Return to the Rising Sun, Days 9-10: Take the Last Bullet Train to Hiroshima

Day 9

Our time in Kawaguchiko had come to an end and now it was time to do a bit of cross-country travel.  We would be traveling over 1,000 miles to visit Hiroshima and to do so we would need to take the Shinkansen, better known as the bullet train.

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The Shinkansen (bullet train)

The Shinkansen travels at speeds of 200 mph and its truly amazing to blur past buildings, people, and cars while traveling at a rate of over 3 miles a minute.  Before we boarded the bullet train I purchased a famed meal of Japan:  eki-ben (or the bento box).  Eki-ben is essentially a pre-packaged meal.  I picked up one with rice, chicken, pickles, dumplings, and some type of vegetable.  I was also amused by the Smurf-sized bottle of soy sauce for rice.  There was also a tiny packet of hot mustard and I mean HOT.  A little of that stuff went a long way.  I had a pinprick’s worth of the stuff and it cleared my sinuses.

The ride was comfy and fun as I watched the country fly by.  I had to time my photos very carefully so they wouldn’t become a blurry mess.  Amy had the most interesting travel partner as she was seated next to a Buddhist monk and they had a most engaging conversation.

About 4:30pm we arrived in Hiroshima.  We hopped a light rail and rode to the neighborhood where our next apartment would be located.

Our apartment in Hiroshima was well taken care of, but, man, was it tiny.  Supposedly it could sleep the original 6 who were to be part of our group, but getting the four of us in was a rather tight squeeze.  I found it difficult to believe that one person could live in this apartment for an extended period because there simply isn’t much room.

There wasn’t much on our minds except to explore the city a bit.  I was struck by the impressiveness of the city when most of the city had been wiped off the map nearly 70 years prior due to the dropping of the atomic bomb.  This was something we’d learn more about the next day when we visited the Peace Memorial.

Our group visited the main drag where we found a little toy and hobby shop that boasted a retro arcade on the second floor.  Now this was an arcade that suited me.  Pac-Man, Vs. Super Mario Bros., Rygar, Space Invaders:  these were games suited to my tastes.  I passed a bit of time playing Popeye while the rest of the group wandered about the store.

Food was the next thing on our minds so we found a Lotteria’s.  Lotteria’s is kind of an upscale burger joint.  I had a DX burger and fries which were OK.  I didn’t think the quality of the food matched the price.  From there it was more arcading, then back to the apartment for rest.

Day 10

I had washed my clothes in the apartment’s washing machine and left them to dry overnight.  With all the heat and humidity we’d been facing, I’d forgotten how good a fresh pair of clothes could feel as I dressed that morning.

We lounged around for most of the morning before getting some lunch at a nearby KFC.  I had a simple chicken sandwich with some Coloneling potatoes which wasn’t too bad.  After lunch, Mat led our little group to the Rihga Royal Hotel where he and Dave stayed 4 years prior.  It seemed quite luxurious and boasted an impressive staircase in the lobby.

After that we visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial which made for the most moving day on this journey.  I can’t properly express the feelings I had as I walked around the museum, but it was very eye-opening to learn about the dropping of the atomic bomb from the point of view of the victims.  The exhibits were quite powerful, sometimes even grisly, as we were educated about the effects and impact of the bomb.  Several people working at the museum were survivors of that tragic day and hearing their stories added a depth and texture that I will never forget.  It was a moment I was glad to have experienced.

At the end of this haunting experience, we hiked back to the main drag where we stopped at Mister Donut for a chewy treat and then gamed a bit more.  Then we returned to our apartment to drop up the prizes of the others and burned a couple of hours before heading out to dinner.

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Mister Donut

Hiroshima is famed for its okonomiyaki, but we didn’t get to eat any.  It was nearly 9pm when we ventured out and none of us knew that Hiroshima closed up early.  Most of the restaurants closed about 9pm so we were forced to visit a McDonald’s before returning to our apartment for the night.

A Journey Beyond Imagination, Day 6: Odaiba & Gundam & Tricks & Onsen

So the whole gang was together again for a visit to Odaiba.  After breakfast, we caught the subway to Odaiba and made our way to the Diver City Mall.

We had actually seen Odaiba from the top of Tokyo Tower back during the sightseeing tour on the first day.  Specifically, we could see Odaiba’s Statue of Liberty and Rainbow Bridge (a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge).  Seeing them again up close was just as awe inspiring as seeing them from a distance.  After soaking up the scenery for a bit, we headed to the top of the Diver City Mall which housed the Gundam Museum.

The museum is dedicated to Gundam Wing, a very long running anime series in Japan.  I’m not overly familiar with the series, but it has the vein of humans piloting giant robots to fight off giant monsters.  It was a very intriguing exhibit which showed the history of the series and had innumerable toys, clothing, and various other swag available for purchase.

After wandering through the museum, we headed outdoors to see the famed 60 foot Gundam statue.  It was truly an awesome spectacle and the statue had a light show later at night that we would watch.  From there we went back inside the mall and headed to the Tokyo Trick Art Museum.

This was one of my favorite events of the trip.  This museum has all of its walls painted in such a way that it almost seems 3D and allows people to become part of the art for photos.  We got pictures of myself showing my death defying martial arts skills as I balanced on the tip of a sword wielded by my ninja opponent, Mat suffocating under glass, and Dave holding open the jaws of a hungry beast to keep from being devoured.

When we had finished our tour of the museum, we got to split up and go off on our own for a while.  Mat, Dave, and I searched out a place for lunch and ended up being persuaded to eat at a ramen joint when the owner promised us free rice.  Now that I think about it, none of us got any rice.

From there we found a classic arcade in the mall and all of us enjoyed a little blast from our past.  Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Kung Fu Master (known as Kansu Master in Japan) were just some of the games from yesteryear that we played.  After funning ourselves out and a little more exploration, we met up with the group by the Rainbow Bridge to get ready for the second half of the day’s activities.

The group was given the choice of one of two activities:  going to the SEGA Joypolis amusement park or going to Tokyo Oedo Onsen Monogotari, a Japanese hot springs.  Now I love amusement parks, but I wanted to experience something indicative of the Japanese culture and had opted to go to the hot springs.  Dave was the only other person who opted to go to the onsen.  I suspect Mat would have preferred that activity, but he has a couple of tattoos and people with body art are not permitted in public hot springs.

So Dave and I were off to the onsen where we became part of the traditional Japanese culture.  For starters, we had to take off our shoes before entering the hot springs.  We were also required to wear a yukata, a Japanese robe, inside the onsen.  The inside of the onsen was set up as a medieval Japanese village and market place.   There were places to eat and games to play, but the hot springs is what it was all about.  They were so peaceful and relaxing.  After luxuriating in the hot water for a bit, I went and had a 40 minute massage and then went to the enjoy the outdoor hot spring.  Dave and I both agreed the outdoor spring was the best as a light rain had started to fall and the combination of that plus the hot water really induced relaxation.  I really wish we had a couple of more hours to spend there.

Before we knew it, our time was up and we headed back to Diver City and took in the spectacular Gundam Statue light show before heading for our hotel.  My relaxing time at the onsen plus all of the running around we had been doing for the past week finally caught up with me on the subway as I dozed off on my seat.  Yukie said I fit right in with the Japanese businessmen who often take catnaps on the train.  Dave gently shook my shoulder to awaken me right before our stop and it was back to our room to unwind and sleep before our last day in Japan.