Two Weeks in Japan – Part Three

14 Aug

In Part One, I covered our itinerary plus first visit to Tokyo and Takayama

In Part Two, I covered our time in Kyoto

Leaving Guesthouse Soi was hard, but it was now onto the last leg of our railpass week: Hiroshima. I have always been wary of morbid tourism, not least because it feels disrespectful to the dead and those who suffered. However, after hearing from friends what an amazing city Hiroshima is now, I felt I needed to visit for myself.

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It was an emotional time to be in the city, as it was only a few days after the 70th anniversary of the first atomic bombing. The Peace Park was full of memorials and tributes, including thousands of paper cranes folded in memory of Sadako Sasaki.

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The museum in Hiroshima is a traumatic experience. There’s no other way to describe what it’s like to see people’s belongings and scraps of clothing left over from the blast. I couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about their torment – especially after reading John Hersey’s incredible collection of stories from the time. But it felt right to confront it, in all its ugliness.

Around the city, where modern tower blocks now stand – restaurants, bars, shops –  photographic signs show what the area was like just after the blast. That this city is now a vibrant, throbbing centre of life is testament to the human will and spirit.

We were staying outside the city, near the sea, in a beautiful hotel with a bar on the top floor. We weren’t allowed to take photos, but the image of the sun setting over Hiroshima will stay with me forever.

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Our hotel had its own dock where we caught the ferry to Miyajima, a holy island with one of Japan’s most iconic sights, the gate at the Itsukushima Shrine. When the tide is in, it looks like the gate is floating on the water. Unfortunately, we’d have had to get there at five a.m. to catch this phenomenon, so a mud-bound shrine it was.

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Other sights on Miyajima include the world’s largest rice scoop and some more deer, which are not as tame as the Nara deer but also not as intrusive.

That evening we used our passes for the last time to get home to Tokyo. Although we got on the wrong train and it took us a lot longer than it should have done, we eventually made it back to the capital.

Tokyo Take Two

This time, we stayed in Asakusa, a bustling area with lots to do and see nearby. We used Airbnb, which was an excellent budget option and gave us a whole (tiny) Tokyo apartment to ourselves.

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Asakusa is famous for the Senso-ji temple, and we were lucky enough to get a guided tour from some Japanese uni students who wanted to practise their English. Getting accosted by kids and students happened quite a bit but it was always fun to chat to them and tell them what we liked about Japan!

DSCF5705 There is so much to do in the rest of Tokyo that we only scratched the surface. The Tokyo Skytree is a bit pricey but gives incredible views across the city – especially at night. We also enjoyed a shopping trip to the huge mall in Ikebukuro, where Dave got to visit the Pokemon Centre. A trip to an arcade was a must, including a go at the purikura photo booth. And a day in Ueno was perfect for a museum fan like me!

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A stroll around the Yanaka district offered a quieter alternative to the city centre. This artistic area retains a traditional shopping street, and we stopped off here to buy some authentic Japanese tea.

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On our final day in Tokyo, we took the boat to the beautiful Hamarikyu Gardens. Its traditional, calm beauty offset against the modern architecture of the city is the perfect encapsulation of Japan’s ethos.

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I can’t let my Tokyo section end without mentioning the delightful evening we spent with my old friend Reiko. Reiko and I met when she was studying in Oxford for the summer, and we’d been Facebook friends ever since. With typical Japanese hospitality, Reiko showed us to a brilliant restaurant we’d never have found otherwise, and I had my first real sashimi meal.

Final thought – is Japan expensive?

Lots of people told me that Japan is an incredibly expensive destination. I’m not going to deny that you could spend a huge amount of money there, but truthfully, you don’t have to.

Food, for example, is incredibly good value. We often ate a nutritious and delicious lunch at a small cafe for under £3 – tasty ramen or rice with various toppings, usually served with miso and pickles too! Hotel breakfasts were pricey, but most were opt-in so we skipped those and bought croissants and doughnuts from the ubiquitous convenience stores for as little as 50p.

Some activities and excursions have an extra cost, but just walking around the cities was a thrill in itself. Whilst you could no doubt splash out on an incredibly lavish trip, Japan caters for all budgets.

If you get the chance, you must go to Japan.

P.S.

-Nobody tips in Japan

-Bento lunches for the train are THE BEST

-Shinkansen bullet trains are soooooo cool

-Everyone in Japan is lovely and hospitable

-All kinds of okonomiyaki are amazing

For interesting Japan vlogs, I recommend Mimei, Sharla and Rachel&Jun

For (very basic) language, I used Memrise, Tofugu and WaniKani. It didn’t help me much but it was fun.

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