Hanging in Hiroshima and Miyajima

Trip Start Mar 10, 2009
Trip End Nov 09, 2009

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Flag of Japan  , Chugoku,
Saturday, April 4, 2009

Well folks, Mr. Birnie and I had not learned from our previous mistakes on not booking a hostel and we found ourselves in the same boat when we arrived in Hiroshima.  Loaded up with backpacks, arriving after dark we had no clue where anything was, or where to find a hostel.  Enter Lonely Planet.  If we haven't complained enough about Lonely Planet, here is a little more for you.
What is touted to be a book for backpackers and budget travel, they love to only mention one or two budget accommodations and jump right to their pick of places to stay that are the equivalent of $250 or more a night.  No shit.........the Westin Hiroshima or the Ritz Carlton Kobe is their pick.......well jesus christ, imagine that.  Birnie and I should write a travel book.  We can pick the nicest hotels in every city of the world and recommend them as a place to stay.  Hell, I can do it right now if you'd like.  Stay at The Peninsula in Hong Kong, the Four Seasons in Bali and the Burj al Arab in Dubai........simple really.......
Anyway hahaha, i digress.  Oh wait, one more thing.  Lonely Planet's directions and maps are the worst as well.  Their maps only include streets that they want to include.  For example, in Hiroshima, they show a map that has us going two blocks north and three blocks west to get to a place.  In actuality, it is about 14 blocks north and 9 blocks west.  They just conveniently left out all of the other streets cuz they didn't feel like accurately representing the city. Nor is there a distance legend. 
I would love to see their map of new york city.  I'm sure it would be quite easy to get from Brooklyn to the Bronx.  All they need to show is Atlantic Avenue, the Manhattan Bridge, Park Avenue, East 161st street and you can walk from Brooklyn to yankee stadium in two blocks.  Genius!!
 Sorry, for those of you who live in the greater new york area, you will get my sarcasm - for those of you who don't.....look at a map of Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx, you will soon understand......and don't worry about the small details of about 15 miles between brooklyn and the bronx.....that isn't important.
Needless to say, we hopped on the Hiroshima city trolley and were off in search of a place to sleep.  We get to the only hostel mentioned in Lonely Planet and guess what..........FULL.  So the really nice receptionist gave us a map  and proper directions to try a couple of other places and we hit the jackpot.  If staying on a budget in Hiroshima, stay at the Aster Plaza International Hotel.  The room, with two double beds, a full western style bathroom and maid service everyday cost birnie and I about $30 dollars each.  Our own hotel room, with our own CLEAN bathroom, and a real bed, not a hostel back-cracker...oh my god, we were in heaven.  A TV, a western toilet....a friggin' bathtub..........a real pillow - for those of you who don't know, a lot of japanese hostels have pillows that are essentially a big bag of corn kernels. They put a pillowcase over a family size portion of Orville Redenbacher and call that a pillow......sweet.....
So having the simple luxuries of a western toilet, morning newspaper and a real bed was something these two gaijin were in desperate need of.  Not to mention that this place was right where you wanted to be as a tourist in Hiroshima.  A three minute walk to Peace Memorial Park, and about a 15 minute walk to the nightlife and restaurant area.  And it was cheap.  Most hostel dorm beds throughout Japan cost between 25 and 30 US Dollars per night.  And that is shared with up to 8 others, with no bathroom, no TV etc..... We were paying $31 dollars each for this gem and it was worth every penny!!!!  Makely and Birnie give this place three thumbs up!!
We unloaded our gear and headed out to grab some dinner.  Right across the street was a small, pseudo-vegetarian, tex-mex restaurant called Otis'.  They were advertising tex-mex in the window, and I was ready for some western style food.  We headed into this joint, on Kako-machi, right next to the Peace Memorial Park on the corner of Peace Boulevard, and ordered some enchiladas.
Maybe not the best enchiladas I have ever had, but pretty damn good for a japanese mexican restaurant.  Otis' was a really cool place, either playing american jazz or reggae, it is well worth a stop for lunch if visiting Peace Memorial Park.
We met a nice older couple from England that had taken the bullet train down from Kyoto for the day, and we chatted them up for a bit at which time they were kind enough to snap a photo of Birnie and I waiting for our meal.  Before we left Hiroshima, I think we had eaten at Otis' about four times.......definitely a fan of the place.
The following day we headed out to see the sights.  We walked around Memorial Park seeing the cenotaphs for all of the bomb victims, the cenotaph for Korean victims, the Memorial Mound where most of the remains of the victims were laid to rest.  It was very powerful being there and seeing the A-Bomb dome, the frame of one of the buildings that was left as is after the bombing, as a reminder of the devastation of war.
The Children's Peace Monument was erected in honor of a young japanese girl that died of Leukemia ten years after the bomb was dropped.  It is covered with hundreds of thousands of paper origami cranes, which are made by children all over the world as a sign of peace and in memory of Sadako Sasaki, the girl who had died from Leukemia.  She believed that if she could make 1000 paper cranes, she would be cured from her terminal cancer.  All over Hiroshima you will see paper cranes, and the Children's monument is is a statue of a girl with outstretched arms with a folded paper crane rising above her.  Really quite moving.
We rang the Peace Bell, walked the Gates of Peace, took pictures of the Peace Flame and had lunch at a small outdoor cafe right next to the T-bridge, which was the original target of the atomic bomb.  It was a very beautiful and somber day.  At night, birnie and I headed into town to walk around, grab some dinner, look for an internet cafe and take in the city.  Hiroshima really is a cool city, but there are not a ton of places that allow gaijin to enter. Fun to people watch and sight-see, but very Japanese only in a lot of areas.
We were in search of a place to get a massage, but it was also getting pretty late.  We found a couple of places that were still open, but by the time we had price compared, there wasn't enough time to get the massage before they closed.  So we wandered some more, laughed at some of the advertisements that were in English (see the picture of the female silhouette in this post.....it really makes no sense) and headed back to get a good nights sleep.
The following day we headed to the Peace Memorial Museum and spent the better part of the late morning/early afternoon there.  I took some pics of the inside of the museum, again really interesting and very moving.  It cost 50 yen to get in, the equivalent of 50 cents, and we got the audio guide as well. Definitely worth it.
We had a relatively mellow night, I was still fighting illness and was trying to rest up to get better.  The next morning, Birnie was up early and was heading out to Miyajima for the day.  I decided to sleep in and didn't get started til about noon.
Miyajima is a small island town located in the south of Hiroshima.  It houses the famous floating torii, the gates to the Isukushima Shrine.  Taking the local street trolleys, it takes the better part of an hour to get there.  It's pretty cool cuz the floating torii actually is geometrically perfect so it will float, but based on the tides, it is weighed down to keep it erect.  When the tide is in, it appears as if it's floating.  When the tide is out, well....you can see that it just sort of sits on the floor of the Inland Sea.
The torii, or floating gate to the shrine, is also one of Japan's most popular tourist sites.  The island of Miyajima itself is great to spend the day at.  Birnie got there at high tide, so he took some good pictures of the torii under water.  I didn't get there til after noon, so I took some pics at low tide. 
Funny, we both were going to go to Miyajima to see the shrine and torii, but we also both decided (unbenounced to the other) to hike to the top of Mt. Misen.  It is about 2.5 km from the center of town and I am not gonna lie to you, it's straight up hill.  The equivalent of doing stairmaster on uneven winding stairs for the better part of two hours.  It is pretty cool though once you get to the top. 
Miyajima is also very similar to Nara in that deer are everywhere, begging for food from the tourists.  Of course I took my time to spend all of my yen feeding them, and even had a couple of them follow me for about 20 minutes on the climb to the peak of Mt. Misen.  Nice to have hiking buddies :-)
So I've mentioned a couple of times that I was pretty sick in Japan right?  Well, that coupled with it being a hot day, and me being festively plump, I was sweating my ass off on this hike and was borderline dying.  Many japanese tourists got some good chuckles at how profusely I was sweating, and the fact that I was lapped by three 80 yr.old japanese women as I sat on a stone step gasping for air, wasn't doing much for my self esteem.  Did I also mention that there is no chance in hell i will make it up the Inca Trail to Manchu Picchu...........  At least when I met birnie later that night back at the hotel, he said he suffered as well.......so I don't feel too bad.
Atop Mt. Misen was very beautiful.  You could see the entire island and the Inland Sea.  See some of the pictures in this entry.  Definitely beautiful, but with all of the smog some of the beauty was masked.
I rewarded myself with a Coke and a hot bowl of Udon noodles at the top of the mountain and took some pics for an hour or so. I started the long trek down the mountain, hoping to see some elusive monkeys that inhabit the island, but all I got was some more deer.
Back at the bottom, in the town center, it was almost sunset and the tide was rolling back in.  I spent some more money buying food for the deer and stopped to take a couple of pictures.  Hopped on the ferry back to mainland Hiroshima and was on my way back to the hotel.
When I got back to the room, Birnie was getting ready to go grab some dinner, and had made an appointment for a massage.  We headed to Otis', had some more Enchiladas and some Masala Chai tea and laughed about our separate but similar hikes to the top of Mt. Misen.  I was pretty tired and trying to get healthy so I headed back to the room to relax and write some postcards.  Birnie was off to get his massage.  He had agitated a nerve in his shoulder carrying his 5000 packs over the past few days, and was hoping a massage would bring him some relief.
He had been having trouble sleeping, and it was starting to wear on him.
I tend to think that he pinched a nerve during some of his narcoleptic bouts on japanese public transportation.  Another tidbit of info on japanese general population.  The minute you step onto a bus or train or subway, you fall asleep within seconds.  Doesn't matter if you are sitting standing or walking, like a fine choreographed hypnotist, the second the door closes, heads drop.
Birnie also suffers from this disease.  It is quite comedic watching birnie and all of the japanese people snap their head around as they doze off in the seated or standing position. It's a beautiful thing and never gets old.  As I type this blog entry, birnie is laying on the couch with a lonely planet book in his hand...open.....and although he looks like he is reading, he is actually asleep.  You will see very similar pics throughout some of the other blog entries, and I have two photographic goals on this trip.  One - take a picture of birnie washing his hands at every place that has a puddle of water.  Two - take pictures of birnie's narcoleptic bouts from country to country.  Trust me, you will see what I am talking about.  A photo is worth a thousand words :-)
So back to what I was saying.......I am convinced that he actually injured his neck doing one of his multiple head jerks in a narcoleptic seizure......but that's just me.  He returned from his massage, only to have a worse neck injury than before he had gone.  Apparently the masseuse had beat the crap out of him and although he had screamed for mercy, she couldn't understand his broken japanese and dug deeper.  Classic.
I relaxed for the evening, watched some baseball on TV, Hanshin vs. Hiroshima........this is when I first became a tried and true loyal Hanshin Tigers fan......GO HANSHIN!!!!........and got some good rest. 
We woke up in the morning, packed up and made our way to the train station....  can't trek through japan without searching for the beef.  And we knew where it was....KOBE!!

Peace out ballers and stay tuned for Kobe!  Hope you are enjoying the blog.
makely and birnie.
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