When I finally meandered down to the lobby around 9 am, the first sight I saw was magical: large white snowflakes coming down fast and furiously. As I stepped outside, however, my enthusiasm (and clothes) was dampened by what was apparently sleet (very wet snow that turned to slush as soon as it hit the ground). In addition, the winds were so high that they almost ripped the umbrella out of my hands. But it made for several gorgeous photos as I sought refuge in the Starbucks on the second floor of the NHK Building across the street (Stevie Wonder's "Superwoman" was on).
After a few minutes sipping my coffee and trying to dry out, I headed back across the bridge to the Peace Memorial Museum and the Rest House to get stamps. By that time, the snow had let up. The very nice man at the Tourist Information Center gave me detailed information about Miyajima and the Hiroshima Castle, and I also saw an advertisement for an Impressionist exhibit at the Hiroshima Museum of Art, which I ended up going to next (on foot).
The Hiroshima Museum of Art had a very nice exhibit on Japanese Impressionist painters and the inspiration of the Seine, along with several gems by Sissley, Monet, Pissaro, Van Gogh, and Renoir. The Japanese Impressionists were the most surprising find; I can only imagine how much culture shock those early artistic pioneers must have gone through facing French culture, food and architecture (no kotatsu heaters, etc.).
I found the castle without too much difficulty, although I initially almost walked away, thinking I'd seen all of the ruins (part of the wall surrounding a muddy courtyard). But when I looked at my map, I saw that there was a path to the restored castle, which I followed around through the mud and dripping rain. I got a few good photos of the castle's exterior; the interior was the standard, sometimes-translated collection of samurai swords (several floors), samurai armor (including a try-on corner / photo op), and artifacts from the castle. The original castle was destroyed by the A-Bomb, and the reconstruction dates from 1959. Per my usual tradition, I purchased a castle coin and had my name and date stamped on it (I also have coins for Todaiji at Nara, Komaki and Nagoya castles).
Next, I walked over to Shukkei-en, the "shrunken gardens" behind the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum (didn't go to the museum itself, figuring that I'd enjoyed the Impressionist paintings more). Despite the overcast sky, the gardens were beautiful, featuring miniaturized landscapes based on Chinese ones. There was at least one teahouse, a wooden rowboat, and numerous bridges and small rocky islands with seabirds (egrets?).
From Shukkei-en, I walked back over to Hiroshima Station to catch a local train to Miyajimaguchi. Despite what my tourbook said, it took much less time (about 35 minutes compared to 55) to get to Miyajimaguchi, where it was a short walk to the JR ferry terminal and a 10-minute ferry ride to the island. I got a couple of good shots of the torii shrine from boat as we approached.
As it was the Oyster Festival, there were numerous booths set up right by the ferry dock and oyster shells littering the ground, which the resident deer were frantically licking. People were walking around with steaming bowls and chopsticks (but it didn’t smell “fishy,” thankfully). Hiroshima grows 60% of Japan’s oysters, and they were everywhere along the path to Itsukushima Shrine. The other island specialty is momiji manju, maple-shaped cookies filled with sweet bean paste. I didn’t buy any to take back as office gifts, because they’re in the range of $15—20 a box. I’m playing the “visiting gaijin” card, so I haven’t been bringing back food on every trip or I’d be bankrupt! The Japanese are expected to bring back food gifts every time they visit a different city, region or country, and it gets expensive quickly.
It was fun wandering through the narrow streets filled with tacky souvenirs (the island is also famous for rice scoops), momiji manju shops with automated presses at work, hawkers yelling in sing-song Japanese, and the deer chasing down any food prospects. Once at the shrine, there was a Shinto wedding (or Shinto wedding photos) going on, although the bride and groom were dressed very traditionally (and modestly) with photographers in tow. I ran into them several times throughout the day.
People were lined up on the boardwalk having their pictures taken framed by the torii gate, but I didn’t want to wait in the 40-something deep line (and didn’t really want to hand my camera over to strangers). One great thing about Japan, which isn’t so great traveling solo: there’s always a great photo op: dressing up in samurai costumes, posing on whales or shachihoko, etc., but you need a handy photographer!
I continued around the other side of the shrine to a small Buddhist temple, then another which I entered to see the Treasure Hall, which had a nice collection of Korean ceramics, scrolls, and vases and carvings. From there, I hiked up to the Five-Story Pagoda (you can’t enter) and an open-air, weather-beaten Shinto shrine with amazing weathered paintings that are periodically replaced.
From there, I hiked back down to the shore, parked myself on a bench, and enjoyed a Coke Zero and green tea sweet bread break free of any deer as I watched the sun slowly sink towards the mountains across the shore. I snapped one final picture of the torii gate before boarding the ferry and heading back to Hiroshima, capping off the evening with a café mocha at the Asse Starbucks and foraging for food at several stores, hopping off the streetcar to make one last stop at Pompadour before heading home and crashing. All and all, a most enjoyable visit to Hiroshima.