Hiroshima lies on the South coast of Japan and is now quite a trendy city despite it’s tragic past. As such, Phoebe and I, lord and lady of “the trend”, would settle in quite nicely. We took our residence in a log house – the brainchild of an artsy Japanese couple who had also decided that blinds obviously negatively affect the Feng Shui of the building despite the fact that it lights up to the brightness of the sun at 5am every morning.
After dumping our rapidly swelling backpacks, we took to foot and explored the delights of Hiroshima. Phoebe was well behaved and didn’t kick too many cherry blossom trees so I allowed her a brief break into the Pokemon centre for five minutes. Within that time she had spent nearly 30 quid so I learnt my lesson rapidly. We then ventured into Hiroshima memorial peace park; a park with lots of strange sculptures bent in funny ways. A trip to the memorial museum about the history of the A-Bomb in 1945 left us in a thoughtful, slightly saddened mood which was only later cut through by the brashness of a Japanese McDonalds or what I like to call a chicken Teri-Maccy.
After lots of recommendations, we took the ferry over to Miyajima to see what all the fuss was about. Miyajima is an island just South of Hiroshima which is home to Japan book favourite – the floating tori. Aside from this, there is the sprawling presence of another herd of greedy deer (presumably they had a falling out from Nara deer and sailed across one day in outrage) and some very unique specialities… For some unknown reason, the people of Miyajima have managed to sustain a livelihood on the foundations of the profitable spatula, eel and maple leaf shaped biscuit industries. Hoping to continue these pointless industries for future generations, I naively tried the biscuits, foolishly believing them not be filled with an ooze of red bean, and Phoebe bought a spatula with a smiley face. Our conscience cleared, we went to the giant red temple thing that was mostly sat on mud and a thin film of seawater when the tide came in. The Tori was indeed impressive but required using the aforementioned spatulas to bat selfie-taking couples out of the way to see it. We also paid 300 yen for a stamp; I still to this day wonder why. I have my inclinations that it’s to subsidise a dying maple biscuit industry, but who knows. As we left Miyajima after a long day of bemusement, we saw some deer preventing an elderly gentleman from closing his family-run establishment. I find it hard to believe people can sleep at nights with deer-run mafia syndicates outside terrorising the neighbourhoods, probably on a black market spatula industry…
When a place advertises itself as home of the best Octopus Balls in the world, I tend to try and give it as wider berth as possible. Unfortunately, I like a good deer park and aquarium so my hands were tied with regard to staying in Osaka. The majority of life here is present in the Dotonburi district – a magical place with giant octopi sitting atop of buildings and small eel ponds at the bottom of arcades. I even relented to the vibrant, enthusiastic feel of the place and purchased the aforementioned octopus balls. They tasted like a doughnut with a tentacle inside; make of that what you will.
No trip to Osaka could be complete without a quick excursion to Nara (the literal translation being “deer”). Surprisingly enough, there were some deer here, and thus the town planner has scored one in my books. Actually, I’m downplaying it, there were thousands of the little vermin running around. Deer cracker sellers are at every street corner and the four legged demons have learnt to bow to get a cracker; if that fails however, they just sort of ram your thigh until you relinquish whatever food is in your hand. Nara park is undeniably beautiful though; three weddings were going on on just the day we visited (we’re in 2 out of the 3 wedding photos – You are welcome!). Temples and Toris (Giant pretentious gates) pop up between American-park-style forests and picnic areas which, when ignoring the giant rats running around, are really quite impressive. A large wooden temple (I can’t remember the name, nor do I care enough to research it) was particularly cool with large wooden samurai sculptures. Watching an American get stuck in a hole you’re meant to squeeze through for good luck brought me my favourite experience of the day by a mile.
As a personal treat to ourselves from ourselves, we went to Osaka aquarium. As per usual, in a day-care style manner, I left Phoebe with the otters and explored the rest of the aquarium. A giant tank with whale sharks, rays and other fish too large, not tasty enough or too cute to be served up on a bed of rice was set in the middle of the centre. This was not the majestic creature which caught my eye that day however – no – that creature was the sunfish, a glorious creature which kept affectionately nuzzling the poor divers who were in the tank with it. I have remarked upon spirit animals in previous posts but I feel this, mostly due to it’s good looks, is mine.
Lots of love – Deer (The little shit stole my laptop and wrote the god damn post)
An all night flight stemming from Bali being lazy for a day resulted in us arriving at Tokyo ridiculously early. This, combined with a farcical check in time of 4pm resulted in us perching in a bagel shop for nearly two hours before starting to make our move towards the district we were staying in. Renting a pocket Wifi was both a blessing and a curse to me as we could now find out where we are without asking directions but unfortunately my Dad could ring me at even more inconvenient times throughout the day.
Personal admin over with, we then tried to navigate the bowl of spaghetti hoops that is Tokyo’s railway system. There are five or six railway companies with many lines to their name, most of which go to the same location but some deviate for a few stops. Oh, and to make things easier, there are express, local and a sort of half-hearted semi express trains; these all occasionally miss out stops presumably when there is a slight breeze in the air or when the train driver wants to get home for some sushi. It’s also written in Japanese, a language which appears like someone was playing tic-tac-toe and got a bit lost along the way. Several missed stops later, we arrived at our apartment – complete with “The Sky Bed” (constructed only because without it the bed would likely comprise the entirety of the room). We found out later that night that supermarkets in Japan serve better food than most English restaurants, and so we slept soundly through the altitude sickness exerted by “The Sky Bed”.
The next day, apart from falling nearly eight foot from “The Sky Bed”, an exuberant Phoebe dragged Calum (our stray friend who apparently got India and Japan confused when flights were being booked) and myself out to Ikebukuro. The sensory overload of high pitched music, neon signs and the feeling of five hundred people brushing past my shoulder every few seconds was enough to send us into a building for cover. Alas, this turned out to be even worse as it was a Japanese arcade. Arcades in Japan are narrow, multi-storey buildings with about 200 prize grabber machines on each level (one of which a Japanese man had plugged in about 10,000 yen to get some naked lady on a towel – he seemed less than bothered by our incredulous stares, it almost spurred him on). There was a horse racing machine where you could buy a horse, feed it beer, watch its overall condition and then set it off in a race on a screen about twice the size of our apartment. It is this, along with the fact that every time that I go into a supermarket, I seem to have a chance of winning some sticker or packet of sweets, that has made me feel that Japanese people like to gamble.
It’s cherry blossoms in Japan. I know this because every supermarket and restaurant is coated in pink-flowered signs everywhere. The best bit about this is that everyone gets drunk in parks under the pretence of “flower watching”. We were down with this activity – the beer actually tastes good unlike the car crash of a beverage that Bintang beer is, and we had been introduced to Sake. Our initial excitement of Sake had ended after finding out that the giant 70 on the front of the can referred to the quality and not the alcohol content, though it was passable and lots of business men appeared to be tripping up over themselves after drinking lots of it so it couldn’t be all bad. The idea of an activity where you could sit on a tarpaulin snacking all day appealed to my companions and so we visited a few different parks during this time. I can report that they all pretty much looked the same after a bottle of sake.
Deciding, foolishly, that we could deal with more crowds, we decided to take a quick detour to Shibuya; home of a road and the fourth busiest train station in the world. After correlating a meet up plan which involved working out which of the 18 exits would be easiest to find (McDonalds was the landmark), we then walked out into a crossing where a pavement slowly begins to fill with people hopping from foot to foot until a green light is shown whereby a primitive kind of instinct causes people to cross the road with the dogmatic nature of a rhino. After plucking a blubbering Phoebe from a sharply dressed shoe stamping, we went and had fish on a Scalextric (conveyor belt… same thing). It was all fun and games until someone ordered what looked like prawn vomit on rice which was the food to send Calum (about as culinary adventurous as a goldfish) back to vegetarianism. In fairness, with phrases such as “fried hormone” and “cod sperm sack” flying around in the few English words on menus, it is an inevitable truth that we would all begin to gravitate towards McDonalds and start pawing at the doors. We felt this was enough Tokyo for one week, and with our regurgitated fish food and rice wine lined bellies, we took the demi-semi-hemi express train back to the sanctitude of “The Sky Bed”.
From Alec, Phoebe, Calum and a rather naive little pufferfish.