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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

7 November 2015

Oh, Tori!

12 October 2015

Today we flew by bullet train back across the country to Miyajima, an island just off the coast from Hiroshima. The most memorable thing about the shinkansen bullet trains isn’t the speed, as that’s quite hard to notice from the inside (and besides, I’m sure the difference between shinkansen and UK trains isn’t as marked as it was back in the 80’s). The most memorable thing is how comfortable the reclinable seats are, and how beautiful and odour-free the high-tech toilets are. I’m just saying.

The O-Torii of Miyajima

The O-Torii of Miyajima


There are three cool things about our day in Miyajima:

  1. The island has amazing views of Japan’s “inland sea” from the top, though admittedly it is a 500+ metre knee-knackering hike through the woods to get to the top of the hill. We managed it in a record-breaking 45 minutes because Maureen is a nut-case. Certain other people took the cablecar up. Yes, we did know there is a cablecar, but with so much good eating and sitting on trains in a holiday it’s important to hike! The views are amazing, however you get up there, but so panoramic that it’s hard for a camera to do justice
  2. Just off the shore there is the “O Torii”, a single free-standing tori that has been there since the middle ages (its position in the water indicating that the entire island should be considered a Buddhist shrine). It’s a terrifically photogenic thing, especially when the tide comes in. Given it’s UNESCO world-heritage status it was surprising to see tour boats cruising right through the tori after dark!
  3. We are having our first stay in a traditional Japanese ryokan, and this one – Iwaso – is apparently quite a historic one.

The inland sea from Miyajima

The inland sea from Miyajima


There are many fun things about the ryokan experience. It’s fun to be served a cup of green tea and a bun in your room upon arrival. It’s fun to wander around the hotel (and indeed, wander out around the island) in your yukata – the simple cotton dressing-gown that comes with your room. It’s fun, and relaxing, to have a wash and a soak in the onsen – the hot spring bath in the basement, though you need to not mind bathing naked with other guys (or girls as the case may be). It’s fun to have a private kaiseki dinner (while wearing your yukata, of course). It’s fun to sleep on the floor on a futon, which your maid lays out for you while you’re at dinner.
Staying in a Ryokan

Staying in a Ryokan


However, fun though it is there’s some sense of tradition-for-the-sake-of-tradition about it (rather than the pure comforts of a posh B&B, which ryokans are often compared with). There’s nowhere to put luggage, indeed we later read “it is recommended not to come to a ryokan with suitcases etc”. There’s no hanging space. There’s no shower or bath in your room – shy or not, you use the onsen! There’s no TV (no problem for us). It’s perhaps no surprise that most Japanese stay in a more familiar hotel format these days, and that the more modern ryokans include things like wardrobes and private bathrooms as a concession to modernity.

Still, I loved it. And I loved staying on the island, as it meant we could wander about (in yukatas!) and admire the O-Torii by night after the swarms of day-trippers had long gone.

Relaxed at Iwaso ryokan

Relaxed at Iwaso ryokan


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