July 13, 2017 – The Museum of Housing and Living, Osaka

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The Museum of Housing and Living was one of my favourite stops in Osaka. Make sure to get the audio guide before heading into the life-sized streets to explore what life was like during the Edo Period in the 1830s. The Museum features an apothecary, meeting hall, bookstore, bathhouse, fabric shop, and more Japanese style rooms, well, and public toilet. While Jessica and I were there, we also explored an exhibit on Tenugui (a Japanese cotton craft) and a section on the more recent history of Osaka.

Later on, we walked around more of Dōtonbori, Shinsaibashi, and shopped along the famous Ebisu Bashi-Suji (one of the largest shopping districts in the world – 350m in length). We also decided to try the famous “Mount Blanc Parfait” dessert which looks like spaghetti (but it’s actually chestnut flavoured ice cream!). It tastes a little weird and I still can’t decide whether I like it or not.

We kept walking and just reached the Kuromon Market before it closed. The seafood there looked delicious!

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July 12, 2017 – Osaka Castle with Yenni and Dinner in Dōtonbori

 

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After spending so much time in Hiroshima, Osaka seemed like a bit of a letdown. I anticipated it to look more like Kyoto, however, it has a very big city vibe to it which I took me by surprise.

Jessica and I took the metro to Osaka Castle which was the official residence of the “Joban” who was one of the Tokugawa Shogunate ministers during the Edo period. Construction began in 1583. The castle grounds are extensive and you can see the remains of the castle walls and where the moat had been once been. I met my friend Yenni there, whom I had previously met in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. It’s crazy how you can continuously run into the same travelers around the world! Afterwards, we tried some delicious takoyaki. I was too eager to eat it and ended up burning the roof of my mouth very badly. Lesson learned: let it cool before trying it!

In the evening, Jessica and I walked to Dōtonbori, a neighbourhood famous for nightlife and entertainment. It looks exciting with all of the illuminated sign boards, however, the streets were almost empty. There was hardly anyone there, nonetheless, we enjoyed walking around and taking everything in.

July 11, 2017 – Onomichi

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Jessica and I ended up taking the wrong bus in the wrong direction for about an hour before we realized we were in Kure and not Onomichi. However, the bus ride was so lovely we didn’t mind too much, and we enjoyed our spontaneous trip.

On our second try, we got on the correct bus headed for Onomichi, a small picturesque port town. Onomichi is known as a town of hills, literature, and movies. It also features ancient temples and former residences of writers, and it has been the setting of many novels and movies (such as Tokyo Story). Moreover, it is also the Shimanami Kaido, the “holy land” for cyclists in Japan.

We caught the Mt. Senkoji Ropeway (a gondola) to the top of the mountain where you can look out at the spectacular view of the town, ocean, and nearby islands. There was also a cute statue at the top of two cats in a heart called “Yumi Katsura Lover’s Sanctuary” which declared the land as a “Lovers Sanctuary”. We walked down the mountain along the Path of Literature. Unfortunately, Jessica and I couldn’t read any of the signs because they were in Japanese. Near the bottom of the path leaving Senkouji Temple and Tennoji Temple, you enter a residential section, where you can find many cats along the narrow streets. This street is better known as “Cat Path”!

We nonchalantly explored the sleepy town in search of food. Unfortunately, most of the restaurants were closed on Tuesdays, even along Onomichi Hondori Shopping Street. We did finally come across one café that served pancakes! We had to stop and try some!

July 10, 2017 – Miyajima Island

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Jessica and I got to Miyajima Island in about an hour from Hiroshima. Miyajima Island has been regarded as an “Island of God” since ancient times and is famously known for the O-torii Gate and Itsukushima Shrine. According to my ticket:

the Itsukushima Shrine was first built in 593, then rebuilt by Taira-no-kiyomori in 1168 on the same scale as it is today… It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in December 1996… Miyajima Island has been worshiped as a divine island since ancient times. This is why the shrine was built on the seashore where the tide ebbs and flows. The contrast of the blue sea, green hills, and the vivid vermilion-laquered shrine is breathtakingly beautiful.”

Upon reaching the island, we were greeted by the semi-wild deer that live there. After seeing the famous O-torii Gate and Itsukushima Shrine, we climbed up Mt. Misen and saw several other temples along the way. As we walked up the path, we got some great views and were wary of the poisonous snakes residing on the island. The top of Mount Misen was spectacular as it encompassed a 360-degree view. There are also some famous boulders at the top. According to legends, the largest rock is called “Iwakura-ishi” on which God sits for guarding the island.

On our way back down the mountain, we did spot a snake but we believe it was not poisonous. We continued our walk over a couple bridges with gorgeous maple trees on either side. Once we got back to the town we spotted the “largest rice scoop in the world”. Produced between 1980 and 1983, today it is regarded as a lucky ornament which scoops up happiness, good fortune, and victory, as well as being practically useful.

Jessica and I tried the local specialties including oysters and maple cookies. Yummy!

We went back to the O-torii Gate again to see it during low tide. Make sure to check when high tide and low tide are to ensure you can see it at both times!

July 9, 2017 – Bird Cafe and Sukkien Garden

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Jessica loves birds and I’m a little afraid of them, so I thought it would be great to visit a Bird Cafe! We had lunch there and then had the option of holding two birds each. I choose an African parrot and a cute owl! I’m not sure what species they were specifically because all of the displays were in Japanese. It was a lot of fun just hanging out there and the staff were lovely.

In the afternoon, the two of us walked to the Shukkeien Garden, which literally means Shruken Scenery Park. Construction of Shukkeien was begun in 1620, the year following Asano Nagaakira’s installation as Daimyō (feudal lord) of Hiroshima. It expresses the idea of collecting and miniaturizing many scenic views. It is also famous for beautiful flowers. The garden presents the four seasons and is designated as an outstanding beautiful spot by the government. I loved it there and even spent some time meditating.

July 8, 2017 – A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, and Hiroshima Castle

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For breakfast, we stopped by my favourite Japanese bakery called “One Coin Bakery” because everything costs about 100 yen (about $1.00 CAD). They offer many delicious sweets along with Japanese style buns with hot dogs, fried chicken and potatoes, and even one with noodles inside!

The A-Bomb Dome was designed by Czech architect Jan Letzel and was completed in April 1915. At 8:15 am, August 6, 1945, an American B29 bomber carried out the world’s first atomic bombing. It exploded 600 meters above the city. It ripped through the building (and most of the city) killing everyone instantly. In 1996, the A-bomb Dome was registered on the World Heritage List, as it is one of the last remaining building from that time, which is now preserved. It stands as a memorial to the bombing. Standing outside the decrepit building, I can’t even imagine how the survivors must have felt after that day.  It’s an odd juxtaposition against the modern city skyline.

Afterwards, Jessica and I walked a few minutes away to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The park is a symbol of hope for perpetual world peace and total abolition of nuclear weapons. It indeed feels peaceful. There, we visited the Bell of Peace, the Children’s Peace Monument, and the Memorial Cenotaph, Peace Flame, and Peace Bell.

At the far end of the park lies Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (200 yen) which holds many artifacts from the bombing and describes the war in detail. It also collects and displays belongings left by the victims, as well as photos and other materials that convey the horror of that event. In total there are three levels which include sections on Hiroshima’s history, video testimonies from survivors, the dangers of nuclear weapons, and more. I find it truly baffling that nearly 92 percent of the city’s 76,000 buildings were destroyed or badly damaged and by the end of December 1945, around 140,000 people had died. According to the museum, “Hiroshima’s deepest wish is the elimination of all nuclear weapons and the realization of a genuinely peaceful international community.” I highly recommend this museum.

Next, the two of us visited the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. Established by the Japanese Government in 2002, it is a place where one can remember the atomic bomb victims and think about peace. Guests can also search and view photos of the deceased and read a list of their names. It was very somber, yet peaceful.

On our way to Hiroshima Castle, we stopped at the Hypocenter, the exact spot where the bomb exploded 600 meters in the air. Just signified by a plaque, today, it looks like any other street in town.

Hiroshima Castle was established by Mori Terumoto, one of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s council of “Five Great Elders”. It is representative of a flatland castle. It is also known the “Carp Castle” since the area where the castle was built was then called oi-no-ura and “Koi” means carp in Japanese, the castle was given the nickname “Carp Castle” in later years. The observation tower at the top is lovely to look out from. You experience a great view of the city. The preceding floors have several displays about the history of the castle as well as some weapons and armour.

In the evening, we stopped at a Jazz club and enjoyed the jam session that was taking place.

July 4-7, 2017 – Couchsurfing in Hiroshima

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During my first few days in Japan, I stayed with a lovely couchsurfing host in Hiroshima named Matsue. Although she worked during the day, she made time to see me in the evening, which was great. Mitsue taught me several Japanese phrases and about the culture of Japan. She also introduced me to a friend of hers who I went bowling with another day.

During the daytime, I explored Hiroshima’s sights on my own including Hon Dori Street and Hiroshima Peace Park. Hiroshima is known as the international city of peace, the city of rivers, and as a symbol of reconstruction. I instantly fell in love with it when I arrived and I could easily see myself living there in the future. Its population is only one million people, but it still has a small town feeling to it. Everything is very walkable.

While meandering around town I also ran into Robin, a guy that I had met in Cambodia. We went out for Hiroshima style okonomiyaki and caught up! It was great to see him again.

My friend Jessica from Vancouver arrived quite jetlagged on the 7th, but we ended up going out anyway!

Cultural Notes and Observations: Hong Kong

  • Great Metro System! You can use your “Octopus” card to get everywhere as well as pay for items in stores, and many other things
  • Very international
  • Leaking air conditioners – puddles of water on city streets
  • Clean water, but the pipes are old so most people still drink bottled or filtered water

Foods I’ve Tried:

  • Milk fish
  • Pineapple pork bun (dim sum)
  • Giant fish ball from Chang Chu Island
  • Mango mochi
  • Lots of Chinese food

July 1, 2017 – Celebrating the Return of Hong Kong to the Motherland

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On July 1st I celebrated the “Return to the Motherland” with Irene and Joanne by going to see the fireworks. According to the website hong-kong-traveller, “July 1st in Hong Kong is a public holiday that commemorates the Anniversary of the Establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region or the handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to Mainland China in 1997.” It was insanely busy trying to watch them from the Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) side of Victoria Harbour. The metro was so packed security was rerouting people so they could only exit certain ways. I’m glad I was able to find Joanne and Irene okay.

The three of us were caught in a crowd on the street and we watched the fireworks from there. Just after they started it started pouring rain! I was so glad I had an umbrella. Four guys ended up huddling underneath it with me because they had no rain jackets or umbrellas. The fireworks display were insane! They had ones that exploded into hearts, flowers, and other shapes.

The following days I had lunch with two of my old friends from residence! Natalie and Irene. I helped my friend Hunter on his law paper as well.

 

June 30, 2017 – Cheung Chau Island with Natalie

Nat

Hanging out with Natalie on Cheung Chau Island

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Natalie and I caught the ferry to Cheung Chau Island. It is a small, car-less island that is perfect for day-trips or weekend getaways, especially for couples. It has a very laid back and friendly feel to it.

The two of us walked along the narrow streets and promenade along the shore. As we crossed the island, we came upon Yuk Hui Temple. It was literally on the edge of the newly created basketball court. What an interesting use of space!

We continued to a beautiful sandy beach called Tung Wan Beach. Unfortunately, by 10:00 am it was already too hot to lie on and there was no shade in sight. So instead, Natalie and I walked on the “Mini Great Wall of China” which was very cute! Everything on the island is much closer than I thought.

Afterwards, we grabbed lunch and headed to see Cheung Po Tsai Cave, which was named after a famous pirate born in the Hong Kong area. The cave was a very small crevice hidden between large boulders along the shoreline.

For lunch, we stopped and tried some Mango mochi and famously large and delicious fish balls. I love mango and mochi, so the combination of both was amazing!