After visiting Peace Memorial Park and Museum in Hiroshima, we decided we needed to do something different. Something totally unrelated to the atomic bomb and the events which follwed. One of the things that is so great about this trip is the fact that we find ourselves in interesting and unique places that we never even knew existed even a month ago. Miyajima Island, about 45 minutes outside of Hiroshima, is just that place.
Miyajima is a renowned tourist attraction in Japan and is most widely known for its beautiful shrine gate. When I read the descriptions, what drew me most to visiting this island is the flame burning near the temple at the top. I know this sounds strange, but apparently this flame has been burning continually since it was lit 1,200 years ago. Twelve hundred years! That is utterly amazing. So, without knowing much more than this, we made the journey out of Hiroshima, first taking the street car, then the train, then a ferry! Many modes of transportation are required to get there, but Miyajima is totally worth it. Once again, our JR Pass paid for itself as the trip out and back didn’t cost us a single Yen.
When we first stepped off the short ferry ride and began walking around the island one thing struck us immediately–the amount of “wild” deer. I say “wild” because they really seem quite domesticated and docile. Having grown up in Ohio, I am used to deer which run away at the sound of people or cars. I expect deer to be skittish and elusive. Not these deer. They walk amongst the people like they are pets. People are told not to feed them, and we didn’t see any of that happening, but people were definitely petting the deer and even touching their antlers. Phil and I kept our distance, but at one point the deer came right up to me, sniffed my bag and kept going. We saw one deer steel a bag of snacks from the back of a man’s wheelchair. It was very strange and a little unsettling.
Because we got there so close to sunset, we were unable to go up the ropeway which would have taken us to the 1200 year old flame, but it was totally worth missing to get to view the brilliant red shrine gate of Itsukushima-jinja at sunset. This huge gate is set out in the water, so at low tide visitors can walk up to it and at high tide it looks as though it is floating. It is one of the most sensational sights we have seen thus far. We realized that most of our time in Japan has been spent in bustling cities and crowded areas. Miyajima at sunset is the complete opposite. Sure, lots of people were there taking photos and watching the sun slide behind the mountains, but it was incredibly quiet and tranquil. We sat for almost an hour, watching the sun go down and the stars come out. It was really majestic.
Our final morning in Hiroshima found us touring the Mazda Museum. I’m not really a car buff and I certainly don’t know what makes Mazda different from any other type of car, but it was so great getting to take this tour. First of all, the facilities are absolutely huge. We were not allowed to take pictures of the outside buildings, but did learn that the assembly line is 7km long, the longest in the world. In addition, this Mazda facility has its own private bridge which is 500 meters long making it one of the longest privately owned bridges in the world. They also have a private port where their ships transport up to 5000 cars at a time to different areas overseas (it takes 14 days to transport a car from Hiroshima to Northern California).
The tour was really great, starting with a little history of the company and moving through the years. Of course there were 2 major parts which were most spectacular. First, we got to see some of the classic Mazda cars. They were absolutely beautiful. We even saw a Cosmo Sport, a sports car from the sixties which is very rare because it is entirely hand made; there were only 1200 in existence. I also thought the 3-wheeled trucks were awesove me–these were the first motor-vehicles Mazda ever made. I think I could drive one of these as my everyday vehicle!
But to be honest, the best part of tour was actually getting to see the assembly line. It was amazing. The cars would creep down the conveyer belt while workers put different parts into place. We were surprised to see different models of cars being made on the same line. We figured that would get confusing, but they clearly have a way of keeping it all straight. We were especially fascinated by the machine that put adhesive around the edges of the windows, windshields and rear windows. It knew exactly where to go–it really is like magic. The cars are put together from start to finish at this plant, and it takes about 15 hours per car. They make about 1,000 cars per day. Absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the assembly line, but just trust me when I tell you it is one of the most intricate and interesting things you can see–we could have stood there watching all day.
After visiting the Mazda Museum, we decided it was time to leave Hiroshima and head back towards Tokyo. We can’t believe how quickly our time in Japan is going, although that seems to be a pretty consistent theme of our trip so far. Now, we spend the day buying souvenirs and shipping some things home (we have the benefit of using the U.S. Postal Service on base). However, the most important thing we are going to do today is get prepared for tomorrow–the day we climb Japan’s tallest peak – Mt. Fuji!