So far we’d spent a week in Tokyo, and another week or so in Honshu, Kyoto, Nara and Osaka… which meant we had about one week left in Japan before our flight to London. We used this time to travel to a couple of less renowned locations in the west of the country. With Hiroshima pinned as our final destination, we made sure to stop off on the way there at a few particularly beautiful spots.
First up was the city of Himeji, a place I’d never heard of before I decided to go there, home to half a million people and one rather stunning castle. Visiting the castle was the main draw for us – just a quick stop on the way to Hiroshima. We left our bags in lockers at the station, picked up a map and started to navigate ourselves to the 400 year old castle. Just outside the train station however we noticed there was a small crowd watching some kind of show. We went to have a look and realised we had found some kind of dance competition, which was pretty awesome! It was people of all ages dressed in all manner of interesting and what I presume to be traditional costumes. The standard of the dancing differed between groups, but Jake and I had a great 15 minutes watching before we left the crowd and headed for the castle.
But as we approached the castle, the crowds just got larger. We quickly realised that we had actually stumbled upon the Himeji Castle Festival, held on just 2 days every year! We couldn’t believe our good fortune, which meant not only could we check out the castle, but there were dance groups performing everywhere we could watch, food and souvenir stalls to peruse, and thousands of Japanese people in traditional dress, which is of course a beautiful sight. Unfortunately it meant the castle was rather busy and we basically just queued for the entire time we were in there. But seeing the architecture up close was wonderful and the view from the tallest room was pretty great. We learnt a little bit about the history of the buildings and the region, including some rather sinister ghost stories associated with the structure. Visiting Himeji had been an unexpectedly great and memorable side trip, and I would definitely recommend to anyone travelling from Kyoto to Hiroshima to check it out!
Hiroshima is of course most famous for the fact it was blown to smithereens by the Americans at the end of WWII. The city was rebuilt right over the top of the old one, and by most accounts is quite an average and uninspiring place. But I was very keen to visit the Peace Park and see the famous Atom Dome – the building located right below where the bomb detonated. The peace park is a pleasant green space bordered by two rivers, containing sculptures and memorials to various things. We visited the Peace Memorial Museum, which was very interesting, with super lovely and chatty staff, and full of information about how the city was affected by the blast.
It was of course a bit of a grim topic, but visiting the museum and park absolutely astonished us for one reason; after the US destroyed two entire cities in their country, the Japanese weren’t angry. It was more of a wake-up call for the country. They had been wrong to go to war and had paid a huge price for it. Since 1945, Japan has spread a message of peace. To witness the calm and forgiving nature of the Japanese people is one of the most incredible, fascinating and humbling things I’ve ever experienced. Visiting Hiroshima taught me so much about Japan as a country as well as changing my perspective on a couple of things. It’s just one of those places that as a person living in the 21st century is an absolutely must visit.
One more place we visited was just a day trip from Hiroshima, to the island of Miyajima. Our goal was to see The Great Torii, or the ‘floating gate’. A short train trip and ferry ride got us to the quiet island located in Hiroshima Bay. It is lauded as being in the top 3 scenic spots in the whole of Japan. There wasn’t much to do on the island besides wander the quiet streets, look at some more temples and shrines, and of course take a long look at the floating gate. We were there for low tide unfortunately, but we stayed till sunset and got some great photos. I’ll let them speak for themselves.
And, well, that was pretty much the last thing we saw in Japan. Which means… well, I’ve written up my entire trip! =O
But before I get too excited and start gushing… I’ll finish here. I’ll save my gushing for the next post. =D