Today was a big day of train travel from Kyoto to Osaka to Hiroshima to Miyajima Island and return. This itinerary was the reason we bought the travel pass discussed yesterday. The retail price of our 800km round trip was over JPY22,000 per person but the 5 day pass cost JPY13,600. Therefore by only day 2 it has been highly cost effective and well worth the 30 minutes of research to buy the ticket and identify which trains to catch.
An early morning start saw us at Kyoto Station at 7:45 for the 30 minute express train to Shin-Osaka. Then straight onto the shinkansen which whisked us to Hiroshima. It only took 90 minutes to cover the 340 kilometre distance. At Hiroshima we transferred straight onto a local train to travel further along the coast to the ferry terminal for Miyajima. How did we know where to go? We followed the crowds who bustled off the train and headed for the ferry.
Miyajima Island is famous for many reasons, including the giant tori at Itsukushima Shrine, which itself is suspended on platforms over the water. The tori is not only spectacular for its size but also because it is set out in the bay. At high tide the tori seems to float on the water. At low tide one can walk out across the sand and stand beside the structure. We heard a young Australian woman say: "That's it - bucket list completed!" Really? There is plenty more to see in the world.
The Navigatrix was approached by a group of school children who had to practice their English with Westerners. So polite - "Excuse me, do you have some time to answer questions?". She patiently answered the questions and signed her own name, presumably as proof the kids completed the assignment and did not make up the answers. A moment later, one of the children brought their friend over to complete the assignment. A minute later the same thing again! The word must have got out The Navigatrix had toy koala key rings to give away. We received beautiful origami cranes as a gift.
Miyajima also has deer which roam the streets much like in Nara, although these deer are not addicted to deer crackers and therefore are far more polite.
We climbed to the top of a small hill to see a wonderful red pagoda, wooden temple hall and view a panorama of Hiroshima Bay
Afterwards we walked the touristic Hatsukaichi-shi street and sampled the local food. We can get okonomiyaki (a layered pancake) at our local market, so instead we had a Hiroshima style steamed beef bun, fish cakes on a stick with asparagus and bacon, and momiji-manju. Not quite a biscuit… not quite a cake… but it is a cake type texture shaped like a maple lea and with a sweet filling such as bean curd, custard cream or even chocolate. Fresh and hot from the mould they were eaten before we could take a photo.
One could easily spend a day or two on Miyajima but we had other things to do. From there we took a local light rail system into the centre of Hiroshima. It had started to rain as we left Miyajima and it was still drizzling by the time we got to the Atomic Bomb Dome. After a back up photo (in case the weather turned nasty) we scuttled into the Peace Memorial Museum.
The images and stories of Hiroshima before and after that moment, as well as the aftermath, are confronting to say the least. The purpose of the museum is to lay out the history of atomic bomb development, then track the escalation of weapons build-up during the Cold War and the nuclearisation of Asia from Pakistan to India to China to North Korea. It also shows the real effects on the 140,000 people estimated to have died at Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped. The message is clear: this must never happen again. The nearby Peace Flame will burn until all nuclear weapons have been abolished.
"It will burn forever then," said The Navbour.
Back inside the museum, The Navigatrix could not bear the see the whole display of artefacts donated by survivors. Things like shredded clothing, melted glass bottles and deformed roof tiles. Even The Navigator struggled with some of the stories of citizens.
Like the returned soldier who saw the melted bottles: "It must have been really hot."
Or the diary entry of a school child on 5 August: "Looking forward to learning more tomorrow."
Or the harrowing accounts of people searching for loved ones and never finding them.
The museum was filled with school children on excursions (most important cultural sites seem to have school excursions - Nara, Himeji, Hiroshima, etc.), some children younger than 10 years of age. We wondered how they must feel about the displays and the stories but that is the purpose of the museum - to never forget what happened and to educate people so it never happens again.
Outside the museum we visited the Children’s Peace Monument with its thousands of paper cranes. A young girl who survived the blast contracted leukaemia in the 1950s and while in hospital started making paper cranes. Japanese legend is that if one makes 1,000 paper cranes the gods will grant them a wish. The young girl folded only 644 cranes before she died. The memorial was inspired by this young girl's story and since then over 10 million cranes have been donated to the monument.
By now the weather cleared and so we updated our photos of the A Bomb Dome. The hypocentre of the blast is actually about 160 meters away from the building. Many other buildings in the immediate area survived because at this location the blast went downwards. Some buildings have been demolished and some rebuilt - the A Dome (originally an exhibition hall) was deliberately left in this state and is (yet another) UNESCO World Heritage site.
We returned to Hiroshima station on the light rail/tram which makes Hiroshima feel like Melbourne, especially as the tram crosses over the many rivers in the city. At Hiroshima station we had to sidestep our way through the crowds of people heading to Friday night baseball at nearby Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium. We got straight onto the shinkansen and settled in for the 90 minute ride to Osaka.
Except it was not 90 minutes.
For the first time ever in our many rides on the bullet train (or any other train) In Japan, it stopped in the middle of nowhere. Long announcements in Japanese ensued. The train still did not move. After about 30 minutes we crept forward and eventually arrived at Fukuyama - not a scheduled station. More lengthy announcements in Japanese and then finally one in English.
"The train has stopped driving due to a customer impact at Himeji. I will advise when we will start driving again."
In the end we were stationary for nearly three hours. We were lucky - at least we had seats. Many people got on at Fukuyama and then at Okayama and had to stand. Yet through all of this there were no complaints or muttering, just an acceptance that everyone was stuck. Even the children were well behaved. The Navigatrix made a strategic advance on the food trolley before the train got too crowded. Chocolate, nuts and ice cream staved off a tired-hungry-grumpy moment, although had she known how long the delay was to be she would have bought far more. The message then changed to "human damage" and then on arrival at Shin-Osaka there was a message saying there had been a derailment, which was probably a lost in translation moment as later on we could find nothing on the news about a derailment.
Our train was suspended at Shin-Osaka (we felt sorry for those who were travelling through to Tokyo), so we had to change trains to continue to Kyoto. We have never seen a station as crowded as this, even at New Years Eve. The entire shinkansen system was disrupted from Tokyo through to the island of Kyushu. Platforms were packed with people waiting to board delayed trains, or there were long lines of people waiting to get their money back for trains which had been cancelled.
We were forced to catch the local (all stops) train from Shin-Osaka to Kyoto as the express trains were full of passengers trying to get home. Even getting on the local was a squeeze - The Navigator was almost left behind. Fortunately the carriages cleared quickly.
In the end, what should have been a two hour journey ended up being nearly six hours. Thank goodness the ticket vending restaurant next door to the hotel is open 24 hours. It was after midnight by the time we ate but even at that time of night the restaurant was full.