Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dinner in Ginza

Just for fun, a couple of pictures from dinner in Ginza tonight:

Bonito and Eel


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Hiroshima and Miyajima

Last weekend, Ben and I made the 817km trip from Tokyo to Hiroshima. It took just over four hours to get to Hiroshima station using the shinkansen, Japan's bullet train that travels at 200km per hour. It's a smooth ride and a nice way to travel--wish we had a train this efficient in California!

Shinkansen ready to depart Tokyo Station

A few additional tidbits about the shinkansen:

  • It's not cheap. The roundtrip cost for one person from Tokyo station to Hiroshima station on the Nozomi shinkansen was more than $300.
  • Tickets are available at the station. Please arrange your tickets in advance--Japanese people plan ahead and hotels, trains and planes seem to book up fast. Travel agents are able to book shinkansen tickets on your behalf.
  • If you are in Japan as a foreign traveler with "temporary visitor" status, consider a Japan Rail Pass. It will save you a fair amount of money if you intend to travel between the major cities. Lear more about it here.
  • There are reserved and unreserved cars on the shinkansen. I arranged for us to have assigned seats, which costs extra, but I didn't want to get caught standing for four hours.
  • Power outlets are available in each row in the reserved cars (maybe in the unreserved cars too, but I can't vouch for that).
  • A snack cart will pass by a few times during your trip, but it's perfectly acceptable to bring food aboard.
Shinkansen ticket.
64 is the train number. 16 is the car number. 9 is the row and D is the seat.

We arrived in Hiroshima around noon and dropped our bags at the Sheraton, which is conveniently located adjacent to the station. I chose the Sheraton because the rooms are American-sized--I was traveling with a particularly tall person and wanted him to feel comfortable. Also, if you are traveling with someone who might have a hard time with Japanese foods, the restaurant at the Sheraton had very American options (and a nice breakfast that was included in the cost of our room).  You will certainly save money if you stay elsewhere, but expect very small rooms.

From the Sheraton, we walked to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The walk is doable for adults, but as the weather gets warmer or if you have little ones with you, a ride on the street car is a better option. You can buy a street car pass from the conductor for a reasonable price. (The one-day trip card costs either $6.50 or $8.00 depending on whether you want to be able to take the JR ferry to Miyajima. More information available here.) 

The main sites to see at the Peace Memorial Park are the museum, memorial, and A-bomb dome. I took the below picture while standing in the museum. You can see the memorial and the A-bomb dome in the background.

Peace Memorial Park

Entry to the museum is a reasonable $0.50 per person. There are some friendly, English speaking guides available in the afternoons if you want to be able to ask questions. Signs and placards include English translations. As you would expect, some of the photographs and displays are difficult to process, but it's not so gruesome that kids need to be left at home. Overall, I was expecting the museum to present an anti-American bias, but it didn't seem hostile.

Even though we were at the park on Saturday, there were many school groups around and about. A group of what looked to be high schoolers gave a short concert on the bank of the waterway across from the A-bomb dome.

The Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall,  now referred to as the "A-bomb dome", is the most visible, recognizable landmark in the park. The promotion hall was 160 meters from the hypocenter of the blast. We walked all around the dome and, from the back, you can see the remnants of the metal spiral staircase. Everyone who was inside the hall at the time of the bombing died instantly.

If you're reading this prior to your own trip to Hiroshima, be assured that an afternoon will be enough to visit all of sites at the peace park. (This coming from someone who likes to read as many signs and placards as possible!)

Genbaku A-bomb Dome
After we left the dome, we took a short walk to the hypocenter, which is down a back alley and off the main street. The hypocenter is marked by a granite pillar and easy to find.

Hiroshima Castle is nearby. This, like many "historical" sites in Japan is a reconstruction. The original structure was destroyed in the bombing.

Hiroshima Castle

As you wander around town, you will come across a number of temples and shrines. I forgot to make a note of the name of this shrine, where we stopped to get a few pictures.

Both sides of the road were lined with these stone lanterns.
While in Hiroshima, it's easy and worth the extra time to visit Miyajima. Miyajima is accessible by ferry. I recommend you take the streetcar to Miyajimaguchi then take the reasonably priced JR ferry across to the island. You can read about it here. Due to poor planning on my part, we took a much more expensive ($20/person) water taxi from the peace park to Miyajima. Avoid that if you can!

On Miyajima, you'll find the scenic Itsukushima Shrine. It's right by the water so that at high tide, it appears to be floating on the sea. At low tide, it looks like this:

Itsukushima Shrine at low tide
Admission to the shrine was a reasonable $2 or $3. There was some sort of sword fighting demonstration going on while we were there, but I didn't take any pictures since Ben was snapping away on his Nikon.

There are also some promising hiking trails on the island. I regret that we didn't take advantage of the trails. It was my fault as I was feeling overheated on account that I was wearing jeans--please bring shorts and bug spray as there are a lot of mosquitos around.

Otori gate at Itsukushima Shrine
In addition to mosquitos, there were lots of deer that wandering around. They aren't shy about taking a bite of any food or paper goods, whether you offer them a taste or not. Be on guard!

Miyajima deer
It was one of the best weekends I've had since I've been living in Japan. Nothing against Tokyo, but it's great to escape the city from time to time. We had been thinking about going to Hakone or Nikko this weekend, but those plans were cancelled due to the personal events described in my last post.