Traveling 2015 – Hiroshima (広島) | Miyajima (宮島)

As always when I come to Hiroshima prefecture, I try to include a trip to Miyajima, if possible. Being one of the three most beautiful natural landscapes of Japan, the island is featured on the front page of many guide books about Japan and draws large crowds of visitors every day. My personal relation with Miyajima started in 2010, when I was doing my first journey to Japan and went there together with a few Japanese friends. Since then, I’ve been enthralled by the island’s beauty and atmosphere.

The 'floating' torii (shrine gate) of Itsukushima shrine - one of the most famous photo motives in Japan.

The ‘floating’ torii (shrine gate) of the Itsukushima shrine – one of the most famous photo motives in Japan.

This time I was visiting Miyajima together with friends from Saijo and from Hamburg (who are now living in Hiroshima). We were walking through the small town along the coastline, which includes a really nice, if tourist-y, shopping street and spent our time to discover the shrines and temples on the island anew. Nothing much had changed since my last visit: the old places still looked the same and the deer were as bold as ever – just the way I like the place.

But Miyajima has a lot more to offer than the area around the famous Itsukushima shrine. The island is dominated by the shape Mt. Misen, who was also declared UNESCO world heritage together with its forests, just like the coastal area. However, most people don’t take their time to get up to the top and miss the stunning view over the islands of the Setō Inland Sea. We didn’t intend to make the same mistake and decided to spent the latter half of the day for this small endeavour.

With this hike done, it was time to return to Hiroshima city, where my night bus was waiting for me to take me back to Tokyo. It was a sad feeling to leave Hiroshima again after such a short time, but I know I’ll be back!

I hope you enjoyed reagind about my trip to Hiroshima. Leave a comment, if you have any questions. You can expect the next posts to deal with activities in and around Tokyo again 🙂

Farewell, Miyajima!

Farewell, Miyajima!

Traveling 2015 – Hiroshima (広島) | Ōkunoshima (大久野島)

As promised last time, I’ll continue to tell you about my trip to Hiroshima with this article. This is going to be the second of three posts, so you can expect another one to appear soon! For now I’d like to tell you about my day trip to Ōkunoshima together with Chad – enjoy reading!

Ōkunoshima

Ōkunoshima as seen from the ferry.

The island of Ōkunoshima is located in the Japanese Setō Inland Sea and belongs to the prefecture of Hiroshima. It has been famous for its abundance of rabbits that live there without any natural predators that decimate the population. Still, due to the slightly remote location of the island not many tourists ever found their way there. This changed recently, when the neighbouring town of Takehara became the setting of a popular anime and anime fans started to travel to the region. Being close to Takehara, Ōkunoshima received its share of tourists too – like me.

On the island!

On the island!

Already shortly after arriving on the island by ferry you could see rabbits everywhere. Due to it being a hot day, most of them spent their time in the shadow of plants, rocks or anything they could find. The remaining rabbits were completely occupied with eating all of the food that the other tourists had brought for them. They were all really used to humans and tried to beg for food whenever they had the feeling that you were about to eat something. At the same time, the local souvenir store and café had specialized on selling various products and foods related to these cute rodents.

Now, you might ask, where did these rabbits actually come from? And that’s a good question! There are a few theories, but the one that seemed most plausible to me (incidentally that’s also the one that makes for a better story) is related to the past of the island. Before and during the Second World War Ōkunoshima was actually used a the location of a poison gas factory for the Japanese army. The factory was destroyed after the war, but the rabbits, who were used as ‘guinea pigs’, where set free. Without any dangerous predators on the island, they could easily reproduce and began to populate the whole island. The result of this process can be seen on the pictures above.

However, the ruins of the poison gas factory and the attached military facilities can still be found all over the island too and make for a particularly eerie feeling when you get close to them. Nevertheless, they can still be explored (though you might need to ignore a few warning signs) and I found them to be much more interesting than the rabbits, to be honest. I’ll show you some of them, to give you an impression of what the island is like as well, once you get away from the main rabbit spots.

The first one is the former power plant building, which also included some of the factory’s offices. The ruin can already be seen from the sea, once the ferry gets close enough to the island. I was told thatyou were still allowed to go inside a few years ago – nowadays you have to climb a small fence. Being made of concreet and steel, the building didn’t look like it was going to fall apart anytime soon, so entering shouldn’t be too dangerous, despite the official warnings.

Next on the list were the locations of the poison gas tanks. Those have obviously been removed (as in: dumped into the Pacific Ocean), but the concrete foundations and the storage facilities are still visible. If you take a look at the second picture, you’ll see that the size of the tanks must have been huge!

The main military facilities were located at the highest point of the island to be more easily defendable in case of an attack. Several former barracks as well as artillery replacements can still be seen, even though the emplaced weapons were distroyed along with the poison gas facilities. None of these structures are closed of at all, so you can even walk into the old ammunition storage (though I’d recommend a good flash light – you’ll want to see the huge insects living in there before they appear right above your head).

In my opinion, these ruins could and should be promoted a lot more. They could be used to teach people about the war (even in an interesting and entertaining way, if you consider nightly hikes with flash lights and camping on site), as well as expanding Ōkunoshima’s image beyond that of the “Rabbit Island”.

I doubt this is going to happen anytime soon, but one can hope, right?

Traveling 2015 – Hiroshima (広島) | Saijo (西条)

The second time that I was able to travel for a few days during my current stay in Tokyo I decided to go to Hiroshima prefecture. A few very good friends from the time that I studied at Hiroshima University are still (or again) living in the area and I wanted to take the chance to see them again. It’s still quite a bit from Tokyo to Hiroshima (13 hours by night bus in fact), but it’s definitely less of a distance than if I were to go there from Hamburg 😀

I was really happy that I was able to stay at a friends place for the days that I was in town. This made the whole trip really relaxed, as I didn’t have to care about bookings and reservations at all. I stayed in Saijo, which is a mid-size town in the east of Hiroshima city where I also studied from 2011 to 2012. It’s actually one of the few places (apart from mega cities such as Tokyo or Osaka) in Japan that are still growing and developing, so a few things had changed since I was in town the last time. Most notable were the new train station and the new town hall.

Still, the atmosphere of the town remained unchanged and it felt really good to walk the same streets again like in those years. Being famous for its sake, I also had to visit the brewery district and taste a few of their brands again. The summer varieties were also already on sale and fit the mostly sunny weather really well!

Saijo's first beergarden

Saijo’s first beergarden

The big reunion took place at Saijo’s first beergarden on the 10th floor of a hotel close to the place where I was staying. Beeing a roof terrace, the place was a bit windy, but the view over Saijo was beautiful. The bar also featured a very special machine to pour beer into the glasses – but just see for yourself:

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I would consider this machine to be quite a useless invention, but that might be the traditionalist (when it comes to beer) in me speaking. Though it has to be said: the whole process worked out to be really fast and looked entertaining on top of that 😉

In any case, it was a really enjoyable evening, which was later topped off with some great karaoke singing! Thanks for all the fun, guys: Cheers!

Some of the most awesome people in the world!

Some of the most awesome people in the world!

That’s it for this post. The following two posts will deal with two trips I undertook while staying in Hiroshima. You should be able to read those on Thursday. Until then enjoy the current posts (or any of the older ones) and feel free to leave a comment 🙂

One Week of Travelling – Hiroshima

For the last big stop on my week of travelling I had planned to go back to Hiroshima, where I had spent my year two years ago. Time definitely flew by since then, but I finally had the chance to meet some really great friends again. The first day was spent in Hiroshima City, where I met with Tadahiko and Manami again, who were bot fellow students at Hiroshima University.

Hiroshima Peace Park

Hiroshima Peace Park

Even though the weather had slowly been getting worse I wanted to see the city center again, so we went for a walk through the Peace Park and the shopping arcades of Hiroshima City. Basically nothing had changed since I had left two years ago, so it was nice to walk on known paths again, that were carrying quite a few good memories for me. Afterwards, we also did some window shopping, before going for a coffee, hot chocolate and parfait respectively.

Tadahiko, Manami and me - Mirror Selfie ;-)

Tadahiko, Manami and me – Mirror Selfie 😉

As I was going to stay at Tadahiko’s place that evening (again, thanks a lot, man!), we went back to Saijo afterwards and had some ramen noodles together. Still one of my favourite kind of dishes in Japan, especially Hakata Ramen from Fukuoka.

The next day saw me walk a bit through Saijo again, where I went to visit the grounds of Hiroshima University again, as well as the sake area. I spend a nice lunch break at Q, which looks like an american surfer shack from the outside, but is easily one of the very best places to eat Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki. And I also took another break for a nice piece of cake at the Kugurimon café in the sake area. I’m not sure, if the place existed two years ago, but they had a really nice atmosphere in there, so I took my time to write some postcards from there ^^

The evening was spent at Chad’s and Chisaki’s (who are now having an adorable little son, whom I’m definitely going to teach some German vocabulary to annoy Chad a bit next time ;-P) place, who were so nice to host me for two nights and to organise a really awesome dinner with some friends from two years ago. Needless to say, it was a great evening, it became really late and we might have been a liiiittle bit drunk (I still can’t believe we drank all that sake in the end oO). Just like in the old days, basically 😉

For the following day, despite some remaining hangover, Chad and I went to the sake area in the afternoon, to visit all the breweries again and have a taste of the new sake for this year (early spring is the time when they produce the new sake). Now that might not have been the most ingenious idea we’ve ever had, but we had a great afternoon, that continued seemlessly into a great karaoke session in the evening with Marcelo, Takao and Dmitry.

So miraculously, we still had a bit of a hangover the next day as well, but as it was the day of the spring sake festival, we needed to go to the sake area again, as there were some of the most premium sake brands of the country available to try for free – and warm amazake (甘酒), which is one of the most awesome drinks you can have on a cold late winter’s day. It’s basically sweet sake, with a very low alcohol content, but is still heating you up from the inside nonetheless. Brilliant stuff!

Wit this preparation, we finally set out for a hike up to the mountain behind Saijo station, which allows for a nice view over the city on a good day. On the way, we had barbecue with Takao first, however, who is one of the best equipped campers I have ever met. And one of the best barbeque-ers at the same time! Needless to say, we were really stuffed, when we continued our hike up to the top of the mountain. Also, for some reason, either our stamina wasn’t as good as two years ago or we had chosen the difficult path uphill, as they had extremely high stairs that made us breathe quite heavily extremely fast xD

But in the end we made it, even though the weather was not so much in our favour, concerning the view:

The View over Saijo

The View over Saijo

Still, a climb well worth it and a great memory to our hikes two years ago. I really enjoyed the few days in Hiroshima and will definitely come again in the future!

A small measure of fame

During one of my language sessions with Masako I was interviewed by the local television about my thoughts on a change of the start of the academic year in Japan from Spring to Autumn. Weirdly enough, they indeed broadcasted it and Masako recorded it later (that’s the girl’s voice in the background 😉 ).

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And just for the content, I basically said that it would be easier for foreign students to study in Japan if they changed it to autumn. I actually said more in the interview, but that stuff has seemingly been cut out ^^