Osaka is just two hours from Hiroshima by bullet train, making this a practical option for a day trip – especially if you have a JR Pass as we did and can travel “for free”. So on our second day here that is what we opted to do, and had an excellent day out.
There are some that consider a visit to Hiroshima to be a bit macabre, but we didn’t feel we could be so near and not see the city for ourselves. We travelled with some of the others in our group, then went our separate ways for the most part. While some explored further afield, Chris and I concentrated on the Peace Park and its surroundings. This park occupies the area that was at the centre of the devastation and serves as a memorial (or rather a whole series of memorials) to those who lost their lives and to the city’s subsequent efforts to rebuild and to focus its energies on promoting peace.
We visited the museum at the heart of the park, the eternal flame and various monuments, and the Atomic Bomb Dome (left as it was on the day of the bomb). But despite the inevitable sombreness of the exhibits in the museum, it is those efforts for peace that I will remember most about our visit to Hiroshima. More particularly, I will remember the many groups of Japanese school children whom we met, who were here to learn about the devastation of war in the hope that they would grow up determined never to allow another “Hiroshima” to happen. They were also here though to practice their English on any Western tourists they could persuade to be “interviewed” by them. I lost count of the number of times we were asked, “May we ask you a few questions” in often halting English, to be rewarded with broad smiles, photo opportunities and often a small gift of origami or similar. I also liked hearing a group sing as they laid paper cranes at the Children’s Peace Memorial – do check out my video of them.
Next tip: a great tempura dinner back in Osaka
Just three hours from Osaka by Shinkansen, Imabari is a beautiful city on the coast of the Seto Inland Sea. It is the home to beautiful Imabari Castle, one of the most outstanding examples of medieval castles in Japan. This castle is unique in that it is very near the sea in a flat area. Most castles were built on large hills for defensive reasons, but Imabari castle is near the beach in a completely flat area. This makes it easy to visit. It has a huge museum inside, and a gorgous view of the Seto Inland Sea from the top floor.
About 2.5 to 3 hours by train outside of Osaka is a town called Iga Ueno. Its claim to fame is that it used to be the base of one of the powerful and mysterious Ninja clans.
The main attraction is the Ninja House, where you can visit a ninja house (with trap doors and everything), ninja show, and a small museum showing the various tools used by the Ninjas. I got there way too early, so I was the only one in the audience for the ninja house tour and the tour guide even let me go through one of the trap doors!
There is also a castle and some temples in this small town. However, every April, the town comes to life with its annual Ninja Festival, where enthusiasts will gather for tournaments. You even have the opportunity to dress up as a ninja! I missed the tournaments day when I went 3 years ago, but the whole town was decked out with ninja paraphernalia! The tourist board employees also walk around the town in Ninja theme uniforms greeting tourists and handing out freebies. I got a "ninja biscuit", which is what the real ninja used to snack on. It was hard as rock but once you let it melt a bit :) it was actually quite tasty.
If you're a bit tired of temples, didn't mind a long train ride, and ninjas fascinate you, you should check this place out! Oh, the train between Iga-Kambe and Ueno Shi is painted in ninja style. I'll let the pictures do the telling.
West of Kyoto Station is Arashiyama.
Can get there by the JR Train or local bus. We made a mistake by taking the local bus. It took about 45 minutes from Kyoto Station. The JR line would have been alot faster.
When we got there, we rented bikes 420 yen for 2 hours. The sidewalks were crowded with people and the street with cars. So, the bikes was not that effective in the main city area. However, the bikes were useful outside the busy city streets.
Rode to the Monkey Park entrance which took about 5 minutes from where we rented the bikes. Admission to the park was 500 yen.
The hike up took 20 minutes. Along the way we saw monkeys playing in the trees. At the top on the mountain there is a rest place and lots and lots of monkeys. When we got there, the worker was feeding them. In all, there was about 200 monkeys eating. Interesting to see how they react with one another.
People were going really close to the monkeys trying to take pictures and the monkeys would sometimes get mad.
The monkey on the tree stump was the bull. When the feeding started he sat on the stump like it was his reserved seat. No other monkey bothered him. Food was set on there just for him. It was pretty funny to see. We got some laughs watching him eat on his perched stool stump.
It was fun.
Oizumi Park is a hidden gem in Sakai. It's the park I wish I could have played in as a little kid. There are long, wide, winding paths, a duck pond with a walking trail and shaded pavillion, a play structures galore (including a pirate ship!). There are also lots of spacious lawns, which makes it a great place for a picnic and to let your kids run around and blow off some steam.
To get there take the Midosuji line south for Nakamozu and get off at Shinkanaoka station. Go out any exit, and you will see a huge shopping centre. Go down the smaller street on that side, away from the station, and you will see some apartment buildings on your left and smaller houses and shops on your right. It's about five blocks to the main entrance to the park.
About forty minutes away from Namba is Minoo mountain. The waterfall is a little touristy, but it's a nice, easy hike. If you continue up the road a few miles, there is a temple worth visiting. In nicer weather, monkeys wander the area. My former roommate swears one jumped out of a tree, ran up to her, grabbed her soda out of her hand, swigged it up, then ran away. It snowed when we walked up there in December and the views were magical.
About forty minutes away from Namba is Minoo mountain. The waterfall is a little touristy, but it's a nice hike. If you continue up the road a ways, there is a temple worth visiting. In nicer weather, monkeys wander the area. My former roommate swears one jumped out of a tree, ran up to her, grabbed her soda out of her hand, swigged it up, then ran away. It snowed when we walked up there in December and the views were magical.
A 30-minutes ride (by limited express, about 1000 Yen) on the shinkansen (Kintetsu Nara line) will get you to NARA (To check out my NARA travelogue, Click Here): Japan's first real capital. Places of interest in Nara includes TODAI-JI TEMPLE & Daibutsu-den Hall. Please check my Nara page for more details & photos.
The Setouchi Shimanami Kaido Bridge is a beautiful bridge, spanning several islands in the Seto Inland Sea. There are occasionally organized bridge walks, with places you can stop to get drinks.