This past Friday and Saturday, I went with the Ono JHS teachers to Hiroshima, Miyajima, and Iwakuni, three spots close to each other located on Japan's tranquil Inland Sea. All in all, it took about three of four good hours to reach Hiroshima by train. I had some real excitement Friday morning as I overslept and then parked at the wrong spot near Inukai station, just barely making the train to Oita. If I had missed that one... it could have been real exciting. Anyway, we rode on the Shinkansen from Kokura to Hiroshima, which is always a treat. It's just a slick operation, and there were new N700 trainsets, so everything was sparking clean. On the way back, I got to see one of the few remaining original 0 series trainsets, which was interesting. Anyways, once we arrived in Hiroshima, it was lunchtime, so we scrambled into our rental cars and found an Okonomiyaki restaurant. Okonomiyaki is basically a pancake with all sorts of noodles, vegetables, meat, etc. with sauce on top, and Hiroshima's okonomiyaki is real famous, so it was a treat (but I burned my mouth eating it too fast).
Next, we split up into two groups, and even though it was extremely hot, I elected to go the outdoors route and check out Iwakuni, where there is a famous bridge called the Kintaikyo, made of five wood arches and allegedly without the use of nails. It's a real interesting piece of work, quite beautiful actually, although the irregularly sloped steps can be a little awkward to walk on. At the other end of the bridge was a nice park, followed by a cable car ride up the mountain to Iwakuni Castle. The castle itself is a concrete recreation and is really more of a museum, but it provided a nice view over the river and city. Then we stopped for some ice cream and headed to our next stop, the sacred island of Miyajima.
Miyajima is a special place. It's an island, and when you stop off of the ferry, it really feels like you've been transported somewhere else. The island is full of pine trees, there is a refreshing lack of concrete, and tame deer roam the streets (much like in Nara). And of course, there is the famous "Floating Torii" (gate) that appears to rise out of the water at high tide. When we got there, it was actually low tide, so you could walk out to the bay and get quite close to the Torii itself. It's really huge, fits the natural setting perfectly, and is definitely an incredible sight to behold. Then it was time to head back to the hotel for the standard onsen bath/enkai party/etc. But I was just glad for the air conditioning and the sleep.
The next morning after breakfast, we headed back to the Gate, except that this time the tide was practically full so we could see the Torii "rise" out of the water. Then, we went into Itsukushi Shrine, which is also built on stilts and seems to rise out of the water, it's also an incredible sight as well. The way the light reflected off of the water and onto the shrine was remarkable. After that, we checked out a couple of different sights and did some souvenier shopping, then back to the mainland for lunch, this time anago-meshi (grilled eel on rice).
With only a few hours left before the train, there wasn't enough time to properly see the city of Hiroshima, so we just went to an outlet center for shopping. By this time, I was pretty tired, so there wasn't much I could do about it either way! After we returned to Oita, there was the big yearly Tanabata festival with lots of dances, singing, and food, so I stuffed my junk into a locker and walked around for a couple of hours. I gotta say, that was the first time in Oita that I've been concerned by the crowds and number of people- definitely a huge turnout for the big festival. But I met with Zach's former student and her sister, which was nice, and watched an enkai performance. Then, it was time to head back home for real. Definitely a long couple of days and quite expensive but I would have to say that it was worth it.