Travel Japan

Adventure 18 Day Five | Naoshima Now

Thursday

I woke up really early (apologies once again, hostel buddies) and caught the 7:37 train from Hiroshima, using my trusty Seishun 18 Kippu. I stopped at Hiro station and left my luggage there, running to catch the next local train to the ferry port.

Naoshima is an island so sleepily inaka you would never guess it plays host to such big name works and museums. The streets of the town around the edge of the island are quiet except for visitors and volunteer guides. The streets that cut across the island are empty and lined by trees and rice paddies.  I rented a bike for 500 yen to make my way across the island. It was a wonderful day biking through the streets and seeing the water – both exhilarating and calming.

My favourite place I visited was Minamidera, part of the Art House Project. People are allowed to enter in fifteen minutes intervals and I waited in line watching the group ahead of me leave the building looking dazed. When it was our group’s turn to enter the guide gave us some brief instructions, telling us that it is dark inside and we wouldn’t be able to see anything. We followed her voice, our hands running against the wall to our left. After entering the building we took a few turns until eventually we were in complete blackness. Eventually we were instructed to sit down on a bench and slide until we reached a wall.  The group had been giggly and talkative before at first but everyone fell silent as our eyes struggled to see. I’ve never experienced so much darkness, being able to see absolutely nothing. After about five minutes of searching my eyes started to pick up some light at the end of the room. My brain strained to process the shape and make it clear. Slowly my eyes adjusted to the light and I could see the vague presence of my hands. Not what they looked like, but that they were slightly different looking than the area around them. After a few minutes the guide asked us if we could see a light and everyone said YES practically yelling. Ok, you can stand up she said, and we all stood up excitedly and shuffled towards the light. I still couldn’t see well but I could see the forms of people around me, feel their movement and hear them talking excitedly to each other. It was a really unique sensory experience and unlike anything I’ve done before. After a few minutes I made my way out of the building, blinking in a daze just like the people before me.

I finished the day off at I ♥ Yu (you can see pictures here!) which combines three of my favourite things – puns, onsen, and art. The pun is that in Japanese, yu means hot water – a joke I wish I had coined. After biking and walking all day it felt wonderful to shower and sit in the hot water of the onsen. Bonus was the giant elephant statue above my head. I called it a day in the late afternoon, catching a ferry around 5:00 and making the trek from Tadanoumi to Hiro station, and eventually all the way to Himeji at 10:00.

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Adventure 18 Day Three | Miyajima Magic

Tuesday

I love hostels but getting up early is always so awkward knowing you’re bothering people. Climbing down from the top bunk on a noisy ladder is going to wake someone up, no matter how hard you try. Luckily I’m a really deep sleeper so this never bothers me, but for others all I can do is be as quiet as possible.

I walked to the station and caught the 7:50 train from that got me to Iwakuni station at 8:43. I didn’t use my Seishun 18 Kippu this day because it the fare to these places was pretty cheap and I needed to save my days on the ticket for later. From there I took a bus and got to the Kintai bridge around 9:15 or so. The bridge is really cool! The big wooden arches look beautiful against the river. It’s actually really hard to walk across, because the steps get bigger and smaller and all blend into each other.

Iwakuni itself was absolutely beautiful! I was there just on the verge of the cherry blossoms opening, so I didn’t get to see them in all their glory. But the half-opened buds were still pretty. The gardens are large and peaceful, particularly so because early in the morning there was hardly anyone there. I walked around for a little, feeling very calm and at ease in my surroundings.

I took the tiny lift up that brought us to a forest walkway and the castle on the top of the mountain. The top of the castle looks out over the bridge, river, and town. I walked around the castle a little bit and ate some breakfast sitting at one of the little stone picnic tables.

Instead of putting effort into figuring out the return buses to Iwakuni station, I just walked about fifteen minutes to a tiny closer station that was oddly positioned on the top of steep hill. I got the 10:50 and arrived in at Miyajimaguchi station at 11:33. I wasn’t sure if I would have to wait long in line for the ferry but since Miyajima is such a popular destination the ferries are huge and run every ten or fifteen minutes. I just bought my ticket and walked on! Easier than catching any bus I’ve ever caught, haha. I got there at the perfect time to see Itsukushima shrine at high tide, around 12:30!

I walked around taking pictures, offering to take pictures of other people, and asking people to take pictures of me. At one point I was taking a picture of something and an older man came up to me and told me I was in the wrong spot to take pictures and that he had a better spot to take pictures from. So he brought me over to another area and took my picture, which is the photo below.

I wandered around a bit up towards the gardens where I found a nice little spot by the river to eat the food I brought. I didn’t realize Miyajima had so many deer, but there were a bunch winding their way around tourists and looking for food. As I was eating a deer came up to me and started nudging me trying to get food, but all I had left was a banana. I wasn’t sure if deer like banana but I broke off a piece and held it out, which the deer picked up and then dropped on the ground. So there was my answer.

I wandered up through the trees and ended up at the lift to the top of Mount Misen. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go all way to the top but I figured it was a good way to spend the afternoon. There’s two lifts, the first is like a ski lift but much smaller and the second was a standing lift with windows all around that lets you see the mountains and sea as it ascends.

At the top of the lift it was a half hour climb to the very top of the mountain. The climb itself wasn’t difficult but a little tricky because of the uneven ground and trying to pass people in tight spaces as they came down the mountain. There’s an observation building at the top that I hung out for in a bit, sitting on big raised platform on the first level contemplating a nap. Afterwards when I made my way back down to the lift I was really tired, partly because of the climb but mostly from not sleeping. I had planned to walk down but I realized that although it was doable it would take almost two hours and I decided to just take the lift back.

When I reached the bottom it was around 5:00 and I searched around to find somewhere to eat. Sadly this is apparently the time when everything is closed, but I found an open Okonomiyaki shop that looked good. I’d like to say I loved the okonomiyaki but it pales in comparison to the night before. But, all in all, a nice restaurant and a nice break from the day.

I took the ferry and then the train back to Hiroshima station, getting back to my hostel around 8:00. I attempted some studying which did not go well, and finally went to bed.

 

Kurobe Gorge

My daily rides to work provide a view of the sea of open air and rice fields. A welcome change of scenery but lacking the familiar vibrant shades of leaves in the fall that I’m accustomed to at home. A holiday weekend and a craving for autumn foliage encouraged us to take a trip to the nearby mountain attraction- an 80 minute train line through the Kurobe Gorge. Originally serving practically for industrial transportation into the mountains, the train line is now a unique feature of Toyama, operating from mid-spring to the end of November.

Trains depart from Unazuki, with 4 different stops throughout the mountain range and the choice of several classes of train seats (the highest being enclosed and heated). Prompted by adventure (and frugality) we opted for an open train. Although the resulting ride was decidedly wet and chilly it was agreed we had made the right decision- the open sides gave us a breathtaking view of the mountains in full autumn colour.

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The line’s practical beginnings are evident as the train winds through the mountains, passing by dams, bridges, and underground tunnels used in the winter. The ascension of the mountain becomes increasingly rugged as buildings and structures disappear from view. The expanse of mountains envelopes the train, providing somewhat of an unexpected sanctuary.

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At our final stop at the top of the mountain, Keyakidaira, the rain miraculously stopped and we warmed up with some much needed Udon and coffee. There are several paths that branch from the main lodge. Our first led us along the mountain side through the dense forest and across vibrant red bridges.

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_DSC0086_DSC0071There are several key features of Keyakidaira are its three onsen, “Owl tree” (a mysterious stump with the appearance of an owl), and its many winding paths along the mountain sides. The mountains are also home to monkeys which I had given up all hope of seeing until I saw a furry creature jump from the path ahead of me, across the railing and down into the trees. My first response was of second concern for this seemingly confused dog until I quickly realized in fact it was a monkey. We saw two more on our train ride back down the mountain, sitting leisurely on the side of the tracks and apparently unperturbed by the train barreling past them.

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