Well, thank you so much for asking. My trip to Japan was fantastic, and will spawn a number of blog posts! This first one will be a general overview of the cities I visited. There will be lots more traveller’s tales to come.
In Japan I travelled all the time with my mother, most of the time with my younger brother and some of the time with my older brother and his family.
Our first stop was Osaka, which I loved unconditionally. No “this was good but I didn’t like that”. It was a great place to walk around in, narrow streets, something interesting wherever I looked. Every corner showed a street that I wanted to walk along.
And it was quiet, because there seemed to be more bicycles than cars. Not safer though, as the cyclists are rather crazy! It was one of the contradictions of Osaka…..In Melbourne I happily walk against the red light if it is safe; in Japan I waited patiently with all the other pedestrians for the green light . Meanwhile the helmet- less cyclists would ride through red lights, go on the wrong side of the road and meander across the road, often while talking on the phone or holding an umbrella! There were no crashes because they seem to allow for the path the pedestrian is on. The only ‘accident’ we saw was a lady loosing her high-heeled shoe as she cycled!
And the food….a post for another day!
We left Osaka and travelled by train to Uno. Before I tell you about that let me rave about the train system.
Foreign tourists are able to buy a JR Rail Pass. Like a Eurail Pass, it must be bought before you enter the country but it allows unlimited travel for the life of the pass. Rail is the way to get around ~ efficient, frequent, safe, clean and goes to most areas. To get to Uno we needed 3 trains, which would seem, by anyone used to Australia’s rail system, to be rather a nightmare. However we walked into the JR office, told the clerk where we wanted to go and after a few taps on the computer, she gave us tickets for all the legs. The connections were perfect. (You only need to go into the office if you wish to reserve a seat. Otherwise you just flash your pass as you enter the station.)
Our first train was one of the Shinkansen trains. They used to be known as the bullet trains. They are sleek, fast machines.
The next trains got progressively smaller as we got further into the country. Uno is a ferry port on the Seto Inland Sea, with stunning views over the many islands in the sea.
We were there to visit Naoshima, aka as the Art Island, which I will tell you more about in a later post. For now let me tell you about the place where we stayed, Uno Port Inn.
It is the brain child of Max, who lived for a while in New York. He has created a welcoming place to stay that has a great vibe, including jazz streaming from a radio station in New York. There are only about half a dozen rooms, all with tatami mats, but western beds; you get the feel for Japan while still being able to get up in the mornings! There aren’t ensuites. Instead each room has its own private, well appointed little bathroom down the corridor.
There’s a guest lounge, and they make fabulous coffee!! The ferry is close by and the staff, who speak good English, are happy to help out with visiting Naoshima.
After two nights we were back on the two trains to Okayama and then the Shinkansen to Kyoto, to meet up with the other parts of the travelling family.
I love Kyoto too, but with not unconditionally. The main streets are busy and modern, and some leading to the big temples are quite touristy. You have to get off them and, like in Osaka, just wander to find the little delights. We were staying in the Gion area of old Kyoto, so the houses were old and wooden and utterly charming (and probably expensive!) The houses and shops come right to the street, and doorways have lanterns or pot plants or maybe a tree. I was delighted to find an neighbourhood with a car mechanic, a supermarket and a hairdresser who was crocheting between clients!
Kyoto has narrow roads that run alongside canals. They are lovely to walk along during the day and quite enchanting at night.
And how could I resist this photo?!
Off again on the Shinkansen, all the way from Kyoto to Nagasaki, which is on the western tip of Japan. We changed at Hakata from the Shinkansen to a local train, and had lovely views of the coast and the mountains.
Nagasaki is nestled into valleys, which makes it very picturesque. It also has a tram system that brought a joy to this Melbourne heart! As it’s smaller than the other cities it has a country town feel about it, despite the ship yards!
Of course the Peace Park was the thing we wanted to see. I was disappointed. It was so busy with Chinese tourists from a cruise ship and school children that it lacked any solemnity. (Although the school groups were very respectful, often with heads bowed, but they were teenagers.)
There were lots of statues; the one that moved me most was in recognition of atomic survivors world wide, including indigenous Australians, service personnel and civilian workers who were affected by British nuclear testing in Maralinga. This is a world wide issue, and one one that has become so prominent again.
Back on the trains again to our last stop at Hiroshima.
It is a very modern city, as so much of it was wiped out in by the first atomic bomb in 1945. Although many parts of Nagasaki was destroyed, I think a lot of it was saved because of the hills and valleys. Hiroshima, like many Japanese cities is very flat, with the mountains in the background. The blast just radiated out.
The A bomb dome and Peace Park area were more solemn than Nagasaki ~ fewer people and a drizzly rain helped build the atmosphere. There are many memorials discretely through the park, while the A Bomb Dome rightly dominates.
There is a very moving memorial to the victims of the bombing. Oral accounts were collected in 1950, and those survivor stories are told in this memorial. Stories that world leaders who talk of annihilation should be forced to listen to.
The Children’s Memorial is another place that touched me. You probably know the story of Sadako and the 1000 paper cranes. Now children from all over the world fold cranes and some are displayed both at Nagasaki and here in Hiroshima.
Some cranes have been created into pictures.
Shikkeien is a beautiful old Japanese garden not far from the epicentre of the bomb. It was devastated by the blast, but has since been rebuilt, to provide a serene and restful antidote.
So that’s the overview. We took the Shinkansen directly from Hiroshima to Shin-Osaka and then the airport train to Kansai airport. So easy!
I still have lots to tell you, but my adventures in fabric shops and restaurants will have to wait for another time.