Well folks I’ve returned from our final whole-class field trip during my year in Japan and am happy to say for the vast majority of the time I had a very nice time. Since this is going to be a fairly hefty entry, writing about three days and all, let’s start off with a little background music shall we? The song is called New Soul by Yael Naim, one that I’ve only recently heard about but it’s pretty cool, especially with these pictures of Yotsuba (if you read the series you’ll know why it fits so well).
- Day 1 – Shinkansen, Hiroshima, Peace Talks, Someone Elses University
- Day 2 – The Island, The Bridge, The Discrimination
- Day 3 – Clapping, Caving, Cop-Out, ID?
Shinkansen, Hiroshima, Peace Talks, Someone Elses University
Having a trip not going in the direction of Osaka meant that I didn’t have to be sour about having to skip breakfast; the previous 2 class trips had us go all the way to Kobe to meet the group then head back through Osaka (moments from the dorm) to get to the destination. Something also was different on this morning and that was the fact that because the dorm I’m in now serves breakfast from 6:30 instead of 7, I didn’t need to skip it at all, though with the amount of mayonnaise on the plate I just stuck with the toast.
On this trip we were taking the 新幹線 (Shinkansen, bullet train) a first for many of us, so timing was crucial. The meeting point was also at a different station to what we were normally used to, but because we left earlier than usual we didn’t feel much of a rush, knowing full well we’d be on time. I was thankful to see that all the other students also made it on time, knowing for a fact they’d get left behind (something that didn’t happen in previous trips, much to my dissapointment).
Passing a vending machine with a rather funny sign urging us to “drink tobacco” (photo taken of course), we boarded Nozomi 101 and took our seats and prepared for the trip. As expected from a train with an operating speed of 300kmph (186.4 mph), travelling to Hiroshima was incredibly fast, arriving in just one hour and 15 minutes.
In Hiroshima we met up with our very friendly, though a little nervous, tour guide. The bus seemed to be where most people felt at ease as the majority of us soon found ourselves falling asleep. This was a feature common throughout the whole trip, regardless of how much sleep we’d get at the hotels.
Stop one was lunch and for this we went to お好み焼き村 (Okonomiyaki Mura, Okonomiyaki Village) for some Okonomiyaki. Hiroshima, it seems, has become famed for it’s style of okonomiyaki, much to the same way my own home town of Osaka has for the same reason (read this short article for differences between the two). Our food was already ordered before we got there (the ‘speciality’ okonomiyaki) so unfortunately for me I had no choice in what went in it, meaning I couldn’t say “please … no mayo”, which has happened every time I’ve had okonomiyaki in the past. However this time it was different, no sign of that awful white gunk could be seen at all, and I managed to eat the entire thing getting a satisfyingly full stomach.
When I look back at the photos I took of and in our next destination, the 広島平和記念公園 (Hiroshima Heiwa Kinen Kouen, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park), I feel … something. I’m not sure exactly what it is and I don’t want that to come across as one of the many generic “Oh my gawd I can’t believe we did that to those people”-type comments that I heard way too often from tourists when I was there, but something in the park definately had some kind of effect on me.
The only times that I’d seen the A-Bomb dome, the skeletal remains of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, a building that’s structure survived largely due to it being at the epicenter of the atomic blast, was from はだしのゲン (Hadashi no Gen, Barefoot Gen). Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa, is a manga (later an anime) which depicts the semi-autobiographical tale of a boy surviving the nuclear blast which, in itself, also had a profound effect on me. Perhaps it’s because I don’t know much about the war itself, or much of what happened either side of it.
My feeling of ‘something’ was further emphasised when we went onto the 広島平和記念資料館 (Hiroshima Heiwa Kinen Shiryoukan, Hiroshima Peach Memorial Museum). Seeing simple things like a watch which stopped at 8:15am (on the 6th of August 1945) and models showing before and after versions of the area that we were in were a bit too much for some, as they left the museum back through the entrance rather than see the whole thing. Perhaps that was a good thing. Had they reached the part of the exhibition that showed how people were walking with their skin dripping from their bodies and jumping into rivers filled with blood to cool down from the heat only to realise it was boiling, who knows how they’d have reacted.
After the museum, at the recommendation of one of my teachers I then went to the nearby 国立広島原爆死没者追悼平和記念館 (Kokuritsu Hiroshima Genbaku Shibotsusha Tsutou Heiwa Kinen Kan, Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims). Topped with a simple water feature, made with tiles from buildings destroyed 63 years ago, you are made to walk down a seemingly never ending hallway with information points along the way, until you reach the main hall. From here you get a 360 panoramic view of the area in ruins, again with a very basic water feature in the center of the room. In the next room was a wall covered in changing pictures of the people who had died and were being mourned for. There were also computer monitors if you wanted to look for specific people (no Darlingtons were on the system).
Back in the park I was treated to my first viewing of 桜 (sakura, Japanese cherry blossoms) in bloom. This is something that has been gradually getting earlier with lots of people suggesting global warming, however I can’t find any decisive sources to agree or disagree with that. So going into artistic cameraman mode i tried taking plenty of different shots with different angles and backgrounds and managed to get a few nice ones (as well as a heap of not-so nice ones). It was quite funny though as later on the bus one person commented that “anyone can become an artist by taking a photograph of sakura”. I laughed a little.
We headed to the hotel and were joined by students from Matsuyama University’s English Speaking Society Club for a Peace Study Session. In this session we talked about the dropping of Little Boy on the city we were in, and whether any aspects of it could be justifiable or not. Arguements ranged from “It’s all fair in love and war” style comments to whether or not America was using the citizens of Hiroshima as “Human Guinea Pigs”, as they really didn’t know what would happen.
After this we were free to head out for dinner or whatever. The hotel closed it’s doors at midnight so our only limitation was to be back before then. I already had my plan for that night before we even left Kansai. Lately my inspiration has been yoyo-ing like the toy of the same name, so I wanted to see somewhere that inspired someone that I looked up to, and this being Hiroshima was my chance.
One of my Japanese teachers back in the UK studied in Hiroshima, so I wanted to get a photo of the university not only for my own inspiration increase, but also something to send back to say “look where I went ^_^”. After searching the best way to get there, wasting a couple of hours before the trip when I should have been packing, I eventually realised I was looking at the wrong university. Think of it as someone saying they studied in Leeds, naturally one would assume they went to the University of Leeds, but no, they went to Leeds Metropolitan University. That’s what I get for making assumptions.
Unlike the trip to Kanazawa, I couldn’t find anyone daft enough to join me on the trip which, according to googlemaps, would take just over an hour and have me walk over an unpathed, unlit mountain. However I changed the route to suit my need of being able to see where I was going. I had to take two trams to reach my walking starting line, but here I hit a snag. In Japan I’d only taken trains and taxis as public transport. I’d avoided taking busses from fear of looking like a complete burk, but it wasn’t until I reached the tram station I realised I had the same problem. I had no idea what to do.
Somehow I was at the front of the queue, so after letting everyone onto the tram before me, observing what they were doing, I got on and took and sat down. From there I had a few stops to learn how to get off and pay properly, unlike trains I couldn’t merely get off and go on the tram going the other way until I’d figured it out. Unfortunately for me from the next stop it got too busy for me to see what was happening, and thus when my stop came I simply muttered to myself “oh buggar”. I headed to the driver and simply asked “中電前からいくらですか。” (chuudenmae kara ikura desu ka, How much from Chuudenmae?), and whacked the appropriate amount in the slot, pretty much the same as busses in Birmingham … ish.
The walking section was nice and peaceful. It actually reminded me somewhat of walking from Okamoto train station to Konan University, only at night … and much longer … and up more hills … and I didn’t really know where I was going. I was also a little surprised at the number of police cars going past, lights flashing, but as long as it wasn’t me they were after I don’t mind. After finding the university, about a half hour walk away, I took a photograph of the main gate (I didn’t go in because it was a womens uni), and made a little video message to my sensei.
The walk home seemed to go really fast, and I did feel like I was more inspired to work my arse off. I think I’ll make similar trips to my other sensei’s uni’s (thank goodness they’re only in Osaka and Kyoto).
I chose to walk the entire trip back instead of taking the two trams so I could see a lot more of Hiroshima than the others, seeing a whole range of stores, restaurants, buildings and of course the local prison (Hiroshima Detention House). Passing a small arcade I tried to replicate the luck we’d had on the Kanazawa trip by winning a toy from a UFO grabber. Though I didn’t manage to get a huge toy like we did on the last trip (I still have no idea how I’ll be sending that buggar back to the UK), I did manage to win a small Doraemon keyring.
Buying a carton of hot chocolate from a vending machine (yes, that’s right), I headed on towards McDonalds before heading back to the hotel.
The Island, The Bridge, The Discrimination
I’m guessing the song playing may have ended by now, so here’s 手紙 ～拝啓 十五の君へ～ (Tegami ～ Haikei Jyuugo no Kimi e ～, Letter ～ Dear 15 Year Old Me ～) by Angela Aki.
The problem with a buffet stlye breakfast is that if there are things you don’t like (or can’t eat) then you’ll soon find yourself with a very boring plate. Yeah it’ll piled up as much as possible, but a mountain of one or two things hardly excites the tongue. I was however really happy to see that the Aster Plaza Hotel (I’m not sure if it’s actually a Youth Hostel, but if it is then it’s definately one of the better I’ve seen by a long shot) also provided breakfast cereal in the form of Frosties and Choco-cornflakes. Man it’s been so long since I’d had either of those, definately a welcome break from all the toast I normally eat at breakfast.
After brekkie we headed further west to the island of 宮島 (Miyajima) by ferry (and bus, obviously). Miyajima like Nara, is home to a great deal of 鹿 (shika, deer), however unlike Nara where you are encourage to feed them, here tourists were warned not to do so, and to especially avoid any deer with antlers. Miyajima is also home to the 厳島神社 (Itsukushima Jinja, Itsukushima Shrine), a world heritage site that is popularly photographed with it’s 鳥居 (torii, Shinto shrine archway) partially underwater. Of course I also joined in this by taking a few shots. When we were there the tide was in, though some students were brave enough to try to walk out to the torii (despite waist high waters and no spare trousers) to try and touch it and get a photo.
At this point we split up for lunch, a few of use taking a walk up unto the hills where we found a fantastic sitting area and a small cafe with a hoard of blooming sakura trees. After finishing a bowl of udon I was back up with my camera. Likewise the walk back was full of serene views and excellent photographic spots, however because time was starting to go against us I just enjoyed them for that moment, rather than take a dozen pictures.
After arriving back on the mainland we then went even further west to 本州 (Honshuu, Japan’s largest island)’s most western (located, not necessarily styled) prefecture, 山口 (Yamaguchi). We were heading to the 錦帯橋 (Kintaikyou), an impressive bridge whose steep arches resemble snakes … or possibly Nessie, in the 岩国 (Iwakuni) area. In Japan white snakes are considered very lucky, and Iwakuni is no exception with many facilities and viewing spots dedicated to white snakes.
Taking a cable-car up the mountain, we headed to 岩国城 (Iwakuni Jyou, Iwakuni Castle), which was now an impressive museum of the area. It played host to a vast range of swords, armour and other artefacts and an amazing 360 degree view from the roof that was only marred by a couple of morons (sadly from my course) trying to convince one of the patrons to let them play with the swords.
Before heading back to the bus a few of us tried some ice-cream from one of the many (seemingly endless) ice-cream sellers. Given the time of year I tried Sakura flavour and to be honest … it was a flavour I couldn’t even try to describe. I’ll have a go anyway; it was bloody fantastic. This is my new favourite flavour ice-cream (sorry coconut, mint, choc-chip combo) and something I’ll be thinking about everytime I have an ice-cream when I get back to England … with a tear in my eye.
The Hotel Park Avenue (very posh sounding) was nice. Nothing magical, but nothing poor either. Having a TV with a 24 hour anime channel was nice, but to be honest I didn’t watch that much. Strangely enough there was also a channel which only seemed to play Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives.
Since I wasn’t planning on visiting anywhere random that night I went for dinner with a few friends. We headed down one road until we eventually came to an Indian restaurant called Ganesh. This is where things went tits up.
There were two factors that enticed us into this restaurant for dinner. First of all was the fact that they had a very nice student offer in the window, and we being students thought it just up our alley. Secondly it was somewhere recommended by some of the staff members that had come on the trip (and were already in there when we entered).
We flicked through the menu, as is customary despite knowing already what we were going to order, when a member of staff came over. We then (in Japanese) ordered the student deal for each of us, when he asked if we had student cards which we then brandished. He then asked us to wait a moment for another staff member, at the time I thought it might have been because he wasn’t confident in using Japanese.
When his friend came over we did the same again, same order, same language, to which we were told that the student offer was only for Japanese students (as oppose to foreign students). Urm … what? Yes that’s right folks. Here is our first real receiving of racial discrimination in Japan … and it came from an Indian restaurant. Even if this were the actual case (something I didn’t buy for a second), how did he know that we weren’t in fact Japanese? Believe it or not there are people who are of non-Japanese origin that are born in Japan, or even people who have been naturalised as Japanese. But it seems not in the eyes of Ganesh, where only 100% pure-blood seems to count. But no it didn’t stop there.
Opening the menus (which were written in English and Katakana … I don’t actually remember there being any kanji in there) our polite and very help fellow then asked (in English) if “we were having trouble reading” the menu. Now perhaps if we’d gone in speaking Danish, Italian, or one of the two languages that wasn’t printed in the sodding menu that would have been helpful, but when a group of customers come into your restaurant the last thing you want to do is insult their intelligence. To his comment one of my friends replied “I can read” (the first time an English word was spoken in the place by one of us), to which the restauranteur said “yes but it’s …”, “yes I can read” repeated my friend.
For me, I’d had enough. I told my friends I’d see them back at the hotel and that I was going elsewhere. Thankfully I didn’t have to go far. Right opposite that crap-shack was a nice little udon place. While I was looking in the window at the plastic display versions, one employee was heading back into the restaurant and gave me a smile and a welcome.
I ordered a cheap udon dish called うどんむすび (udon musubi), which seemed to be a basic udon (thick Japanese wheat noodles in soup) with tempura pieces and seaweed. It also came with a freshly made お握り (onigiri, rice ball), something I’d only ever eaten from a fridge wrapped in plastic. When in came time to pay I and the lady on the counter made small talk in Japanese, and soon I headed off. There were no other customers at all in the restaurant, but it had some great 演歌 (enka, traditional Japanese style song) playing so I could really enjoy my experience.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you find yourself on Ginza Street in Shunan in Yamaguchi (Japan), and want to be treated badly and like a complete idiot (and possibly even lied to and/or discriminated against), then go to Ganesh (here’s a link), but if you want to go somewhere nice, then head to the udon place opposite from them. And just so my Japanese friends don’t miss out on my little warning …
(on that note if anyone from Ganesh is reading this (that is if they’re capable of reading it that is … snide remark over) feel free to comment at the bottom)
(this topic has also been covered on Japan Probe.com)
Clapping, Caving, Cop-Out, ID?
Day three’s music comes from The Who, and it’s that classic track Won’t Get Fooled Again.
Despite living in Japan the last time I had a Japanese breakfast was at New Year. Normally the Japanese option at the dorm doesn’t quite appeal to me as much as the toast I’d normally eat, but at this hotel it was our only option so I took it as a welcome change (though I was thankful orange juice was still available).
First on today’s trip was a visit to the 瑠璃光寺 (Rurikouji), a Buddhist temple best known for it’s 5 storied pagoda, which, I was told, was built as a symbol to show the wealth of the land owners (in 1442). In the area of the temple was a small outdoor stone staircase where if you clap or stamp your feet in front of it, it (the clap sound) turned into a strange kind of duck-like quack noise. Quite amazing really, especially with a group of 50 (ish) people all clapping or jumping at the same time. Perhaps it was built to show how quickly humans could be turned into clapping seals so easily.
A traditional Japanese lunch, served in bento form, was provided for us at a nearby souvenir store just ten minutes away, just enough time to get to sleep on the bus before being woke up.
After lunch we headed to the 秋芳洞 (Akiyoshidou), the largest cave system in Japan. On the coach I had a chortle as someone commented “I wonder if it will be cold in the cave, or if it’s one of those heated caves”. However my gigglation (love making up words) soon came to an end as we entered the came to a short warm blast of humidity. In the caves were lots of stunning rock formation that seemed to glisten with the run off of water coming from above, or perhaps that was just people’s sodding flash photography (yes I’m a hypocrite, I used my flash at times ¬_¬).
It was in the caves that I considered my own list of things I wanted to see/do/achieve while in Japan, and how I could actually do some of them by bending the rules slightly. For example, I wanted to take a photo of Mount Fuji, but can’t afford to get there. However, one of the rock formation in the cave was called Mount Fuji. Photo taken, job done. ^_^ Likewise I wanted to see live sumo wrestling, and conveniently enough there was an event in Osaka. But it was too expensive for me to go. However, I did watch a live sumo match on the TV. ^_^ Now I know you’ll be shouting “cop-out” at me, if not you, then certainly I’m shouting it at myself, right before I treat myself to another melon pan.
Our final bus trip was to the Yamaguchi station, where we said goodbye to our tour guide and driver. We were going to be riding part of the way on a steam locamotive 特急 (tokkyuu, limited express) train, something I found to be remeniscent to going on the Severn Valley Railway when I was younger. A lot of the group compared it to the Hogwarts Express (or something) from Harry Potter, but for me it was more like the Flying Pussyfoot from Baccano!
Changing at Shin-Yamaguchi station for the Shinkansen line, we were then given lunch of a sandwich bento and a juice carton. The juice was nice (orange), but I ended up just giving away the sandwiches. Once I’d discovered mayo in over half the sarnies I just gave up and instead went to the nearby udon place (believe it or not, I’m not addicted to udon).
The shinkansen trip home proved to be a relaxing (tiring more like) time for most of us, as it was a pretty quiet trip. I too had headphones in drifting in and out of slumber for the short trip. I did get up and go to the bog at one point and let me tell you this, standing up and going for a wee at 186 mph is not easy. I’m only thankful that I wasn’t on top of the train doing it >_<. We arrived at Shin-Kobe and then headed our seperate ways. After getting back at the dorm in just enough time to miss dinner, a friend and I went to the 99 yen shop for some food. Feeling the mood I also bought a can of beer. However something happened that hasn't happened to me in Japan before, or anywhere else for a long time. I was asked for ID to prove I was over twenty! Wow, I wasn't angry, just shocked for a moment. To be honest I'm glad it happened because it means that there are people in Japan who will ask you to show it, and since I had my 外国人登録証明書 (Gaikokujin Touroku Shoumeisho, alien registration card) with me, something we have to keep with us by law I might add, I was happy to show it and be on my way. Ladies and gentlemen this concludes the story of my recent trip to the west of Honshuu. I hope you've enjoyed reading it (or bits of it), and welcome any comments. I'll see you next time!