Today I decided to take a break from studying and continue posting pictures from my trip to Japan, which was 4 months ago now. Don’t worry though, I’ll get them all up before Christmas :)
Picking up where I left off last time, the day after seeing the incomp…*cough* battle-damaged gundam in Shizuoka, my friends and I headed to Ikaho for a relaxing day at the hotsprings.
Ikaho is a small town in the mountains so there are no trains that run directly there; you have to take the train to Shibukawa and then take a bus to Ikaho. All of the bus routes and maps were in Japanese though, so we had to ask a bus driver which bus to take (luckily he understood English). A few hours after leaving Tokyo, we made it to Ikaho in one piece and were greeted with the above sign. Personally, I found it strange that they used the American flag for the English section rather than the British flag. Whenever I’ve travelled to Europe and other parts of Asia, they’ve always used the British flag.
If you go to Ikaho, you’ve got to work to get to the hotsprings. The town has a lot of ancient steps since it’s on the side of a mountain. As far as I know, the only way to get to the top is on foot.
Near the top we caught a glimpse of some of the water from the hotsprings. I know it looks disgusting, but that’s because of all of the minerals in it that are supposed to cure you of disease and whatnot. And for those wondering, no, the actual hotspring water you bathe in doesn’t look gross like that.
Here is the source of the town’s hotspring water. It’s covered by a piece of protective glass, which is why you can see my reflection there :)
I took my first ever dip into an outdoor hotspring nearby, and I have to say, it doesn’t feel any different from taking a bath. Sure, you’ve got lots of trees and bamboo and rocks to look at, but there are also some bugs floating around that looked like they were boiled alive. There’s also old Japanese men who aren’t afraid to let it all hang loose. I admit, there are some things I wish I could unsee.
After about an hour or so at the hotsprings, it was time to head back down the long steps and back to the bus station. By the time we got back to Tokyo, it was already night time.
The next morning we took the bullet train to the city of Hiroshima. I’m sure everyone has heard of it considering it was the first city to be destroyed by a nuclear weapon.
Outside the train station was a fountain which I like to call the Giant Butt, for obvious reasons.
Hiroshima is probably the newest looking city in Japan, but that’s no surprise since everything there was built after 1945.
This is the hotel we stayed at, the Rihga Royal Hiroshima. It’s supposed to be the classiest hotel in the city, and at first glance it does look that way. It dominates Hiroshima’s skyline and is connected to a high-class shopping centre and and underground shopping area. The people at the front desk spoke excellent English and made sure to treat us very politely. The hotel rooms, however, were nothing but average and a major concern for my roommate was that there was no free internet access (I think it was around $15 per day). You had to pay for TV too, but that was less of a concern since none of us understood anything that was on anyways. The main upside though, is that the Rihga Royal is within walking distance of all the tourist hotspots in Hiroshima.
Some of you may recognize this structure, it’s the famous Atomic Dome, just a few minutes walk from our hotel. I’ve heard that peoples’ shadows were burnt into buildings when the atomic bomb went off, but I walked all around the A-dome and didn’t find any. I guess no one was standing around at the time.
This is Aioi bridge, which was used as the target when the bomb was dropped. Unfortunately, the bomb missed and instead exploded above a hospital about 300m away.
Across the river is the Peace Memorial Park, the place that everyone that visits Hiroshima comes to see. The following pictures were all taken in the park and come with signs in English, so I’ll let them do the talking.
This is the museum at the south end of the park. Inside is a timeline of the events leading up to the destruction of Hiroshima and a bunch of artifacts that have been recovered.
Here’s a miniature model of what Hiroshima looked like on the morning of August 6, 1954. You can see Aioi Bridge and the Atomic Dome here.
And this is what it looked like moments after the blast on the same day. The red ball is where the bomb exploded, note the location of Aioi Bridge below it. For those of you wondering why the bomb was exploded in the air, it was to maximize the amount of damage caused. A blast in the air will create a spherical shockwave, and as the bottom of the sphere hits the ground, it is reflected back, in essence creating a second shockwave following the initial blast. Basically, two shockwaves will deal almost twice the amount of damage as a single wave. The museum didn’t explain any of that though, it’s just something I know as an engineer.
This was a nice fountain just outside the museum.
I don’t know about other places, but where I’m from everyone in school had to read that story about the girl that tried to make a thousand paper cranes in order to make a wish. Sadly, she died from being exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb. The Peace Memorial Park has a statue devoted to her and thousands of paper cranes everywhere.
After seeing everything in the park, we headed back to Aioi Bridge to exit and I snapped a few more photos of the A-dome.
A few blocks east of Aioi Bridge was this video game store called “Visco”. I wasn’t expecting to find anything of interest here, but this is the place I picked up my Sumomo nendoroid for half price ^.^
Our next stop in Hiroshima was the ruins of the Hiroshima Castle.
Like everything else, the castle was destroyed in the nuclear blast, but some of the buildings, like the second compound (shown above) were rebuilt.
This is what it looks like inside.
The walls were lined with pictures and captions detailing the reconstruction of some parts of the castle grounds. There were also some displays about Japanese castles and fortresses in general.
The castle grounds are pretty large as you can see from the map.
Within the castle grounds is the Gokoku Shrine, one of the newest looking shrines I’ve seen, again for obvious reasons.
There were some miko working there, but I thought it’d be rude to just start taking pictures of them (you wouldn’t walk into a church and start taking pictures of nuns would you?)
This is what’s left of one of the buildings.
Some more ruins.
This is the reconstructed watchtower of Hiroshima Castle. Inside there were designated areas where visitors were allowed to take pictures. There was a really fascinating Japanese sword display on one of the floors, but unfortunately, that was one of the areas where picture taking was not allowed and there were guards watching me so I couldn’t take a sneaky shot. I really enjoyed the sword displays though because in one of my classes I learned about how Japanese swordsmiths combined the best properties of high and low carbon steel and controlled steal grain size and microstructure by maintaining specific temperature ranges and coating swords with special clay before tempering. It’s amazing to see tools that were designed using science that was never fully understood until hundreds of years later.
Here are some shots of areas where picture taking was permitted. Nothing too special in my opinion.
This is the view of the castle grounds from the top of the watchtower.
The next day we took a ferry to the island of Miyajima.
Some of you may have heard of Miyajima or at least know of the torii gate in this picture. Miyajima island is home to Itsukushima Shrine, which is known for having a large torii gate in the water.
A sign welcoming visitors to the island.
This was a huge-ass spoon. Apparently Miyajima is famous for it’s wooden spoons.
Miyajima is also home to a population of deer. Just a warning to anyone planning to go there, those deer are viscious. The locals and other tourists sat back and laughed as about a dozen deer chased me around the ferry station :(
Despite looking like cute innocent creatures, Japanese deer will chase you down like a pack of wolves if they think you have food. I really wished Miyajima had some hotsprings afterwards because I was all sticky and smelly like Tsukasa.
Here’s the torii gate in the water. You could pay a couple of guys to row you over to it, but I didn’t think it was worth the money.
Itsukushima Shrine was also built over the water.
Unlike other shrine, you had to pay money to get in, but it’s also a lot nicer looking than other shrines.
I found this cool tree while exploring the island. If I were a kid and I lived here, this would’ve been my secret base.
This is a view of Itsukushima shrine from the top of a nearby hill.
The surrounding town wasn’t very interesting, just a bunch of stores selling souveniers and some deer looking out for their next prey.
There was a ropeway in the town that took you up to the top of a mountain on the island. One of my friends had suggested we walk, but after seeing how far and high it was, I’m glad we didn’t.
At the top was the Lover’s Sanctuary.
It was rather unimpressive if you ask me.
This is reportedly one of the three most beautiful sights in Japan. I didn’t think it was any better than Vancouver Island on Canada’s west coast. One of the things I noticed during my stay in Japan was that the air is always hazy, but I’m not sure why. I’ve asked people about it and have gotten answers ranging from pollution, water vapour, and dust blowing in from China. This haze blankets the entire country all of the time so I doubt it’s pollution; water vapour can’t explain why it’s hazy at inland areas; and constant dust from China is just absurd. Some of my photos may seem relatively clear, but I can assure you that the haze is still there, it’s just not as bad as usual. If you think those grey skies are because of clouds, you’re wrong, most of my pictures were taken with cloudless skies.
Just to compare sceneries, this is a picture I took several years ago while on a yacht in Queen Charlotte Sound on the west coast of Canada.
This is a better representation of how far it would’ve been to walk up the mountain.
By the time we returned to the shores of Miyajima Island, it was low tide and Ikushima Shrine was no longer sitting on water.
The torii gate was also no longer in the water, allowing people to walk right up to it. Now I was really glad I didn’t pay anyone to row me over there earlier.
As the day was ending, we were in a hurry to get back to the JR port and catch the last ferries back to Hiroshima. While heading back, I snapped a quick shot (hence the blurriness) of this cute little mascot girl that I saw out of the corner of my eye. I’ve searched on google to try to find her name with no success. I’d be happy if someone could name her.
Back in Hiroshima we spent the rest of the night wandering around town. Most of my time was spent at the two Taito Stations nearby. If you really suck at UFO catchers (crane machines), you might want to head to Hiroshima to try your luck. The UFO catchers here are extremely easy and actually worth the money (unlike Akiba, which is a total rip-off). There’s no photos allowed in Taito Station, but I secretly took this shot of my favourite machine. Inside are these adorable goth-loli vampire cat plushies called nyanpires.
The instructions tell you to nudge the plushies into the middle hole using the catcher, but I figured it was impossible after a few tries. I then thought that maybe I could hook onto the string at the top of the nyanpires’ heads and drag them over, so I gave it a shot and it worked! After I figured out how to win, my friends and I cleaned out half the machine in a few minutes and left before the arcade employees got suspicious.
Here are the two nyanpires I won ^.^
The next day was the long train ride back to Tokyo. The good thing about having an apartment is that once you’ve finished visiting a city, you can drop off any extra stuff you got and go on to the next city. The rest of that day was just spent relaxing and checking out the loot we brought back from Hiroshima.
The day after that we took a short train ride to Nagano, home of the 1998 winter Olympics.
Outside the train station was a statue of Princess Nyoze from a Buddhist legend.
Wandering around town, we found some arcades (they’re everywhere), shopping strips, and a small outdoor market. I found this cool dragon head while my friends were looking at some Yu-Gi-Oh cards.
We tried to find some of the Olympic facilities when we came across a large group of people heading towards a temple.
Being the curious people that we are, we followed the crowd and ended up at Zenkoji Temple. It looked like there was something exciting going on to the side of the temple, so I ditched my friends to take a look while they were busy taking pictures and this was what I saw:
To be precise, this shot is of the thing I saw 2-3 seconds after I saw it and apparently it had disappeared by then. So what was it that I saw? Well, as I made my way over to the large congregation of people, there was a huge collective gasp and when I turned to see what everyone was looking at, I saw none other than His Holiness the Dalai Lama walking down the steps of Zenkoji. It took me about 1 second to turn on my camera and another second to raise it above the crowd and take a picture, but as you can see, the only things I managed to get were his umbrella and the very top of his limo. For a frail old guy, he sure walks freakishly fast. Maybe some of you can enhance the images on those cameras in front and see inside the car.
I did manage to get a picture of the Dalai Lama’s subordinates. I guess it’s not as important to get them into an armoured vehicle as the Dalai Lama.
With the excitement over, I took a look around the temple’s gardens. As with almost all of the gardens I’ve seen on my trip, this one was also beautiful.
I found a poster advertising the Dalai Lama’s visit while leaving the temple.
We originally came to Nagano to see some Olympic-related things and were upset that we weren’t able to find any buildings. A glimmer of hope came when we spotted the Olympic rings across the street. Unfortunately, it looks like the Japanese didn’t care much for the Olympic Podium and the last remnants of it are now crumbling apart and rusting away at the end of a parking lot.
The following day was Sunday, and I’m sure any otaku out there will know that Sunday is when they block-off Chuo-dori in Akiba and cosplayers roam the streets. Sadly, due to the murders a couple years ago, this weekly event stopped taking place and didn’t start up again until after I left Japan. There was not a single cosplayer in sight.
We went to the Gundam Cafe after seeing how empty Akiba was. I didn’t order anything since I wasn’t hungry and I don’t drink coffee, but my friends said the stuff there was not worth the cost.
Japanophiles may also know that Harajuku is home to the wacky fashion trends of Japanese teens, including the goth-loli style. According to Wikipedia:
Every Sunday, young people dressed in a variety of styles including gothic lolita, visual kei, and decora, as well as cosplayers spend the day in Harajuku socializing.
Believing this, we spent a good 2 hours standing around the train station so that my friend could get a picture of an actual goth-loli (he’s really into them). After all that time, we saw 1 goth-loli who was deemed “too ugly”, a trio of ganguro girls, and a girl wearing a lop-sided mini top hat like Mio from K-ON. The moral of the story: wikipedia lies.
After a late lunch, we went and explored the streets of Harajuku.
Anyone up for some illegal smorking?
Ladies, would you be as happy as those girls in that poster if your man bought some rubber here?
Back at Harajuku station, still no sign of goth-lolis. There was a caucasian girl on Jingu Bridge (to the left of this photo, not shown) dressed like a goth-loli, but my friend wasn’t interested.
At the nearby Meiji Shrine, there was a wedding taking place. Apparently I wasn’t supposed to take pictures, but oh well.
Later that day we ended back at Akiba.
I spotted my first itasha.
And my second.
Whew, that was a long post, but I hope you guys enjoyed the pictures. I’ll probably get the pictures from my 4th week in Japan up sometime in November.