30.12.2013 - 31.12.2013 10 °C
After the Shinkansen ride to Hiroshima, we swapped onto the train and then ferry over to Miyajima Island, a UNESCO world heritage listed site set on the Seto Inland Sea. The island is a quaint village set around the Itsukushima Shrine and Mount Misen.
We spent the afternoon exploring the village, and trying not to drool over and stuff ourselves full with many oyster stalls and shops offering freshly baked Momiji cakes (maple leaf shaped cakes filled with a variety of flavourings, with custard being my favourite over green tea, chocolate or cream cheese) as dinner was supplied at our hotel that evening. We watched the sunset and incoming tide down on the beach overlooking the famous floating Otori Gate at the Shrine.
After sunset we headed to the hotel, a traditional Japanese Ryokan, where we would stay for the next two nights, sleeping on traditional futon beds on a tatami may floor,which were set up after we had eaten our Keiseki dinner of local produce served in the room. And what a feast it was. The first night was primarily oysters (fried and grilled in a hotpot at our table) but also sashimi; miso soup; some praws; a snail; oysters in a custard; and rice; followed by some custard for desert. It was sensational, or Oishikata as they say here.
The next morning we made our way back over to Hiroshima and did a quick walk around the castle, the A-Bomb Dome and the Peace Park. As it was New Year's Eve the museums and castle was closed to go inside, so we headed back on a boat direct from Hiroshima to Miyajima. We had a lunch of okonomiyaki (Hiroshima style) before setting off for Mount Misen. We took the ropeway that takes you about 3/4 of the way up the mountain, and then walked the remaining distance to the summit, which was about 20 mins and countless steps to get up there. However, despite it being a bit hazy, the views were spectacular as the sun was setting and worth the effort. However having now made it to the top, it was time to head back down, which we decide to take an alternate route to the ropeway we had come up on, and walk back down. Essentially, this was 3km of going down stairs, so needless to say by the end of it our legs were feeling it a bit.
We arrived back in town just on time to witness the Chinka-sai festival, which is a festival of lighting massive pine torches carried on the shoulders of about 10 men/boys as a ritual to guard against fires breaking out. Families also light smaller torches as a new year good fortune ritual. As far as New Years Eve's go, pretty hard to beat an experience like this.
Heading back to the hotel wearily and anticipating the second night we would be served the second local delicacy of eel (eeek!), we were a little apprehensive about dinner on night two. However, we had nothing to fear, and were served up an even bigger feast of sushi; sashimi; fugu (the poisonous puffer fish that can kill you if prepared incorrectly, which obviously this one was ok as I'm not dead yet writing this); something I think may have been abalone or some other type of clam type thing; oysters three different ways (mornay, with miso paste, and then in a soup hotpot); a special bowl of Soba noodles because it was New Year's Eve; and custard to finish again. Wow! We both could barely move afterwards, both from the food we had eaten but also because out legs were dead after walking and hiking throughout the day.
We crashed not long after dinner, and rose at sunrise to head down to the Shrine hoping for some cool photos of the Otori gate on sunrise. Whilst the sunrise didn't cooperate, we got the opportunity of going trough the shrine and picking up some new year charms and fortunes for ourselves, however need to wait until we see Yuka again on Saturday to translate what our fortune says!