Japan Day 14: Last Day In Tokyo

Today was a rest day. I slept in and took my time getting ready. There wasn’t much left that I really wanted to do at this point in my journey – mostly I wanted to explore Harajuku a little more and check out this other cute neighborhood south of Shibuya called Daikanyama.

I headed over to Harajuku, to the subway station Meiji-Jingumae and walked around. I ate at a cute cafe and then walked over to the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art. This museum houses the private collection of Ota Seizo, the former head of the Toho Life Insurance Company. The collection specializes in ukiyo-e woodblock prints, featuring some key works by artists like Hokusai,  Hiroshige, Utamaro, Kunisada and others. The displays change constantly, and in this one there was an abundance of Hiroshige works, particularly his prints from the book 100 Famous Views Of Edo. I absolutely love ukiyo-e  prints so it was a real treat to visit this small yet lovely museum and see so many.

After walking around Cat street (a street featuring a lot of shops and boutiques) for a little while, I made my way south to Daikanyama.

Daikanyama is sort of a hipster-ish neighborhood, with a lot of quirky shops and art galleries. Many expats choose to live here as there are a number of more European style cafes and things (I had a wonderful quiche at Le Cordon Bleu). While the neighborhood is pretty quiet compared to others in west Tokyo, you can tell that it’s starting to become really trendy. Judging by some of the stores that are planning to open up in the area (I saw a sign for a Ralph Lauren Polo store coming soon) this neighborhood will become  a standard tourist shopping neighborhood soon, if not already.

I probably hung out in the area for about an hour and then made my way back to my hotel by Gaienmae and had my final dinner in Japan: sushi (surprise surprise).

In the morning bright and early inhead to the airport and from there I head home to New York.

This trip as been terrific from beginning to end. A few final thoughts:

  • As a foreigner the Japan Rail (JR) Pass is a must. It proved to be incredibly useful for getting around the country and having flexibility with train schedules.
  • Naoshima is not a day trip – stay the night! It’s a pain in the ass to get there but it was one of my favorite places to go and I wish I could have enjoyed it more by not having to travel so much to go there.
  • Osaka was my least favorite place. I didn’t spend almost any time there but the little I did was not particularly impressive. It felt like a non-descript generic commercial city.
  • Kyoto definitely needs at least 3 or 4 days. There’s a lot there and there were even a few more temples, shrines, and mountains I would have liked to see or visit.
  • Staying in a ryokan was a very fun and cool experience. Everyone visiting Japan should do it for a night or two.
  • Miyajima was magical. I initially was going to lump it into a day trip with Hiroshima but then decided to spend the night instead so I could do some hiking and see the sunset over the red torii.
  • Train stations and metro stations are a mess. They are often massive and if you don’t take the right exit getting out of the station you could end up walking for an hour to get to a place that is really only be 50 meters away. Knowing your exit number is key. Don’t try to figure it out yourself – ask someone st the information counter. It makes life so much easier. Otherwise traveling in and around Japan was pretty easy to manage and figure out.
  • English is not as commonly spoken as I thought it would be. A lot of the hotels and shops I encountered did not have any English speakers. You figure things out after a while and basic gesturing is usually a helpful communication aid, but generally the language barrier was more pronounced than I expected.
  •  And finally, Mt. Fuji was definitely one of the highlights if not THE highlight of my trip so I obviously recommend the experience to anyone interested and able.

Well, Japan, it’s been fun, but off to NYC I go. Sayonara!

Days 12 & 13: Mount Fuji

I signed up for a guided climb tour of Mt. Fuji about a month ago, that took place yesterday and today. I chose to go with an outfitter called Willer Express. Overall they were very good in my opinion.

The tour meets just west of Shinjuku station at a random location in front of a non-descript building–the meeting  location is very well indicated on a map on the Willer Expresss site. Actually, the primary reason I spent two nights in Shinjuku was to be around the corner (literally) from the meeting location for the tour. I didn’t want to have to figure out directions at 7am on the day the tour kicked off and risk missing the bus.

The bus left at 7:30am like clockwork and we were on our way.

We headed to the 5th station, which is where the majority of the folks start their overnight hiking excursion up Mt. Fuji. It took the bus about an hour and a half to get there.  And we had some good views of Fuji on the way.

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View of Mt. Fuji from the bus

We arrived at the 5th station and I went directly to pick up my rental gear, which I requested and paid for when I booked the tour.

The rental gear consisted of rain gear  – pants and jacket – as well ask hiking shoes, head lamp, hiking sticks/poles, and backpack. I brought two sweaters and wore my usual hiking pants. The idea was to layer accordingly as we went up the mountain since it was supposed to get chilly at the top (little did I realize that it was actually be freezing up there).

We started the hike around 11am, once everyone got their gear and rental equipment sorted. We were a group of 25 hikers with a very lovely guide named Billy. He asked us to come up with a name for our climbing group. No one could come up with a name anyone liked, so I did: Fuji Fighters. Everyone unanimously agreed and thus we became the Fuji Fighters. We started the ascent.

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Views just after leaving the 5th station.

And we hiked up past the 6th station and 7th station taking breaks every 20-30 minutes or so for water with a few longer breaks maybe every hour or hour and a half for food and a little more rest. It was tiring but we finally made it to the 8th station, to a particular hut our tour outfitter had previously organized for us to stay at.

The huts are interesting. Downstairs is a communal area where the meals and general hanging out takes place. Then alongside that room and on the floor above, there are these little bunk bed nooks where people sleep. You essentially share a sleeping nook with anywhere between 5-7 people. You are all lying there side by side is a space that is about the size of a king size bed (maybe even queen size bed).  Luckily you’re not sleeping for a particularly long period of time. You arrive at the huts, hang out for about 45 minutes acclimating to the altitude, and then you have a little dinner around 6pm. You hang out a little more, during which time many of us took advantage of photographing an absolutely stunning sunset.

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Sunset from the 8th Station.

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Sunset from the 8th Station.

By 8pm most people turn in because we had to start early the next day (today) to finish the hike to the summit….

And by “early” I mean to say: we started hiking at 2:30am. It was hard core. We arrived at the summit a little after 4am. And since the sun was only just starting to come up, our tour guide took us immediately to see the Fuji crater.

Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to hike around the crater (something I was really looking forward to) because it doesn’t open officially until July 10th. Something about snow and uncertain conditions. Anyways, we got up close enough to get a sense of it.

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View of the Fuji crater just before sunrise

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Sunrise at Mt. Fuji.

We hung around the summit for a half hour taking photos of the sunrise, the views, the crater,etc. It was exceptional! But also freezing. I was definitely under dressed for this affair. In the future I would highly recommend to anyone that if you’re at all cold at the 8th station, ask to rent more layers. It’s worth it. Also, just buy or bring a pair of gloves. I had little hiking cloth gloves the tour outfitter gave us, which were helpful when scrambling up the rocks (yes there was a lot of intermediate-level rock scrambling between the 6th to 8th stations), but also way too thin to really be effective in the cold.

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Snow on Mt. Fuji near the summit.

We made our way down the mountain back toward the 8th station around 4:45am. Back at the 8th station we had breakfast and gathered the rest of our things. After a certain point in the 8th Station we veered off the path we had ascended and we took a separate path the rest of the way until just before the 5th station.

And we were back! It was almost a full 24 hours since we started climbing (we got back to the main lodge at the 5th Station around 9:am).

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The date I summited Mt. Fuji: July 6th

Once we all returned rental gear and bought souvenirs and things, our bus picked us up and drove us about an hour to these hot springs/baths, where most of the Fuji Fighters enjoyed a nice well-deserved soak.

These baths were really nice. There were various outdoors baths and indoor ones all at different temperatures, as well as dry and wet saunas. Terrific way to spend an hour after the hike.

We were back at Shinjuku by 4pm. I had checked my luggage with the lugggage check of my last hotel, so I picked up my stuff and headed to my next hotel closer to Shibuya and Harajuku.

Despite my exhaustion I somehow still managed to muster the energy after checked by into my new hotel to go shopping around Shibuya and Harajuku, particularly the shopping area called Cat Street.

I saw on my map there was a particularly nice restaurant right but Cat Street called Uketai. I hadn’t had a proper meal in two days so I figured it was worth splurging on a good meal so I got the seasonal tasting menu which was lovely (though so much food even for a ravenous hiker!)

So that concludes my two-day adventure  to Fuji! It was definitely among the highlights of my trip (there have been several) but this one was the one I was most nervous for and excited about. I’m so glad it all worked out and I was able to reach the summit!

Tomorrow is my last day in Tokyo and Japan! I plan to use it to relax and do a little last minute shopping.  I can’t believe how time flies!

 

 

Day 11: Around and About Tokyo

I slept in, and then made my way to Roppongi in the afternoon. I was going to do a self-guided walking tour around the neighborhood but the streets of Tokyo weren’t exactly cooperating. Navigating this city seems to become more complicated in neighborhoods or areas with major train and subway stations. These typically also have massive shopping centers both above ground and underground, or massive building complexes to navigate. additionally it seems that subway stations have dozens of entrances and exits. You take the wrong one and you might end up half a kilometer away from where you intended. I think I spent most of my day trying to figure out where the hell I was at any one given moment.

In Roppongi I went to the Mori building intending to visit the Art Museum there. The museum was unfortunately closed today for a press preview of the new exhibition opening tomorrow. However the observation deck on the 52nd floor was open so I went to check out the city views.

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View from observation deck of the Mori building, Roppongi.

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Views from the Mori building, Roppongi

Since the art museum was closed, I decided to see what other interesting museums might be in the area to check out. And that’s when I discovered that there’s a Snoopy museum in Roppongi. (Insert smiley emoji here).

Suffice to say, I own an extensive collection of comic strips with several dozen books devoted to Peanuts. I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to visit a museum dedicated to this beloved cast of characters. It was so much fun. There were a lot of comic strips and fun facts about all the characters in the strips as well as memorabilia. And of course there’s a shop. I had a blast and this was definitely the highlight of my day.

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The Snoopy museum

From there I decided to head to Shibuya. I wanted to see the crazy scramble in the streets and check out some of the shopping.

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Waiting for the green light at shibuya crossing.

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Around Shibuya

I pretty much spent the entire afternoon and evening wandering around, venturing into video arcades and other novelty shops with playing games and things. And of course I did a good amount of shopping. I got back to my hotel quite late and have been packing my things since. I’ll be checking out early in the morning.

Tomorrow is going to be a bit of an adventure. I will be waking up early to catch a bus to Mt Fuji, which I will then hike for a day and a half.

For folks who are following me daily, don’t expect an update tomorrow night since I’ll be somewhere high up on Fuji and won’t be posting anything until I get back to Tokyo Thursday night.

Fuji here I come!

 

Japan Day 10: Travel Day with a Side of Kobe

Today was an easy day. I slept in, checked out of the hotel, and made my way to the train station to catch the 11:53am Shinkansen to Tokyo. However the route was not direct and I had to switch trains at Kobe. As I was settling into the first leg of the train ride, I got to thinking: “Well I never actually had a chance to see Kobe and I only traveled through by train…”. You see where this is going.

I looked at the train schedules and found that there are hourly trains from Kobe to Tokyo until 7:30pm (after that I would have to switch trains once or twice).

So I got off the train at Kobe, stored my luggage in those handy coin lockers and went exploring.

I read about some sake breweries around Kobe so I decided to check those out. I visited two: Hakutsuru and Kiku-Masamune. Both had a little Museum telling the history of sake production and that particular brewery’s approach to the craft, etc. Kiki-Masamune was a little more interesting because they use a slightly older, more manual method to make some of their sake. And each brewery offered its own free sake tasting station so I got to try probably about 7 or 8 different sakes today which was great.

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Hakutsuru Sake Museum

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Kiku-Masamune Sake Museum

Both breweries (and several others) are located in what is known as Kobe’s Nada district, which is Japan’s top sake producing region. The Nada district is roughly three kilometers wide and is located south east of Kobe center. Nada has been famous for its sake for a long time due to the availability of high quality rice, suitable water and favorable weather conditions in the area. Its proximity to Kobe Port and Osaka has also facilitated distribution of sake throughout history.

I was only planning to visit Hakutsuru but then discovered I had a coupon (given to me at the tourist info desk at the train station) for a “special gift” at Kiki-Masamune. So I went for the special gift (a commemorative sake cup) and stayed for the sake tasting. And yes I also ended up buying sake at both breweries.

After, I made my way back to the center of the city, to the main train station Sannomiya and walked around.

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Around and about Kobe city center near Sannomiya

I got lost in more shopping malls and arcades than I care to mention, I looked for a little restaurant that i heard was really yummy only to find that it is closed on Mondays, and eventually I decided to sit down and have my Kobe beef in Kobe (when in Rome….). After a beefy late lunch, I made my way back to Shin-Kobe to retrieve my luggage. I made it in time for the 6:30pm train to Tokyo.

So in the end, what was supposed to be a chilled out “travel” day turned into a short side adventure to Kobe. Not a bad last minute change of plans.

The Japan Rail pass makes all my last minute whims possible. If you live outside of Japan, you can order this Japan Rail (JR) pass online and get it in the mail before you travel. You validate it when you arrive in Japan (I did mine at Narita airport) and off you go. This JR pass works on most Shinkansen (bullet trains) and any regular JR train. With the exception of the ferries/boats, this has worked basically everywhere. Since I knew I’d be riding around on trains for at least 8 or 9 days, I got the 14 day pass. The only thing it doesn’t work on is subways. There is a separate card for that, similar to the metro/oyster/octopus cards, except that it works in almost every city subway in Japan. It’s called the Suica card, and I got one of those too.

Now I’m back in Tokyo. This time I’m staying at a hotel in the Shinjuku neighborhood.

In the spirit of today being the last time I rode the Shinkansen here are some photos from my various rides over the past 10 days.

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Shinkansen

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Shinkansen flying by on the track.

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Typical views from the train rides.

Japan Day 9: Hiroshima

I started off my day with a typical Japanese breakfast. Aside from the rice wrapped in seaweed, some miso soup, and some fruit yogurt, I have no idea what the rest of it was. I think there was some cooked tofu with ginger, some sort of egg omelette thing and a little pancake of sorts. There may have been some fruit as well.  There always seem to be at least a half dozen little dishes on the tray of every Japanese meal I’m served and I never know what anything is.

Reluctantly I checked out of my little ryokan this morning. It was so lovely and I would have liked to spend more than one night there. But I have to keep going – there’s more to see!

Before taking a ferry to Hiroshima, I decided to walk around town for another half an hour to buy a few last souvenirs and take a few more photos of the tori.

And I’m so glad I did. The tide got even lower since last night and you could walk right up to the Shrine gate and touch it. It was so cool.

I walked right up to the Miyajima tori and said hello.

Next up I went to the ferry station. I had planned to take a ferry boat that would go directly to Hiroshima port but it wasn’t leaving for another 20 minutes. However, there was another boat, much smaller, leaving at that moment that was heading to a little dock right by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where my hotel is located, so I figured that would be more convenient.

I took a few nice photos from the boat and was even able to identify some of the islands that I saw from the top of Mount Misen yesterday.

Once I checked into my hotel I went strait out to explore the park. I visited the Peace Memorial Museum, which tells the history of the bombing. It is quite a disturbing experience actually – they include an exhibition of torn clothing and melted items of victims, mostly children. It really struck a cord and put me in a bit of a reflective if not somber mood for the rest of the day.

After the museum I wandered through the park to see all the different memorial monuments (there are many). One of the most notable is the Memorial Cenotaph for A-bomb victims. When looking directly through the center of the cenotaph, you can see the enteral flame and the Atomic Bomb Dome (Hiroshima Peace Memorial) in one strait line.

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Cenotaph with the eternal flame and a-bomb dome

The cenotaph is a curved structure that holds the names of all the victims of the bomb. The eternal flame symbolizes the flame of world peace and has also become an icon of the anti-nuclear movement.

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Eternal flame monument with the Memorial Peace Museum in the background

The Atomic Bomb building was built by a Czech architect in 1915, and served as the Industrial Promotion Hall until the bomb exploded almost directly above it. Everyone inside was killed, but the building was one of very few left standing near the epicentre. A decision was taken after the war to preserve the shell as a memorial, and it is one of the most powerful visual icons in Hiroshima.

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Atomic Bomb Dome

There are dozens of monuments throughout the park (as well as the city). One of the most famous and powerful is the Children’s Peace Monument. This monument was inspired by Sadako Sasaki, who was just two years old at the time of the atomic bomb. At age 11 she developed leukaemia, and decided to fold 1000 paper cranes. In Japan, the crane is a symbol of longevity and happiness, and she believed if she folded 1000 she would recover from her illness. Sadly she died before reaching her goal, but her classmates folded the rest. After Sasaki Sadako’s death (12 years old), a campaign started, commemorating the spirits of children victims of the A-bomb and raising funds to build a memorial for Sadako and all of the children who died from the effects of the atomic bomb. News spread all over the world, and visitors come to  “Children’s Peace Monument” to lay down folded-paper crane around the monument. I read somewhere that over 10 million paper cranes are laid down at the monument annually. The monument features a girl cast in bronze holding a gold crane and standing on the top of the tripodal domed statue.  Flanking her, there are the statues of boys and girls symbolizing a bright future and hope. The casings around the monument are filled to the brim with thousands upon thousands of little origami cranes.

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Children’s Peace Monument

I left the park, and in something of a meditative daze I found myself in a very busy shopping arcade. After a little while I needed to get away from the noise of tourists and people and go somewhere quiet to spend the afternoon reflecting. And so I did what I always do when I need room to think: I went to a museum that doesn’t typically attract a lot of tourists. I’m this case, I went to the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum.

The museum has some western art works, including Dali’s Dream of Venus and others by Calder, Moore, Picabia, etc. However it’s really more focused on Japanese artists. And all the labels are in Japanese so you know there aren’t that many western tourists visiting this place. The exhibits were awesome. There was a mix of photography, calligraphy, other graphic arts, ceramics and sculpture. And there was almost no one there–exactly what I needed: peace and quiet.

Next door to the museum is a garden called Shukkei-en. I read that it was quite lovely so I decided to drop by.

Shukkei-en was built in 1620 for daimyō (domain lord) Asano Nagaakira. The garden’s name means ‘contracted view’, and it attempts to recreate intricate scenery in miniature form. There are pathways that lead through a series of ‘landscapes’ and views around a pond punctuated with little islands featuring rocks and small trees. Shukkei-en was completely destroyed by the atom bomb, but like all of the city, this park and its buildings have been fully restored.

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Views at Shukkei-en

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Japanese bridge and the steep stone bridge at Shukkei-en

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The impressive stone bridge at Shukkei-en

I did some more roaming around as I made my way back to my hotel where I’ve spent the majority of the evening relaxing.

Tomorrow I head back to Tokyo so I’ll spend most of the day relaxing on a train. I can’t believe I’m well over half way done with my trip!

 

 

Japan Day 8: Himeji-jo and Miyajima

Today was another early start. I took the  8:04am train southbound towards Okayama but got off at Himeji this time. I had my luggage with me so I stored it in one of the coin lockers that are conveniently located in every train station.

Coming out of the station through the Central gate you see Himeji’s star attraction strait ahead down the avenue: the castle, high in the sky directly ahead about 1km away. I strolled down the boulevard, and since it was early (8:45am) I stopped for breakfast at a cafe and then entered the castle shortly after it opened at 9:00am.

Himeji is Japan’s most magnificent castle and it is one of only a handful of original castles remaining (most are modern reconstructions). It’s nickname Shirasagi-jo (“White Egret Castle”) comes from its lustrous white plaster exterior and its stately form on a hill above a plain. The main keep features seven levels: 6 floors above ground and a basement below. There are three smaller keeps, all surrounded by moats and defensive walls punctuated with rectangular, circular and triangular openings for firing guns and shooting arrows.

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Himeji Castle Main Keep

Although there have been fortifications in Himeji since 1333, today’s castle was built in 1580 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and enlarged some 30 years later by Ikeda Terumasa. Ikeda was awarded the castle by Tokugawa Ieyasu when the latter’s forces defeated the Toyotomi armies. In the following centuries it was home to 48 successive lords.

As part of your visit, you get to climb to the top of the main keep and visit some other buildings within the main keep area like the “long corridor” (mostly used as living and sleeping quarters for ladies in waiting and others).

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Himeji Castle

After visiting the castle area I made my way to another site nearby called Koko-en.

Koko-en is across Himeji Castle’s western moat, and it is a stunning reconstruction of the former samurai quarters. The site presents nine Edo period–style homes and gardens with various combinations of waterfalls, koi ponds, intricately pruned trees, bamboo, and flower shrubs. The place is so scenic that it has been used as the set for many Japanese historical movies and dramas.

Once I finished my visit to Koko-en, I rushed back to the train station, got my luggage and made the 12:03pm train to Miyajima.

Note: There are no trains directly to Migajima because it’s an island. So when I say “train” I really mean “I took two different bullet trains followed by a local Japan Rail train and finally the ferry. It wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds. I was on Miyajima by 2:30pm.

The island of Miyajima is one of Japan’s most visited spots. Its star attraction is the iconic vermilion torii (shrine gate) of Itsukushima-jinja, which seems to float on the waves at high tide – a scene that has traditionally been ranked as one of the three best views in Japan. Arguably, it is also at its evocative best at sunset, or when lit up after dark.

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The red tori at Miyajima

I decided to stay overnight in Miyajima as an opportunity to stay in a real “ryokan,” also known as a guest house of inn. Ryokans are very traditional Japanese housing. You have a little room, with a bed on the floor (which is covered in little mats), you must take your shoes off at the door and you’re given different slippers for the bathroom and shuffling around the ryokan, they give you a little robe to use as well as special pajamas (which I’m  currently wearing). There is a half bath in the room, but the shower area is similar to what I saw at the baths yesterday on Naoshima and they are communal (but of course you can lock the door and have privacy–the point is that there are no showers in your individual room). This whole Japanese experience is delightful and the ryokan in general is absolutely adorable.

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My room at the ryokan

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The tradition Japanese shower and bath at the ryokan

I had lunch at the hotel and settled into my room and immediately took off to see the sites. It was getting late so I went over to the Itsukushima-jinja temple to visit it before it closed for the day.

After roaming about town, I decided to go for a little hike up Mt Misen, the big mountain on Miyajima. My initial plan was to hike up to “the rope” (their term for some sort of funicular) and take it to the end of the line and hike the rest to the very top of the mountain. Then as a compromise I would walk down one of the trails. I’ve been doing a lot of hiking and walking lately so this all sounded like a good plan.

Well, the rope was closed by the time I got there (close to 5:00pm) so I decided to hike up and see how far I could get. Around an hour and 2.5 km later I was at the very peak of the mountain – I really climbed this one quickly, and because I move fast downhill I was at the bottom within 25 minutes. It was close to 90F out so I was drenched in sweat. And the hike itself was not easy – it was incredibly steep at times and I almost considered turning back once or twice. But it was well worth it for the views.

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Views from the top of Mt. Misen

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Views from the top of Mt. Misen

After the hike I roamed around town and took photos of the iconic torii at sunset. Ate dinner nearby and then went back again to photograph the torii at night. It’s  incredibly beautiful and I wish photos could capture its allure.

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This town is very quiet and sleepy, and as I headed back to my ryokan at 8:30pm everything was dark.

I decided to relax and take a nice hot bath. Not a bad way to end the day.

Tomorrow should be a shorter day. I won’t get to sleep in much but it should be less intense than yesterday and today.

Japan Day 7: Naoshima

Today was long. And if I had better sense I would have realized my itinerary for the day was overly ambitious. But it happened, I did it all, I’m exhausted but I’m glad I did it.

I took a day trip to Naoshima.

We’ll talk about what Naoshima is in a minute but first let’s talk about where it is. Naoshima is an island off the coast of Japan in the Seto Inland Sea. To get there from Osaka, one must take the Shinkansen (bullet train) about an hour south to Okayama, and then take Japan Rail to the port town Uno, which also takes about an hour. From there you need to take a 20 minute ferry ride to reach the island. In all, you’re looking at a best case scenario of 2.5 hours for a one way ride. I figured that because this is Japan and everything is usually quite efficient, the powers that be would line up the JR train arrival in Uno with the Ferry departure times. But oh no. They do not line up at all. For example, the train arrives at Uno at 10:02 but the ferry departs at 10am. And they are very punctual here. The next ferry was an hour later at 11am. You would think that there are enough people doing day trips to Naoshima that maybe they would increase the frequency of the boats. Apparently not.

To go to Naoshima I took the 8:04am Shinkansen and arrived on the island at 11:20. Over 3 hours. Coming back I took the 8:25pm ferry and had 20 or 30 minute waiting time between trains so I got back at 11:30pm. Around 3 hours. I spent 6.5 hours traveling to spend 9 hours on Naoshima. Was it worth it? Absolutely. But next time and as a recommendation to anyone else: just stay the night. It’s enough of a hassle to get there that you might as well chill out and sleep there and not be stressed about traveling back. I wanted to spend a night there but then I would have had to make other compromises on my itinerary. Onward…

Now that we’ve discussed where Naoshima is, let’s talk a little about what it is. Quite simply Naoshima is an art island that is particularly famous for several museums dedicated to modern art, contemporary art, and architecture by the prominent Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

There are other art projects on the island as well. There is one project (the Art House Project) that involves 6 houses that have been redesigned and reimagined by different artists.

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The Go’o Shrine – one of the houses part of the Art House Project.

There is a Tadao Ando museum, designed by the architect, with sketches of projects and plenty of information on his career.

There are also outdoor sculptures all around the island. Some of them you can climb around in or on which is always fun.

There is plenty to fill a day with art alone, not to mention the lovely views and walks around the island. But of course I only had a day.

So I made the most of it. I arrived 11:20am at Miyanoura port, which is sort of the main landing point on the island, and from there I got on the local bus to go across the island to where the Art House Project and Ando Museum are located to see those first since they close the earliest. From there I took the bus to the Benesse Art Site.

Quick note on the buses: similar to the ferry, they don’t run all that frequently. Even though it only takes about 15 min to cross the island by bus they still only run maybe once every 45-90 minutes. Very strange. You need to plan your bus strategy. Most people rent bikes but since it was raining strait through the morning and early afternoon, I didn’t want to risk being stuck in the rain trying to peddle uphill on some remote road. So i stuck with walking and bussing.

Back to Benesse…The Benesse art project started in the early 90s when the Benesse Corporation chose Naoshima as the setting for its growing collection of modern and contemporary art. Now the island has become an arts hub attracting tourists, art lovers and creatives from all over the world

The Benesse Art Site features a few different museums and structures. I’ll list them according to the order I visited them (again, prioritizing closing times).

I took the free Benesse bus all the way to the end of the line to Chichu Art Museum first. This museum was built mostly underground to avoid affecting the beautiful natural scenery of the Seto inland sea. The building is designed by Tadao Ando, with artworks by Claude Monet, James Turrell, and Walter De Maria on permanent display. I had lunch in the cafe which didn’t have a particularly impressive menu but the food was good. The view from my table was amazing.

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My view at lunch, looking out the window from the Chichu Art Museum

The thing you need to keep in mind with these museums around the Benesse Art Site is that there isn’t a whole lot of art to “see”. It’s more about the experience of the space and the art within the space. To me the point of visiting these museums, even though they may only have a handful to a dozen works of art inside, is to immerse yourself in the architecture and the place in addition to viewing and experiencing the art installations – what I call a true blend of “sight” and “site”. I’m particularly partial to Monet (my first artistic love when I was 8 when I was given my first art book by a family friend) and being able to view those 5 gorgeous water lily paintings in such a sublimely meditative setting was incredibly surreal. I could live in that room.

After Chichu, I walked down the road 5 minutes to visit the Lee Ufan Museum. This museum resulted from a collaboration between Lee Ufan and Ando. Together they built what is meant to be a tranquil space where art, architecture and nature come in resonance with each other, inviting quiet contemplation. I wasn’t very familiar with Lee Ufan but I fell in love with some of his paintings and installations. The precision, simplicity, and careful attention to each brush stroke is mesmerizing. I must have stood for 15 minutes in the center of the “Meditation room” just…meditating on the art and the space. It was incredibly fulfilling.

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Lee Ufan Museum

After Lee Ufan I walked further down the road to the Benesse House Museum, which integrates both a museum with a hotel, based on a concept of “coexistence of nature, art, and architecture.” The museum has several large scale works and installations set up including artists like Hockney, Rauschenberg, Basquiat, and Cy Twombly among others from Japan and beyond.

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Benesse House Museum

If I had spent the night on the island I would have definitely stayed at the Benesse house. It looks so cool and the rooms have amazing views. And only people who stay in the house have access to certain parts of the building that I would have liked to see.

No matter, I continued my journey and I went around visiting all the major outdoor art projects I could find. There are several scattered around the Benesse Art Site and around other parts of the island.

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The iconic “Pumpkin” by Yayoi Kusama

I eventually made my way back to Miyanoura where I had dinner at a little cafe and then decided to visit the local Naoshima bath. It had an artsy theme too. The bath is an art facility created by artist Shinro Ohtake. You can pay for everything you need at a little vending machine – it’s quite convenient. And now I have a souvenir towel from the experience. The interior is very cool. It’s all decorated in this funky eclectic style. And in the bath itself there is literally an elephant in the room…

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The Naoshima Bath House (I Heart Yu) exterior.

One thing I didn’t realize: it’s a full on bath house so even though I planned ahead and packed a bathing suit, i definitely didn’t need it. I’ll leave it at that.

I will say that after the amount of walking today and past days it was amazing to get in a hot bath, soak up and relax. It was also a good way to decompress and take a few deep breaths before the long ride back to Osaka.

Tomorrow is another long day in this stint of long days. After that I’m planning to carve out some relax time to recover.