Matsuyama, Miyajima, and Hiroshima

Well again, it’s been a few days since I’ve had access to a computer to upload photos, so I have not posted for a little while.  Since my day in Miyajima was so much fun, I though about just describing what I did.  However, I knew I lacked the necessary descriptive powers to give a decent account, so I waited.  So much has happened in the past few days, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is my longest post yet.

Anyway, when I last posted, I was leaving Takamatsu and heading to Matsuyama.  The Chinese character, matsu, which is used in the pronunciation of these two cities is 松 which means pine.  Takamatsu means tall pine, and Matsuyama means pine mountain.  Matsuyama is also on the island of Shikoku and is known for two things primarily.  The first is Dogo Onsen which is Japan’s oldest hot spring bath house and has a history of over a thousand years.  The second is Matsuyama Castle.  Since Dogo Onsen was only a short walk from my hotel, I decided to go to the castle first and go to the hot springs on the way back.  To get to the castle, I hopped on the street car and took it to the Matsuyama ropeway.  This was a cable car which took you up to the castle on Mt. Katsuyama.  The keep is a short hike up a few switchbacks to the main gate.  Inside the gate, you can see the castle looking out over the present-day Matsuyama.

The castle was built in 1603, but in 1784, it was struck by lightning and burned down.  The castle was rebuilt and it survived the Meiji Restoration, but was partially destroyed in World War II.  The inside of the castle had been restored to resemble very closely what it was like during the Edo period and had several exhibits dedicated to feudal Matsuyama.

On the way back I stopped by Dogo Onsen.  Although I didn’t use the bath house, it appeared to be a very popular location for tourists.  Right outside the bath house is a large clock tower which animates every hour and half hour.  Figures in a large bath tub dance around the bottom of the clock to a tune that plays.  I took a movie of this on my camera, but I can’t upload movies to this blog.  That was it for my day in Matsuyama.  I went back to the hotel and went to sleep as I had an early morning ferry ride over to Miyajima, home to Itsukushima Shrine.

In the morning I woke up at 6 am and quickly devoured breakfast before checking out and making my way to the ferry terminal.  The ferry ride over to the island was very enjoyable as I had the upper deck all to myself.  In all directions you could see dozens of small islands which partly made up the Japanese archipelego.

I was very excited to get to Miyajima.  Itsukushima Shrine is another UNESCO World Heritage site as well as somewhere I had wanted to visit for quite a number of years.  The large gate which marks the shrine is the picture I used at the top of this blog.  The shrine is dedicated to the three daughters of Susano no Mikoto, the Shinto deity of the seas and storms.

The first thing I noticed when I got off the boat in Miyajima is that it is actually overrun by deer.  The shika deer which normally live in the mountains have gradually come down near the port because of the large number of tourists who have fed them for years.

Now as they are a nuisance for the locals, there are signs all over the island saying not to feed them or interact with them in any way, in hopes that they will just go away.  However, since there is a large shopping street close to the shrine where a large number of the shopkeepers make their own pastries, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.  The smell of the baking dough made me hungry every time I walked down the street. 

I dropped off my luggage at my ryokan and quickly ran down the street to the shrine.  The shrine is built in the water to give the illusion that it is floating.  The contrast of the vermillion shrine with the water and tall pines in the background makes for quite a view.  However, I arrived at low tide and the distance between the shrine and the torii gate is walkable, allowing you to go and touch it if you desire.

The shrine itself was just as pleasant to look at and looked very cool against the background of the island.

I spent a little while long walking around the shrine and out in the bay near the torii gate and then I headed off.  Since Miyajima itself is considered sacred, there are a few other famous religious sites on the island.  The most famous Buddhist temple on the island is named Daishoin.  Daishoin was founded by Kukai, who I wrote about during my trip to Koyasan, in the year 806.

The temple is one of the most holy for Shingon Buddhists outside of Koyasan itself.  The temple is built near the foothills at the bottom of Mt. Misen.  Mt. Misen is the sacred mountain on Miyajima and the temple grounds span a large portion of this area.  I walked up to the main altar in the temple where one of the monks was in the middle of a prayer service.  I knelt and listened for the duration of the ritual.  Whereas, the service I watched while I stayed at Shojoshinin was very still, this monk was very animated.  The pitch in his voice fluxuated from calm to urgent and back several times.  In addition he continually rang a metal bowl which had a sound like a gong.  It was very enjoyable to listen to the service as you could almost feel the intesity and fervor in which he delivered his prayers. 

I left the temple and went a few feet down the mountain where I found a tiny little restaurant which served a delicious unagi udon.  Since the noodles in Japan seem to be the cheapest meal I can get, I have been eating a lot of them for both lunch and dinner.  Here and there, though, I have found a noodle dish that changes it up, and this was one of them.  The unagi (eel) was served on top of a thicker based sauce, rather than a broth.  The sauce complimented the eel perfectly and had a good amount of spice to it, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

At this point, I had done everything that was listed on my itinerary for the day.  However, it was only 1 PM so I set off to climb Mt. Misen.  The Mt. Misen observatory at the very top is considered to be one of the three most scenic views in Japan.  One of the other two is Amanohashidate which I visited earlier in my trip.  The waiter at the restaurant informed me that the climb to the observatory would take me an hour and a half up a few thousand steps.  He recommended that I instead take to ropeway to the top on the other side of the island, but since I am climbing Mt. Fuji in two weeks, I decided to test myself.  I started climbing and the amount of steps were daunting.

 But along the way, there were some really cool views of the bay below, as well as the shrine.

It took me only about 45 minutes to get to the remains of the Niho gate which was about two and a half kilometers up the mountain.  Although, I was completely drenched in sweat at this point.  The humidity did not seem to let up no matter how high I climbed.  Instead of climbing straight up to the observatory, the trail maps indicated that there was another temple, Okunoin, further back on the island, another kilometer treck deeper in the woods.  I decided to go since I had plenty of time until I could actually check into my hotel.  I started walking this trail and things started to get weirder and weirder.  About a half a kilometer later, I found an abandoned, rusting car just off the trail.  I found this peculiar as there was no way there were any roads this high up the mountain and I had no idea how a car could possibly get up there.  Then a little further down, the trail basically disappeared.  There was only a thin strip of dirt dividing the overgrown weeds and vines on either side to indicate what I assumed to be the trail.  I checked my phone out of curiosity and saw that had I wanted to spend the $20/min to make a phone call, the Japanese cell provider, SoftBank, still offered full service out here.  I think the US providers need to take a lesson from Japan.

Finally, about a kilometer later, I reached Okunoin, which was not what I was expecting at all.  I was expecting a manned temple, like the one I went to on Mt. Nariai.  However, all I found were three wooden buildings which had fallen into disrepair.  In addition, the woods had gone silent.  There were no birds, no bugs, no wind.  Nothing.  It was around this time I started to get a little scared.  I had not seen another human for about an hour now so I took a picture to prove I was there, and then I started jogging back to Niho gate.

When I made it back to the gate, I took a sigh of relief and started climbing the final half a kilometer to the observatory.  I was relieved to get there and see people again who had taken the ropeway up and come from the other side.  The view was UNBELIEVABLE.  I can see why it was designated as a scenic place.  I looked around and saw there was an unobstructed 360 degree view of the archipelego and Hiroshima across the sea.  I took over 20 pictures from up here, but I’ll just post a few.

When I was satisfied I had captured all that I could from the observatory, I started to make my way back to my hotel.  I started to walk over to the ropeway because there was no way in hell that I was walking all the way back down.  On the way to the ropeway, I passed the eternal flame.  According to legend, Kukai lit this flame when he was on Mt. Misen worshipping 1200 years ago.  Since then, it has never gone out.  The Hiroshima Peace Park torch, which I will see tomorrow, is lit from this flame.

I was very glad once I made it to the ropeway and just had to ride a cable car down the mountain.  I was a sweaty mess, wearing just a white undershirt at this point.  When I got in line at the ropeway, I was amazed to find old Japanese men wearing suits after having just climbed from the ropeway station to the observatory.  I made it back to the tourist district of Miyajima, had some freshly grilled oysters and then passed out at my ryokan until dinner. 

At dinner, the owner informed me that at typhoon was on its way towards Japan and would hit the western islands the next day.  She told me that in order to avoid the closing of the ferry terminal, I should get off the island before noon.  I thanked her for dinner and her advice and went upstairs to wait until 9 PM for high tide around Itsukushima and the illumination.  However, gale force winds and heavy rain hit the island around 8 PM, and I decided it wasn’t worth walking to the shrine.  According to my phone, the winds reached 157 km/hour over night, and I would not doubt it.  The night was awful.  The winds and the rain hitting the side of the ryokan were so loud.  In addition, around midnight, the roof in my room sprang a leak so I had to find the trash cans scattered about the room to collect the rain.  This did not quell the loud, incessant dripping sounds though.  I managed to fall asleep around 3 AM, but had to wake up early to have breakfast and get to Hiroshima.  When I woke up, the rain was just a light drizzle so I walked over to the shrine again to see it at early-morning high tide.

Even though it was just drizzling, the weather was miserable.  I was glad that I had come to Miyajima the day before, as climbing Mt. Misen would have been an awful experience in this weather.  I said farewell to the ryokan owner and she even had her friend drive me to the ferry terminal.  Just outside the door, a shika deer had broken into a shopkeeper’s shipment of udon noodles and was happily feasting while the old woman futily tried to shoo it away with an umbrella.

My ferry made it with no problems to Hiroshima.  I walked to my hotel and left my luggage.  Today, there was nothing planned for me in Hiroshima since I was supposed to tour the rest of Miyajima this morning.  Since I had free time, I walked over to Hiroshima Castle in the rain.  After getting lost about five times, I finally made it.  The maps that are provided on tourist pamphlets may be some of the most useless things that have ever been made.  Most of the maps don’t write the street names on the map.  They only list landmarks or shops in the area.  This is completely useless information unless you already know your way around.  In addition, except for large intersections, the street names are not listed on street signs like they are in America.  So finding the street you want usually takes some asking. 

At the castle, there is the foundation of the Imperial military headquarters.  Because of Hiroshima’s geographic position, it was an ideal location to build the Imerial military’s headquarters in the late 19th century during the Sino-Japanese War.  The headquarters were built within Hiroshima Castle’s grounds, but after World War II, the only thing that remains is the foundations.

Hiroshima Castle had an interesting history.  The museum inside was the first that I have seen that had every thing in both Japanese and English.  Even the videos inside had an English version.  A daimyo named Mori Terumoto built the castle in 1589.  He was one of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s (the first ruler to unite all of Japan) most trusted advisors and became the daimyo who presided over a large portion of Western Japan.  However, following the Battle of Sekigahara (one of the most significant battles in Japanese history) against Tokugawa Ieyasu, he was forced out of the castle in retreat.  The Hiroshima area was given to Fukushima Masanori and he became the new ruler of the castle.  However, he rebuilt the walls that had surrounded the castle before his reign without the permission of the Shogunate.  This was a serious offense and he was banished to present-day Nagano Prefecture.  Next, Asano Nagaakira became the lord of Hiroshima Castle.  He was rewarded for his valor in the Battle of Sekigahara with a huge fief, one of the largest of any daimyo in Japan.  Because of this Hiroshima remained one of, if not, the most important city in Western Japan for 250 years throughout the Edo period. 

The castle was destroyed in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and rebuilt in 1958 into the modern museum it is now. 

Tomorrow I go to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and the Atomic Dome, the closest building to the bomb detonation site that is still standing.  See you soon!

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