The people doing hot laps up the toge next to where we were parked started again in the morning, with one guy on a motorbike going up/down every 5 minutes. Still slightly jealous, but still hating him and wishing that he would shut up.
The clouds/rain of the past two days had miraculously cleared. We were looking at a clear blue sky, slightly shocked. We packed up and headed to Miyajima, one of Japan’s ‘Top 3 Scenic Locations’. The list also includes Matsushima (which was a horribly overly developed location that wouldn’t even rate in my top 20) and Amanohashidate (a thin ‘land bridge’ that we didn’t manage to visit yet).
What I didn’t know was that this weekend was a long weekend. It seemed that everyone else had the same idea for today, visit Miyajima. There were cars from Kitakyushu, Osaka, Mie, Kyoto and Ehime. The road was like a car park. Old men were getting out of their cars (that they were driving) to piss on the side of the road. We just needed to get to somewhere to park HMAS Delica and get the ‘cub out, but for kilometres (hours) there wasn’t anything. Finally, I saw a giant pachinko parlour’s outdoor car park. We negotiated across to the opposite lane and made our way there. I pulled the cub out, packed it with my camera gear and in that time, two different security guards walked up behind the car with their little note pads. Not believing that they could really do anything, but unwilling to take that risk, I reluctantly put the ‘cub back into the van, and we looked for another sneaky park (which we found at a sleepy Italian Restaurant).
It was less than 2km from where we left the nearly stationary traffic jam to Miyajima ferry terminal, and although we had difficulties finding a park (and then getting lost trying to get back onto the main road), we still got to the ferry terminal before other cars that we were ‘parked’ next to. It might sound like a pointless exercise to save ¥1000, but when we realised that the car parks were all full (and hence causing the massive traffic jam), we were sure that we’d made the right choice. The extra traffic jam to Miyajima ferry terminal, and although we had difficulties finding a park (and then getting lost trying to get back onto the main road), we still got to the ferry terminal before other cars that we were ‘parked’ next to. It might sound like a pointless exercise to save ¥1000, but when we realised that the car parks were all full (and hence causing the massive traffic jam), we were sure that we’d made the right choice. The extra ¥1000 in our pockets was a bonus.
As we approached the terminal, the staff were yelling and rapidly ushering people onto the ferry. We quickly bought our ticket (¥170) and were amongst the last to board the ~15minute journey to Miyajima. It’s a world-heritage site, though it hasn’t protected it from the development of hotels/souvenir shops that rise up from the coast (and were easily visible from the ferry). As we got a little closer though, we could finally see the giant floating vermillion gate (It was currently full tide) of Otorii and the (also) vermillion Itsakushi Temple.
Off the boat, the busyness began. There were people everywhere, and we were being funnelled towards a giant covered-alley filled with restaurants and souvenir shops. Unwilling to accept that we were going to have to share the island with thousands of docile tourists, I frustratedly trudged with them towards the entrance of the temple grounds (and the giant floating gate).
Even though I’ve seen hundreds of photos of it, Otorii still remains an impressive sight. The vibrant vermillion (they mention that the colour is significant) against the greenish hue of the water is beautiful. Even if there are another 200 people around you being loud/annoying. I even heard an elderly Japanese man complain to his wife about how many gaijin (foreigner) there were here. I wanted to snap back to him about how many more annoying Japanese people were here, but it would be rude… and I wasn’t confident that I could say it right anyway.
There were many different boats cruising around/through the gate, some people in sea-kayaks, some in (unbelievably, for a world-heritage site) jet skis and others being rowed in traditional boats. I have to say, it would be nice to paddle out and around the gate and I was slightly jealous.
The ‘floating’ temple was also quite beautiful, even with a steady stream of people flowing through the open corridors. The colour is so vivid, and fact that it is surrounded by water does make it quite unique/beautiful.
We wondered around town for a while, killing time waiting for the tide to go out (so that we could walk out between the gate). The island is famous (among other things) for momiji-manju (a cake shaped like a momiji leaf filled with various fillings), so when we found one that was selling them while they were still hot, we grabbed one of each (smooth anko filling, and a more chunky one) and watched in awe at the machine that was tirelessly creating them. Automatically greasing the moulds, pouring in the mix, adding the filling, putting the two sides together, flipping it to bake evenly before finally popping out golden-delicious. Most of the shops in the area had their machines on display, and I was quite impressed with the mechanics of them all.
Risa also wanted to have some kaki-meshi (oyster rice) that this area is also famous for, but the queues for the restaurants were enormous (some going back up tiny alleys) and the ones without queues had run out of food, so we had okonomiyaki again, but with added oyster as it seemed like the thing to do in Miyajima. It too was crazy busy, with chefs working on dozens of orders at once on a giant hotplate. After a bit of waiting, ours finally came. It was good (I ate it my half in about 6 bites), but not the best that I’ve ever had. What was cool though were the plaques on the wall from visiting animators, including one from the recently deceased Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Paprika, Millennium Actress).
It was about 3PM, and after a quick visit to an ancient temple on the hill (certainly the oldest looking temple that either of us have ever seen), we headed down to watch the tides go out (and the people flow through the gates). I’d set up to capture it as a time-lapse, but we were there too late for it to really have much of an impact, sadly.
We too wondered out to view the gate up close, even walking through knee deep seaweed to get the right angles for the photo that I wanted. Up close, the torii was even more enormous. Unlike most torii, this one was still the general shape of the trees that were cut down to make it. They hadn’t been rounded or shaped.
The sun was getting close to setting behind a hill, so again we set up to take some time-lapse footage of it happening, and again the results were less than impressive… We sat around (for a really, really long time) and waiting for the torii to be illuminated. It was another scene completely, this time the neon-like vermillion of the torii glowed against the fading light of the twilight (and not the lame vampire/warewolf type).
We were getting cold, and I was satisfied with what we’d seen, so we joined another crush of people boarding the boat, this time to return to the mainland.
We nervously walked back to the ‘cub, hoping for no tickets (there weren’t any), then rode back to HMAS Delica, again hoping for it to still be there and for no tickets (again, nothing). We’d thought that we were quite lucky. Saved time AND money today with the ‘cub.
It was 7PM, and we were still a long way from the nearest michi-no-eki. The plan was to follow the coast south, and if we didn’t find anything beforehand, we’d stay at that michi-no-eki. We drove for about an hour and a half through brightly illuminated factory towns, before finally finding a small beach park with an open toilet. I was exhausted, so it was fine for me. Even with freight trains racing past all night long…