I had been to Hiroshima during my first trip to Japan and thought the family should see it too. It was quite an experience- just getting there and back was an adventure in itself!
I am a fairly frugal person, and I don’t like spending lots of money on things that I could get for much cheaper. Sure, you could take the shinkansen there in as little as 90 minutes, but you would pay dearly for the convenience- a round-trip ticket from Osaka was going for more than 20,000 Yen! Our college group took the shinkansen there the previous year since we had obtained week-long passes for not much more than that which allowed us to take virtually any train in Japan. Such passes, however, were only available to those visiting Japan on tourist visas- which we were not.
Another option was taking the bus between these two cities, which took 5 hours and was available for half the price. A third option was using a special pass that was only sold during times of school holidays. The seishun juhachi kippu can be translated “youthful 18 ticket”, and was designed to allow college students to transverse the country during school breaks for not much money. Despite its name, it was sold to people of any age. In my opinion, only the “young at heart” who were up for an adventure in travel would normally attempt to use these passes; a little child-like naiveté didn’t hurt either. The passes, at less than a quarter of the price of the shinkansen, allowed the bearer unlimited travel via regular trains during any 24 hour period. This is how the family got to Hiroshima and back.
Since the trip there was expected to take 6 1/2 hours, we wanted to catch the earliest train that we could in order to get to our destination as soon as possible. The first train which was headed in the proper direction left downtown Osaka at 6 am, which meant that we needed to leave Ishibashi around 5 am, and to be out of our house by 4:30. Trudy had set the alarm for 3 am, just to make sure we were all ready on time.
Justin was still up when our alarm rang, and had almost finished Harry Potter, but Brennan had gone to bed shortly after we had. We all headed downtown and caught the 6 am train to Himeji; Justin finished reading the book as we waited for it to arrive. The journey was divided into four legs, which involved approximately 90-minute train rides each, between which we had to switch to a different train. We never had to wait for the next train very long, but we did need to make sure it was the right one before we jumped on board!
The first leg of the journey took us through Kobe and then along the coast of Osaka Bay. We could see Himeji-jo from the station where we switched trains. Unfortunately, I hesitated for a bit too long there, making sure that the train we were about to board was the right one. By the time we got on, all the seats had been taken! Luckily, we all eventually got seats as people disembarked at various stops along the second leg of our trip, which took us to Okayama, a major transportation hub where one could head to Shikoku, the smallest of the four major islands of Japan, via a bridge which connected it to Honshu, the main island on which we were living.
We decided to stop and eat breakfast at this station, rather than catch the next train out. We went to a convenience store and bought donuts, along with other assorted pastries, as well as drinks for everyone. Soon, we were on our way once again. We then caught a train for the ride to Itozaki. This route took us through mountains and past quaint little rice-farming towns. Unlike our previous stops, Itozaki wasn’t a metropolitan hub- it was a tiny town in the middle of nowhere! Our train simply pulled into the station there and we switched to a train that was waiting on the other side of the platform.
The final leg of the journey took us through more mountains and through a deep valley, across which they were building a large suspension bridge. We finally pulled into Hiroshima around 12:30. For lunch, I took the family to the restaurant that I had visited on my previous trip to Hiroshima. It was an authentic Japanese restaurant located right in the train station that featured a large grill on which they were making okonomiyaki, as well as grilled meat and vegetables mixed with udon noodles. I ordered the former, while the rest of the family all opted for the latter. The restaurant was packed with people (although we appeared to be the only tourists) while nearby restaurants were not busy, which we assumed was a reflection on how good the food was there.
After lunch, we took a streetcar to our hotel. While trains circled the periphery of the city, electric streetcars are the means of public transportation in the center of this town of over 1 million people. I had booked the hotel off of the internet, using my skills in frugality, and was hoping that it would be a suitable one for the family. It ended up being better than I had imagined. It was located directly adjacent to the Atomic Bomb Memorial Peace Park and, from our 11th floor room; we had an amazing view of the park, including the Atomic Dome. The kids were excited about the Japanese robes which were in our room, and immediately changed into them. They were also entertained by our toilet, which had many knobs and buttons, and even included a bidet. We eventually got them to put their street clothes back on so we could see some of the park.
It had climbed into the 90s that day, one of the hottest days we had experienced all year. We left the hotel and quickly headed for the cooler confines of the Peace Park Museum. We hadn’t expected the displays inside to be very uplifting- and they didn’t let us down. The displays started with a brief history of Hiroshima and then led to scale models of what the town looked like before and after the blast. They had the watch on display that had stopped right at 8:15, as well as a replica of the Atomic Dome that one could walk underneath. After that, they started showing pictures of people who had survived the bombing, artefacts that they had found afterwards (such as a burnt school uniform as well as a lunch box full of ashes), and then a diorama containing models of people who had their skin melting off them. With that, Brennan had had enough and wanted to hurry through the last half of the displays. This was fine with me, since I had already been through the museum on my last visit. We sat and waited for the other two on a bench near the exit.
Although we wanted to see the rest of the Peace Park- the heat was unrelenting, and I had promised Brennan we would head to a more cheerful place, so we decided to get on a streetcar and travel to Miyajima. Miyajima is an island that is reached by a ferry from the outskirts of Hiroshima (it was about a 40-minute trip on the streetcar). It has one of the most famous sights in Japan- a red shrine gate that is surrounded by water. Before we left, Justin and I ran back to the hotel to get our train passes, which were also good on the ferry. We brought back ice cream for everyone, and found Trudy and Brennan on a bench where we left them, talking to an 82 year old Japanese man. He had come over to see if Trudy had overheated and had stayed to talk, as well as to take some pictures for an album filled with the different people he had met walking around Hiroshima. We stopped to take a picture of him as well, and then headed to the streetcar stop.
Miyajima means “beautiful island”, and it was. It was one of the most beautiful places we had been in Japan so far. It was a small, mountainous island which was filled with shrines and quaint little Japanese houses. What is even better, at least from the kids’ perspective, it was filled with tame deer. The deer were everywhere, and would even follow us along the street. The kids and I kept petting the deer, which worried Trudy greatly. Not only had she heard that the deer could be aggressive at times, Japanese bathrooms rarely had any soap, and she had forgotten to bring the Purell that she usually carried with her. After the kids had succeeded in coated their hands with deer germs, they wanted to get ice cream- so they went off to look for a place to wash their hands, while Trudy and I did some shopping in one of the stores which lined the narrow road we had been walking down.
As it neared 6 pm, we decided to go in search of a place to eat. We found a traditional restaurant where we sat on the floor around a wooden counter. When we ordered, I made sure to ask whether Trudy’s eel tempura or Justin’s shrimp dish had any eggs in them. The food was probably the best Japanese dinner we had eaten during our stay. Everyone agreed that it was delicious!
We wandered around the island some more after dinner and watched the sun set over the shrine gate. Then we explored a pagoda which was on a hill near the shrine and walked along a little stream which ran through town. Trudy was getting tired, but the boys wanted to find a waterfall that they had seen a picture of- so she returned to the shrine gate to wait for us while we ascended the hills in search of the falls. We found them fairly quickly, but by then it was starting to get very dark. We climbed around on the rocks near the stream for a while, and then rejoined Trudy. We said goodbye to our deer friends and boarded the 8:45 ferry for the mainland.
Since the streetcar had taken so long getting to the ferry dock, we decided to use our passes and to take the train, out around the city, to get to a closer streetcar stop. We arrived at the station in time to board the 9:20 streetcar, which happened to be the last one which left from there that evening. After one last stroll through the Peace Park, we arrived at our hotel room around 10 pm, tired and thankful to be back in the air conditioning.