Travelling in Japan always gives me a peaceful feeling. The countryside is tranquil and even in more crowded cities, there’s a certain order to the madness. Not to mention all the onsen I can look forward to. Our trip to western Japan was one of my most enjoyable, for the sheer variety of sites. The area is also known as Chugoku, meaning “central country”, which seems to be a misnomer because it’s on the western part of the main island of Honshu.
Kurashiki’s main attraction is a historic district with rows of warehouses along both sides of a canal. The well-preserved storehouses, which date from the Edo Period (1603-1867), have been turned into shops and cafes. The old buildings still retain their charm even while peddling ubiquitous tourist souvenirs. The canal is very picturesque with willows lining the banks and swans paddling past.
We stopped in Okayama to pop into the Korakuen Garden, proclaimed as one of the three best gardens in the country. The garden wasn’t really spectacular, but it was big, neatly landscaped and from there we had a nice view of the Okayama Castle.
Miyajima is a a small island best known for its shrine and red torii gate that are built on the water. At high tide, the gate looks as if it’s floating. The sight is ranked as one of Japan’s three best views (the Japanese are very fond of threes). However, what thrilled the children were the deer wandering freely around the island, which may be quite unnerving as they are big. But they’re very tame and the children could pet them. Of course that also meant we had to skirt droppings everywhere. For the adults, our thrill was in eating really fresh oysters right off the grill. Yum!
Onomichi is famous for its temples, all 25 of them. We spent the whole day tramping up and down the temple trail with its narrow, winding path. Although we started off with a map, after a while we simply got tired of matching the temples to the names in the map and just enjoyed the walk.
Hiroshima is a thriving metropolis, belying its tragic past as the first city to be hit by an atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. A visit to the A-Bomb Dome, Peace Memorial Park and Peace Memorial Museum are a must. The museum can be quite distressing because it shows a lot of everyday items from people who died during the atomic bombing and looking at a child’s burnt bento box is heartbreaking.
A lot of the victims were youths who were mobilised to work on demolition teams, which were building firebreaks to secure evacuation routes. The A-Bomb Dome is the skeletal ruins of the former Industrial Promotion Hall. It was the building closest to the hypocenter of the nuclear bomb and the ruins of the building are left in memory of the casualties, which may have numbered 140,000.
Of course the highlight of every town was the food. Other than the yummy oysters, my daughter was in ecstasy over the beef soba. There were also a lot of souvenirs for the shopping-happy tourist. On a practical note, we used the Internet to book the plane tickets, hotels and the car as we drove from town to town.