Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Miyajima

Monday 15th November 2010

MP3 track of the day: Hard Teacher - The last Samurai

Weather: Warm but still very cloudy making it difficult to get good photos.









After blogging last night I went out to find the two sports bars that the receptionist, at my hostel, had highlighted for me on my map. After thirty minutes of searching I found both however one was holding a private function and the other didn't have the F1 on. I decided that, instead of wasting even more time trying to find another sports bar, I would cut my looses, head back for my hostel, and watch the text information come in on the BBC F1 sport web page. Not terribly exciting watching text appear, on a computer screen, telling you how a race was going; however I did find out that Sebastian Vettel had become world drivers champion. Okay so, on the down side, Lewis Hamilton hadn't become world champion, however on the upside neither had Fernando Alonso. I like Vettel, he's always quite cheery when he's interviewed and he has had a lot of bad luck this year with engine problems. Still, if a Red Bull car was going to win the title, I would have preferred Mark Webber to win as he probably hasn't got that many chances left to win a title (and I bet he won't stay with Red Bull over the winter).

Whilst following the F1 I chatted to an American (called 'Steve') who was going to Miyajima tomorrow, the same as me; we therefore decided to go together. For now though it was time for bed as it was nearly midnight and an early start was needed tomorrow.

Getting up a decent time I, once again, headed to the local supermarket and purchased breakfast plus lunch for the day. Both Steve and I left the hostel around 9:30am and chatted as we walked to the train station. As JR Railway ran both the train to the ferry port and the ferry to Miyajima our JR rail passes were valid for all of our trip and so it cost us nothing to get to Miyajima (bonus). Both the train and the ferry journey weren't that long (a total of thirty minutes) and soon I could see the famous Japanese floating gate (or 'O-torii') from the starboard side of the vessel as we began to dock.

We followed the huge crowds for a while however, as they were heading straight for the floating gate, we decided to take in some of the other attractions Miyajima had to offer. First thing I noticed about the island of Miyajjima is that there are lots of wild deer roaming free within the town; it's all abit weird as I'm used to pigeons but not deer. On a closer inspection Steve and I both noticed that the deer had their antlers shaved off so that they couldn't hurt anyone.

A small shopping area selling souvenirs of 'floating gate' models (which I was tempted to buy however how would I get it home), and the usual pour-waving cat, was our first port of call; the different smells coming from the food stalls were very tempting indeed. After this we headed to the Senjokaku tower but, once beside it, we couldn't get a good photo; we decided to head towards the Itsukushima-jinja shrine where, we thought, we would get a better angle. First circling the shrine it was clear to us that we actually had to pay for admittance to get the photo we both wanted, but as the tide was out, we decided to head to the 'not so floating gate' first to get our photo taken. On our way their we could see that a Japanese performance was taking place within the shrine and so we stopped to take some cheeky photos from the outskirts, getting some really good close ups of the performer.

We finally made it to the Itsukshima-jinja shrine and paid the 300 yen (£2.50) entrance fee to follow the 'one-way' circuit. The temple was made of wood, and painted mostly in red; it was a very beautiful building. Inside I did see some ladies wearing Kimonos however there seemed to be some sort of special event happening and so I didn't want to make them late by asking if I could have a photo (even though Steve thought that they wouldn't mind). From the front of the shrine we took a couple of photos of the floating gate and decided that, when high-tide occurs at around five o'clock, we would head back to take photos of the gate actually floating.

After this we headed to a huge temple complex called Daisho-in which was located on a hill above the main town of Miyajima; the steps up to the temple had beautiful flags, of all different colors, located on each side. As we walked up we passed many shrines, a big bell struck by a huge wooden beam and loads of miniature Buddhas. Once inside the main complex there was a performance square, roped off, with a box shape covered in fern branches in the middle. Loads of people were waiting and we could tell that the fern box was going to be lit and, looking at the size of the crowd, very soon. We decided to wait and see what was going to happen; whilst we stood there we looked around at this paradise. Beautiful ancient red Japanese temples surrounded by the autumn colours of the trees, November is certainly the best time of year to visit Japan.

We waited and we waited and we waited until, after around forty minutes, drums started to sound and a procession of Buddhist monks in either, yellow / orange or purple garments, started making it's way to the roped off square . The square was packed and, for the monks to enter the roped off area, people had to push to make room. One of the monks used a Samurai sword to cut the rope so that they could enter the square, which I thought was a little bit of a over kill. The monks in the yellow and orange took up there places standing around the fern covered box in a circular shape, whilst the purple monks sat down at the head of the square under a big Japanese style umbrella (must be the guys in charge then). Prayers and ceremonial actions took place with music accompanying through the use of giant sea shells. It was quite a while before they lit the fire and I had been standing for well over an hour; still all was very exciting and all was new.

As you would imagine, once the fire had been lit the ferns just exploded and a roaring fire began to emerge (which almost reached to areas where the crowd were watching from … health and safety not a big thing here then). Flames and Smoke were everywhere and if that wasn't enough, it looked like the purple monks where blessing thousands of rectangle pieces of wood, that were then thrown onto the fire. After a closer inspection these pieces of wood (called prayers) had Japanese writing on them; we were told that the Japanese purchase specific prayers to ask for the removal of some evil spirit. They write their names on the prayers and then had them over to the monks who bless and burn them. There were literally thousands upon thousands of these prayers and each one cost 1,000 yen (£8) which meant that the monks must have made £80,000.00 today (I've been in the wrong job). These prayers kept on coming for well over twenty minutes and they were thrown on the fire by the handful.

Eventually the prayers did start to dwindle and the fire became less fierce; two monks then had the job of putting out the fire and spreading the ashes into a long path. Yep you guessed it, fire walking was next and and the lead purple monk went first followed by all the other monks. After that a flurry of activity took over the place as all the people watching could have a go. Steve asked if I wanted ago; firstly I wasn't that bothered and secondly time was short and the queue was long. All day Steve had said that any decision was 'my call'. This was very nice however I did worry that Steve might be missing out on things he wanted to do; you see Steve seemed to be a guy who actively wanted to get himself immersed in traditions and find out how they work, how they sound or how they feel. I'm much more of a viewer as I like to find out why the Japanese do the traditions they do. Neither is the right course of action, a blend of both is probably the best, but I did worry that Steve might have wanted to take part in the fire walk.

We only really had two hours and thirty minutes left and so, with only one thing left to do, we started to climb mount Misen which would take forty-five minutes. Once at the top we didn't have long; we noticed that the floating gate was actually floating now and so we decided to head back down the hill, but use the fast cable car option (1,000 yen one-way). However first we had to make our way through even more deer and this time, due to being out of town, they still had their antlers.

We arrived at the cable car (or 'rope way' as the Japanese call it) and we noticed that there was an area where you could possibly see monkeys. We hurried to the top but unfortunately no monkeys. Once down the rope way we took a free shuttle bus into town and then visited the shrine once more to get a photo of the floating gate. After this all my camera memory cards were full and so I put my camera away. It was now 17:00 and it was getting dark, we therefore headed to the ferry where we managed to see the floating Gate all lit up.

Once back in Hiroshima, around seven, I decided to join Steve for a meal. All day he had talked about, I think it's called rojan; basically it's noodles in a spicy broth. As a side order Steve got 'Genza's' which he shared with me. I have to say that I did like this meal a lot as it's the first spicy Japanese dish I've had. Again the chopsticks were out in full flow and, after a few initial problems (which a Japanese couple opposite me found quite funny), I was in my element. My only problem was that the only drink they served (which was free) was iced tea; therefore as soon as we left the restaurant I headed for the nearest vending machine to get a nice cold coke to extinguish the fire within my mouth.

Today will go down, for me, as one of my best days traveling to date. Such a cultural experience and I found out, by asking the hostel receptionist, that the fire festival today, and the girls dressed up in Kimonos yesterday, where both festivals that only happen once a year. So the Dalai Lama, Fire festival and the Kimonos … how blessed has my time been in Hiroshima? Tomorrow I leave for Nagasaki but, even though I can't think of anything else to do in Hiroshima, I'm still very sad to leave.

十dぇぴp!

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