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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chūgoku Trip: Day 4 4月21日

Day 3

My last day in Hiroshima City 広島市 began with a 50-minute bus ride out of it, to the neighboring city of Iwakuni 岩国 in the neighboring prefecture of Yamaguchi 山口県. Iwakuni's main drawing card is a bridge, Kintai-kyō 錦帯橋. A five-arched wooden structure spanned a stretch of the Nishiki-gawa River 錦川 from 1674 to 1950, when it was destroyed in a typhoon. The current bridge is a 1953 reconstruction that is no less beautiful:

There's more to Iwakuni than just a bridge, however. On the other side of the river are some fine old samurai 侍 houses, such as the Nagaya-mon 長屋門, which looks much more impressive in person than the photo I took of it:

Other places to check out in Iwakuni included Kikkō-kōen Park 吉香公園, laid out on the estate on the former feudal rulers...:

...and the Mekata Family Residence 旧目加田家住宅, which couldn't be entered, but could be walked around outside for free:

Iwakuni is also noted for its white (albino) snakes, which are found nowhere else in Japan. For a mere ¥100 ($1.25), the White Snake Viewing Facility 白蛇観覧所 offered up several of these unique reptilian beauties for your serpentine pleasure:

Museums? Iwakuni has 'em too. The Chōko-kan 徴古館 is a free-of-charge local history museum with displays on Iwakuni's past, especially the area's role in the battles of the Meiji Restoration 明治維新:

Tres Japonais, non?

In addition to bridges, parks, samurai houses and history museums, Iwakuni also boasts a castle 岩国城, but in this case, the building is merely a 1960 reconstruction of the original, which was dismantled in 1608 when the Tokugawa shōgunate 江戸幕府 that there should be only one castle in each province. Reconstructed modern castles are usually little more than glorified local history museums, and can often be safely skipped. Iwakuni's castle, however, is perched on a prime mountaintop location, which can be reached by a gondola lift. Real tourists like myself, though, will opt for the 30-minute uphill trek to reach the top (and, cheap bastards that we are, save a few yen in the process):

Though I didn't bother going into Iwakuni-jō, the views from the top made the effort to get there all the worthwhile:

Another view of Kintai-kyō from the slighter lower-in-elevation gondola station:

A busy morning of sightseeing, and the walk to and from the castle, had left me pretty hungry at this point. Iwakuni naturally had its noted cuisine, in this case Iwakuni-zushi 岩国寿司, blocks of vinegared rice topped with cooked fish and vegetables, and lunch certainly didn't disappoint:

Renkon れんこん, aka deep-fried lotus root is another local specialty, which I tried in the form of a croquette レンコンコロッケ:

The last thing I did sightseeing-wise in Iwakuni was to walk along the modern Kinjō-kyō Bridge 錦城橋 to get a different perspective on Kintai-kyō. Between June and August, the river around the bridge is used for cormorant fishing 鵜飼:

With almost an hour to wait until the next bus back to Hiroshima, I killed the time by drinking one of the local craft beers, a Pale Ale. What I love about liquor stores in tourist spots in Japan is that they often will let you drink your purchase right there on the premises:

Back in Hiroshima and on the way to retrieve my bag from the hotel. The city is full of signs showing what a particular spot looked like in the aftermath of the atomic bombing. In the picture below, the marker explains what happened to the original Fukuya Department Store 福屋本店 (the newer one can be seen across the street) - the original building withstood the blast (though the contents inside were knocked around), but the ensuing fires gutted the store's interior and killed most of the employees working there. In Hiroshima, history was never very far away:

Reluctantly, it was time to bid farewell to Hiroshima and take the train to my next destination, Onomichi 尾道. Upon exiting Onomichi Station 尾道駅, I naturally had to have a bowl of Onomichi Rāmen noodles 尾道ラーメン for dinner:

After checking in to my night's accommodation, the Miyako Ryokan 都旅館, I took a long walk through the city's long but deserted covered shopping arcade (either Onomichi was suffering the effects of Japan's stagnant economy, or there just isn't much to do on a Saturday night there), and the surprisingly large entertainment district:

Onomichi's landmark, the statue of famed local writer Hayashi Fumiko 林芙美子, may have looked better in the daylight, but I liked this shot for capturing the passing train in the background:

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