Japan being Japan, we progressed incredibly efficiently, with excellent customer service every step of the way, from landing to baggage collection to sending our larger bags to our Kyoto hotel via the takuhaibin to collecting our Japan Rail pass to advance booking our train tickets to Takayama to sitting comfortably in the train to Hiroshima, watching the ticket inspector bow to the entire carriage before he started checking people’s tickets. I’ve decided it’s dangerous to go to Japan too often; when stuff is this effortless it makes you too soft to deal with the rest of Asia. Especially when you’re eying Laos for your next holiday (ulp).
After a quick 500Y udon lunch at a vending machine restaurant on the Hiroshima station platform, we hopped on another train to Miyajima-guchi, where we would take the ferry to Miyajima, our ultimate destination for the day. It is a sacred island to the Japanese, famous for the view of the Itsukushima Shrine’s torii (symbolic gate, it’s the red thing in the photo above) at high tide, AND IT HAS TAME DEER ROAMING THE STREETS. Of course, while planning our itinerary, I pretended to Alec that I was deeply interested in the religious and cultural aspects of the island.
NOW CHECK OUT THE DEER!
Deer under a tree!
Deer in the bicycle lot!
Deer scratching its neck!
MUMMY AND BABY DEER! (The fawn kept trying to suckle by sticking its nose in between its mother’s legs as it trotted along behind her, which slightly disturbed my happy Bambi reverie.)
You are probably wondering how Alec managed to keep his lunchtime udon in his stomach in the midst of all this cuteness. It was tough on him, definitely. Here (visible to Flickr friends) is a very bored Alec stuck between mummy deer, fawn, and two little dogs. Don’t ask about the bacterial umbrella.
Eventually, once I had grudgingly accepted that stuffing the fawn into my overnight bag would be unwise, we continued our walk to Momijiso, our ryokan. We didn’t stay in any ryokans on the Tokyo trip since Alec was travelling for work that time, so we were glad to finally get the opportunity with this trip. In the price bands given by Japanese Guesthouses (a very useful service that helps non-Japanese speakers book ryokan rooms), A being the most expensive and D the cheapest, Momijiso is a C. So our room “only” cost us 33,000Y per night. You can do the math here, just try not to scream.
But hey, the trip was meant to be a belated first wedding anniversary celebration, and for the most terrifyingly priced accommodation we’d ever been in, at least it came with a lovely view onto the park, a carp pond just outside our window, two meals and a delightful obasan.
After freshening up, we took the ropeway up Mount Misen. We didn’t have time to hike up to the highest summit, but the views were pretty nice from what we did manage. The promotional pamphlet for the mountain is quite amusing – it lists a few things as among the “seven wonders of Misen”, but then clarifies that you can’t see them because they’re dead. The Ryuto-no-sugi is “the great cedar from which mysterious lights on the sea can be seen”. It’s now dead. The Shigure-zakura is a cherry tree which, on a fine day, “alone remains wet – seemingly caught in a rain. Can’t see the tree now because it has been dead.”
Dinner (included in the price of the ryokan room) was a spread of delicious home cooking by the aforementioned obasan – tuna, salmon and sea bream sashimi, cold tofu, lotus root with jellyfish, shrimp in light vinegar, grilled lobster (I’m allergic to lobster, so Alec got my lobster and let me eat his sashimi), sea bream in miso sauce, beef with green peppers and bamboo shoots, and for dessert, Japanese-style cheesecake and some of those huge amazing Japanese grapes where the juice tastes like wine when you bite into them. Here’s yukata-clad me (visible to Flickr friends) with just some of what we ate.
Miyajima at night is a far cry from its touristy daytime. Everything closes – no restaurants or bars are open because any tourist on the island eats in their ryokan.
The streets are largely empty except for a handful of strolling ryokan guests and the island’s nocturnal animals. A deer chased Alec 20m down the street after he bought an ice cream, and we also saw a tanuki! On the banks of the river, in the path of a powerful spotlight, a huge exhibitionist spider had made itself a helluva crib.
I didn’t see the big deal about Miyajima’s famous torii when I read about it in the guidebooks or saw pictures online. But in real life, gazing in the Miyajima evening calm at the bright red illuminated torii, its reflection rippling across the dark waters, was the moment I really felt like our holiday had begun.