Travel

Our Travels: Mbithe in Japan | Part Three

(Read Part Two here!)

And the story continues! In this part, I’ll share about our study trip to Hiroshima and Kyoto. If you’re interested in Japan, you’ve probably heard about the shinkansen (新幹線 – sometimes called the bullet train). Going at up to 320 km/h, these trains move… well, pretty fast. My first shinkansen ride was from Osaka to Hiroshima, the first stop on our study trip. Osaka and Hiroshima are about 330 km apart, and the trip took about an hour and twenty minutes (as opposed to the 6 hours it would have taken by bus).

waiting-for-sakura-shinkansen

Waiting for our train! We were on the Sakura (さくら, cherry blossom) train 🙂

inside-the-shinkansen

Inside the shinkansen, passing through one of the numerous tunnels on the way to Hiroshima. Super comfortable, right?

shinkansen-selfies

Because selfies are practically a way of life these days. 😀 Timea was my seatmate for the train ride! The picture on the right of Nastya and Nadja – and me photo-bombing behind them – was taken on the bus that met us at the train station in Hiroshima.

fancy-lunch-in-hiroshima

The centre treated us to a fancy lunch as soon as we arrived at Hiroshima. I can’t remember the name of the hotel, but we had uniformed waiters waiting on us and filling our glasses every time they got too close to empty. I could get used to that! 😀

dessert

My favourite part – dessert! Fruit, an assortment of cakes, and waffles and fresh cream, with chocolate, strawberry, and caramel sauce! Take me back!

So interesting thing – the day we arrived in Hiroshima, was the day of the infamous Typhoon Goni. The sensei-tachi advised us to buy umbrellas at the hyaku en shoppu in advance to prepare for the typhoon. Hiroshima wasn’t too badly affected, but the weather was pretty horrible with some rain and really strong gusts of wind… my hyaku en shoppu umbrella tried its best but sadly fell victim to the powerful wind. 🙁 We had originally planned to visit Miyajima Island that first day, but because of the typhoon the ferry wasn’t in operation. So we visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park instead (which was to be the second day’s agenda). It was a sad yet enlightening experience to visit the park, which was built in memory of the atomic bomb that was dropped on the city on August 6, 1945.

beautiful-autumn-leaves

This is my attempt at an artistic shot – highlighting the juxtaposition between my pink-and-grey striped shoes and the yellow-brown leaves. Never mind that I last heard the word “juxtaposition” in high school and am only vaguely aware of its exact definition. Humour me, people.

a-bomb-dome

The A-bomb Dome (Genbaku Dōmu) was the only structure left standing near the bomb’s hypocenter. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Everyone inside the building was killed instantly.

a-bomb-dome-before-the-bomb

A photograph of the A-bomb Dome as it was before the bomb, when it was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. It was completed in April 1915.

ota-river-hiroshima-peace-memorial-park

Many people jumped into this river – Ota River – seeking relief from the bomb’s effects. Unfortunately many still did not survive and corpses were seen floating on the river’s surface.

peace-bell-hiroshima

One of the three peace bells in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

We also went into the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It was really, really sad. There were some remnants of items of the victims of the bomb, such as watches and articles of clothing, together with touching stories about the victims. There were also video stations where you could watch videos of survivors telling their stories, translated into various languages.

After this, we went to Aki Grand Hotel, where we were to stay that night. The hotel was one of my best experiences so far. We stayed in traditional Japanese rooms, had a traditional Japanese dinner (where we were all dressed in identical yukatas), and best of all, there was an onsen!!

traditional-japanese-dinner

Our traditional Japanese dinner.

dinner-aki-grand-hotel

We were all dressed in identical yukatas – which also served as robes from the hotel! 🙂

onsen-aki-grand-hotel

This is the actual onsen where I went! Lovely, right? See the “shower stations” in the background? And before you jump to all sorts of conclusions, no, I didn’t sneak my phone in and take a photo. I got this picture from the hotel website. 😀

For the uninitiated, an onsen is a public bath. They are very popular in Japan as a way to relax and unwind after a long hard day. After visiting one, I have to say the Japanese have the right idea about relaxation! It was amazing. Here’s how it works: there are two separate onsens, one for men, and one for women. Each onsen is separate and well-hidden, so you can’t stumble into the onsen by accident. No one can peep and see what’s going on. Cameras are not allowed and taking photographs is forbidden, for obvious reasons. You aren’t allowed to wear any clothing in the onsen. Not a stitch.

First, you wash your body thoroughly. At the hotel, there was an area just for washing, with several “shower stations”. They provided shower gel and face wash at each station, as well as a stool for sitting on, and one of those hand-held shower heads. The shower stations were pretty much in the open, not enclosed or partitioned, so you couldn’t really hide (although with everyone sitting on the stools and facing the wall, no one could see what they weren’t strictly entitled to). Next, when you’re all nice and clean, you walk into the onsen, sit back, relax, and enjoy. 🙂 The actual onsen is like a heated pool of water. The hotel we were staying at had three different pools, so it was nice to enjoy all of them. It was honestly a great experience, nowhere near as awkward as you’d imagine it to be. It helps to know that everybody is there with the same agenda: to relax and unwind. Knowing that, you’ll be able to let go of your inhibitions and relax as well! You’d be surprised at the awesome conversations that can be had in an onsen. Timea, Richie, and I actually ended up having a lovely heart-to-heart about guys… but that’s a story for another day! 😀

sleepover-aki-grand-hotel

Sleepover in our Japanese -style room! 😀

The following day we went to Miyajima Island (宮島- shrine island), also known as the island of gods. It is home to Itsukushima Shrine, a World Heritage site, whose gate (torii) appears to float on the surface of the water at high tide.

The ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima. Yes, those are seats and a television in the ferry. Take notes, Likoni!! :D

The ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima. Yes, those are seats and a television in the ferry. Take notes, Likoni!! 😀

floating-torii-miyajima-island

The famous torii (shrine gate) that seems to float on the sea.

miyajima-island-deer

Miyajima, like Nara Park, is home to many deer. Only difference is there is no deer food sold in Miyajima. Miyajima deer will eat and chew on anything, including paper, souvenirs and clothes! This deer just spontaneously grabbed someone’s map with its teeth… and refused to let go! 😀

toyokuni-shrine-miyajima

The five-storied pagoda of Toyokuni Shrine

Later that day, we went to Kyoto! It was Melissa’s birthday, so Giang, Nadja, Nastya and I sneaked off to buy her a cake and birthday card. Then that night, about 35 of us went to some restaurant near the hotel we were staying and threw her a surprise party with dinner and lots of cake! The only spanner in the works was that the waitress didn’t split our bill… so we ended up with a huge bill for 35 people, together with miscellaneous costs like sitting charge and tax!! It was an absolute nightmare trying to figure out who owed what… in the end a couple of people just paid the balance and we left!

happy-birthday-melissa

Happy birthday, Melissa! Cake and sake makes for a good celebration 🙂

The following day we had a free day in Kyoto, dedicated to sightseeing! We went to Arashiyama, the bamboo forest, as well as Fushimi Inari Shrine. Later that day we went to Nishiki Market, a shopping street lined with shops and restaurants. We also tried to spot some geishas in Gion (祇園), Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. We weren’t lucky. 🙁 I also got to cross one item off my bucket list – visiting a neko (猫 – cat) café. A neko café is a place where you pay to hang out with cats. 🙂

arashiyama-bamboo-forest

Arashiyama, the bamboo forest.

fushimi-inari-shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is famous for its thousands of shrine gates (torii) that go all the way up a mountain.

map-fushimi-inari-shrine

A map showing all the shrine gates all the way up the mountain. We got to about an eighth of the way and then gave up. 😀

neko-cafe-kyoto

Hanging out with my very spoiled, very pampered feline friends. 😀

kinkakuji-temple-kyoto

The beautiful Kinkakuji (金閣寺 – Temple of the Golden Pavilion), a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, whose top two stories are covered with pure gold leaf.

And with that our study trip to Kyoto and Hiroshima came to an end! Even though touring was great, we all missed the centre and Rinku Town a lot! I almost cried with joy when I saw our ferris wheel on the way back home, and I was practically kissing the walls when I got back to the centre (mostly because there’s nothing quite as nice as having a room all to yourself!). 😀

That’s it for Part Three! (Is it just me, or was this post really long? Sorry!) Part Four is the next and final part of this series. Until then, why don’t you subscribe to The Wondercores blog and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram?

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Mbithe is a software developer at Andela and loves all things tech! You can probably find her sitting barefoot somewhere writing beautiful code while singing along to really loud Japanese music. 🙂

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  • Tímea Tóth

    The night in Hiroshima was so much fun♡ The onsen was really refreshing^^ The story you told there that how you and your boyfriend met it was so romantic:33 and then the late night haagen dazs ice cream? It was an unforgottable experience and you wrote it down so well i felt i was there again? Many kisses Timi♡

    • Köszönöm szépen Tímeaちゃん!! Such a sweet comment 🙂 Miss you!! ♡

      • Tímea Tóth

        Awww it’s in Hungarian:DD You’re so sweet I miss you so much♡♡ I hope we can have another skype session in the near future:33The night in Hiroshima was so much fun♡ The onsen was really refreshing^^ The story you told there that how you and your boyfriend met it was so romantic:33 and then the late night haagen dazs ice cream? It was an unforgottable experience and you wrote it down so well i felt i was there again? Many kisses Timi♡

      • Tímea Tóth

        Aww its in Hungarian:DD You’re so sweet i miss you so much♡♡ I hope we can have another skype session soon:3

  • Melissa Tavarez Lopez

    I definately won’t forget the surprise birthday party you made for me!!! I was so happy ^o^!!

    • You deserved it Melissa! 🙂 Thanks for reading! Hugs!! ♡ Xx

  • Xin Ying

    Mbithe awwwh reading your post bring me back to our trip. miss you guys so so so much!!!

    • I’ll never forget how we brought you over to the dark side by making you eat ice-cream past ten!!! 😀 Thanks for reading Xin Ying!! Miss you! ♡ Xx

  • Federico

    Oh my god now I wanna go back to the ryokan so badly omggggggggg The meals and the onsen were absolute bliss.

    And Melissa’s birthday… what an experience! I think I still have the receipt somewhere among the stuff I brought from Japan.

    As always, this is wonderfully worded, Mbithe! And trust me, your use of “juxtaposition” is fine, this is coming from a soon-to-be linguist 😛

    Looking forward to the next part of the series 🙂

    • Thanks Federico! And thank you again for sorting out all the calculations for the bill nightmare!! 😀 Hugs!! ♡ Xx

  • My first ever onsen experience was with my sensei! We had gone on a field trip and the only means for bathing was a shower in the onsen…there I was, feeling awkward, and nervous. I remember my sensei was instructing me all through; where I should leave my clothes, and preliminaries before the real onsen experience. All in our birthday suits..haha! I liked it though 😉

    • Lol that does sound awkward! 😀 But I’m glad you ended up liking it. 🙂

      • I know…haha! I think it reminded me of my childhood days huku ocha swimming in the river in our birthday suits 😉

  • Annbeatrice Njarara

    I would probably write a paragraph of comments but i will keep this short. Is it only me or this blog is getting addictive? Once again great way with your words been smiling the whole time. Am so fascinated by onsen it sounded so weird at first but hey you made it seem so easy. I should make a point of visiting Japan SOON!! Keep at it….

    • Aww thanks for reading Ann! 🙂 I think Japan should be on everyone’s bucket list! 😀

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  • savvykenya

    What an amazing experience you had!