Monday, 28 January 2008

More about Hiroshima...(minus the B-word).

On my first (and only, really) full day in Hiroshima, I wanted to get up early and go to Miyajima shrine on an island off the coast of the city, supposedly one of the top five most picturesque places in Japan. However, it was also a holiday (because of "coming of age day"-see below!) therefore, I had images of families and tourists with cameras constantly glued to their faces, and trying to be much more impressed than they actually were in the midst of a holidaying crowd. So, I decided to try and see more of central Hiroshima, and went to the Peace Museum and park, then shopping on the main street, then up to Hiroshima-Jo (castle). The city also has a contemporary art gallery and surrounding park which sounds great, but is closed on Mondays! Score.
So, off I went on the hunt for some Okonomiyaki and Momiji manju (See first post on Hiroshima...) got that nicely sorted out, then went along to ZARA and bought a thick coat in the sales for my trip home through Russia this April.
There are so many places to shop in Hiroshima, Sogo, the big department store which also has a massive branch in Shinsaibashi, Osaka. There is also a big designer strip along Aioi Dori for those with Chanel/Louis Vuitton penchants. Attracting a younger and trendier crowd is Parco, a massive hard to miss department store on the major street of Chuo-Dori (just off Aioi Dori).

As well as affordable stuff, Parco is the place for semi-expensive designer boutiques. Note to anoyone interested-it has an Anna Sui outlet which sells clothes, jewelry, make up, evening dresses and bags...It was hard to leave without anything, but the prices are well above my crumbly wallet.
For those lookng for something a bit more individual and low-key, there is also a 300 Yen shop in the arcade on the approach from the peace park up towards the Parco department store. It's basically better than the 100 Yen shop, though concentrates more on accessories and furniture, etc... By the Parco department store itself, down a little side street there is a vintage shop, which seem to be quite hard to find here. This shop is amazing, I bought a skirt for 300 Yen and they had loads of old shirts and belts, bags and jackets for next to nothing. Recommended!

Overall, in terms of shopping, Hiroshima is a haven for foreigners living in smaller cities, as it has a lot of things you may miss from the West, but isn't too big a place for a swift visit, unlike Osaka or Tokyo. You can find shops like Zara or designer stuff (should you want it), go to a baseball game, get some homely fare from the specialist deli's or restaurants selling jam and olives and hard-to-come-by products, etc...
Something else which is individual to itself is that Hiroshima has never adopted a subway system like most major Japanese cities, but rather, still operates on it's old streetcars (like trams in the UK). I couldn't decide whether this was a good or bad thing in general, as it's so cheap to get around, (150 Yen for most single journeys), but the stops are old and clapped-out and it's almost impossible to get a seat as they're always so crowded. Plus, as if the wide American-style Japanese crossings weren't hard enough to cross, you have to wait for two seperate types of transport to stop before you can walk. Not good for the patience...
After the harsh bustle of a National holiday afternoon, Hiroshima castle, just North of the brightly lit traffic-dogged Aioi Dori, is a serene place to go for a wander. I went in the late afternoon and caught the sunset, which the skinny, distorted trees are so well-suited to there, playing with the light and shadows. The trees really are something special in the castle grounds, most of them are slim and spindly with really old interesting, twisting bark. A dream come true for a frottage fan.
The bridge leading into the shrine and eventually, the gardens of the castle, is like something from a picture book, and definetly the kind of thing embedded into a tourists head when they first come out here to explore. Those people who want to see the geishas and tea houses but find that these images are gradually become stereotypes-part of traditional, rather than everyday culture. But, old Japan is easily found, especially when you're not trying to hunt it down.

On the approach to Hiroshima castle (which stands on a hill surrounded by thin patches of trees) there is a major local shrine, which was an hour away from its 'sagichoo' as I was on the way out of the gates. This is when all of the good luck charms (mostly arrows wrapped in gold/decorated paper) from last year are burned ceremoniously to see out the old, ward off bad luck demons and bring in good luck for the coming year.
Each shrine burns the charms returned by people around this week, and these fires pretty much mark the end of the New Year festivities. I'll bet the fires also look great too...
Another really interesting event here, which I accidentally came across the weekend I visited Hiroshima, was 'coming-of-age day'. This is usually in January of each year and it celebrates young girls and boys becoming adults (aged 20, old enough to vote, drink etc...). At this particular time, all of the people in the country who reach the age of 20 that same year dress in full kimono and go to their local city hall for a ceremony.

I got to see a lot of girls in kimono and boys in suits (with their sharp, blonde-dyed Bowie-circa-Labyrinth mullets) in both Kokura and Hiroshima, which was really nice as they all look really proud-the Japanese seem to like a good old special occasion to dress up. I accidentally snapped one of the girls in a photo in the castle garden (left). Usually, they wear a fur collar as it's winter, but her dad was holding hers for her.

Unfortunately, the next day was not a holiday, which meant I had to go back on the shinkansen to Kokura. The price for a ticket from Kokura to Hiroshima is 13,000 Yen (about 65 quid) for an hours journey, so it would have been worth it to stay on if it wasn't for work..
However, I got to see the station area at night on my way back, which was nice as the moon was at a crescent, the clouds were stuttered, making for a great view on my leaving.

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