Hiroshima, Mon Amour
The flight from San Francisco to Tokyo on Philippine Airlines was reasonably pleasant, and the stopover in Ninoy Aquino Airport in Manila was mercifully brief. I caught a train from Narita to Tokyo, then two more trains to Hiroshima. Finding the Reino Inn wasn't quite as easy, but after one bum steer, a helpful local guided me to the right street, and the hostel was well signposted. Better still, my room had everything I needed, and there was late night place two doors away that made a pretty good tonkatsu, and two blocks from Hiroshima Peace Park (it was also only a few metres from a tram stop on a direct line to the train station, but I didn't realize that until later).
I'd chosen Hiroshima because of its history, its reconstructed castle, and its easy access to the even more impressive castle in Himeji. It's also a singularly beautiful city. The memorials to the victims of the bombing range from haunting to horrific, but many are adorned with fresh chains of brightly coloured origami cranes: the locals do not want anyone to forget what happened here, and that it should never happen again.
I was impressed by the number of Japanese tourists in the Peace Park, on Miyajima and at Himeji Castle - though this was partly because I'd unwittingly timed my visit to coincide with a national holiday and long weekend (at least I didn't make the same mistake as an old friend of mine who tried to visit Hiroshima on August 6th 2005 and wondered why the trains and accommodation were booked out). This meant that I had to return to Tokyo on an unreserved coach and was standing for part of the trip - though if I'd spent the weekend in Tokyo before heading down to Hiroshima, I'm not sure I could have caught a train back to Narita in time to make my flight home.
My minimal grasp of the language wasn't often a problem. I delighted a vendor on Miyajima by knowing the word "ebi", and had to explain that I understood almost no Japanese that wasn't related to food (apart from a few terms I picked up writing for Bushido). When I became slightly lost in Tokyo, it proved awkward when none of the very polite cops in the koban I stopped in spoke any English, but they could read romaji and were able to look up the address of my hostel and assure me that I was on the street I needed to be on.
After Hiroshima, a Monday in Akihabara seemed rather drab, and I wondered whether Tokyo had lost some of its mojo or whether it was just me. Spending Tuesday in Harajuku largely reassured me. But I really should learn some more Japanese before I return.
The flight home on Thai Airways was okay, though after having spent close to ten hours in Bangkok's airport while en route to London last year, I was glad that I was only scheduled for a 90 minute stopover. Unfortunately, because the plane was delayed by a strong headwind, I had barely ten minutes to get through the airport, most of it spent going through security theatre twice! Getting through Perth airport, however, was astonishingly hassle-free, and soon I was home.
Was it worth it? Hell yeah! When will I go back to Japan? I don't know, but I doubt it will be as soon as I'd like.
(Picspam to follow: photobucket playing up)
- Trip Report, Fit the Fourth