Back to Japan – Day 3 Part 2 (Miyajima)

After a restroom and prayer break, it was time to round up and head for lunch. But not before most of the group got themselves ice-cream, because ice-cream before lunch is the correct way to go about planning dessert. You cannot ever leave dessert for after a meal because there’s never any tummy space left! Except of course if you’re blessed with two separate tummies, one for food and one for dessert ^^ It was a much needed ice-cream to be honest, because it had suddenly become rather warm, and despite the overcast skies, there was a glaring sun following us as we walked to a halal Turkish lunch at Karsiyaka (which incidentally also offers belly dancing shows). The food was great and it felt good to finally not be split up in to an awkward number of tables, because it allowed us to enjoy some fun lunch conversations and get to know our tour buddies some more. I ended up meeting someone who loves cooking and was fascinated by the soft warm bread we’d been served and also shares my love for Korean. After a filling lunch followed by hot tea and a prayer break, we were ready to board the bus for a long scenic drive to the ferry terminal so we could go to Miyajima.

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Peek-a-boo! The store across from our restaurant

We missed our scheduled ferry (oops) despite a mad dash, and had a short wait before the next ferry arrived. The trip takes only about 10 minutes, but it reminded me so much of our first ferry ride in New Zealand to Waiheke. We chose to spend our ten minutes not in the comfort of the air conditioning, but outside watching the tree covered island approach us. The sky was filled with clouds, which meant that the water looked varying shades of grey, only blue when the sun would break through the cloud cover for a brief cameo. From up on the deck we began to see the familiar vermilion of the Great Torii Gate of the Itsukushima Shrine grow brighter as we approached.

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First view of the Great Torii Gate from the ferry

The ferry docked and as we trooped out, we were surprised to find so many deer on the island. It was a sight I only expected to see in Nara, but unlike Nara, the deer here are wild and people have been explicitly told not to feed or approach them. We couldn’t do much about the deer that approached us, though, except admire them and acknowledge that the creators of Bambi had done a really good job. The deer were lazing around on the hot and humid summer day, along the path that wound around the island, the Mikasanohama beach on one side and tiny shops with beautiful storefronts on the other.

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Feeling lazy… please don’t judge me

The high humidity coupled with the still weather meant it was a slow walk up to the stone Torii on the way to the Shrine, but from there we got our first good view of the 60 ton Great Torii Gate majestically rising out of the water.

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Passing under the grey stone torii

I was amazed to learn that the pillars of the gate aren’t embedded in the ground at all; rather, the Torii stands in the sea by merit of its weight only. It is a structural wonder and it’s amazing that the salt water hasn’t worn out the columns over the years. While the tide was’t high, it was also not low enough for us to walk to the gate- enough for a shallow swim, maybe. I would have loved to walk up to the gate to see the columns up close. Imagine standing under the torii, the blue of the sea on one side and the green tree covered mountains framed on the other.

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View of the Great Torii Gate

We continued on towards the shrine, walking up the wooden pier to the Hitasaki lantern, aligned perfectly with the Great Torii Gate. We lingered there, unable to take our eyes off the 16m structure rising from the sea. It had once been considered disrespectful to build structures on the island (considered the dwelling place of Gods), which is why the shrine lies on the beach and the Torii in the water, but now, custom has given way to commerce.

We were now pressed for time, and found ourselves rushing through the corridors connecting various buildings that comprise the shrine, lined with barrels of sake, reminiscent of the walk up to the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo.

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Colourful barrels of sake line the corridors

We had no time to stop at the beautiful red five storey Pagoda that contrasts so beautifully with the deep green of the trees and no time to look for souvenirs. We had just enough time to stop at a vending machine to pick up a cold grape Fanta before rushing back to the ferry terminal. By this time, the weather had turned unbearably stuffy. Sweat dripping down our shirts we gathered at the terminal, which unfortunately for us had no air conditioning which meant we had to resort to our trusted hand fans and towels soaked in cold water to keep us cool. The weather seemed to have suddenly turned as hot as the day we had visited Nagoya Castle back in 2015, when my face had turned varying shades of tomato thanks to the suppressive heat. I do not like feeling and looking like an oven-baked tomato. We had to wait longer than we expected, as some people had understandably taken the wrong path back. Luckily for us, there was enough space in the air-conditioned cabin on the ferry to recover from our sprint and from there we finally emerged to watch the shores of the green island recede in our wake and the ferry approach the shore of the mainland.

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Back on shore

There was a much needed ice-cream break at this point, but not being able to have milk, I would much rather have taken ma and gone for a much needed foot massage at the foot spa we discovered next to the bus stop.

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Did someone say lemon-scented foot massage?

It was an hour long ride back to the Hiroshima Station, during which most of us collapsed into a coma. We made just one stop and that was to collect our halal bento boxes from WaO Bento for an exciting dinner on the Shinkansen. We pulled up to the station and the distribution of bentos began before we headed inside. We were well ahead of time, which meant there was enough time to explore the shops before going up to the platform. Ma was visibly exhausted, and while there were no seats to be found in the waiting room, we managed to find some empty seats at the platform so she could rest her feet. The Shinkansen pulled in and we all collapsed in our seats, grateful for a long and restful ride. Despite our exhaustion, we all had a great time with our bento boxes. Our guide had explained as we were waiting on the platform, that the bento boxes were self-heating, which meant we’d be having a nice hot dinner on the train. We opened up our boxes, removed the plastic wrapping and pulled the cord to start the heating process, while we read the menu.

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Yummy yummy in my tummy

I thoroughly enjoyed the vegetables with the rice and even the chicken tasted good. Though I couldn’t experiment with much else, it was a filling enough meal. Ma didn’t even venture to open her bento (even with her reduced sense of smell, she couldn’t take the smell of the chicken) and so we had an unopened bento left. We kept forgetting that with our appetites, we should only ever have one meal and share it between the two of us, rather than waste all that good food.

Finally back in Osaka, we purchased our tickets for our connecting train back to the hotel and by 10pm we were finally home, well and truly exhausted. Luckily, the next day we’d be in Osaka

Missed Day 3 Part 1 in Hiroshima

Check out Day 4 in Osaka!

Journey to Japan- Day 3 Part 1

Day 3. I woke up early again, but the exhaustion was creeping up so I woke up later than usual…at 7.30am. If you know my regular routine you will admit this is a stretch for me ^^ We were slated to cover three more temples during the day, and the day promised to be a hard hitting 35C with humidity reaching 80%. That didn’t do much to dissuade me since I was all set, a small electric fan in hand, hat on head and the promise of vending machines at every corner.

We started in Kyoto heading to the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. It was a considerable walk to get to the shrine, since buses aren’t allowed to park just anywhere. So we got off, crossed two railroad tracks (very exciting!) and walked past rows of shops before reaching the main gate.

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My first train track crossing

The shrine is famous for its 1000 bright orange gates leading all the way up Mount Inari, and a main hall flanked by foxes. Each of the gates, as I later discovered, have been donated by people so each gate bears the name of the person or business who donated it. It takes a couple of hours to reach the top of the mountain where we were assured there were fabulous views of the city. Being pressed for time though, we enjoyed walking through two sets of gates and after a much needed refreshment break of water and Oronamin C, we headed back down to the shopping area.

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Starting our journey at Mount Inari

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More stunning architecture

There are all sorts of souvenirs you can there but the most popular by far are fox-themed souvenirs since that’s what makes this temple special, the fox being a messenger of the Inari god.

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Every fox has something different in its mouth. Guess what he has. ^^

As we headed back some people even tried Inari sushi- sushi for the masses ^^. Before we could reach the train crossing to go back, we were faced with a massive crowd of people waiting for the crossing to open- which it didn’t for quite some time. At first we thought there had been some sort of accident on the tracks, but luckily it was only a case of impatient people trying to cross quickly by pressing the emergency stop, which meant the rest of us had to wait till all crossings were checked and reopened. The wait was not as bad as the heat was and I realized the electric fan was nowhere near as effective as the regular hand fan. So not making this mistake again! To further complicate things, we realized that not all the group had managed to make it back to the bus and so had to stand outside in the heat, as this particular bus stop had a no engines running policy. I think we should been smart enough to walk to Lawson’s to stay cool, but we weren’t so we just waited till everyone showed up which they did eventually. At this point I realized that there are only 3 things you need to survive a Japanese summer – a hand fan, a bottle of water and a small hand towel. Voila- you have a make-shift cooling unit. ^^

Our next stop was Nara, about an hour or so away where we were going to visit the Todai-ji Temple situated in Nara Park also known as the deer park. I’d never seen deer up close before so I was really excited. The deer although wild, are used to being fed and petted by visitors. When feeding, we were warned though, not to spoil their habits by simply giving them food. Instead we were to make them work for their food by getting them to bow politely 3 times, which they surprisingly do if you just ask them to! We got to see the deer lazing around in the shade right at the entrance of the park all the way to the main gate of the temple. I realized that the deer are already pretty spoilt and would just walk up to you, nuzzle you looking up with their big watery eyes asking for a treat. Really, how can you say no?

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Deeeeeeeeeeeeeer! Yes, I was excited ^^

We managed to remind ourselves that the deer were not the highlight of the visit (or maybe they were ^^), but rather the temple, which is the biggest wooden structure in the world and one of the oldest. As we walked towards the temple we passed through the main gate, known as the Nandaimon Gate (narrowly avoiding stepping on a large stag with massive antlers) flanked on either side by massive statues of guardians which are, along with the temple, considered National Treasures.

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Looking up at the gate and narrowly avoiding stepping on a stag

At the first glimpse of the temple, I was simply in awe. The structure is not only massive, but beautiful with immaculately manicured gardens on either side as well. What’s even more amazing is that this structure is only two-third’s of the original size, having been rebuilt several times following fires and earthquakes.

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The largest wooden structure in the world

This temple houses the statue of Buddha, commissioned by the emperor in the mid-700s. The statue is about 15-20m in height, an imposing figure, which was built mostly by the Chinese, who had the skill, at the time, in metalwork to make such a big statue. The statue is so big that a small child can fit through its nostril, a feat we saw being attempted, successfully, by many small children squirming their way through a hole in a pillar the size of the nostril. I passed on attempting it, despite promises of good luck and such, for fear that I would get embarrassingly stuck inside.

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The imposing statue of Buddha

As we walked out the temple, we came across a number of small souvenir shops, but there was one souvenir that our sensei showed us that proved to be my favourite souvenir throughout my trip. It’s a small vending machine, with different coins that you can buy, each featuring some view of the temple or park. Not only can you buy the coin, but can have it engraved with your name or any other message that will fit, along with the date, for a bumper price of 30 yen. Oh, and you can fit it in a keychain too. After such an epic souvenir, I was beginning to think that whoever told us Japan was expensive was lying.

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Souvenir from Nara

We returned to the bus famished and ready for our next Japanese lunch at Matsumotoya, situated right next to the Horyu-Ji Temple.

Stay tuned for Day 3 Part 2