1st April 2016
We bid farewell to Tokyo and exchanged our travel voucher for a weeklong Japan Rail Pass. This pass is unique to foreigners and you have to purchase your 'exchange order' before arriving in Japan. You then swap it for a pass at a JR terminal and it allows you to use a number of Japan's efficient train services, including the Shinkansen/ bullet trains!
We waited on the platform as an army of ladies busily cleaned inside the train, and were both impressed with the fact that the seat rows turn around, so that you are always facing in the direction of travel. Once aboard, we zoomed along swapping densely packed Tokyo for low lying buildings and large factories. I was nodding off a little, and opened my eyes to see a huge snow-capped mountain rising from the damp...my first snatch of Mount Fuji!
Something shifted in the train's mechanism and before we knew it the train had come to a complete standstill. This was not on the agenda. We waited on the tracks for around ten minutes, and eaves dropped a tour-guide who was further down the carriage. It didn't seem like anything to worry about, and sure enough we were soon on our way.
We arrived in Hiroshima, after spending most of the day in transit - by foot, train, and tram. This time our map worked and we found the Ikawa Ryokan no problem. It was a traditional Japanese room with Tatami mats and futons. A good place to take five and have a little refuel.
Samuel watched some YouTube videos in the bathroom, as is his habit, and I did fifty sit-ups and a couple of planks. I am missing my excercise!
The light was fading, so it was time to hit the streets and get our bearings before nightfall.
We were a short walk to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where a certain calm seemed to emanate. The park is situated between two rivers and spans in various directions, with many memorials offering clear explanations. The park has been expertly landscaped, and has a straight line running from the Atomic Bomb Dome (one of very few buildings left standing near the epicentre) to the Cenotaph. This sweeping concrete monument contains the names of all the known victims of the bomb. The memorial that resonated with me the most was the Flame Of Peace; set to burn continuously until all the world's nuclear weapons are destroyed.
Hiroshima, and if the information given is to be believed, the whole of Japan desires a world without Nuclear weapons, and more broadly without war. It makes you wonder, after all of the accounts of pretty much anyone that has been actively involved in war over the last hundred years say that it serves no purpose, that it has to end, why we are still seeing scenes like this repeated around the world today...
We continued to look around the park, wander down by the river and stumbled into the busy shopping zone. We had decided to seek out a guidebook recommendation for dinner, and after a little to-ing and fro-ing we reached our destination 'Okonomi-Mura'. We took the lift to the third floor which is one of three levels containing 26 stalls, all offering a version of Okonomiyaki. These are savoury pancakes filled with cabbage, and a choice of meat, veg, or seafood, plus an omelette-style egg that sizzles up in seconds when it hits the hot plate. Unusually it contains noodles too: they are slung onto the hotplate straight from a vacuum pack. The chef adds a few secret ingredients from various shakers, and the whole combination is stacked and sliced into sections, before being placed on the hotplate in front of you, keeping it warm. It works amazingly well and is definitely our favourite meal so far.
We awoke on Saturday to glorious sunshine, and packed up before heading back to the Peace Park. Presumably because it was the weekend the park was busier than ever, and lots of people were already partaking in Hanami, with picnics under blossom trees that ran along the riverside.
We got ourselves some brunch in a relatively authentic tapas bar and headed for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial museum: a sobering experience.
There are lots of articles on display that were taken from the rubble or donated by family members. Many of them from children, such as a scorched tricycle and a lunchbox. When the bomb was detonated at 8.15am on 6th August 1945, hundreds of children were busy demolishing buildings for fire lanes as part of the war effort. They suffered horrific burns and subsequent painful deaths. One display showed the clothing remains of a fifteen year old boy. I looked across the museum floor at Samuel and felt grateful.
We left the museum in a contemplative mood, and made our way back to the Ryokan to collect our bags, and make our way northwards to the Osaka prefecture.
More fun on the trains, and a more or less seamless journey to Namba station. That's right, all is well until we hit street level.
We had our work cut-out, as the lame Google-map printout and some unclear instructions from station staff left us bewildered once more. We walked in various directions, and with aching shoulders proceeded on asking various people until about forty minutes later we found our resting place.
When I was seeking accommodation from England I got stuck on 2nd April, to the point I was willing to take our chances on finding something on arrival, but at the final hour, a friend of a friend of a friend came up with a place in Namba. I am not sure why, but I had imagined it would be a small unassuming town, but how wrong could I be? The area was buzzing.
We headed out fairly late and attempted to make a call to my Mum as it's her birthday today. It just wasn't connecting, so we sent her some pictures from the hub instead!
We headed for the Dotonbori region which I had researched last night, and it didn't disappoint. Something akin to Camden, but on a grander scale. It was mayhem!
We had Okonomiyaki again. It was another vending machine scenario, so you order what you want before entering the restaurant. I think we freaked out the staff a little by ordering dishes without a carnivorous bent. We are not big meat-eaters at home, and it has proved difficult to find main dishes without meat. That meant I had a bowl of rice, a bowl of spring onions, a soft-boiled egg and some gyoza. I mixed everything but the gyoza in another bowl and added some soy-typed sauce and some chilli paste. Tasted like a fine combination to me!
We soaked up a bit more of the atmosphere and stopped off for a cheeky coffee and cake, but the last surprise of the evening was the slightly bizarre sighting of a couple of Owls and a bunny on a lead in a fairly busy walkway. The two ladies who were in charge of the animals were from an animal rescue service, and seemed genuine enough. The animals did not seem at all uncomfortable and there was lots of paperwork asking people not to make loud noises or use flash photography. All the same it was a very unusual scene to witness.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend people
We had a game of 'guess which section of the wardrobe I am in'.