[top Hiroshima

It was our final day in Kyoto, and we had to check out that morning, so we packed up our tons of gear (which had expanded even further!) and dumped it in the tiny lobby - it was the only place the people had to put it, even though it meant that there wasn't room for anything else there!

We bought another bus pass and set off to "do a few more temples". The first one was set on a hillside overlooking the city, called Kiyomizu Temple. The approaches to it were lined for about a kilometre with pottery shops and souvenir shops for all those poor unfortunate Japanese tourists and schoolkids who had to spend their holidays buying presents for friends and relatives. Like many other attractions, this temple was swarming with schoolkids on excursions, all busy buying sweeties to take home. Frequently, these shops had a machine in their front window, baking little morsels on a production line. We bought a couple of baked sweets, but scoffed them as soon as we left the shop! Nothing for our relatives!

We moved on to Kyoto's main street, but were amazed to find that everything (even department stores) was closed, for some reason.1 After a very long walk, we visited the Museum of Kyoto (Y500), but unfortunately it was a bit of a yawn and all the displays were marked in Japanese only. On the way back, we decided to have lunch in the local YMCA's cafeteria, where they were selling curry and rice, with salad and yogurt for Y550. It was good value, especially with a few bits of real chicken meat in the curry sauce! Back in the main street, we went into a Macdonald's. The "golden arches" has a big presence in Japan, as does KFC - which goes to show that even the Japanese aren't infallible when it comes to taste. Amanda had told us that Macdonald's did a pretty good "Teriyaki Burger", so Jacqui wanted to try one2. Jacqui thought that the burgers in Japan had a higher fat content in the meat than their Australian equivalents, which gave them more flavour.

We wandered for a while, then got on a bus to another temple. We had gone a couple of stops when I realised that I wasn't holding mum's camera any more. I laid an egg. We got off the bus at the next stop, crossed the road and waited for another bus going back the way we had come. I couldn't remember the last time I had held the camera, but thought it was probably in the Macdonald's. The buses were running really slowly, just because I was in a flap. Eventually, we got on one and headed back to the Macdonald's. Luckily, someone had handed it in and they gave it back to me, even in a Macdonald's bag. If you had to lose a camera anywhere in the world, Japan was probably the best place to do it, as the people are reputedly extremely honest.

The next bus we got on was incredibly crowded. Each new stop crammed more people on board. It was a relief to get off. We were headed for Tofukuji Temple, which was reputed to have some very good Zen gardens. It was some distance from the main road and the bus stop, through several blocks of residential streets. We went into a temple which, although it had a nice garden, didn't really fit the description of the place we were looking for. We walked on and somehow found the right one. Just outside, some schoolkids came up to us and a girl approached me. She read a prepared speech from a notebook to the effect that she had a gift of peace she would like to give me. She searched through the notebook again and gave me a postcard. On the back, she had written, first in pencil and then over the top in ink, "Dear friend, My name is Miki Arai I am a student at Kamakura junior high school. I am fourteen years old. An atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6 in 1945. More than two hundred thousand people lost their life. And in Nagasaki an atomic bomb liked (sic) more than seventy thousand people. I love peace and I hate war. Let's work together for world peace." She then asked me to write a message of peace in her notebook as well, which I did. We then all had photos taken and went our separate ways. Japanese kids seem to have to do some peace studies and there are a lot of references to peace and goodwill to all men, etc. It is said that there is little overt reference to Japan's past in any of this.

The temple had two beautiful gardens (Y300 each, of course). One in particular was a Zen garden of raked gravel and rocks, the first of its kind I had seen. Jacqui was fed up with paying entrance fees for temples all the time and didn't go into it.

Afterwards, we trekked back to Ryokan Seiki to collect our bags. It didn't look far on the map but turned out to be about two kilometres from the temple. The lady gave us a nice traditional fan, with a message written on it thanking us for staying there. We shouldered our bags and trudged to Kyoto Station to catch a train to Hiroshima.

The Hikari Shinkansen to Hiroshima was heavily booked, so we were only able to reserve two middle seats behind each other. We decided that we would take our chances with the unreserved carriages from Shin-Osaka onwards and try to get two seats next to each other there as people got off. This we did successfully, but the train was overcrowded, to the extent that there were even people standing up in the aisle, which made things a bit uncomfortable for all. As well, there was an old woman sitting next to us who smelled bad and kept coughing her lungs up. On the whole, we would have been better off with our original reserved seats on the other carriage.

When we arrived in Hiroshima we successfully got onto the right tram, which dropped us near our hotel. This one, Minshuku Ideaka, was Japanese style (ie. roll-out beds and tatami mat floors) with the room on the third level and the bathroom on the ground floor. It didn't have an ensuite, but there were toilets on our floor and the bathroom had a good stand-up shower and Japanese bath. The only other occupant seemed to be a girl a couple of doors down from us. It was roomier than Kyoto's Ryokan Seiki, which stands out in my mind as the tiniest place I have ever stayed in.

We walked for 10 minutes to the top of a Sogo department store, where there was a selection of about seven restaurants for our dinner. Afterwards, we walked over to Hiroshima's nightclub district, where we saw a few scantily-clad girls and a whole lot of men under the affluence of inkahol - some just merry, others as full as a pommy complaint box.

Photo: Bombed building, Hiroshima

The Hiroshima peace museum and park was only a few minutes walk from the hotel, but first we went in search of some breakfast, which took considerably longer and took us further away. We eventually found a particularly dingy place, where the staff were too busy reading their papers to notice us and cry out the usual high-pitched "Irashaimase!" However, it was only Y430 for a piece of thick toast, a boiled egg and coffee, which is cheap for Japan.

The Peace Museum was great value at only Y50. It had several floors of displays with some very moving A-bomb displays, like tattered children's clothes and personal effects which were all their parents could identify when they went in search of their children after the blast. Apparently, many of the victims were school children and Chinese or Korean forced labourers who were working to demolish buildings for fire breaks in the centre of the city. One particularly touching part was the story of a girl who was dying of leukemia in 1955 from the effects of the bomb, and made 1,300 origami cranes from her dressing packages in the belief that it would stop her from dying. Out in the park there is a memorial to her and other child victims, which is draped with numerous sprays made of paper cranes. Apparently, many other people went into the bomb zone immediately after the blast, to help rescue victims, search for family members, or just as sightseers. These people also died from radiation poisoning a short time thereafter. In all, about 140,000 died in or shortly after the bomb and thousands of others died slow painful deaths in subsequent years. There are still 1 million or so registered bomb victims in Japan.

Out in the Peace Park, there is a cenotaph to the victims, plus numerous special shrines. The park used to be the central business district of Hiroshima and was the bomb's target. It was completely destroyed, except for a few buildings, one of which was a trade exhibition building, and its ruins have been left as a memorial.

We tracked through the park and up to Hiroshima Castle. The original castle was totally destroyed by the bomb and what is there now is just a reproduction of its tower, built in 1958. Of course, we missed the entrance bridge and had to walk all the way around the moat in the hot sun to find it. Back in the main part of town, we found another collection of restaurants in the top floor of a department store building. We had Italian food (which is widely available and reasonably priced in Japan) for the first time. We both had a baked spaghetti pie.

After lunch, we caught a train to Miyajimaguchi, from where we (and a few thousand other tourists and school kids) rode a ferry to Miyajima, an island about 10 minutes away across Hiroshima Bay. Once on the ferry, we discovered that it was owned by JR and we could have used our rail passes instead of paying Y340 each. We found that Miyajima was infested with (a) deer and (b) souvenir shops for the poor embattled Japanese tourists to yet again buy stuff for their families. The main product of the latter, in addition to the familiar sweetie cakes, were these strange waddies, which came in all sorts of sizes. Perhaps whacking the kids is the main pastime in Miyajima. The deer were all over the place and very tame. They would let you pat them, but were more interested in any food you could give them. The main point of visiting Miyajima is a temple, which has a shrine (or gate, I'm not sure. Anyway, it's this big wooden thing) which sits out in the water at high tide. We had cunningly timed our visit for low tide.

The train line's terminus was at a place called Iwakuni, which apparently had a famous bridge, called Kintai. On arrival, we discovered that to get to the bridge we had to catch a local bus for a 15 minute ride through the suburbs. Jacqui got us onto the right bus by reading the characters on the map and comparing it to those on the bus's sign. It turned out that the bus was run by JR, so we got to ride on it for free. The bridge was constructed in 1673 and although it was made of wood, no nails were used in its construction. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by a typhoon in 1953 and so what we saw was a modern reconstruction. It looked very attractive all the same. They actually had a ticket office where you had to pay Y200 to walk on the bridge, but luckily by the time we got there it was 6.00 and this was closed. We just missed a bus back to the train station and we had to wait half an hour for the next one. Four Filipino tourists, also with JR passes, asked Jacqui for assistance, perhaps thinking that she was an English-speaking Japanese guide who could help them get on the right bus back.

We got back to Hiroshima about 7.45 and had dinner at the same collection of department store restaurants where we had our lunch, this time at a Japanese cafe with friendly staff and good prices for a delicious set-menu feast. This was our best value day for the whole trip - it only cost Y50 for the museum, Y300 for the castle and Y340 for the ferry - a total of just over A$8 each, plus meals. We finished with a Japanese bath in our hotel, which was good for our tired bones and muscles. This one wasn't scalding hot like the one at Nikko, which was a bonus.

Photo: Kintai bridge, Iwakuni

Anthropological Note: There was a department store in Hiroshima called "Fukayu". I think that they would have difficulties in opening branch stores in Australia, although they would have no difficulties in finding sales staff from David Jones, Myers, etc. with an attitude to customers matching the store's name!

1 This was on a Wednesday.

2 The only other time we went to a Macdonald's was for a coffee on our first day in Japan, before we discovered the hot coffee vending machines. If you were really on a budget in Japan, you could have a cheaper trip by only eating at Macdonald's (eg. Y162 for a burger) but you would probably kill yourself in the process.