Grand Hyatt, Fukuoka

Wow. Amazing.

  • I finally understand why people spend €400 on a hotel room.
  • I finally understand how a truly excellent hotel can completely transform your mood from disgruntled, frustrated , traveller.
  • I finally understand how Scarlett Johansson’s character in Lost in Translation spent most of her time in the hotel.

After two weeks of €50 a night jobs, this hotel has about 50 people on hand at all times to take your luggage to your room and answer all your crappy little questions like ringing the train station to confirm that the Nagasaki line is open and even order your taxi (“JR or Shinkansen side? Nagasaki? Oh, the JR side – this way.”) and carry your bags to the taxi.

The room was spacious, the bathroom vast and the shower divine. The 32″ plasma TV helped, the free 1Mb internet connection was glorious and the little note on the bed about the next morning’s “Gion Yamakasa” festival – along with the free paper hat, or whatever it is – as they say, priceless (however, a choice between this bedroom and getting up for a 5am canoe race is no choice at all, really, but a nice souveneir).

Downstairs was a very nice, reasonable, bar with a live piano/guitar duo at night and vast breakfast buffet in the morning and outside all that is a plaza with a canal running through and an attached shopping centre.

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I never even caught a single glance of the city…and I don’t care.

Amazing.

Miyajima

A small picturesque island south of Hiroshima, Miyajima is home to the famous (well, if you’re Japanese anyway) Itsukushima-jinja. The “floating shrine” contained inside is considered one of the country’s top three views; it’s dubbed “floating” since it’s built on the sea-bed and – at high-tide – appears to float on the water.

Combine this with a nice little ferry ride and some other templery dotted around the place and you have the makings of a fine half day trip from Hiroshima.

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Needless to say, with impeccable timing I caught low-tide: there may be a typhoon on the approach that will swamp the island and all of western Japan along with it, but today I get low tide.

This said, however, the view was still very impressive. I think the looming skies help…

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And…as noted before, temples are more interesting than shrines. You wander around underneath it and try to dress it up in a nice photograph but basically you’re done after about 30 seconds (unless there’s a golden sunset in progress fronted by blooming cherry blossom…both being in very short supply on a stormy July afternoon).

So, plenty of time for the other stuff; Misen-san supposedly offers wonderful views of the island and environs but was closed due to the impending typhoon.

The temple of Daisho-in was “kind of” open; kind of, since I was allowed to just roam around the grounds after some hand motions with some monks/workers. One of the workers was quite memorable in that he had the physique you usually only see in statues of the Buddha: all muscle, big neck. He was carrying what turned out to be a parcel but could just have easily been a granite block. I had always presumed those statues to be stylised; now I know better.

Aside from this revelation the temple does a nice line in colourful miniature statues…

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A small park, Momiji-dani-koen, where the ropeway/cable-car terminus lies, provides a few minutes distraction before heading off towards the temple of Itsukushina-jinja itself.

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This temple, similar to the shrine, is built on the sea-bed. Again, it’s “kind of” open – I wander around the whole building without paying anything even though I’m pretty sure I should… Anyway, again, while it would be nice to see these things at full-tide they’re still pretty entertaining even on their day off.

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Peace Memorial Museum

This is the main attraction in the Peace Park and, indeed, probably in all of Hiroshima.

Surrounded by school children (I read once that all Japanese school children are required to visit Hiroshima once; on the strength of this morning’s visit, I’m inclined to believe it), I entered the west building.

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Here is a history of Hiroshima from ancient times through to the time of the second world war. Immediately after, a powerful exhibit attempts to explain how and why (it was a clear day) the bomb was used and Hiroshima targetted.

One of my favourite books being Richard Rhodes’ “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” – a classic exploration of early twentieth century physics through the first world war and the construction and use of the atomic bomb – it was fascinating to see the letter sent by Einstein to Roosevelt noting the possibility of constructing an atomic weapon.

After this, some detailed models illustrate the city before and after the blast: the latter, unfortunately, clearly took less time to construct:

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Much of the east building demonstrates graphically the effects of the bomb upon people and buildings. Numerous items of clothing, masonry and, especially, melted rooftiles.

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A worthy museum and one worthy of a couple of hours of your time. Afterwards, I headed straight for some food to try and cheer up.

Hiroshima Peace Park

The obvious place to start exploring Hiroshima (and, obviously, the main reason for coming here) is near the “peace park”, an area dedicated to memorials and explorations of the effects of the bomb very near to the “hypocentre” of the blast.

The relevant tram stop is Genbaki Dome-Mae: Atomic Bomb Dome. Here, the oddly suvived Industrial Promotion Hall’s dome rests as it has for the past 60 years and, after a resolution by the town council in the 1960s, will forever more. Almost directly below the blast point, the framework of the dome and much of the attached building somehow survived. It serves as a haunting introduction to what will follow…

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I didn’t have a map, so just wandered around, probably missing one or two important sites in the teeming rain. Stand out sights were:

  • Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the Bomb
  • Children’s Peace Monument
  • Memorial Cenotaph

Pictures of some of these follow, taken before I shuffled up to the Peace Memorial Museum for a respite from the elements.

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Osaka – Hiroshima

I catch the 6.59 to Hiroshima with seconds to spare.

A very pleasant journey on the Hikari “super express”. Aptly named, as it covers 341 km in just 95 minutes. The “Nozomi” (the only service not covered by the Japan Rail Pass) does it even quicker.

Navigating Hiroshima looks like a breeze compared to Osaka; 20 minutes after arrival I’m checked into the hotel thanks to the help of the tram system and a random cheery passerby. A little later I wander into “AUX Dining” and chat away with the owner for a little while; he recommends the Peace Park, Shukkien Garden, Hiroshima Castle and Miyajima.

That should keep me busy for the next day and a half…

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