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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Yodobashi Camera

My trusty Canon Ixus 50 (over 7000 pictures taken!) was due an upgrade; between running out of memory yesterday at the aquarium and running out of power at the sky observatory, it was old. Antiquated. The two year-old lithium-oxide battery oxidised to %^&*.

Yodobashi Camera – the largest in Osaka – was just around the corner. It was clearly a sign…must be all those temples earlier in the day.

Inside is stereotypical Japanese crazy-hyper-store: pink and yellow signs with funny little squiggles all over (not to denigrate the alphabet of over a billion people or anything), noise and absolutely everything you could imagine remotely related to photography, computers and watches from travel suitcases through travel adaptors through picture frames, SLRs, compacts, tripods and Swiss watches.

I think the only electronic product on earth which they didn’t have in stock right there and then was a brand-new long-life 9-cell replacement lithium-ion battery for a Thinkpad T41. Now that would really have been impressive…maybe in Tokyo…

Anyway, I showed my Canon camera and asked “do you have a battery for this?” and 30 seconds later was looking at one, priced at only €30. So I also took a brand new 2GB high-speed SD memory card for just slightly more yen. That was probably enough…the latest Canon compacts started to look very tempting.

Japan – bring on your sights, I can photograph them all now!

Umeda Sky Building

170m above the ground you find the Floating Garden Observatory, at the very top of the Umeda Sky Building, one of Osaka’s more striking (although not the tallest by any means) skyscrapers.

The outdoor observation deck provides some striking images at night.

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Lovely viewing and then your camera’s battery gives up. Last time, little battery – Yodobashi Camera is just around the corner!!!

Horyu-ji

Another wee Japanese town 10km south-west of Nara, Horyu-ji is home to the magnificent Horyu-ji temple. A world heritage site since 1993, this temple has the distinct honour of containing the world’s oldest wooden structure.

It mightn’t look like it (and it looks like about a billion other old Japanese temple buildings) but this thing is over 1200 years old…for a Japanese building, that’s an awful lot of disasters, wars and other potential hazardry.

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Next door is Japan’s oldest five-tier pagoda…

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Along with Todai-ji, Horyu-ji makes for an excellent day’s templing…and, as the lady at the tourist information office rightly said, give yourself a good two hours to enjoy Horyu-ji.

The sun even made a guest appearance…

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Todai-ji

Located at the north end of Nara-koen, the temple of Todai-ji is Nara’s main tourist attraction. It contains the Daibatsu-den which contains an truly enormous statue of the Buddha (Japan’s largest, in fact) and has the unusual distinction of being the largest all-wooden structure in the world.

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Inside, the bronze Buddha is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen…if only there were someone standing in front to illustrate just how enormously and humungously big these statues are. You just have to see them up close I guess…

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Nara

45 minutes on the express local train from Osaka brings you to the town of Nara, capital of Japan prior to Kyoto in 794AD.

Nara is home to two principal attractions: the Todai-ji (in the town itself) and Horyu-ji (around 10km) away. These two temples/shrines would be worth seeing anyway but that they also house the largest and oldest (respectively) wooden structures in the world make them – and the town of Nara – a must-see.

Nara appears a typical Japanese town – garish shops, noisy Pachinko parlours and messy overhead cables – providing little evidence of the treasures and havens of tranquillity therein.

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Of course, being a typical Japanese town, it has at least two train stations, numerous bus lines (including a very handy loop line) which all run on time and cheap and delicious food on every corner…

Sega World

It’s the same Japan, alright.

You can’t see it in this photograph but this appears to be a complete “racetrack simulator”, complete with pre-race inspections of the horses, betting slips and 3D panoramic photo-realistic races. What you can see is that this is probably the biggest arcade game in the world.

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While not as elaborate, this machine (“lotto simulator”?) is probably the loudest game in existence.

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