Hiroshima

We had a 5:45 AM wake up time this morning to go watch the monks during their morning prayer at Koyasan Onsen Fuchin. We were taken into the main hall and sat Indian style in lines behind this very ornate, golden wall. We faced the central area where the monks worked. There were 4 of them that vocalized a mix of chant-singing for about 50 minutes. It was so cold in the temple that we could see our breath as we sat and watched, but it was immensely tranquil. I tried to meditate a little as I listened to their soothing voices. Again, our stay in Mt. Koya was very unique and special experience that won’t be found anywhere else.

After the prayer, we went back to our meal room for our vegetarian, monk-style breakfast. It was… different. Again, we were not a big fan of the gelatin like consistency of some of the food, but the flavors were well put together and it felt good to eat veggies after so many carbs.

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Once we finished up breakfast, grabbed our bags, and headed down the street to hop on the bus, then the rail car, then to the train, pit stopped for lunch in one of the interim stations. We tried to book seat reservations on the next JR train but it was sold out so, instead of trying to rush to the unreserved section and pray for a seat on the 1.5 hour trip, we opted for the later train and took a longer lunch in between to relax. It gave us all a sense of relief since we had plenty of time to enjoy and then get to the front of the unreserved line.

Overall, Ryan, my sister, and I have had plenty of luck getting 3 seats together in the unreserved areas, but my parents bought the upgraded passes and their cars have been harder to get seats together in advance. If you get to the train station 15 to 20 minutes prior to the train, you should not have a problem getting an unreserved seat on the JR lines. Just book in advance if you have the priority train car tickets.

Finally, we arrived at Hiroshima station. Hiroshima was bustling but not nearly as crowded as the other cities we visited. Our JR passes covered the quick bus ride to our hotel stop and we were checked into the Hiroshima Washington Hotel quickly and easily. The hotel was quite nice and my sister Julia had her own room this time since I couldn’t find a 3 person room. Ryan and I got some much needed alone time. It is amazing how valuable alone time gets for decompression when you are traveling in a group for a long period of time!

We decided to spend the day at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. We walked through a very cool shopping area and into the Memorial park. Being in Hiroshima brought on some weird feelings, especially as the sky was full of sunlight but it was raining lightly.

We found our way to the entrance of the Museum and headed in. Watching videos of the Hiroshima nuclear bombing survivors talk about that day and the impacts of the radiation on their bodies or those of their friends was so incredibly sad. For context, after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the US dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 5th 1945 and then another one on Nagasaki three days later in the hopes of ending the war. Japan did surrender, but the impact of those bombs lasted long after the war was over. The bombs wiped out both cities with only a few buildings remaining. One of those buildings is called the Atomic Bomb Dome, and you can see it within the park.

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Outside of the building destruction, the bombs killed hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children. Entire family lineages were gone in an instant. Those who survives were badly hurt and the radiation from the bombs had a whole host of terrible side effects including cancer later on in life. Overall, it was a very humbling museum and greatly reinforced that nuclear war cannot occur moving forward.

Our moods were solemn as we exited the museum and walked through the rest of the park to the Children’s Memorial. While the bombings were done in the name of war to end even more potential loss of life, it was hard to rationalize why two bombs were needed and how they was justified.

It was getting late, so we opted to find some food through the long streets of the shopping area. My sister, Ryan, and I split off from my parents and got Okonomiyaki seafood pancakes. After enjoying them so much in Tokyo with our guide Misa, we wanted to have them one more time before the end of the trip. They were OK at the place we chose but helped us end our craving for them in future.

After dinner, we walked through some shops and then got some crapes for desert. Mine was strawberry ice cream with bananas and strawberries. Sooo good!

Ice cream crepe in Hiroshima, Japan

We met some Marines from the US while we were eating the crapes and they told us they had been turned away from some restaurants that were pretty empty. After seeing what we did at the museums, it makes sense that there would still be some animosity towards Americans in Hiroshima. You really can’t blame them for it.

It was pretty cold out so we found a café over looking the street and had some tea to wind down the night. I got traditional tea, but Julia and Ryan opted for this orange marmalade tea which was scrumptious!

After our tea, it was back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.


Mt. Koya

Today marked our travel day from Osaka to Mt. Koya to stay in a Buddhist temple. We decided to visit Mt. Koya at the recommendation of one of my dearest, Japanese culture-loving friends, Lauren. Boy was she spot on with this recommendation!

We met my parents in the hotel lobby for breakfast and walked about a mile to find a place suitable for my mom for breakfast. After poo-pooing on 3 options, she finally settled on Tullys – again. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Tully’s is good, but we need to add some diversity to our breakfast routine. We told my mom it was the last “Tully’s breakfast” of the trip and she said “we will see”. Of course, that means “no”. Haha! If mom’s not happy, no one is happy, right?

We grabbed some snacks for the 2 hour train ride to Mt. Koya and hit the train station. We ended up missing the express train but the extra 30-minutes on the regular train was not bad. We had great views, some snacks, and all got time to decompress.

Once we arrived at the station, we hopped onto the cable car which took us up this insanely steep slope to the top of the mountain. It was packed with people and I cannot even begin to fathom how they installed the cable car on just a steep incline.

It took about 10 minutes to get to the top and then we hopped on a short bus ride which dropped us off right in front of the Koyasan Onsen Fuchin. The lodging was part temple, part onsen (Japanese baths), with Japanese style rooms. We were not able to check in yet so layered up in jackets and scarves before heading out to explore. It was pretty darn cold in comparison to the 60 degree weather in Osaka!

We decided to find a spot for lunch and ended up at this little place at a traditional style table where you sit on a high platform, on a pillow, around a short table. Ryan almost wouldn’t fit!

My sister and I split some sushi and I had a delicious tempura udon. The food was so filling and warm on such a cold day!

After paying, we took off to find the temples and renowned cemetery. There is a grouping of temples on one side of town which were all different styles and pretty amazing to look at and explore.

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Photos are not allowed inside the temples but there are a ton of gold ornaments and sculptures very similar to those in Thailand. They were quite stunning.

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We then took off to the other side of the town for the Okunoin Cemetery. You can do cemetery tours at night but we opted to walk it during the day so we could see it more clearly, not freeze completely, and be back to the onsen in time for our 5:30 dinner.

The cemetery was awe inspiring. The faded light coming through the trees, slight fog in the air, moss that covered the monoliths and huge trees that went up 100’s of feet in the air gave the whole place such and ancient, eerie and sacred feeling.

I could have stayed in there taking it all in for hours but my mom was on a mission. She was speed walking ahead of us so fast that we lost her for a good 20 minutes! When we finally caught up, we had arrived at the Okunoin temple. It has over ten thousand lanterns inside and is absolutely magical. We were able to go inside and take it all in and then we went to a side building that had even more yellow lit, golden lanterns. It was well worth taking our shoes on and off to go inside.

The whole walk was well worth the hour or so trek. We spotted a sweets shop on the way back and grabbed a few to sample. A lot of the sweets in Japan have red bean inside and have a gluggy consistency with pastry on the outside. Super good and filling though.

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We got back to the Fuchin and checked in. We had to leave our shoes at the door and wear special red shoes within the buildings. We were brought up to our small room that kind of smelt like straw. There was a small table in the middle and we settled in with some tea. We also had to wear robes around the building and to our meals!

Once 5:30 hit, we went to room 23 for our multi-course Royal dinner. The dinner we had was monks’ cuisine (shojin ryori) and completely vegetarian!

There were so many things to try and they kept bringing in more dishes. Quite a bit of the food had a gelatin consistency which we weren’t too keen on but, overall, the food was delicious. Ryan tried this one piece of spongy white tofu (or something related to it) and , when he bit into it, all of this liquid came out. He flipped and couldn’t stop laughing at how strangely foreign it was! The rest of us tried it but didn’t get very far into it… It barely touched my lips before going straight back into the bowl. Amazing how new food textures can create such a different dining experience.

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After dinner, my sister and I decided to try out the onsen. Japanese baths are separated by men and women because you get completely naked and are not allowed to wear swim suits. We walked down in our robes and took our shoes off to be pleasantly surprised that the floors were heated! Thank goodness because it was only 30 degrees or so in the temple’s halls!

Once disrobed, we had to wash ourselves off in a shower station in the central bath room. There was a big shallow bath pool inside, which was too hot for us, and then a outdoor rock pool. We were the only ones there and chatted for a good 30 minutes before anyone else joined. It seemed like everyone finished their dinner around 7 and had the same idea as us because a huge group came and it was far too crowded to stay in the onsen so we headed back to the room. Totally refreshed, we hopped in our Japanese style beds and passed out.

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