Miyajima to Hiroshima (travel day two)

The next day I awoke feeling well rested which was just as well, I had a long day ahead. On my giant map of all of Japan, I reasoned that Miyajima and Hiroshima were perishingly close to each other and that I some of the shoreline I could see further up the coast was deffinately Hiroshima. I would walk there.

basically the same place anyway

I started strong with a sturdy stride and a spring in my flip-flops.



The flip-flops were the worst idea of my life (‘walking in Japan’-wise). While airy and springy (that was probably where most of the spring was coming from), they were also somehow magnifiers of the sun’s strength and had blister-enhancing technology. The entire ball part of my foot was aching half way there and by the time I had become delirious with heat, hunger and boredom of listening to the same audio book on my iPod*, I felt like I was walking on squishy pebbles.

At one point that sensation seemed to vanish in one foot, to be replaced by a slippery feeling and sharp pain, just letting me know that it had burst. For the rest of my time in Japan I was hobbling around, trying to simultaneously not put too much pressure on it, while walking it off. A month later (as I type) and not to labour the point, but they haven’t yet fully healed.

Back to the travel story – At the outskirts of Hiroshima I was having a little difficulty keeping my “follow the coastline” tactic. I found that trying to navigate with a clear map but when you are not sure exactly where you are, where you should be heading, have no clue as to landmarks, and can understand neither language actually written on the map in the blazing heat is not particularly easy.

Hiroshima city limits - if there's one thing to be said, it's that there are an awful lot of large bridges and sawmills along that coast

I ended up heading along a path way too North (somehow) and had to stop for directions as well as food and drinks in a 7 Eleven. I worked out exactly where I had gone wrong with the help of a lady working at the store. Have I mentioned how bloody helpful everyone is in Japan? Even in a foreign-chain convenience store like this, I was met with apologies and sincere thanks before I’d actually asked anything particularly complicated. The helpfulness extended beyond the call of duty when she reappeared at my side, where I was pouring over a city-level street map I’d found in the store and had no intention of paying for, introducing him as her brother and explaining that he would drive me to my hostel in town. I had somehow accidently hitchhiked. Throwing away my ambilions to complete my walking quest like the carton of 1/2 milk 1/2 coffee I’d just drank (and thrown in the bin), I abandoned my fool’s errand to take up a seat next to this friendly chap.

Habwaki Takata - a nice guy with a perchant for British Rock and Roll and a skill in imitating thunder and lightning (hitch no. 3)

Along the way I rolled out my standard carpet of pleasantries and embarased Japanese greetings. We discussed recent storms and whatnot, but I really enjoyed our little conversation about British music: “Every Japanese knows England-o singer The Beatles and Elton John-0”.

His helpfulness didn’t falter when I discovered that I didn’t know exactly where the hostel was, he wandered out and asked a taxi-driver! Bidding farewell, taking a snapshot and entering the hostel, my day’s walk was nearly over.

It wasn’t, I had to go out for cash to pay for the hostel. There are just NO cash machines in Japan within a 4-mile radius of each other I’m sure. I had a quick nap and a hobble off and up for road, snapping pictures of Hiroshima by evening light. I even made a quick night-time jaunt to Peace Park and a somewhat extended wander trying to find somewhere cheep to eat. I failed but bought some things at a supermarket and headed back to the hostel.

Hiroshima is famous for it's beautiful old trams (aside from being bombed to bloody-hell)

The view through the memorial in Peace Park, Hiroshima.

Daruma doll over a restaurant entrance

At the hostel I met a very chatty Californian kindergarten teacher (a real one) and two students from Michigan. The latter two were suitably impressed with my travel so far and general plan and gave me a train ticket because they probably wouldn’t need it! If it was good for the Shinkansen from Tokyo back to Fukuoka, my proposed total cost of Japanese travel would be £0. I was quite excited and very grateful.

I didn't get a picture of them in Japan, but this is from when we visited a folk village when they came to stay with me in Korea.

I finished my noodle-box, banana and Asahi and slept in my Hiroshima hostel bed for the second time that day. The next day I had the longest planned journey of the trip – Hiroshima to Kyoto, every minute of sleep was necessary, the next day was a bitch.


*I was listening an odd free audio book called Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom. It is about a future society where everyone lives forever, swaps bodies with computer back-ups and the only currency is esteem from your peers. Interesting in pricipal if the majority of the storyline didn’t centre around one man’s boring quest to stop Disneyland Florida from over-developing. Also it was entirely voiced by a man with an irritating Southern America nasal-drawl  – if that’s even possible. Good value for money though I suppose.


Fukuoka to Miyajima (travel day one)

Started my day wondering why I was in a narrow plastic tube.

That passed and I got down to the heavy job of swinging my brain around to awake gear. This was probably hurried along by the sound of an old man vomiting violently in the adjoining toilets. As it was 6:30 am I could probably forgive him for having had quite a late night.

The inbuilt television had obviously been put on a scheduling mode, meaning I could now turn it on. The previous night it was unusable. Nothing good really, I seem to remember a reality/gameshow programme about Japanese cowboys but I can’t be sure.

I forwent another dip in the large baths as I noticed the same gentleman who’d woke me up slumped against them. I did not need to bathe in sick.

The Day’s Plan: Get from Fukuoka to Miyajima (163 miles/263 km)

(click for Google Maps directions)

A hot, hot morning it was, with that only getting worse as my trek from the hotel to a decent place to get picked up carried on. I left the hotel at 07:37 At one point I’d gone from the inner city to the airport. Carrying along to something that looked like the highway I started vainly flashing my sign in various locations to no avail. No-one seemed the least interested in picking me up, except one taxi who pulled in and popped his rear door open in a magical, but unhelpful gesture. Clearly he had mistaken my vague thumb-waggling for a hail.

That's a long, long walk when it's hot (7 miles/11 km)

Luckily the road was not boring and I saw a few interesting sights along my way.

clearly Winston have no problem sugesting their cigarettes make you a stong man in Japan

wouldn't the rice be polluted or something?

inner-city rice paddy

What's he doing with his hand there? ...I hope it's his hand :(

strangest, strangest advertisments for a garage ever

Eventually, under the shade of the Shinkansen line passing overhead and next to the gated highway I stood for a while, again futility abound. 10 minutes later I was approached by an old man on a bicycle. He told me in very broken English that I had no hope and needed to get up to the toll booth way up the road. My confusion clearly paid off as he dismounted his bike and started walking me there. On our journey which I’ve estimated at about an hour as I’ve gone back and found the exact route we took from meeting to departing (thank you Google Maps Streetview you glorious bastard).

click for that walk on Google Maps

Along the way we had a good old chat about our respective countries in the limited English vocabulary we shared (and some pretty harsh prononciation on his part). I valued every minute of it though, using my notebook and hand gestures he gave me a run-down on how to hitch in Japan. Apparently (and this bore out later), Japanese people probably wont pick up a hitcher advertising by the side of the road. You need to approach them while stopped at traffic light, tollbooths and service stations (called: サービスエリア sābisu eria, SA). He’d hitched in a fair few places in Asia in his youth he told me. I began to think of him as my hitchhiking sensei.

he also wrote a note to drivers expressing my travel wishes - not sure what the "Before" or "He Match" bits are about now

Squeezing through a fence to the tollbooth area of the expressway (you can see that too at the end on the Streetview of that map just there) we got me a ride within minutes from Tumi (girl) and Takai (guy). I really regret getting neither the name of the old guy, nor his photo (he waved me off and disappeared before I could get my camera ready).

Tumi and Takae (hitch no. 1)

Sadly my elation at getting my first ride came to an end as Tumi and Takae took me from the southern island of Kyushu to Honshu – the main body of Japan. They dropped me off at a ‘parking area’ in Shiminoseki. Takae then surprised me somewhat by jogging over to another guy and arranging for him to drop me off at the exact place I wanted to get to – the port to Miyajima.

Matizama (hitch no. 2)

I suppose now that he noticed his numberplate local to that area and guessed he was probably heading home. It was at the exchange of instructions between the drivers that I first noticed something really funny but still quite touching. After introducing me and arranging my next hitch, drivers of both parties tended to bow deeply, thank each other profusely and even apologise! More than I could ever manage by far, not to say that I wasn’t ever grateful or didn’t show it, obviously.

My new driver’s name was Matziama and he seemed to speak a fraction more English than I spoke Japanese, so beyond the pleasantaries, we mostly rode in silence. I even nodded off through some of the mountain tunnels.

I arrived at 14:25 the rest of the day was spent exploring the natural and man-made beauty of Miyajima and enjoying the friendliness of fellow travellers and staff at Backpacker’s Miyajima (not a five minute walk from the port).

Miyajima island as seen from the ferry

one of the many tame deer on Miyajima

a giant freaking rice paddle

The floating torii gate set against storms clouds

The game when the tide's out is to try to get a stone onto the crossbeams of the gate. I eventually managed it, crying "YATTA!"

Shinto shrine lanterns

I was hideously sunburned.

Japan – first glances

To continue on from  my previous post, during the relatively simple travel-day from Seoul to Fukuoka via Busan, I believe I left off while on a train still in Korea.

EDIT: This is all going to be written on a blog/day format retrospectively of when it actually happened. The events of this entry happened last Saturday (24th of July).

The KTX arrived at Busan station to immense humidity and warmth. A little confusion and traditional panicked running landed me on a bus that swiftly passed by the port area in Busan. Realising my mistake I boarded one heading the other way. Neither made me pay which must be testiment to just how confused I looked. My next trick was to run into the domestic port and rather strongly ask the receptionist to go to Fukuoka, in bad-grammar Korean, which in my defence sounds very similar to stating that I wanted to go there.

Thinking I had mere minutes left to check in I got the directions for the international port, one dock along and ran the whole way, ran to the check-in desk, ran the the cash machine for the fuel surcharge, ran back, ran to the customs area and waited for well over an hour. While there I met some Americans travellers off to Japan for a week or so, one of whom had just finished working in Korea. I mention them because I happened to run into them later in the week.

The Ferry to Busan was pleasant, if uneventful. Smoothest boat I’ve ever been on.

Arriving in Fukuoka I found that every hostel was booked up for the night. I was recommended a capsule hotel by the receptionist (who, despite being at least late-30’s, had the most adorable range of expressions for shock, puzzlement etc.). While being a step above the cost of a regular hostel (something like £30) for the night, it was as much of a cultural interest as anything and actually turned out quite pleasant.

I decided to forgo the bus and wandered into town, having previously taken out money from the ATM and bought a small box of noodles for my dinner.

said small box of noodles

The ATM was an interesting experience, apparently the only place that was available to get money out with a foreign card is at a 7eleven. The smallest denomination available from these machines 10,000 Yen – just over £73. I broke that note as soon as I could.

The Capsule Hotel

said capsule hotel

Really much more pleasant than I expected. Depositing my shoes in a locker and all of my clothes in another, I wandered to the spa-dedicated floor of the hotel, showered and had a bit of a relax in the provided hot baths and saunas. Wandering upstairs again they had reclining chairs with inbuilt TVs and personal speakers. Sadly I’d just missed a BBC documentary.

After getting bored of that in minutes I checked out the restaurant facilities. While pleasant looking as well, the price was too rich for my blood. I settled with some iced water, free of charge.

Heaven forbid you should have a tatto. - Sign at capsule hotel.

Closing my day I checked my email and was vaguely disturbed by another guest.

Sat in the PC section of the hotel. There is a guy next to me just watching porn. Not cracking one off, just watching. Intensely.Sat Jul 24 13:35:46 via web

Hmm. Anyway, I retired to my capsule, which was actually of ample size, not big, not small and had a general feeling of a micro-caravan. My dozing off was somewhat disturbed by the sound of another guest just along the “corridor” enjoying some enthusiastic-sounding porn on a portable media player.

Welcome to Japan indeed.