Category Archives: Honeymoon

Day 17: Hiroshima

There were plenty of sad sights today. It started with viewing the preserved Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall. This is now known as the A-Bomb dome and is the most widely known image from Hiroshima. It’s probably very close to how it remained after the blast, but support structures have been added to preserve the ruins.

Around the Peace Park are many memorials to children, workers, districts, and other factions that were destroyed in the blast.  During our walk around the park we came across a large group of school children singing a very touching song at one of the memorials. I was nearly moved to tears several times at the park while looking at the various memorials. (I think I’ve seen “Barefoot Gen” too many times) It’s really hard to describe how it felt to be at a place where people for miles around were instantly vaporized in the blast. Sobering is probably the best I can do for now. I’ve said “just nuke ‘em” as a kid many times and now I know that’s such a ignorant statement.   Below is a clip from Barefoot Gen:

 

It’s a good anime to watch, as it’s based on manga written by a survivor. You should be able to find all of it subtitled on YouTube, if not, I have the DVD if you want to watch it… so let me know when we get back.

We then made our way over to the museum, it has a very good account of the history of Hiroshima before, during, and after August 6th, 1945.  It also includes the build up to why Hiroshima was picked for the first atomic bomb target, relics from the debris, and many accounts of the deaths following the blast. One of the saddest relics was a 3 year old child’s tricycle that was burned by the flash, and the child died that night. The father buried the tricycle with the child but later donated it to the museum. I wish we had the time to visit Nagasaki also, because there are few mentions about the 2nd atomic bomb attack at Hiroshima’s monuments.

Time soon neared for our Mazda tour so we rushed over by taxi in order to make our appointment for the English tour. This has been the only guided tour of anything we have seen in Japan so far, and I was kinda annoyed that we could not just wander around and take pictures at our leisure.

The tour started off with a bus drive through the Mazda campus. I’ve never been to a factory complex before but the Mazda complex was really huge and they have their own private sea port next to the car storage facility, which is basically a huge parking deck that can hold 11,000 vehicles. They also had their own power plant, producing 60% of the energy used, and their own two-year college for training workers.

Inside the museum, we were given a tour that included a brief history lesson of the corporation, historic Mazda models, examples of the rotary engine’s evolution, and a lesson on the development of a car from design to completion using the RX-8 as the subject. There were great also examples of Mazda’s JDM cars and we got a lot of good car pics. Understandably, they did not allow pictures inside the factory. The tour in general is like a live showing of “How It’s Made”.

The cars helped lightened my mood but I’m still sad from the Peace Park. It’s time to go get some dinner.

Day 16: Himeji Castle

Today we visited Himeji castle on the way to Hiroshima. This is probably the best example of a Japanese castle from the 1600’s. I recognized it from many of the samurai movies I’ve seen over the years, but seeing it in person was really impressive. You can see it from the train, and it just keeps getting bigger the closer you get. I felt lazy after yesterday’s hike and we rode a taxi up the street to the castle.

There is a long winding climb just to get to the castle’s base level, at which point you purchase your tickets. After you enter the castle gates you are directed towards the west bailey, where you tour a long building that was constructed with a princess’ dowry. This building was used to house women, and the princess herself lived their with her husband while other parts of the castle were being renovated.

We then made our way to the main castle tower, looking up we could see little faces in the windows looking down at us. Robyn confirmed my suspicion that the castle did not have the luxury of elevators.

Inside the castle there were many little signs to explain what everything was, and it’s nice to have something to read while Robyn takes pictures. Of course there were many different signs, but the same sign was posted for many of “Stone Throwing Holes”  (and there were very many places for stone throwing).

Eventually Robyn’s camera battery died so we only have a few pictures from inside of the main castle. The castle did spark my imagination of what it must have been like to live there when it was a military stronghold full of weapons, warriors, servants, and masters from 14th – 19th century. Himeji castle is in a tie with Todaiji for the coolest thing I’ve seen in Japan so far.

I also have to mention how much we have grown to like Osaka. Anywhere you look there is a restaurant, bar, street vendor, or vending machine. On the walk back to the Himeji train station we really had to look for a place to eat. It’s just not something we have had to do the entire trip. We did eventually find a small place, I picked up some pork cutlet and Robyn got curry. Can’t go wrong with the classics.

Waiting for our train to Hiroshima I took a few pictures of the different bullet trains. Some of them zoomed by, and if you are not watching for the train to pass it can be a bit surprising as it whooshes past. It’s easy to see why they get the name “bullet trains”.

The bullet trains are actually named “Shinkansen”, and they are top of the line public transportation. Inside it was roomier and better appointed than our plane flight. We even got ice cream from the car attendant. We had planned on a long ride, but we did not even have time to take a nap… which is a great way to pass time on the rail.

I’m not really excited to visit Hiroshima Peace Park, but I still have always wanted to go there. Mainly because I know I’ll feel guilty as an American – that our country was the first to start nuclear warfare. Robyn also has told me about the sad stories they have in the museum. But these memorials need to be seen, and impact of the event understood. Later in the day we will go to the Mazda museum to lighten the mood a little.

We finished the night with dinner at a real Japanese steakhouse on the 21st floor of our hotel. I could have bought another valkyrie with how much we paid for dinner. It was a really classy little place so I did not bust out the camera and do the usual tourist moves. Japanese steak houses in America will never be the same. There was no show, no flash, no clanging knifes. Just the best seafood, steak, fried rice, vegetables, and service.

 

Day 15: Nijou Castle

Sorry this post is late, I changed the date… it was really posted a day late. I wrote a very long post about all we did, but then the computer locked up and I lost the entire thing. I was sad. Still am. So, now I get to write it again :)

Tuesday was a long day for us. We set out with an agenda of visiting Nijou Castle, the Kyoto National Museum, and the Kyoto Handicraft Center… surprisingly we actually managed to achieve our goals.

We started the day out at Nijou Castle, which is located in Kyoto. The construction of this castle was begun by the first shogun of the Tokugawa Era, and completed by the second around 1626. It was brazenly built right next door to the Imperial Palace. I should probably explain here that the shogunate had their capital in Edo (Tokyo) while the Imperial Capital remained in Kyoto… but the shogunate used Nijou as their Kyoto residence. Later, after the Emperor regained power, the site was used for the Imperial Cabinet.

As with most wooden structures, various parts of Nijou have been burned and rebuilt over the years. Several parts of the castle are long gone, and today only two buildings really remain. Unfortunately photos of the interior are not allowed, so we only have photos the the exteriors and surrounding gardens.

It is a shame that we could not photograph the interior. There are intricate wood carvings throughout, and all of the sliding wall panels have paintings by masters of the famed Kano school. Many of those works of art make heavy use of gold leaf. Even the ceilings are intricately decorated. It is truly a beautiful place, or at least it was. Today most of these decorations have faded and you can only see a glimmer of what they once were. Still, it is one of my favorite places in Kyoto. Sean enjoyed it too, and really enjoyed the artwork.

After touring the palace grounds we hailed a cab and headed across town to the Kyoto National Museum. The museum is one of three national museums founded by the government in the Meiji Era (a time of rapid westernization and modernization)  in order to protect important cultural artifacts. The collection is very impressive, with pieces ranging from the Paleolithic period to the early 20th century. They not only have items from Japan, but also from Korea and China as they played important roles in the development of the country.

With a collection of about 12,000 items there are far too many things to comment on anything specifically. However, some of my favorite pieces included pottery from the 11th and 12th centuries as well as scrolls/paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries. Of course, there were many many beautiful and interesting things there. And, of course, no pictures were allowed… and we completely forgot to go to the gift shop for photographs of the collection. I think it was because, by that point, we were getting pretty hungry and tired and were ready to move on.

We next headed to the Kyoto Handicraft Center, which is basically 6 floors of tourist shopping. The majority of it is your usual tourist crap, but there are some good things to be found there as well. We ended up with a yukata for Sean, a couple cheap yukata for me (for use as a robe), and some other little nick knacks we picked up as gifts. After that we were starving and headed back to the station, where we found a little sushi place in the station hotel.

The sushi place was awesome (and expensive), although pretty westernized. We still need to find a traditional sushi place… although that is kind of hard to do when you are not familiar with an area. We have seen several kaitenzushi (cheap conveyor belt) places, and some little seedy looking places… but so far none that stood out as a good restaurant. Time is running out though… so I really hope we find one soon.

 

Day 14: Geeking out in Osaka

We were up pretty late last night, and this morning the combination of drawn shades and cloudy weather kept the sun from waking us up. So we rolled out of bed around noon. Since we got up so late there was no point in going out to any temples or castles, so we headed into Den-Den Town instead for some more shopping.

We picked up a few collectible cans for Wendell, Isanov’s SV-51 Valkyrie from Macross Zero, another valkyrie stand, SDF-1 model, VF-21 model, VF-1 (strike) Valkyrie, and a really cool looking Starscream designed by Shoji Kawamori! Few of you reading this will comprehend what a joy this is.

For Robyn we picked up lots of goodies she can’t find in America. Mainly Mr – whatever series of modeling accessories. She got a Mr. Dry Booth, Mr. Super Booth, Mr. Supreme clip, and some Mr. other tools for making models. We now have enough stuff that we have started to ship boxes back home.

We had dinner at a nice curry restaurant. The waitress explained they had ‘not hot’ and hot curry. Robyn and I decided it’s more like hot and really hot. It was hot enough we split ice cream afterwards. Of course we would of ended up getting crepes anyways because after dinner we visited Joyopolis again. There was no messing around this time and we went straight to the token Monopoly slot machine, where both Robyn and I made it to the endgame twice.

The endgame is after you have put hotels on all the properties. This giant wheel above the machine spins and you play for the jackpot. I got close, but Robyn won the jackpot and her machine spewed out tokens for at least two minutes. We kept playing and Robyn even glitched her machine out!

In all it was a good break from the long train rides and walking around. I’m still looking forward to seeing more of ancient Japan in the few days we have left.

 

Day 13: Tenryuiji

Today we visited the Arashiyama area of Kyoto. I was saving this area specifically for May 18, as it is the day of the Mifune Boat Festival. There is no way I would make a special trip to the far western side of Kyoto just for that festival, but I wanted to visit some of the other things in the area so it seemed convenient to schedule it so it would coincide with the festival.

The Mifune Matsuri (matsuri= festival) is the recreation of a boat party held on the river about 1,000 years ago. It is hosted by a nearby shrine and opens with some rituals at that shrine, then the participants proceed to the river to paddle around in meandering circles while everyone stares at them. Supposedly about 100,000 people turn out to see this spectacle each year… I can’t really say I know why. Maybe it is because it sounds cooler than it actually is.

I last saw this festival 5 years ago, and was not able to catch the beginning of it. No luck with catching the beginning of it this year either, but we did see a procession of costumed participants parading down the street toward the boats. It took us all of 10 minutes to get bored with watching the boats, then we headed for a nearby restaurant.  We chose a riverfront restaurant so that we could still watch the boats… not that it got any more interesting.

For lunch we had some tradional-ish Japanese dishes and some shaved ice for dessert. I actually enjoyed my oden, although I am not sure I will every seek the dish out. It consisted of a hot broth with some various types of cooked tofu and some other unidentifiable things. Sean however didn’t seem to enjoy his as much. His food was basically the same thing except with plain tofu… he looked pretty sad at his bland dish so I shared with him. I don’t think either of us regret when we try weird things though… it is always worth the experience. And, if it turns out we don’t like our food choice, there is always something else to try right around the corner.

After lunch we briefly considered renting a row boat so we could get a better view of the festival… decided we didn’t care enough, and then walked the short distance to Tenryuji, which is a Zen temple established in 1339. Of course, as with most temples, it was burned and rebuilt. This one, a grand total of 8 times. The existing structures mostly date back to the mid-late 1800’s. The temple is small and not as big of a tourist trap as most seem to be. There are several small buildings, surrounded by gardens. Beyond the gardens are large groves of bamboo, for which the Arashiyama area is known.

I actually enjoy the peaceful nature of Tenryuji, but Sean was all grumpy and looked annoyed most of the time. He seemed to lighten up some once he took of the too-small sandals they handed out (you had to take off your shoes inside). For me, I had the opposite sandal problem and it was hard to keep them on my feet… I eventually abandoned mine as well.

After the temple we wandered around Arashiyama a little, stopping in a few shops and having some sakura (cherry blossom) ice cream before taking the electric train back to  central Kyoto. We had intended to go to the post office to mail some more post cards, but get this… the Sunday hours for the post office were listed as 0:00-9:00 and then 19:00-24:00. How weird is that? At least they actually are open late and on the weekends… but what odd hours! We decided we would just do it tomorrow… of course, that is exactly what we have said the last two days.

We then treated ourselves to a reserved seat on the fast train back to Osaka because we are tired of all the stops the cheap ticket has. Once back in Osaka we headed to Hep Five again for dinner and to hit the arcade. We had so much fun there last night that we wanted to do it again. Man, we better never go to Vegas… those fake gambling machines are addictive!

We took pictures of our dinner, but the lighting was awful. Ever since we first got here Sean has been dying to try these omelet things we see everywhere… They look pretty much exactly like the one we had on Day 7 at the okonomiyaki place, except they are filled with flavored rice and served in a bowl with various sauces and toppings. I have honestly not wanted to try them at all, but I wasn’t really hungry tonight so I gave in and agreed to have these for dinner. Sean got one with shrimp and “cream sauce” and I chose curry sauce with fried pork. Neither of them were very good.

We did finish the night on a good note though, we had some more crepes at the arcade. Sean got the same one I had last time… chocolate ice cream, chocolate syrup, banana slices, and whipped cream. I got a “hot apple pie” crepe that had hot custard, spiced apple slices, and graham cracker flakes. It was awesome! As we were heading back downstairs Sean decided to get a melon soda to wash it down and spotted a cool drink shop. After we saw some of the impressive things other customers had ordered we were a bit jealous. We took pictures of some of the things offered… we will definitely have to go back there sometime when we haven’t just eaten crepes!

Day 12: Horyuji by day, Umeda by night

We started off the day… well the afternoon by heading out to Nara to visit Horyuji temple. Horyuji is pretty special because it houses some of the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures. It’s a piece of Japan from the 7th century (and 8th, and 9th, and so on). Our ticket seemed quite expensive at 1000 yen (roughly ten dollars). Turns out the ticket actually covered entrance to three temples at the Horyuji grounds.

Japanese temples have fire issues. Over the centuries most of them burned down and were rebuilt, Hyoruji is no exception. There are still parts of the temple complex that date back to the Asuka Period (6th to early 8th centuries), but other parts of it have been rebuilt through the centuries. The rebuilt sections are still pretty old, with the exception of one hall that burned in the 40’s… it was rebuilt as a museum rather than a tempe hall.

Not a lot to report about these temples and relics, other than they were really old. It’s also the only temple complex we have been to so far that Robyn had never been to before. So she was excited to see all the new (old) buildings and relics. I’m teetering on the edge of temple overdose, but I’m also into history so it’s cool to learn about Japanese history. Most of the temples we have visited are places that mix tourism and active worship. Overall there is a balance struck because typically no pictures are allowed at the spots where people do the majority of praying.

We ended up with a good balance between old and new today. After getting back to Osaka we walked over to Umeda district and found a hole-in-the-wall yakitori place. Yakitori is basically grilled meat on a stick, and it’s not the same as our previous dinners of fried meat on a stick. Not really good for taking pictures because they bring it out to you 2 sticks at a time and they did not last very long off the grill.

After dinner Robyn wanted to hit a *real* pachinko parlor. So we found one that was not scummy looking and headed in. It was probably the most annoying assault of sound I have heard since I was on the flight deck of the USS Eisenhower during flight operations. Ok, so it was the most annoying sound since hearing jet aircraft try to land on a carrier deck. An attendant helped Robyn to a machine, showed her where to feed it a 1000 yen bill, and then pointed out where to aim the balls. I stood back and watched as several more workers came over and tried to show her how to tweak the knob to get the balls to land in the right spot. I don’t think we heard anything they said. Less than a minute later she used up all her balls and we got out of there very quickly.

We ended up going back to a Sega arcade called “Joyopolis” in the Hep Five building. We had been there a few nights ago and they have a nifty fingerprint reader that keeps track of how many tokens you have leftover. We picked up our tokens and went about playing games in the quieter, ear friendly game hall. Our favorite game there is “Monopoly”, but it’s really just one of those games where you aim coins on a rail then try to push other coins off the ledge. We had a really good time, ending the night with arcade slots, video games, and ice creme crepes.

 

Day 11: Awww it broke

Today we didn’t really do much that was picture worthy. We slept in, and then hung around the apartment for a while being lazy. After a while we headed back to Den Den Town in search of Macross toys for Sean. It didn’t take us long to find a store that sold what he wanted. We spent a while there while he wandered in circles trying to decide what to buy, as there were lots of options and no way we could bring that many large boxes back home.

After he finally made his decision we headed back out into Den Den Town to look at some more shops, although it felt a little pointless since we already had what we were looking for. We found several more stores that were packed full of neat things, including one store that sold nothing but robots… toys, models, and actual working robot toys.

Our lunch was pretty boring… we were starving and happened to find ourselves outside of a McDonald’s. We decided we might as well try it out. Sadly, I think the person behind the counter spoke about as much English as the people back home do. Ordering was a little bumpy because the lady seemed to want to try to do it in English, although her vocabulary was limited to “no” “only” “I’m sorry” and the names for ingredients. We got what we wanted though, so I guess it worked out okay. We had intended to try out some of the Japanese items on the menu, but once we were inside the cravings for a cheeseburger won out and we ended up with a couple double cheeseburgers, fries, and coke.

After lunch we headed back to the apartment so we could drop off our loot… which was a huge box containing Sean’s Valkyrie, a smaller box with a tachikoma toy, and some small toys we grabbed for other people.

Our brief stop turned into a few hours while I played my new DS Taiko game and Sean played with (and promptly broke) his new $150 valkyrie. He is now very sad. It isn’t too bad though… just the arm. So it still looks okay in some modes and we might be able to fix it with some glue later on. He keeps saying (vehemently) that these toys are notoriously easy to break and swears that every kid that ever got one broke it within 3 minutes. I don’t really believe him. Hopefully the tachikoma will be harder to break…

For dinner we continued the American food trend and headed over to Hard Rock. Yes, I know Hard Rock started in Britain, but it was founded by Americans so I still consider it American food. Their menu is not quite the same as the American locations… no steaks and such, but they do have plenty of burgers and other American-type foods, as well as some Asian style food.

Hard Rock was incredibly loud, but the music was pretty good so we didn’t mind. It is also refreshing to go to a restaurant where it seems mandatory for the staff to speak English… although our waitress seemed to be the only one that wasn’t very good at it. Not that it mattered, we are use to ordering with Japanese and she couldn’t hear us anyway. We made due with some shouted phrases and menu pointing.

The only thing really worth noting about dinner (besides how tasty the food was) is the incredibly embarrassing show they made for two patrons’ birthdays. I thought what they did in America was bad enough! Their was a DJ, who got out of his little booth with a microphone and starting rambling loudly in Japanese about birthdays while some birthday song played loudly. They then called up the two ladies who were there to celebrate their birthdays, and put them in a bright spotlight. I couldn’t follow what was going on, but they made them speak into a microphone… I probably couldn’t have even understood if it was in English because of the noise level and the rushed speech. They then made everyone clap in time and yell “Happy Birthday!” several times on the count of three while the rest of the staff gathered around with tambourines. Remind me never to go to Hard Rock for my birthday!

After dinner we grabbed some requested souvenirs from the gift shop and headed to Umeda Sky Building for some views of the city lights. We ended up getting there with less than an hour before they closed, but that was ok. It was windy and cold up there, so I don’t think I would have wanted to spend much more time there anyway. As it was, our pictures are rushed… and given that we aren’t very skilled with the DSLR yet, most of the pictures turned out pretty crappy. We put some of the better pictures up.

We are also posting some photos of Sean’s new toys…

 

Update: Sean keeps asking me to post an update about how flimsy the toy is and how it really isn’t his fault. I must say that, yes, I did play with it briefly tonight when he asked me to fix some other things he nearly broke, and yes, it is very flimsy. I barely touched one of the panels over the landing gear and it popped inward causing me to have to pry it out again… which is exactly the thing Sean had asked me to fix with another panel.

However, I also must say that when he first opened the box he was complaining about no instructions… which lead to him not knowing the legs came off, which caused him to break the arm. When he first said there were no instructions I thought it odd and asked him if he had actually looked… he said he had. I should have known better. Just now he found the instruction booklet and lots of decals. Go figure.