Thursday, 17 September 2015

01-08-2015 ~ Travel from Takeo-Onsen to Hiroshima (& Yamaguchi & Iwakuni)

(Our futon beds)

We woke at 07:00 to shower and get ready before our booked breakfast time of 08:00. I had had a restless night as being a side sleeper I found the firmness of the futon & floor a bit uncomfortable. I'd also struggled a little with the pillow which although supportive seemed to be a hard bean bag - then I found out that M had had a soft pillow... Turns out the pillows are double sided; one hard side, one soft side. Make sure to look out for this if staying in traditional hotel.

Breakfast was visually very impressive, there were lots of small bowls of food including egg, tofu, pickles, fish slices, rice, glass noodles as well as other less identifiable foods. M enjoyed most of the breakfast but I struggled with it as it was all very soft texture.

After paying and checking out at 09:30, we were given a lift to the station in the vintage Toyota Classic that sits out the front. Very comfortable and swish! We arrived in style and in very good time for our 09:51 Sasebo Line to Shin-Tosu from where we caught the 10:53 Shinkansen to Hiroshima arriving at 12:20. 

(This is looking out the front of the train! One side is the driver's compartment & the other window so you can see straight in front)

I should mention that the JR Pass is valid on all but 2 types of Shinkansen (Nozomi & Mizuho) and on most overground/JR Line trains. Once you've received your pass, all you need to do is show the guards at the window near the ticket barriers and they'll wave you through. Over the 2 weeks there was only about 5 guards that looked properly at the pass, most just checked the date was valid and quickly waved us through.

So, we arrived in Hiroshima and took the street car to Ebi Sucho & walked 150m down the high-end shopping street to Hotel Washington. We left our luggage at the hotel as we were too early to check in went straight back on the street car the Hiroshima station to catch the train to Shin-Yamaguchi. M nearly passed out from lack of food so we had udon noodles at Shin-Yamaguchi station before going to Yamaguchi station to see the 5-storey Pagoda (Ruriko-ji Temple). We arrived at 15:25 and followed the signs to the community bus stop that would take us to the temple; after waiting for 30 minutes we went to ask how long the bus would be - the bus was due to arrive at 16:15! This was one of the other 'bad' things we found about Japan; although the public transport is very efficient and timely, it seems that bus & train timetables don't interlink/communicate with one another. We didn't to wait that long for the bus so we got a taxi to the temple (¥1030 for an 8 minute journey! ouch!). We indulged in the most amazing ice cream/sorbet from the shop directly opposite the park gates before going in (the kiwi is to die for!).

Ruriko-ji is stunning, you get the perfect view of it over the pond as you enter the park:

We walked around the pond to be right at the base of the pagoda to get detail shots and then walked up the main path to the entrance again. After another ice cream we were good to start the walk back to Yamaguchi train station (The bus wasn't due for another 30minutes and we wanted to get to Iwakuni before dark). The walk took 30 minutes and would've been fairly straight forward except the police had cordoned off one road so we had to take a detour. However we arrived in time to get the 16:09 to Shin-Yamaguchi which was a steam train!

We then caught the 16:58 Kodama Shinkansen to Shin-Iwakuni where we were able to get the 17:38 bus from directly outside the station to Kintaikyo Bridge (¥290 single). There's an audio information point to the right of the bridge which was good for quick background. We were surprised to learn that one arch is replaced every 20 years, after the original was knocked down by a cyclone in the 1950s. We were charged ¥300/adult to cross the bridge and given information leaflets; we learnt on the other side that we could've done it for less as we were only crossing one way.

The bridge is beautifully constructed and in beautiful settings, the only shame is the car park behind the bridge, but that could be cropped out with careful photography... After crossing the Kintaikyo Bridge we walked along the river to the next bridge up to get a photo of the full span from the midpoint; very pleased with this photo:

The buses are fairly infrequent so after catching the 19:41 bus back to the station we made it onto the 20:10 Kodama Shinkansen back to Hiroshima. It was very definitely dinner time now so we caught the street car back to our stop to see what was around the hotel. We found a restaurant that occupied 6th & 7th floor of a building on the corner of the covered shopping street where we sat in a private 'room' at a floor level table with a hole in the floor underneath for legs. We were very impressed with the setting of our dinner, but it turned out to be an what I can only describe as an offal restaurant (tongue, feet, neck in most meats featured heavily in the menu)... However after perusing the menu thoroughly (thank the stars there was English as well) we managed to order 3x breaded chicken & ginger sauce, 5x chicken thigh skewers with sweet soy glaze, 1x pork & broccoli, 1x chicken & cheese bites. The drinks menu was very good & M had 1 draught beer & 1 bottle beer (M advises to go for bottle as you get more than draught & you can pour yourself to avoid the 1.5 inch head that is custom to Japanese beer), while I had a lemon sour 'sucho' (it was very sour) and a mango umeshu and water all for ¥7900 (about £43, good value food once again)

(The restaurant we ate at)

Finally we checked into the hotel and headed to our room which had a modern onsen-style bathroom. We'd encountered various configurations of shower & bath in our hotels but this was our favourite so far. Black marble-look floor & walls, chrome fittings, deep square-ish bath that you could actually straighten legs in (though then your top half would be out but still). We became quite accustomed to sitting on the stool to wash in the hand held shower & then relaxing in the clean bath water; now we've tried it, it seems so much more logical than the UK method of bathing. We both felt blissfully relaxed and super clean after our onsen-style wash & soak. The bed was quite hard (seemingly the norm in Japanese hotels) and there was only one soft pillow (I tried both sides of both pillows to be sure), so I had the beanbag pillow as although it was unusual it I had enjoyed it's supportive-ness.

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