2012 Japan Trip Day 20 – Matsuyama

Date of Travel: 18/02/2012

For a second after I woke up, I was left wondering if we were in Hokkaido. Reason being that everything was covered in snow outside! Luckily it wasn’t too heavy, so there were hardly any disruptions though the tram was slightly delayed. We took the tram all the way to the Hiroshima Port, then caught a ferry to cross the ocean to reach Matsuyama. The view from the ferry was quite nice, though Brownie took the opportunity to get some additional sleep during the ferry ride and didn’t see much. We arrived at Matsuyama Port about an hour later.

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Getting into the city centre itself was tricky, as we needed to take a bus to Takahama station, then a train to Matsuyama Ekimae Station, then an additional tram ride to Dogo Onsen station, which was the closest stop to our accommodation.  The station leads to a touristy shopping arcade, with a clock next to its entrance which has an automated show every hour.  At the other end of the arcade is Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest indoor onsen complexes in Japan. The building was supposedly the inspiration of that used in the popular Ghibli movie Spirited Away. We dropped off our luggage at Eco Dogo Hostel, then headed back to the arcade to have a look around and have lunch.

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After lunch, we caught a tram towards the centre of town, where Matsuyama Castle was located. Matsuyama Castle is regarded as one of the top castles in Japan, and one of the “original” castles still standing. We had initially wanted to visit Himeji Castle, but since it was under restoration, we decided that Matsuyama was perhaps the most accessible since we were stopping in the town anyway. On the way to the castle, we got sidetracked by Ninomaru Garden, which was located at the base of the mountain where Matsuyama Castle was located. It was a very pretty garden, though I wanted to rush through it so that we don’t miss the closing time for Matsuyama Castle. Brownie and J.C. weren’t in any rush though, which made me lose my cool somewhat as we wanted to make sure we had enough time to explore Matsuyama Castle before it closes. It was a sign that the long trip was starting to make me tired, as I usually don’t mind if we deviated from our rough schedule.

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We managed to finish looking around Ninomaru Garden with plenty of time to spare, which made me feel bad about losing my cool. Thankfully the short hike up the mountain helped clear my head somewhat, as it offered great views of Matsuyama.

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The sight of Matsuyama Castle in all its glory awaited us when we arrived at the summit. While not as impressive as Himeji Castle, the architecture was till beautiful. We spent a good hour exploring the hallways and displays of the castle. Warning though for those who are tall – watch your head! I had banged my head a few times climbing up and down the stairs! The view from the castle was very impressive. I had no idea that Matsuyama city was that big. It kind of felt like it was a never ending concrete jungle! There was also Samurai armour at the very top which visitors can try. J.C. and I had a go, but sorry folks, no photos for you!

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We had a quick stop at the main shopping arcade in Matsuyama near the castle, but as there wasn’t much to see, we headed back over to Dogo Onsen. While it was getting dark, it wasn’t quite time for dinner yet. As such, we decided to head over to Ishiteji Temple to have a look around. Ishiteji Temple was located near Dogo Onsen, and appeared to be a very interesting temple based on my research on Japan-Guide.com. After climbing up a massive flight of stairs, I was surprised at how small the complex was compared to what I had read up online. Also adding to my surprise was the orange/red colour of the building, which were more associated with Shrines. Then a thought hit me, and I checked the Lonely Planet guidebook to be sure. Turned out that we weren’t at Ishiteji Temple, but rather Isaniwa Shrine! Ah well, as least it was a good view from up the flight of stairs!

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We returned back to the shopping alley near Dogo Onsen to look for some dinner. Most places were packed, but luckily we managed to find one which wasn’t. It also had pretty cheap meals too, so added bonus for that! We returned to the accommodation shortly after to formally check in. The staff here were perhaps the least friendly of any place we stayed during our trip. The staff present were also not aware that the Hostel has WIFI available. The staff denied that they even had WIFI despite the fact that there was a wireless modem just outside our room! The view from our room was good, but the layout was very strange. For instance, the toilet has a sliding window that connected to the hallway, and can also be opened from the hallway itself. The sink however is located at the balcony, meaning you have to walk across the room to wash your hands after finishing your business in the toilet. Still, we did have a good time sitting down and watching some random Japanese game/talk show. Note: Room photos shown were taken the next morning before checking out.

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After freshening up a bit, we headed back down to Dogo Onsen to have a tour around the building and have a bath. The tour brought us around the facilities which Japanese Royals use, and featured amazing attractions such as the bath and toilet (sarcasm). Unlike Kurokawa, this onsen was packed with people, which definitely ruined the enjoyment. In addition, the bath was not that big either. Overall, it was actually quite disappointing. The indoor baths at some of the previous ryokans we stayed at (Nakamuraya in Sapporo and Jukeiso in Miyajima) were much more relaxing. After the bath, we headed back to our accommodation to grab some cameras, then returned to Dogo Onsen to take some pictures of the exterior. It started snowing a bit as well which added to its atmosphere. As it was getting late, we headed back to the accommodation to get some shut-eye. Tomorrow would feature another long distance travel (660 km) afterall!

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Tram from Dobashi station to Hiroshimako station – 150 yen
Ferry from Hiroshima to Matsuyama – 6,500 yen
Bus from Matsuyama port to Takahama Station – 150 yen
Train from Takahama Station to Matsuyama Ekimae Station – 350 yen
Sum of total tram rides – 450 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
Ecodogo Hostel – 2400 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from Rotiboy bakery near J-Hoppers Hiroshima – 440 yen [coffee bred, braised chicken bread and custard bun]
Lunch at arcade near Dogo Onsen – 1,100 yen [Katsudon and Udon set]
Snacks at arcade along Dogo Onsen – 510 yen [Tarts, botchan Dango and Baumkuchen]
Dinner at arcade near Dogo Onsen – 850 yen [Karaage Ramen set]
Glass bottle of coke at Dogo Onsen – 100 yen

4) ATTRACTIONS
Matsuyama Castle Park entrance fee – 100 yen
Matsuyama Castle entrance fee – 500 yen
Dogo Onsen entrance fee – 1,200 yen

5) OTHERS
Souvenir from arcade near Dogo Onsen – 1,050 yen [dragon wall curtain]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
15,850 yen (428,433 yen total)

Total Cost of Chugoku/Shigoku Leg
49,958 yen (12,490 yen per day)

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2012 Japan Trip Day 19 – Hiroshima

Date of Travel: 17/02/2012

We checked out of our accommodation first thing in the morning under light snowfall, and the staff were very friendly and gave us a lift to the ferry terminal. After thanking them and parting ways, we moved onwards to our next destination in Hiroshima. It did take us a while to reach our accommodation however, as the tram that serviced both the Yokogawa station and the station next to our accommodation did not run as frequently as I thought it would. Luckily, we managed to reach our accommodation at J-Hoppers Hiroshima just before the reception closed for lunch break! After we were shown to our rooms, I unpacked the second set of 1,000 cranes which I was going to leave at the Peace Park on behalf of myself and one of my friends from USA, Ramsy.

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The peace park was located directly east of where we were staying. Immediately we were greeted with a depressing statue of a woman holding up her child. The statue was surrounded with piles of cranes, and was hauntingly beautiful. The Fountain of Prayer was also located nearby, though only the main center fountain was going at the time.

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We entered the Peace Museum shortly after. Like with Nagasaki, I refrained from taking any sensitive photos within the museum, even though photos are allowed as long as flash is not used. One of the few exhibits that really hit home that I was willing to take a photo of was the devastation caused by the atom bomb. A scale model showed the extent of damage the bomb had caused near its epicenter.

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This Peace Museum was a lot more visual than Nagasaki, and included disturbing exhibits such as victims clothing, possessions, hair/fingernails, and wax displays/photos showing the horrendous effects of the bomb on humans. There was also a rehash of the sad story of Sadako Sasaki, who was a young girl who got leukemia due to the effects of the bomb. She folded hundreds of cranes in a belief that reaching 1,000 would cure her disease. There were conflicting accounts of whether she did manage to reach her target, but either way, her story is one of the reasons many visitors to both the Nagasaki and Hiroshima Peace Parks would bring 1,000 cranes. A few of the cranes she folded personally were on display.

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I was grateful that the weather was not gloomy as it was back in Nagasaki. Despite that, there was a heavy air of depression after spending such a long time in the museum. We walked along the park grounds to the Children’s Peace Monument which was built in memory of Sadako. It was here that I hung the cranes on behalf of Ramsy and myself.

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We walked northward along the river to reach the Atomic Bomb Dome. This dome was close to the epicenter, and miraculously remained standing after the bomb exploded. It has since been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. At the time we were there, were was a strengthening effort to ensure the building will remain standing for years to come.

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After spending most of the day in depressing circumstances, we decided to head over to Okonomi-mura to try Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki. Unfortunately, we had a hard time locating the place, even with the Lonely Planet guidebook. Turned out that I had walked right past it at one point too! Thankfully, we managed to find the place in the end. It was entertaining watching the chefs cook the Okonomiyaki in front of us, and it tasted as delicious as it looked too!

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After our late lunch, there wasn’t really any time to do anything else. As such, we decided to walk along Hiroshima Downtown shopping arcade back to our accommodation. Brownie and J.C. got bored quite early, so we didn’t spend much time there. We did stroll through the Peace Park again in order to reach the west side of town. I stood on the bridge right next to the Peace Park, and found it hard to imagine that over 60 years prior, there was nothing but devastation at the location where I currently stood. Now there were mid to high rise buildings everywhere, heavy traffic on the streets, and people going through their everyday lives. It was almost as if the horrors from decades prior were now a distant memory.

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After resting at the accommodation for an hour, replying some e-mails and Facebook messages, and saving my camcorder data, we decided to try and find a Yakitori joint for dinner. To our surprise, it started snowing as we were walking around to find the place. When we did, we were greeted to reasonable service. We made our orders, waited patiently till half our order came, then waited some more while having eating games with the Edamame beans provided. After waiting for what seemed like ages, it turns out that they completely screwed up and that they had served some of our orders to the wrong table! We discussed with the waiter regarding what food we received and which we didn’t, paid for what we had received, then quickly got the hell out of there! Luckily I wasn’t too hungry to begin with, but it has been a while since we had such drama at a restaurant! We didn’t mind though – all part of the experience right? We hit the sack shortly after anyway, since we had an early start the next day in order to reach our next destination – Matsuyama.

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Tram from Yokogawa JR station to Dobashi station – 150 yen
JR Trains and Miyajimaguchi ferry covered by JR National Pass

2) ACCOMMODATION
J-hoppers Hiroshima Trad Guesthouse – 2700 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store at Miyajimaguchi – 400 yen [Chicken sushi and melonpan]
Lunch at Shinchan @ Okonomi-mura – 735 yen [Hiroshima style okonomiyaki]
Dinner at Toritarou – 835 yen

4) ATTRACTIONS
Hiroshima Peace Park Entrance Fee – 40 yen

5) OTHERS
Crane cellphone strap from Peace Park – 500 yen
House of the Dead 4 arcade game – 100 yen

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
5,460 yen (412,583 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 18 – Miyajima

Date of Travel: 16/02/2012

It was a cloudy morning at Miyajima, but the scenery looking out from our Ryuoakn was still beautiful. We had quite a lot of sleep, so we had freshened up from the long distance travel we undertook the day before (about 500 km in total). We started the day off by having a stroll around town to look for some breakfast. Unlike many places prior, the streets were quiet and relaxing. We got distracted by watching how Momiji Manju is made along the way, and also by some free roaming deer on the island.

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We had only a few things on our agenda on this day, so we took things relatively relaxed. We started off by visiting Daisho-in Temple, which is located at the base of Mount Misen. It was perhaps the strangest temple we had seen thus far on this trip. It was a considerable flight of stairs to reach the temple itself, but visitors can take a side path which branches off from the stairs. This leads the visitor along hundreds of small stone statues towards the temple grounds, which was a very interesting sight.

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The temple itself was filled with many strange statues. While many other temples we had visited based its landscape on simplicity, these strange statues brought a very different life to the temple grounds. It was almost as if those running the temple deliberately attempted to make it more bold than others around Japan. It certainly helped to make it more memorable if anything else.

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Unlike the likes of Tenryuji and Todaiji, Daisho-in Temple does not have a “main” temple building. Rather, there are about a dozen smaller buildings spread around the grounds. These buildings are obviously not as impressive as those we visited earlier in Kyoto, but are still unique and beautiful. Collectively, it definitely left a lasting impression.

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After waiting for J.C. to finish taking photos, we started climbing Mount Misen. There were three main trails up to the peak, and we took the Daisho-in trail which started right next to Daisho-in Temple. Out of the three trains, Daisho-in is supposedly less steep than the rest, yet offers the best views. It must have been one of the most widely used path too, as it was paved with steps all the way to its summit in a similar manor to Fushimi Inari, though the latter had much narrower steps. The hike up to the summit did offer good views, but the path itself was also beautiful in its own right.

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Misen Hondo is a point close to the summit where all three paths converge. The Reikado building nearby protects a flame which has supposedly been burning for over a thousand years, and was also used to light the flame at Hiroshima Peace Park. Slightly further up lies a stone alcove which led to the summit.

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Unfortunately it started to rain when we reached the summit. As such, the view of the surroundings were somewhat obscured. As we weren’t in a hurry to go anywhere, we waited for about 5-10 minutes for the rain to pass. Once it did, the view of the nearby towns was significantly clearer, and it was a beautiful sight. We headed back down to Misen Hondo, then followed the Momijidani trail to the ropeway station. Once there, Brownie complained why we didn’t take the cable car up to the summit then climbed down instead. I was under the impression he wanted to climb up the mountain after repeatedly stating his desire to “climb some mountains”, but he actually wanted to climb DOWN from mountains instead! Well, it was a good 1.5 hour exercise anyway! The cable car going down looked very unstable however, so I was a bit worried when riding it down. It did not help that J.C. kept on moving around the car to get a good photo of the view, leaving Brownie and I to cover in fear until we reached the ground.

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The other end of the ropeway reaches Momojidani Park. While there were buses to bring visitors back into town, we decided to walk back ourselves. It was only about a 10-15 minute walk anyways. The park itself was quite beautiful, with a lot of free roaming deer and koi ponds. There were also a few souvenir shops along the way where we did some shopping. It was a good thing that we did too, those in town were a bit more pricey and was definitely a lot busier too! Brownie and J.C. also went back to the market earlier in the day to get a very late lunch.

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Our next stop was the Itsukushima Shrine, which we had a quick look around the night before. Now that it was daytime, the town and the shrine were a lot busier with plenty of tourists. It kind of ruined the atmosphere, but it was still an impressive shrine. The tide came in as well, so the tori gate was partially submerged under water. Too bad the rest of the shrine wasn’t though. I did have some fun taking creative photos of the floating tori gate!

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Afterwards, we went back to the manju shop from earlier in the day to buy some, then did some window shopping around town (including one selling really strange bags). We then slowly walked back to our accommodation. Along the way, we decided to take a seat near the beach and watch the sunset with the tori gate in the forefront. It is moments like these that really makes you feel alive.

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We went back to our accommodation shortly after to take a rest from what has been an awesome day. It was also dinner time, and we had arranged to have dinner at the ryokan itself so that we can enjoy the view. We were a bit disappointed that they insisted we ate in another room (that didn’t have as good a view as the one we had) as they wanted to prepare the futons while we ate. Still, it was a good meal with a lot of oysters. Must say though, I am not used to having soy milk as a hot-pot broth! After dinner, we decided just to take things easy and chill out the rest of the night. We enjoyed the great view from our room for a couple of hours before going to sleep.

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
N/A – …well that’s a first!

2) ACCOMMODATION
Jukeisou – 8085 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from grocery shop – 241 yen [Mandarin flavoured cream bun and chocolate bread]
Momiji – 480 yen [6 pieces]
Dinner at Jukeiso – 4,042 yen [Amago-don, oysters and plum wine]

4) ATTRACTIONS
Cablecar ride down from Mount Misen – 1,000 yen
Itsukushima Shrine entrance fee – 300 yen

5) OTHERS
Various souvenirs – 1,450 yen [paper doll, magnet, football keychain]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
15,598 yen (407,123 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 17 – Miyajima

Date of Travel: 15/02/2012

We had the best sleep of our trip thus far. Our futons were amazing! The relaxed nature of the ryokan also helped. If we had the money, I would have loved to stay here longer. Brownie and I decided to hop back in the bath to enjoy it for a while longer before breakfast. It is so relaxing to have a bath first thing in the morning, especially when next to the river. Breakfast itself was pretty darn impressive. Have a look at the photos to see for yourself!

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Sadly, we had to check-out soon after, as it was a long trip to our next destination – Miyajima. The staff at Yamamizuki were also friendly and helpful that they even brought us back to the bus station. We reached Aso station about 11:30am, then took a train back to Kumamoto station.

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As we were hungry and well ahead of time, we decided to have a proper sit-in for lunch (since we were always on the move back in Nagasaki). I had an amazing hamburger on omurice. Yum! After exploring for a while longer, we hopped on a Shinkansen that would take us all the way to Hiroshima.

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From Hiroshima, we transferred to another train that took us to the town of Miyajimaguchi, which services Miyajima by ferry. As we had a JR National Pass, we were allowed to ride the JR ferry free of charge. From the ferry, we had great views of the surrounding area, and can see the famous floating tori gate in the distance.

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Once on the island, we immediately started heading towards our accommodation (Jukeiso Ryokan) as the sun was starting to set. We arrived to find that we had to climb up about 3-4 flights of stairs with our luggage! The ryokan did have the option of picking us up from the ferry terminal, but as we had no idea when we would arrive, we declined the offer. How we are regretting it now! When we arrived at the entrance, there was a sign personally welcoming us to the ryoakn. It was a nice touch! We were shown our rooms, and we relaxed for a few minutes with some tea and crackers before heading out to find some dinner. As Miyajima is more-or-less a tourist town, most places were shut during night time. Thankfully I had my Lonely Planet guidebook handy as it pointed out perhaps the ONLY place opened on the island at night!

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After dinner, we decided to explore the main street of the island at night. We came across a display of the largest rice scoop in Japan, got to walk out to the floating tori gate (as it was low tide), and wandered around stone lanterns reminiscent of those we saw back in Nara. We also had a look around the Itsukashima shine compound, before calling it a night and heading back for some sleep. While we hadn’t gotten up to much, travelling from Kurokawa all the way to Miyajima was quite exhausting!

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Bus from Kurokawa to Aso – 960
JR Trains and Miyajimaguchi ferry covered by JR National Pass

2) ACCOMMODATION
Jukeisou – 8085 yen

3) FOOD
Pocky snack – 160 yen [thin stick edition]
Lunch at Kumamoto – 880 yen [Hamburger omelette rice set]
Dinner at Mame-Tanuki @ Miyajima – 2,965 yen [Amago-don, oysters and plum wine]
Breakfast provided by Yamamizuki Ryokan

4) ATTRACTIONS
N/A ~all free~

5) OTHERS
N/A [Need to save money once in a while right?]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
13,050 yen (391,525 yen total)