sushi-and-inarizushi and I grabbed a pair of sandwiches. Not sure what was on them – some sort of battered meat. We both also got a sweet pastry thing from a Japanese bakery, something like a straightened-out donut. Sort of.

Three hours later, we were in Kyoto. We needed to take a private subway line to the hotel, but that went off without a hitch – the procedure was pretty much identical to that in Osaka. Then we had a bit of a walk to our hotel. It was still just as hot and muggy as it had been in Hiroshima, and we were walking down a narrow but busy street. As in, walking down this carefully-painted line while cars went rushing past not a metre away. We reached our ryokan safely, though. It’s quite nice here – it’s not palatial like the one in Miyajima, but it’s quite homey. There’s a little Japanese garden in a central courtyard. And air conditioning. Actually, our room may be slightly larger here – there’s a separate area for futons (and I really should be adding in-line photos to demonstrate this. Maybe later). Shared bathrooms, though. Can’t seem to find the big bath promised on the website – just a normal-size one-person bath – but maybe we’re misunderstanding the website. We do, however, have wireless, which is the first time so far this trip.

Dinner was just as extensive as it was at Miyajima, though of course we were served different foods. Tempura, for example. Slightly different sashimi. A bowl of some sort of soup, which for some reason I found the smell incredibly off-putting. I’m not really sure why. Some things were the same, such as a cup of what appeared to be bits of seafood baked in custard.

Anyway, James and I are trying to make plans for the next day-and-a-half in Kyoto. There’s temples spread literally all over the place. There’s also Nijo Castle, which may possibly be undergoing rennovations, same as Himeji was – we’ll see. At the moment, we’re planning on an early night. I feel like I need one.

Today’s photo count: two hundred and seventy-six. Falling way behind on uploading some, though.

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