Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hiroshima Trip

This year is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the end of the war in Japan.  Since we hadn't been to either location yet, we figured it would be a good time to do so.

Hiroshima is 9-10 hours (estimated by Google) away from us by car, and after looking into the other options, we decided it was the cheapest option for us due to the great car rental options available to us on base.  For about $60 a day, we get a car and free toll tickets.  We estimate it saved us about $400 for this trip, and avoided wear and tear on our car.  But I hate driving long I wasn't sure how it would go.  Luckily we happened on the idea of listening to audio books and sermons to make the time go by faster.  We had recently started listening to C. S. Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet" as a family, so we decided to see how much of the space trilogy we could polish off on the trip.  We ended up getting through to the end of Perelandra, and got caught up on Rick Booye's sermons from Trail Christian Fellowship.

Our first stop were some friends that we had never met.  There's a blog I've been following since before we arrived in Japan called "Life in the land of Wa" and we had just begun emailing each other a month or so before our trip when we found out that they live near Hiroshima and we'd be passing right by.  They offered for us to spend the night with them and we gladly accepted.  So we got to meet their family and spend time in their lovely home.  It's so wonderful to be able to just sit and talk with people in similar circumstances and with similar beliefs.  We talked all evening and most of the next morning before bidding them farewell.  They also introduced us to a new fabulous ramen restaurant for dinner.   I had heard of Ippudo as it is also international, but hadn't ever tried it before.  I must say it was excellent (especially the spicy ramen).

The next morning we drove the relatively short distance to the famous island of Miyajima.  They are famous for their beautiful shrine and oysters.  In fact, the annual oyster festival (kaki matsuri) was in full swing that day!  When we got to the town across from Miyajima, we drove all over the place looking for a parking spot.  Finally, past all the official parking spaces, there was a lady directing traffic and she took pity on us and gave us her spot.  The lines at the matsuri were insane!  We waited in some of the shorter ones to get a bite to eat, then walked through town (snacking along the way) to see the famous tori gate.  Unfortunately the tide was out, but it was still pretty.

It was getting close to 4pm, so we decided to head to our "hotel" 88 House.  It was in the middle of a ravine about 10 minutes drive from Hiroshima.  Typical with Japan, we took a sharp hairpin turn off of the main road and found ourselves next to a little river and several rice fields.  The house itself used to be a bonsai shop, and though built in the old style, it must have been either renovated recently as it didn't look or feel like it was old.  The proprietor was very nice and when we asked about a local onsen/sentou (public bath house) he gave us directions to one nearby.  So we promptly drove over there and used the facilities.  Then we drove back and stopped at a local store that sold mostly varieties of nikuman (siopao/meat buns) with local types of meat.  Then we passed out at our hotel at about 8pm.  The futons were very comfy and the place heated up nicely for the night.  Our one complaint about the place was the lack of a full washlet.  The shared bathroom was very clean, but I'm sorry, this is Japan and there is no excuse for not have a real washlet.

The next morning we slept in, ate hand made local rice onigiri with miso soup for breakfast, and made it into Hiroshima proper by 10am or so when most stuff started opening.  We went straight for the Peace Museum.  It was of course very sobering, and a different kind of weird to be able to touch so many things that were there at the explosion.  I am glad we watched the documentary "White Light, Black Rain" prior though.  It was in some ways more personal as it focused on the experiences of several individuals who survived but were still affected by it.  That documentary was in my opinion more disturbing than the Peace Museum, but like I said, there is a different sort of reality to be experienced by physical contact with objects that were there.

After that it was lunch time, so we made our way down to the famous "Okonomiyaki Village" (Okonomimura) where floor upon floor of little okonomiyaki stalls greeted us.  We walked every floor and chose the one with the cute older lady who seemed the least annoying.  What a strange feeling to be "solicited" so insistently for something in Japan!  We chose kaki (oyster), hotate (scallop), and cheese/mochi types and watched them carefully prepared in front of us.  This was our first time eating Hiroshima style okonomiyaki, and we all loved it!  Personally, I'd prefer this style any day over Osaka style.  The main difference is that Osaka style (which is what we have mostly over in our area) is just mixed up ingredients and then fried like a pancaked until done.  Hiroshima style is layered carefully one at a time.  I hope we can find some Hiroshima style places near us at home.

After lunch we walked over to the actual Hypocenter directly below where the bomb detonated (a tiny back road area with no one around) and the Peace Dome.  The Dome was sadly being surveyed so it had scaffolding all around it, but the area by the rivers was lovely.  Then we walked up to the castle, which was very lovely and the grounds were quite peaceful.  We didn't go inside (we've done that many times by now), and it started to rain, so we walked almost all the way back to where we had parked.  Near by was a Shisha cafe called Kugrass so we stopped in there.  Previous shisha experiences in Yokosuka had put me off shisha in Japan, but I had never tried shisha prepared by a Japanese person before (in Yokosuka it's done by middle eastern folks, and you'd think they'd know what they were doing, but you'd be wrong).  It was a quiet, cute little cafe, well ventilated so even Rowan didn't have an issue with smokiness (he's quite sensitive).  The shisha was amazing, some of the best I've ever had. Perfectly smooth, cool draw, smokeless coals, and it never got nasty towards the end as it sometimes does.  The masala chai tea was excellent too.  I really hope they get more business.

We had decided we wanted to eat dinner at an excellent indian place we had heard of (Roopali) but it was a bit early for dinner so we decided to drive down to Iwakuni and the marine base there to fill up our fuel tank with cheap, subsidized american cheater gas.  We arrived as it was getting dark so had to ask for directions around the base, and we didn't get to see much of it in the misty rain that was falling.  Mission successful, we headed back to Roopali.  In Yokosuka there are tons of Indian restaurants nearby, but none of them approach great, let alone excellent. The curries are uncomplicated, the naan is sweet, and bread selection is...well...only naan. So we are always looking for "real" indian food wherever we go. The best we've had so far was a total accidental find near Yokota Air Base, but that's quite far and we hardly ever get up there.  We were hesitant to spend one of our food time slots while visiting Hiroshima on another probably bad Indian place, but this hugely popular spot looked worth it. We were very glad we risked it. First, there's more than one kind of bread on the menu! They had naan and roti, and lo and behold, the naan wasn't sweet! And the roti was big, thick and brown. Oh so delicious. Also, they let me order a *salty* lassi, even though it wasn't on the menu! Oh heaven! The curries were popping with flavor (not just spiciness though they did that well too). The boneless tikka chicken we ordered was also amazing. Of course we ate way too much, but it was so much fun. Highly recommended if you need a real indian food fix. It is a little expensive compared to other Indian places in Japan, but worth it.  After that we headed home for our last night at 88 house.

The next morning we started the long trip back home, which took about 10 hours.  We did stop several times for breaks and lunch along the way.  But we made it back in time to turn our car rental in and avoid a another day's charges.  It was nice to have the next day off of work too, and we used the time to clean around the house and do some grocery shopping.

Overall, for our first really long road trip in Japan, it went very well.  I still don't like driving much, but it really helps to have something to listen to (i.e. audio books/sermons) to make the time go by.

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