Posts Tagged With: temple

Miyajima and Mazda

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.A beautiful Island

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.

Domestic Deer?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.

Gorgeous!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).

Mazda Museum

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!Love this truck

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.

Toy Truck?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!

-Brooke

Miyajima gate at sunset

The shrine gate at sunset is truly a sight to behold. The tide is coming in at this moment, but at high tide it looks like it is floating.

Going Green
One of Mazda’s concept cars. In an effort to “go green” there are grooves on the roof to collect rain water, filter it, and pour into a bottle for the driver to drink. Really!?

Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Exploring, Japan, Landmarks, Museums, Relaxing, Temples, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Kyoto, Japan


So very peaceful
Almost everyone we spoke to before arriving in Japan told us we should visit Kyoto.  It is known for its traditional Japanese buildings, its overwhelming number of shrines and temples, and its beautiful gardens.  It is at the top of every Japan Tour list and so we decided it was a “must see” for us.  We are so glad we made a visit.

Hot and SteamyWe arrived in Kyoto yesterday evening after taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Yokohama.  It was turning dark, raining and not really the right time for sight-seeing, so we did what we do best–explored the restaurant and bar scene!  Everyone who has ever been a poor college kid (or who was raised in a house with my mom) has had their fair share of Ramen noodles–you know, the hard brick of noodles with the flavor packet.  You may have had the Cup-o-Noodles variety.  I’m sure you are familiar. Don’t get me wrong, they are great and perfect for cheap eating.  But that little 49 cent pack of Ramen barely comes close to resembling the real thing.  We tasted our first real Ramen at Ippudo which sits nestled within the tightly packed streets of the Nishiki Market district.  We spied the food in front of the people next to us, pointed to their dishes and the picture of dumplings on the menu, and our order was complete.  While we waited we watched our neighbors eat Ramen with chopsticks and a spoon so we would know the etiquette.  Slurping is totally allowed and putting your lips up to the side of the bowl is expected.  Thank goodness!  When our huge bowls of steaming hot Ramen arrived, we had broth flying everywhere!  The flavor combinations were really amazing with fresh scallion and some delicious peppery oil drizzled on top.  However, the real highlight of the meal were the Gyoza, Chinese style dumplings.  These were like little bites of heaven–easily the best dumplings I’ve ever had.

Kyoto BarAfter our delicious dinner, we made our way to some bars.  Our first stop had us trying our hand at darts fairly unsuccessfully.  We left there defeated and once again found a tiny little alley and wandered down it to see what was happening.  It was so cool–door after door were bars with people lined up on stools taking turns singing karaoke.  Well, we couldn’t resist!  We are in Japan after all.  We went into one that was essentially empty and took it over by singing everything from Bon Jovi to the Backstreet Boys.  It was so tiny that when we sat on the stools our backs were up against the sliding doors.  It was essentially a hallway.  The bartender brought us this crazy looking plate with fish and noodles (which we didn’t ask for or want) and continued to chain smoke while we sang.  We were having a blast in this cramped little space, until the bill came.  We couldn’t believe how expensive our two beers were.  It turns out, we think we were being charged for each song we sang.  Crap!  We had no idea and we tried asking, but she spoke no English at all.  Oh well, that was a tough lesson learned.

Peaceful gardenThis morning, we hit the ground running and went to Hagashiyama, an area in Kyoto loaded with shrines, temples and gardens.  Wow, we fast-paced New Yorkers could really learn something from these Buddhists.  We first went to Shoren-in, an ancient temple complex which is no longer in use.  After taking our shoes off, we strolled along the tatami mats and wooden walkways of the temple buildings.  In the center of this serene complex lay a beautiful garden with a koi pond.  We found ourselves just sitting there, listening to the singing cicadas and rush of the water.  Relaxing isn’t even the word for it…more like, peaceful. My brain felt clear and still.  I can completely understand why people would come here and pray.  We both agreed the equivalent to this would be amazing in New York City.  Not far from Shoren-in, we walked to Chion-in.  This is another huge temple complex, but it is still actively used today and is a popular place of pilgrimage for Buddhists.  Unlike the other, this temple was bustling with people and activity.  We could hear chanting and bells ringing and there were certain places where we could not go because there were people worshiping. The coolest part of this temple is the San-mon, the gate at the main entrance.  It is the largest temple gate in Japan and let me tell you, it is huge!  Pictures really don’t do it justice.

Largest temple gates in Japan

After seeing a few temples, we were in the mood for something a bit different, so we headed to Nijo-jo, a castle built in 1603 which was the official residence of the first Tokugawa shogun (essentially a military dictator).  The castle and its grounds are absolutely gigantic!  We were unable to take pictures (or even sketch them, not that we would have) inside the building, but we basically understood that the shogun was the most important person in the room and all activities revolved around him.  For his protection, the castle is surrounded by both in outer moat and another inner moat.  However, if some stealthy Ninja warrior managed to get past both moats, they would have a hard time getting past the “nightingale floors.”  These are floors which “sing” each time they are stepped on so intruders are unable to come in unnoticed.  (I think Phil’s mom should have had these floors installed in the house he grew up in to keep him from sneaking out while she slept.)  The movement of the boards really does cause them to creak at each step–very clever, shogun.  Very clever, indeed.Huge castle in Kyoto

After traipsing around Kyoto in the crazy-hot sun, we found ourselves exhausted and ready for a rest.  Luckily, a smooth and air-conditioned ride on the Shinkansen awaited us.  And so, we said goodbye to Kyoto feeling much richer in our understanding of Japanese culture and history.  Now we attempt to understand modern history as we head to Hiroshima.  We both anticipate being disturbed by some of what we will see there, however we feel it is important to pay our respect and gain a greater understanding of this city and the events which took place here so many years ago.

-Brooke

We don't speak Japanese!

One of many instances when we wish we could read Japanese. What is this sculpture? It kind of looks like potatoes on a big rock, but that can’t be right.

Traditional Japanese

Our traditional Japanese style room at Hana Hostel, complete with tatami floors and mats to roll out for sleeping.

No shoes allowed!

Since guests are not allowed to wear shoes inside Hana Hostel, they have dozens of these slippers upon entering the building.

Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Eating, Exploring, Japan, Landmarks, Rail, Relaxing, Temples, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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