Sunday, 28 April 2013

Women of Letters recap

Today was special because it was the first Women of Letters event that Sean came to. And he loved it. And he drove. Which makes him special. But yes. We were back at the Regal Ballroom in Northcote and Elyse and her mate Chelsea joined us, and we were up in a cosy corner of the room with drinks and vegetarian pastries, sitting back waiting to be assaulted with feels. And by Jove, we were.

The radiant Emilie Zoey Baker was MC-ing today because Michaela McGuire is still overseas, but Marieke Hardy was taking tickets at the door and I tried not to look like a complete loser and trip over my own feet or stop breathing or something when I saw her, but SUCCESS. I behaved, more or less, like a functioning adult. The theme today was 'A letter to the missing puzzle piece'. I freaking love these themes. 

First up, was the hilarious Jane Kennedy, who shared a couple of letters written by her twelve-year-old self and her twelve-year-old bestie, back when they were - you guessed it - twelve. We laughed heartily at the mentions of familiar but nostalgic television shows and footy gossip, but the best part was when Jane then read a letter from her twelve-year-old self if she had been twelve in 2013. The text-speak littered through the letter was apt, but the best part was when she compared the dinner Mum was making that night - slow-cooked Moroccan lamb with quinoa and kale, as opposed to the corned beef in the original letter. 

Singer Jess Cornelius was next, writing to her sister, who was 'missing' from her adolescent memories. This was a far more sombre letter - you could hear a pin drop while Jess was recounting the troubles with her mother and her sickness, but it was laced with the sort of tender humour that makes these letters and these speakers so damned relatable and moving. I found Jess's letter really interesting - living in separate countries has not damaged their sisterly relationship, but it painted a less idyllic picture of the relationship between sisters which I have never been privy to. In my experience with friends who have sisters, I have seen a wide range of 'closeness', and Jess spoke about this with a refreshing frankness.

Rose Chong, costume-woman-extraordinaire was next, and in her softly-spoken British accent, she wrote to her father, who had disapproved of her coupling up with a Chinese man, but who had gradually come to accept and respect her partner. The focus of Rose's story was her court case, after she had accidentally illegally acquired 25 kangaroo skins for costuming needs. However, the court charged her with possession of kangaroos, not just their skins, and she was therefore let off with a light slap on the wrist and the promise not to kill anything for the next six months, which she managed just fine. 

Bindi Cole, an artist with a life full of extreme experiences, wrote to her future child. She told us of the pain that her and her husband had endured with years of trying for a baby, and the devastation of their miscarriage. She also spoke of her faith in God, and how this was helping her through it, and the comfort of prayer. Those of you who know me personally will know how much this resonated with me (the faith part, not the trying to get pregnant part). She wrote with beautiful optimism to this baby, explaining about how she couldn't wait to meet it. Everyone was feeling a bit teary and wobbly once she finished her letter, and then she revealed that she had started the letter on Monday, finished it on Wednesday and on Thursday had found out she was pregnant. The Regal Ballroom exploded in cheers.

Finally, there was Kerry Greenwood, author of many, many books including the Phryne Fisher series. She lives with a real-life wizard, which is pretty freaking amazing, but she wrote to her missing ability with numbers. For an accomplished woman who has done a whole heap of amazing things in her life, the one element that brings her to her knees is numbers, and she recounted with great wit and sass everything she had trouble with (measurements, cooking etc) and how she got around it. She was a delight to listen to - particularly descriptive and humorous, perhaps because of her knack for writing novels? Anyway, she was a perfect way to finish the line-up. 

During the break, Marieke Hardy came to our table to offer us stamps for the letters we were writing and I extremely red-facedly asked her to sign my notebook, and she did so, incredibly obligingly. Sean and I somehow ended up having a detailed discussion with her about crying during the letters and how make-up tends to run. Marieke was worried one of her false eyelashes would slide down onto her top lip like a particularly dashing moustache. I sort of laughed and stared at her, trying to come to terms with the fact I was having a conversation with her. Sean made up for my complete inadequacy with his easy chatter. Yep. It was sort of the best day ever.

Emilie Zoey Baker finished up with the questions for the guests and they were wonderful and funny and insightful and perfect. I left feeling more inspired than ever. The next Women of Letters cannot come quickly enough. 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Sayonara Japan!

Phew! I'm writing this from Melbourne. We flew into Tullamarine at 10.55am today and have spent the day unpacking and relaxing. Sean came and picked us up from the airport because he is awesome, and we had Marnie and a bunch of guests over for dinner...we had Japanese. It was amazing. BUT, before any of this happened, we had one last day in Kyoto!

We packed up like pros and were out of the house and at the station by 11am. We put our luggage in storage lockers and got on a train to Fushimi Inari Shrine. It's only a ten minute train trip, and the shrine is right outside the station. It's a massive shrine with hundreds of orange torii gates forming tunnels, providing some fantastic photo ops. We spent plenty of time walking around and Marnie bought two kimono jackets and after a spot more shopping, we took the train back to Kyoto Station.

Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari
Then we jumped in a taxi and took off to Nishiki Market! (Didn't want to waste our last day!) Nishiki Market is a massive food market in the middle of Kyoto, and they sell HUGE amounts of seafood and pickled vegetables and various cakes and sweets. Dad had oysters while we browsed, and then we went for one last okonomiyaki meal, this time, Osaka-style. Crazy delicious, as I have come to expect.

Nishiki Market

Then it was back to the station, onto a 88-minute bus ride to the airport, and then we boarded a plane to the Gold Coast at 8.40pm! I didn't sleep a wink overnight, but managed an hour or so on the flight this morning to Melbourne. It was great to be back in Australia, hearing our accents etc, but I can't wait for my next trip. I've made a bucket list and am trying to decide what to save for next. Until then, I'm hoping to keep blogging semi-regularly. Only time will tell...

Monday, 15 April 2013

Kinkakuji Temple

So this morning I took a bus to meet the others at Kinkakuji Temple. They had risen early to go to a market, but I wanted to experiment with packing a bit more, so I skipped the market. Kinkakuji Temple is covered in gold leaf and looked absolutely glorious in the sunshine, and we went for a long walk around the gardens surrounding it. There was even a crane posing for pictures on one of the islands in the ponds.

Kinkakuji Temple

After Kinkakuji, we headed back to our district (Ginkakuji) and had incredibly tasty ramen (with kotteri broth) for lunch. We went for a much longer walk down the Path of Philosophy, stopping to look at kimonos, and ended up right down near Nanzen-ji Temple, which looked beautiful in the late afternoon sunshine. There are over 2000 temples and shrines in Kyoto alone, which is why I've been blogging so much about them! We have also had several experiences where we have re-met other tourists we have met along the way. We met a French-Japanese couple in a restaurant in Hiroshima, and then Dad saw them the other day on the Path of Philosophy in Kyoto! And last night at Kyoto Station we got talking to two doctors from Chile, and bumped into them again today at the Kinkakuji Bus Stop. In a country of over 122 million people, you can understand why we found this so weird!

Nanzen-ji Temple

Nanzen-ji Temple
Marnie, Dad and I went back into Gion for one last okonomiyaki and it was the tastiest, most delicious thing. We then walked back through lit up, beautiful Gion, down the older streets and even saw an apprentice geisha! Which I believe is called a mako? We took the bus home, and continued our efforts to pack. We fly out tomorrow night. See you all soon!



Sunday, 14 April 2013


This morning we got up early - too early! - and took a bus to Kyoto Station. After refueling, we took a train to a place called Kameoka and hopped aboard a boat sailing down the Hozu River. It takes, depending on weather, I think, between 1 and 2 hours to get down the river to Arashiyama, and it's a very peaceful trip. There are rapids, and they look quite rough, but I was stunned by how smooth the boat is going over them. I think it has something to do with the fact the bottom of the boat is so wide and flat, but you just glide over the surface of the waves and it looks cool, but is very calm. The scenery surrounding the river is like Middle Earth, all tall forests and deep, green water and beautiful rock formations. It's filled with ducks and cormorants and these tiny finch-like birds, as well as tortoises chilling on the rocks and watching you, and MONKEYS. We saw a couple of MONKEYS, you guys. They were up in the trees, eating fruits or flowers or doing whatever monkeys do, and they were small, about the size of a large possum. But I saw wild monkeys, so yep. Japan win.

Hozu River

Hozu River

Hozu River
We disembarked at Arashiyama and spent a couple of hours browsing shops, and went for a walk through the giant bamboo grove, which is a pretty magical place. I think half the population of Kyoto was in Arashiyama as well, but it's Sunday, so we shouldn't have been surprised. Arashiyama is a bit like Takayama, in that it's not a massive, bustling city, but the tourism there is booming. We left at about 4.30, almost falling asleep on our feet. Crowds are tiring!

Bamboo grove

We investigated a grocery shop and a book shop at Kyoto Station (the essentials), then headed back through CRAZY traffic on the bus back to the house. Dad made yet another delicious meal using udon noodles, soup mixes and some salmon. Utterly delicious. We are now all attempting to pack. We have to stay under 15 kilos for checked-in baggage on the flight home...

Saturday, 13 April 2013


This morning we were woken at 5.30 by A FREAKING EARTHQUAKE. We are all fine, and Japan is fine, though I think there were injuries sustained near the epicentre. But it was definitely the biggest earthquake I have ever felt. Much more shaky and noisy than those piddly earth tremors we sometimes get in Melbourne. About ten seconds before we felt the quake, I was woken by the phone making a terrible racket (these are the phones we've hired while in Japan) and it turns out they're all equipped with an earthquake alarm. Beats me how it manages to get to everyone in time to actually precede us feeling the quake, but that is the brilliance of Japan and seismologists. Apparently the quake measures 5.8, so not a tiny one, but nothing devastating either. Anyway, with that excitement out of the way, I went back to sleep for maybe an hour, but then we got up to have breakfast and start the day. Dad ran off to play with Hondas and Marnie and Margaret went for a walk and I stayed home to Skype with Sean.

The plan for today was to meet Reiko for lunch and to spend time with her after that - she was coming all the way from Osaka to meet us for the day. Her train was delayed because of the quake, but we met up with her eventually and went for lunch on the Path of Philosophy. I tell you, it was absolute luxury having a Japanese speaker along with us. It made everything so much simpler! Reiko hasn't changed one bit. She's still gorgeous and funny and smart and terribly good at English and I haven't seen her in about 3 or 4 years so it was an absolute joy. We took her back to our house after lunch and FaceTimed with Mum and Riley and Simon and Mitchell back home. It was awesome to hear Reiko and Mitch carrying on a conversation in two languages. I wish I was bilingual. After tearing ourselves away from the iPad, we walked to Ginkakuji Temple (the Silver Pavilion) which is only round the corner from where we are staying. It's another stunning set of gardens, and we got some great photos in the perfect weather. We also arrived home to a letter from Kinjiro, with the photos from Tokyo!!

Ginkakuji Temple

Ginkakuji Temple
We took the bus back to Kyoto Station with Reiko and went to a tonkatsu restaurant for dinner. It's mostly pork dishes that come with salad and tiny serves of pickled vegetables and miso soup and rice, and we got bamboo rice with ours with was beautiful. We talked and talked for ages, but eventually we had to say goodbye to Reiko and it was so freaking sad, because I really don't want it to be another three years before I see her again! But I'm so glad we got to spend today with her. Tomorrow, Arashiyama!!



Friday, 12 April 2013

Tea ceremony

This morning I elected to stay home. As much as I hate missing out on things, my fear of getting sick outweighs this, and my body has been punishing me the last few days for not resting properly. So I got up to have breakfast with everyone, but then went back to bed for two hours once they'd left, and I feel about 400 times more human than I did yesterday. TEN POINTS TO GRYFFIND- I MEAN, EMILY.

After my mega-nap, I hopped on a bus and met the others at Gion. Margaret headed off, but Dad and Marnie and I went to get a coffee. The little cafe was really charming, with an English menu, but the woman who seemed to own it didn't speak any English. When we asked for milk, she delivered us the tiniest little milk jugs you ever did see - they were about the size of a thimble - and Marnie was so enamoured, we just had to have one. So Dad negotiated with his phrase book and managed to buy one. I think the woman thought we were crazy, not least because we couldn't stop giggling at this tenth of a mouthful of milk.

After milk-jug-accruing-adventures, Marnie and I went to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Marnie has been to one in China, but I have never done anything like this, so I was especially curious. It took about 45 minutes and cost 2000yen (about $20), but that included tea, a sweet and the chance to have a go at making your own with the traditional utensils and methods. Our host was a lovely lady dressed in traditional kimono, and the ceremony took place in a traditional room, on tatami mats with sliding screens (rather like the house we are staying in). She explained everything -the meanings behind every gesture (and there were A LOT of meanings and gestures) and the functions of the different utensils. Every tea container and tea scoop is individually made and each tea scoop has a different name - either derived from nature or Zen principles. Our tea scoop's Japanese name meant 'Spring Sunshine'. She explained about purifying the tea and purifying yourself, and the different expressions of respect to the tea and to other people throughout the ceremony. For instance, you must turn the tea bowl twice, clockwise, to prevent your lips touching the 'face' of the tea bowl (the precious side) and thus disrespecting the tea. When you've finished drinking, you turn the tea bowl back, counter-clockwise. She also explained about the three things you need to bring with you when invited to a traditional tea ceremony. These include a fan (special tea ceremony size one) which is never actually opened. Instead, it is kept folded up, on the floor in front of you between the rest of the room and you, and you bow behind it. Which is another marker of respect. The other two things you need to bring are a little wooden knife to cut up your sweet and paper to place your sweet on before you eat it. Everything was precise, structured, and beautiful.

Tea ceremony

My awesome tea foam
After her performance and explanation, she gave us each a tea bowl and whisk to use, and we passed around the powdered tea container and tea scoop. She gave us hot water and showed us how to whisk the tea - back and forth in a straight line, not in a circle, as fast as you can, until foam forms on top. She inspected our efforts and told me my foam was better than her previous attempt. Japan win. Then you pick it up in your right hand, rest it on your left hand, and turn it twice. Then drink. Powdered green tea is very bitter, but I actually didn't mind it. Afterwards, she informed us that to be a proper tea master, you train for about ten years. She is still learning. Also, a traditional tea ceremony can take up to to 3-4 hours. Phew.

We headed home and joined Margaret and Dad made another delicious dinner, using most of the same ingredients from last night to use them up, but he also made ramen with udon noodles. Om nom nom nom. Now we've had dessert and I am too full. We're seeing Reiko tomorrow hopefully!

Dinner by Dad. Yum!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Nijo Castle

This morning, after discovering I had deprived us of the internet for the past two days by accidentally unplugging the router, we took a bus to a handicrafts centre, and all spent too much money. I only bought a bag and a book for Dad about Honda, but it was a pricey place. And ENGLISH-LANGUAGE BOOKS! That was pretty exciting. So we spent ages and ages browsing there and hoping to will more money into existence. The staff were lovely, and one woman had lived in Sydney for five years, so her English was brilliant. And she complimented me on my Japanese pronunciation. Score!

After spending up big, we took a bus to Nijo Castle. I was pretty excited about Nijo Castle. Sean put me on to this excellent series called the 'Tales of the Otori' set in a sort of version of feudal Japan, and the first book is called 'Across the Nightingale Floor'. Nijo Castle actually HAS a nightingale floor, which I totally didn't realise was a real thing. Basically it's just an uber-creaky floor so the castle's occupants can hear if someone is approaching. An olde-worlde security alarm if you will, and rather like walking down our hallway at home. But it was so cool to actually see THE nightingale floor! And walk on it! We had to take our shoes off, but even the lightest footfall makes a sound. And it really does sound musical. The floor sort of chirps and sings, rather than creak and groan. We took a photo of underneath (you can sort of get a view of it from outside) and there are these little skewers in all the planks of wood, that somehow make it sing. It was awesome - I felt like a little kid. The grounds around the Castle are pretty great as well, and there is lots of cherry blossom and other types of colourful flowers. We've actually come at the end of the blossom cycle (it came unusually early in Japan this year), but it still looks fantastic, regardless.

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle
Beneath the nightingale floor

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle
By this time I was crazy tired. I don't know why exactly, but I think I've just done too much without a rest day, so I might chill out tomorrow because I don't want to be tired for our last few days in Japan. We made our way to Kyoto Station and had lunch, and then I departed, and headed back to the house. The others stayed out for a few more hours, but they are on their way home now, and I've had a shower and a rest and feel a bit better. Dad's cooking tonight, with rice and duck and some delicious pickled bamboo and marinated mushrooms we bought at the market in Takayama. Can't wait!


Part 2 of 'Emily's late uploads'. Read on, brethren!

The tatami mats were quite comfy and we were all sufficiently warm. This morning I stayed at the house and finished my book while the others went for a walk. I can really feel the tiredness catching up to me, as it tends to do quite easily, so I'm making sure I don't overdo it, because the last thing I want is to get sick. After they came home, we headed to Gion on the bus, and spent the entire day wandering around taking pictures. The weather was sunny and warm with a cool breeze, and Gion was packed with people, including lots of school groups and couples in traditional dress. We tried to catch a glimpse of some geisha, but no such luck today. Highlights included Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Maruyama Park and the shopping streets connecting them. 

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

View from Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Maruyama Park

Me after too much ramen.

Shopping in Gion
We had dinner on the the Ponto-cho (former red-light district, now popular restaurant area) by the river, which was a massive pot of citron broth (sort of a peppery lemon deliciousness) that boils on the burner in front of you. They give you a massive stack of vegetables and raw meat and you cook it yourself in the broth and then slurp it all up. It was fabulous. 


I don't know the name of the restaurant, but it's on the Ponto-cho and this is above the shop,
so if you're looking for it, keep your eyes peeled
I am massively tired, so it's a very short blog entry tonight, but hopefully I can upload all this tomorrow!

Kyoto - finally!

I'm posting the next two blogs late because we have only just got internet back at our house. Also, not having internet turned out to be completely, 100% my fault, because I accidentally unplugged the router which looked like a lovely ornamental lamp of some kind....yeah...

This morning we caught a taxi back to Hiroshima Station and jumped on another bullet train for about an hour and a half. Marnie sat next to this ADORABLE baby and his mum, and she spent the whole train ride making him laugh, and held him when his mum was getting everything out of their seats. His little face looked like Christmas. Two things I love about Japanese trains: there is beautiful chime-y music played over the speakers right before an announcement is made, which is quite regularly. Also, the conductors and the people who push the food carts stop at the doorway of every carriage, bow to the carriage, and keep going. It's awesome. (Also, off-topic from trains but still cool, instead of having that ticker noise when the green man appears at pedestrian crossing lights, a lot of the crossings in Japan have these little chirpy noises that sound like birds).

We swapped to another train at Shin-Osaka, but then it was only fifteen minutes until we arrived in Kyoto. We had a spot of lunch and found a taxi to our house. As a budget traveller, I rarely use taxis, but I must say, they are so much easier. And on this trip we split the fare four ways, so it hasn't cost us much at all. We drove through quite a bit of traffic to the foothills of some mountains, and walked only for about ten minutes before we found our house a tiny, hundred-year-old, one-story building that is just about the cutest thing ever. It has a fully-equipped kitchen and bathroom (including a shower room) and a washing machine, but has tatami floors, sliding screens instead of doors and kotatsu, which are the heated blankets under coffee tables which we also had at Zenkoji Temple in Takayama. Marnie, Dad and I are on tatami mats, (sadly the mats are not heated like at the temple) and Margaret is in the Western-style bed, but I think we'll all be very comfortable. There are also decent heaters. 

Our accommodation

Our accommodation
Before we discovered any of this, however, we waited for about 45 minutes for our Saki, our travel angel, to show up. There had been a bit of confusion about our arrival time, but once Saki arrived, I saw Dad visibly breathe a sigh of relief that she existed and wasn't a computer virus that had stolen hundreds of our prepaid dollars. She showed us around the house and took the others for a walk to the bus stop and supermarket. We also went on an quick stroll down the Path of Philosophy, which is a two-minute walk from our house. I feel pretty amazingly lucky to be staying where we are. The sun was shining and it was warm and there were lots of tourists, but the path looked absolutely stunning. We were concerned that a lot of the cherry blossom would have been gone by now, but so much was still there, falling gracefully over the canal and the little bridges and everything was picturesque and so, so peaceful. We had organic, homemade ice-cream with cherry blossom petals in it, and looked in a bunch of the little shops lining the path, including a shop that sold only cat merchandise, and a shop were Marnie bought a gorgeous, red cloche hat.

Path of Philosophy

Path of Philosophy
After a cup of tea and an unpack at the house, we headed to Omen restaurant and had a feast of udon noodles in broth with tempura vegetables and shrimp, radish, pickled ginger, spring onion, pickled radish and deliciousness. Marnie and Margaret had chicken teriyaki and sticky rice and we all shared strawberries with black rice sauce for dessert. Utterly lovely night to begin our week in Kyoto, and our final 7 days in Japan!  

Monday, 8 April 2013

Peace Park and Return to Miyajima

This morning, Dad went off to salivate after cars at the Mazda Museum. Margaret tagged along because she had already seen the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which is where Marnie and I headed this morning. We were only about a 15 minute walk from the hotel, so pleasant in the morning sunshine. And no rain today! Bonus. The Peace Park was built to honour the memory of everyone who died when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. We learn about this in school, obviously when covering World War Two, and I was expecting a pretty heavy experience. Last year when I went to the Holocaust Museum in Berlin, I was so overcome partway through that I actually couldn't finish it. This was different, for several reasons. Don't get me wrong, it was incredibly affecting, and I had a bit of a cry more than once. But there was such a sense of hope and beauty and peace and forgiveness that permeated the entire park, that the doom and gloom seemed to be balanced out. There are some truly beautiful statues and monuments in the park, too many to list, but a big highlight for me was the Children's Peace Monument. Donations of hundreds of thousands of paper cranes have poured in from all over the world, for the decades that the park has been open. This is how the paper crane came to symbolise peace, and there are beautiful artworks and displays made entirely of paper cranes. Atop the monument stands a statue of Sadako Sasaki and her story is very poignant, and involves the paper cranes. There is also the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound which contains the ashes of 70,000 unidentified victims, and the Memorial Cenotaph, containing the victims names. Presiding over the park is the A-Bomb Dome, preserved from the day the bomb dropped. This skeleton building is incredibly eerie, but strikingly effective.

Children's Peace Monument

A-Bomd Dome, with what it used to look like in the pic at the front

Memorial Cenotaph, through which you can see the A-Bomb Dome
Marnie and I went into the Museum itself. We chose not to visit the Memorial Hall which contains the names and portraits and stories of the victims, because when I did that at the Holocaust Museum, it was too much, and I couldn't handle the rest. The larger museum gives a less personal, but still very touching and brutal account of the war leading up to the bomb dropping, and the terrible long-term results. The city of Hiroshima is, understandably, completely and 100% opposed to all nuclear weaponry, and it is their aim, along with help from all over the world, to completely abolish and destroy all nuclear weapons, so there was a lot of general information about the dangers of nuclear weaponry. Very thought-provoking stuff. Towards the end there are some detailed photographs and descriptions of the injuries to humans caused by the bombs and it's terribly difficult to take in. Marnie remarked that if everyone in the world was brought through the museum, she didn't know how nuclear war could continue to be an ongoing possibility. It was completely devastating, but I am glad I did it. A very important and worthwhile visit.

Watch that stopped when the bomb hit - 8.15am
We needed a bit of a break after that, so we bought some paper cranes and coffee and ice-cream and went and sat down by the river in the brilliant sunshine (which, as I discovered later, burns quite efficiently). We HAND FED sparrows, and they hopped up on my knees and my fingers to take the crumbs. It was the cutest thing in the world, ever, until later on when we saw the deer again at Miyajima.

View of the river
We met Margaret and Dad for lunch and swapped stories, before we all headed back to Miyajima, ready to enjoy it in the sun rather than the rain. We took the tram and then the JR ferry which was free with our rail pass, and spent a few blissful hours wandering up and down the shopping street buying souvenirs, stopping for coffee and cake, petting deer (one of whom ate my Peace Park brochure right out of my pocket, cheeky berk), and walking right out to the the torii gate. The tide was out, and when you got up close, you could see offerings of coins stuck in between the barnacles and all over the sand. The barnacles sucked themselves in when you touched them, and the orange wood was brilliant up close.


torii gate

torii gate - up close and personal

Bye Hiroshima, it's been real xo
By the time we got back from Miyajima, it was dinner time and we found a little diner that did incredibly cheap and delicious food. I got a bowl of ramen, a big plate of fried rice and a plate of chicken and salad for 550yen which is about $5.50. It was a staggering amount of food. Now we are back at the hotel, attempting to repack our luggage so we can fit everything we've bought! Kyoto tomorrow!

Massively inexpensive dinner

Sunday, 7 April 2013


This morning after breakfast, we still didn't have a solid plan for our day. (This is a wonderful feeling after so many days where we have felt rushed to squeeze things in). We had been thinking about Hiroshima Castle, but Margaret suggested the Shukkei-en Gardens first, and maybe we could then do the castle afterwards. This turned out to be an excellent idea. After a slightly confusing tram ride and a very windy but refreshing walk, we reached the gardens and paid 250yen for admission to the park (over 65's are free!). It was utterly and completely stunning, and I took around 100 photos, so what I post on the blog is just a fraction of what there was to see. Walking around it reminded me of Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo because it was another oasis in the middle of a bustling city, but I think parts of it were even more beautiful than Shinjuku Gyoen. It felt like Narnia, Middle Earth and Wonderland rolled into one, and there was no shortage of koi fish and cherry blossoms. I saw at least four cats running around the park and a tortoise swam right up to us, but then got bored when he realised we weren't going to feed him. It showered on and off throughout the day, but very lightly, and always in beautiful sunshine, so it wasn't nearly as noticeable as the Miyajima rain yesterday. It was full of little shrines and bridges and a tea house and a couple of tiny rowboats moored on the lake. I saw a koi fish the size of a small dolphin, so luckily no one fell in because they would have probably been eaten instantly.

Marnie and blossom :)

Beautiful view


Little rowboat and bridge
After a quick coffee and snack under falling cherry blossom and raindrops, we headed over to Hiroshima Castle, which was only a short walk away. The grounds are far bigger than the actual castle, and are surrounded by an enormous moat, which was pretty cool. I don't know if I've actually seen a working moat in the European castles I've visited. The grounds and castle were completely annihilated by the atomic bomb, (except about three trees, and they have photos of them in the wreckage) so the castle is just a replica, but they have the foundations of the surrounding buildings where they fell. For any Narnia nerds, it reminded me instantly of the Cair Paravel ruins. The castle is home to a museum about the castle's history, which is quite informative, and has a little gift shop and a place to dress up in samurai clothes to take pics. It costs 360yen to enter the castle, but we didn't have to pay anything to enter the grounds.

Cair Paravel - I mean, Hiroshima Castle

Hiroshima Castle

Being a nerd

Nerd Snr (with bonus topknot!)

Lovely, obliging cosplayer
Despite the rain, the grounds were also overrun with cosplayers - I don't know if it was a particular convention or something, but there were dozens of people in costume and taking photos of each other. I asked very politely if I could take a photo of one girl, and she nodded enthusiastically, shoved her bags at her friend, finished what she was chewing, retrieved her weapon and posed. I thanked her profusely and told her she was beautiful and she was so charming and grateful. It gave me the confidence to ask a few more people, so I got some good pics.

By this time it had gotten a bit colder and windier, so I headed back to the hotel to dump my photos and everyone else went shopping. I'm trying to save my money, so it was a bit safer for me at the hotel. At 5.30 we Skyped with Mum and Riley and Brondi, and then we went out to a Spanish restaurant called zucchini and had paella and eggplant lasagna tapas and creme brulee. I can say with confidence now, that the Japanese do Italian and Spanish cuisine extremely well. Now time for sleep! Peace park tomorrow, and if the weather is fine, maybe Miyajima again...