Tag Archives: nature

Travel Guide: Hiroshima and Miyajima

After my parents and I spent four nights in Kyoto and visited Himeji and Osaka while based there, we boarded an early shinkansen (bullet train) for Hiroshima where we spent two night. The train ride itself was easy and comfortable and we arrived in warm, sunny Hiroshima around late morning.

It was in Hiroshima where I met my new favorite Japanese dish, okonomiyaki. What a great and customizable way to eat all sorts of things! It was also in Hiroshima where the weather markedly improved, making for far more comfortable wanderings through town.

The main tourist attraction in Hiroshima is to visit the Peace Memorial Park and that was our plan for the rest of the day. I’m struggling with which verb to use to describe what it feels like to stand in that park and think about what happened there. To think about where we are now and whether we’ve accomplished anything at all.

What really got to me was not the Atomic Bomb Dome . . .

not the paper cranes of the Children’s Peace Monument . . .

and not the memorials scattered throughout the park.

What really got me was feeling of life throughout the park. Vivacity. The everyday living of everyday people. As we all are; as we all do. People were picnicking under cherry blossoms and I didn’t want to stop watching them. It makes so much sense to memorialize the 150,000+ people who died as a result of the atomic bomb by filling a park with beauty and life. Beauty and life, laughter and smiling children, families and friends. The park was a place for people to connect with others, learn about each other, and know each other.

The park was a peaceful place, a living memorial to lives lost. And maybe a sign that we have indeed accomplished something.

And Hiroshima really did parks beautifully. As the sun began to set we walked through Shukkeien, a charming garden built around a koi pond. We watched turtles move slowly from their perches on rocks back into the water and carp jumping to catch bugs in the air. I really enjoyed the moss covering the ground, which seems to be a feature of Japanese parks. Interesting, there doesn’t appear to be grass anywhere.

The next morning we took the ferry to Miyajima, an island populated by about 2,000 people and very friendly deer.

We spent the morning wandering the little streets full of restaurants and souvenirs shops . . .

. . . and checked out the temples and shrines.

The real attraction for me, though, was the hike up Mount Misen. I was very happy to be in the forest and in the sunshine. The climb was more challenging than I expected because it was mostly stone staircases heading directly uphill, but I was so happy to be in the air. It was good to feel my legs and lungs working and I peeled off layers and rolled up my sleeves as I went.

The view was spectacular . . .

. . . and I cannot deny that the shrines were lovely.

I was basking in the feeling of the climb as we sat at the Miyajima Brewery before dinner. Looking down to the beach we saw locals digging for clams.

Friends had told me that it was important to stay until the sun went down and there was no question that we would. The pink sky over the torii gate quietly closed a day spent outdoors by the sea.

Our time in Hiroshima and Miyajima was a restful couple of days in a beautiful place and we left for Tokyo the next morning relaxed and refreshed. Stay tuned!

Travel Guide: Kyoto and Around

April is cherry blossom season in Japan and it’s as beautiful as everyone says. April is also early spring, which means the weather is highly variable. Umbrellas and layers were key to feeling comfortable wandering around Kyoto, Japan’s Imperial capital beginning in the 8th century. It remained the seat of power in Japan for over a thousand years and historic monuments, shrines, and temples abound. Renting a kimono for the day is a common activity in Kyoto and it was fun to see people dressed up – almost like going back in time!

This was my first trip in Asia with both parents and it was a fully immersive experience. (Dad and I went to Thailand and Vietnam a few years ago when I first moved to Singapore.) We took the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto immediately after we landed and that made for a long day of travel; we were glad to finally be there!

We settled in and then went to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, which was beautiful in the rain. The sound of the trees and smell of the earth was a lovely change from urban life in Singapore.

The next morning was sunny and we started early at Fushimi-Inari, a Shinto shrine known for its red torii gates. Fushimi-Inari is guarded by foxes and statues of them are located around the mountain. It was a beautiful walk and felt other worldly, as though passing through each set of gates was a doorway to somewhere else.

The view on the way up was stunning, too.

My dad wanted to visit Tofukuji Temple because he’d read that it has beautiful gardens, which I’m sure it does once spring actually blooms. But trees were budding and the ground was covered in moss and that was good enough for me.

From there, we went to Nishiki Market, a covered arcade of streets selling all sorts of food products, clothing, and souvenirs. I was mostly interested in the food stalls and we returned a couple days later to explore further. It was so enjoyable to smell new smells, taste new tastes, and just look around. Markets are always a travel highlight for me because they bring so much life there in so many different forms.

We ended the day wandering through some lovely streets with little shops and visiting Kodaiji Temple. The gardens around the temple included a bamboo forest and an exquisite cherry tree in full bloom, which was definitely the main attraction.

I really appreciate how Japanese gardens are sculpted and landscaped but not manicured. It makes them lovely in a very believable way.

Among the many nice elements of traveling in Japan is the convenience of trains. The Japan Rail pass allows foreign tourists access to most of Japan’s trains (like the Euro Rail Pass) and trains don’t require reservations. They are also very clean and extremely timely and comfortable!

Kyoto is an easy base for day trips and we took one out to Himeji Castle, Japan’s largest castle and one of very few that have remained intact. I was really glad that we opted for the guided tour. The tour guide was knowledgeable and friendly and more than made up for the lack of signage.

From there, despite the chilling rain that had begun to fall, we got back on the train to visit Osaka where we hoped to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening. Mum and I walked around the moat of Osaka Castle (Dad got a little lost or left behind – long story), occasionally putting up our umbrellas for the rain that alternated with patches of bright sunshine.

When it began to hail, however, we realized we needed another plan. After battling the driving rain and wind to get to the train station we returned to Kyoto and sheltered indoors to dry off. Not all plans work out and travel is an adventure, right?

Our last day in Kyoto was the nicest we’d had and I’m especially glad it was sunny because we went to Kinkaku-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple, and it was utterly stunning.

We walked to a pretty shrine surrounded by a garden of cherry blossoms and food stalls on our way back to the center of town . . .

. . . and then spent the rest of the morning in Nishiki Market where I took most of the photos above. From there, we visited the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, which was informative as well as free! It was useful in explaining much of the handiwork we’d seen and some of Kyoto’s history, particularly in terms of the geisha culture that still exists in a much smaller form.

After dinner in Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, it was time for one more sleep before boarding an early train to Hiroshima.

We had experienced all kinds of weather, tried new food, visited beautiful places, and were excited for something new. Stay tuned!

Travel Guide: Christchurch

After a quick stop in Geraldine where we were told we’d find antique stores and cheese and after 2,500km of driving, my friend Sharon and I finally arrived at our last stop, Christchurch. We had the good fortune to meet the wonderful Rosie Mac, a nurse-turned-artist with a story that gave us reason to pause. She’s in the middle of a spectacular mural project and her work is beautiful – take a look! We spent a lot of time with Rosie during our time in Christchurch. She has the soul of one who gives and she gives so much – life, joy, wisdom. (Every so often I meet someone who makes me rethink my concept of the soul, which isn’t that well formed to begin with.) It was an apt place to conclude our journey through Aotearoa.

In addition to good company, Rosie also provided us with useful maps and local hints about what to do in Christchurch. She told us her story of the 2011 earthquake and its aftermath. Signs of the damage are visible everywhere; Christchurch has relatively few buildings and a great deal of construction. But there’s a wonderful sense of joie de vivre in Christchurch, too.

There’s art everywhere, which was fun to look at and adds a lot to the emptiness of downtown.

There are also really beautiful public parks in the middle of everything and we spent some time sitting in a wonderful playground with a waterpark, turf hills to climb, and so many things to run to, jump off, play on, scramble up, and slide down. People really seemed to care about taking the time to spend together, which is harder and harder to find.

We also really loved people watching (and eating!) at Little High Eatery, basically a fancy hawker center or what New York would call a food hall. Think mall food court with real restaurants. Something for everyone!

We spent our only full day in Christchurch walking as much of the city as possible which, because it’s not so large, is quite possible. We followed the Avon River to the Botanic Gardens where we visited the most amazing rose garden I’ve ever seen. The flowers all smelled so good!

Our walk along the river also took us to some interesting landmarks, including a monument to the firefighters who died on 9/11 in New York . . .

. . . and a Maori sculpture and the Bridge of Remembrance for World War I.

And then it was time to better understand the earthquake. There was a wall with names along the river and it was interesting because not all names were in English; they were written in the languages of the people they were meant to commemorate. I saw Hebrew and several Southeast Asian languages and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a memorial wall like that. And like nearly everything official that we saw in New Zealand, much of what was written in English was translated into Maori, too.

The 185 Empty Chairs memorial, however, was particularly moving. We had walked by it the night before and it was so simple and unadorned that we didn’t stop to see what it was. The artist statement made it that much more poignant and I appreciated it for its simplicity and emphasis on individuality. So many memorials make all victims the same and this one decidedly did not.

Finally, we went across the street from the 185 Empty Chairs to the site of the CTV building. A park had been built over the cracked, broken, uneven remnants of the foundation. That was moving, too, in the way that the 9/11 memorial in New York is moving. Life goes on and we remember. We remember and life goes on.

Afterwards, we walked down New Regent Street and enjoyed looking at the pastel buildings, coffee shops, and cocktail bars. It was very pretty and felt like it would have fit well in Napier, the North Island’s art deco city.

The next morning, thanks to another recommendation from Rosie, I headed to C1 Espresso for the best cup of coffee in the city before flying home to Singapore. C1 Espresso is built in the old post office and still contains some elements of the old building, like letterboxes repurposed to hold matchbox cars. There’s a secret door that is actually a bookshelf of Penguin Classics and instead of music, Harry Potter on tape was being played in the washroom. And if that wasn’t enough, the pneumatic tubes that would have delivered mail now deliver certain menu items straight to your table. Quirky and full of laughter, like much of Christchurch.

And then it was time to go. Three weeks in a magical fairyland and I cannot say enough good things about it. If you get the chance to go to New Zealand, go. Without question, it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been (Norway was in first place for 9 years) and I am so grateful for the opportunity to travel there.