Hiroshima n' Miyajima

Trip Start Jul 09, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2007

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Day 10 - Hobbling in Hiroshima...
  We woke up in Osaka to the now familiar sound of a nearby rooster.  My knee (which started to hurt yesterday) is now a full-blown problem.  We made it to the Shinkensen station with little excitement, and another small fight ensued (this time about breakfast).  Phil ended up having a hotdog, and I had a Starbucks breakfast sandwich.  After arriving in Hiroshima, we were informed that there is no train system in the city.  Instead they have "street cars".  These run just like the trolleys in San Francisco. 
  On the streetcar, I could swear that I couldn't breathe.  I felt like I could feel nuclear fallout in the air.  This all happened after I saw an older man on the train with very red (burned-looking) skin.  We were able to drop our bags at the hostel (but we weren't able to check in for a few hours). 
  We took a walk up to the Atomic Bomb bridge and dome.  The bridge was the target for the bomb drop, but it actually landed about 50 meters away at a dome-shaped city building.  They have preserved the building and created a Memorial Park nearby.  I am almost unable to walk at this point.  I take a seat near the dome as Phil makes a quick pit stop.  Three Japanese women approach me as I am sitting on a bench and start asking some weird questions.  Turns out they were Jehovah's and were trying to convert me.   But the only communication method they had was a small leaflet (written in English), explaining how a woman's cancer miraculously disappeared. 
  We needed to head back to the hostel because I could no longer walk.  We made a quick stop at a little restaurant, and I managed to get home without collapsing.  The outside of the J-hoppers hostel resembled the first hostel in Tokyo, and we were a bit apprehensive about the accommodations.  Phil convinced the French guy at the front desk to move us from the fourth floor to the second (seeing as I was injured).  Our jaws dropped when we saw the room.  A beautiful sunlit Japanese style, tatami matted, room appeared before us.  Closets, cubby holes, and a stunning carved wood table just made the deal even sweeter.  The room just worked.  It almost appeared to be professionally decorated, down to the small pink accents that made the dark wood pop. 
  Phil brought me some ice for my knee, and we were able to connect to the hostel's wi-fi.  Finally, we posted our long awaited Tokyo blog.  I took a pain pill, rested a while, and felt better to go out for dinner.  We planned on seeing a live band a few blocks from our hostel (we were given a flyer when walking back from the dome).  Once arriving there, we were told there was a 3,000 yen/person cover.  We politely bowed our heads and left.  A tempanaki place was recommended to us.  As we arrived in the cramped corner restaurant, a loud simultaneous greeting came from the bandana-headed staff.  We sat at the grille bar and were able to point to all of the food we wanted. 
Den Den (or Don Don?) was a no nonsense packed little local place specializing in okonomiyaki, noodle and fried rice.  Unlike the one we tried in Kobe you could see there was much more love and passion put into the cooking.  We sat at the counter which allowed us prime viewing of each dish the 4 chefs/waiters turned out.  That's right.  The same guy who took your order would go behind the grill and make your food. 
One interesting preparation was the warm tamago appetizer.  (Tamago is the cold egg omelet most sushi restaurants offer by the piece)  I watched with admiration as our chef/waiter carefully whisked a couple eggs on to the grill and then delicately formed them into a perfect roll about 6 inches long.  A few seconds later he added more egg and repeated the process three or four times until the roll was about an inch thick.  He then took a sushi mat and compressed it a bit.  He let it cool a minute and sent it out.  Work of art.  The plating of dishes was also interesting.  Everything went out on tin foil.  The chef  would often finish the dish on piece of foil placed on the grill then form a shallow pan by turning the sides up and in before delicately sending it out to the table.  Very cool.  
We shared okonomiyaki with bacon, a small pork cutlet, and sirloin.  Both meat dishes were sautéed/grilled with just a bit of scallion, garlic and vegetable oil.  As usual the ingredient quality allows the Japanese to make simple food taste extraordinary.        
Day 11 - Magical Miyajima Island
  Today started off to a good start, mystery illness #1 (Phil's neck rash) had successfully disappeared thanks to some anti-histamine cream.  We grabbed a quick 7-11 breakfast and jumped on the street car in route to the JR station.  At the second stop we realized that we forgot the JR passes and passports (thank God my knee was feeling better).  We decided to stop at the post office and grab some more cash, and I was able to buy some Tiger Balm for my knee at the neighboring pharmacy.
  On the train to Miyajima, Phil and I played 20 questions (he had never played before).  Kilimanjaro was the real stumper.  A quick 10 minute ferry brought us to the beautiful Miyajima.  Even from the boat, we knew that this was a special place.  The island consisted of a quaint coastal village with sprawling mountains in the background.  A group of friendly deer greeted us at the ferry terminal.  Our first stop was the five story pagoda and shrine.  A generous American man shared his bug spray with me (I couldn't believe we forgot ours).  And we were ready to see the mountains. 
  We found a great souvenir shop and after purchasing a knickknack, we asked (or Phil asked) the man at the register if there were any good restaurants around.  His eyes lit up and he drew us up a map.  As we began walking up the stone-paved mountain, an older woman in an apron started running down the mountain waving her arms and screaming at us.  The man must have called ahead and alerted her.  I suppose it was a good thing that she found us, because I doubt we would have recognized the place.  It was a small wooden Japanese-style cabin with display windows lining the outside.  But the windows contained large rocks.  Not pretty special rocks, but just plain old small boulders one can find at any construction site.  Inside the restaurant, short wooden tables and pillows were set up.  Other than the soft-core porn on the television (at noon), this meal was as close to home-cooking as we would get in Japan.
Maybe we were just really hungry and/or excited to find this homey little cabin away from the plastic-food displays of the overpriced tourist traps just down the road.  Immediately we were brought a pitcher of cold tea and given a short menu.  We settled on a beef and egg bowl and chicken fried rice in a tomato sauce.  Though prepared very simply both were very good.  Best of all it hit the spot and cost 1200Y or about $10.  We decided we were in love with the place for its beautiful, isolated location, view of deer just outside the door and its very gracious host/waitress/busboy and chef which were all roles held by a one middle aged women who blushed upon asking to take her picture with Michelle.  Such a sweet woman.
  We followed the trail up the mountain until we reached the ropeway station.  There, we rested with a couple Japanese ice creams from a machine.  I had chocolate chip mint and Phil had peach lemon.  The first part of the ropeway we were alone in the car, and enjoyed breathtaking views of the north side of the island (the way we came in on the ferry).  The second part was a much larger car that went across the mountain range rather than up.  On this section of the ride, the views were of the south side of the island, the surrounding islands, and an Eastern European woman's hairy armpits. 
  We weren't notified of the price of the ropeway (1000yen one way, and 1800 round trip, per person) until we actually reached it.  We decided that we could only afford one-way, so we committed to walking down the mountain.  We marveled the spectacular view from the summit of the mountain (400 meters above sea level), but our excitement was hindered with the notion of walking all the way down. 
  As we began walking down, we heard an American voice ask us if we ever found Ameri-kambra.  It was the guy and girl we met in the street of Osaka!  They were on a similar schedule, and were not only staying in Hiroshima, but in our hostel!  We thanked them again for their help that night, and continued our journey.   Waterfalls and thick greenery made the two hour walk much more bearable. 
  We made our way back to the water and noticed that it wasn't there.  The shrine on stilts that once hovered over the bay, now stood above wet sand.  It was low tide and the water must have retreated close to a ¼ of mile.  We sat on a bench and watched groups of tourists walk out to the famous tori gate that welcomed us to the island.  We attempted to shoot a video of the scene, but a rambunctious deer was not going to let that happen.  He came over to us meekly enough, but then began to rifle through our bags.  We tried pushing him away, but then he stuck his head up Phil's pant leg.  Needless to say, our video became more of a 'when animal's attack' rather than a sunset scene.  Before finally leaving our beloved Miyajima island we had to try their local favorite snack (which we were able to watch being made through a window).  The maple leaf-shaped cookie was filled with various fruity fillings.  We tried the chocolate pudding.
  Back at the hostel, we joined our friends from the mountain on the porch.  We invited them to join us at a nearby café, Appreciation, for some dinner and live music.  They said they already had plans for dinner, but might join us for a drink afterward.  It seemed Phil and I wouldn't be eating at Appreciation either.  They served Italian food (pasta and pizza) at astronomical prices for super small portions (not that we aren't used to that in NY).  But then we were informed that the music wouldn't come on until 10:00pm (it was only 8:45). 
  As we turned the corner from the restaurant, Phil said probably the greatest thing my little ears could ever hear - "I'm really in the mood for a burger."  I love Japanese food, and while I have enjoyed the array of sushi, tepanyanki, and tempura we have consumed, all I wanted was a thick juicy burger.  The only problem was that we were in Hiroshima.  I haven't seen a single American joint since we got here (and God was I looking).  We turned another corner to take us onto the main street, and my silent prayers were answered.  Mos Burger!!  I think that this chain (which is all over Tokyo) is a variation on the American "In and Out" Burger. 
What can I say, it was an excellent burger packed with chopped onion, tomato salsa and swiss cheese.  The bun was not that tasteless mass produced white flour foam we're accustomed to but more like a French brioche without the sweetness. The fries were excellent too.  They use a good grade of frying oil and a light dash of sea salt making them instantly addictive.  If I had to gripe I'd say the portions were a bit on the small side.  I would however trade a Mickey D's, BK's and Wendy's for a Mos burger anytime.  This burger only further confirms my sentiment that the Japanese are unparalleled perfectionists when it comes to most things and especially food.  Cutting corners to trim cost or speed production do not seem to be a priority.
  We arrived back at Appreciation around 9:45, and waited for this mystery "live" music to start.  What we have heard of the music so far, has certainly set our expectations very low.  Two men (and a small entourage of two other guys and a girl) carried a guitar, mic and tenor sax into the small café.  They set up in front of the large French doors, and Phil and I took a seat at the back.  They were great.  And I mean really great.  We described the lead singer as the Japanese John Mayer (for those of you groaning right now, when you have heard the bubblegum pop that we have endured, John Mayer is music to our ears).  He even threw in a Carpenters song (although some of the English lyrics were la-di-da-da-ed over).  After their set (a little over an hour later) we got the check and were headed out of the restaurant when our two friends, plus another couple, and five Frenchman met us in front of the café. 
  They twisted our arm into another drink and we all piled into the tiny place.  After kicking a couple out of their table, we were arranged neatly around two small café tables.  Most of the conversation floated around travel stories from South America, Australia, Southeast Asia, and Europe.  I was so excited that Phil and I had already racked up a number of center-of-attention-worthy stories (with a little embellishment of course).  We said goodnight around an hour later and smiled all the way back to the hostel.  It was a great day.  By far the best we have had in Asia.  We saw, we ate, we shared.  I think the trip is turning a new leaf!  Here we come Korea...
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