Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto, and Mount Fuji, Japan
July 26-28, 2023
Hiroshima is perfect for a quick one- or two-day stopover. The history here is heavy and interesting but doesn’t take much time to get through. All in all, it is a traditional Japanese town with the main atomic bomb tourist sites huddled together. It only takes a few hours to get through everything.
Japan is world class when it comes to transportation. They are well known for their efficient bullet trains that take you from city to city at nearly 200 mph. Because of the high price we opted instead for an overnight sleeper bus. The Japan night bus was cleaner and nicer than the busses in Vietnam or Thailand but didn’t have the sleeper seats and instead only reclined. It did have a privacy hood and footrest though and proved not to be the worst night’s rest.
We would take the night busses from Tokyo to Hiroshima, from Hiroshima to Osaka, and from Osaka back to Tokyo. If you sleep well anywhere, they are a much cheaper travel alternative than trains as they provide transportation and 1 night of accommodation.
Hiroshima Memorial Museum
Hiroshima was a highly anticipated visit. It is the first city attacked with a U.S. atomic bomb during the 1945 U.S.-Japanese war. In memoriam to the attacks the museum, park, and Atomic Bomb Dome sit in the center of the city where the bomb detonated.
We opted for the audio guide which was helpful to keep our pace while visiting. We didn’t want to miss any of the stories. Almost every artifact collected has a specific backstory about the people behind it. The subject matter can be a bit heavy, but honestly, we were desensitized after visiting so many other war related museums. We’ve still yet to find anything more devastating than the Prison Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Hiroshima Memorial Museum goes into great detail about the people living in Hiroshima and sharing their stories of survival and strife. It also shares some information on the makings and technology of the bomb itself.
You’ll hear heartbreaking stories of children separated from parents, survivors succumbing to radiation poisoning weeks later, and graphic imagery of hundreds of people staggering around with their flesh melted and hanging off them. One of the most incredible exhibits shows a segment of stairs where a shadow of a vaporized man still glows. You can see the outline of his cane, his hat, but no physical evidence was left behind. He was completely erased.
The museum refrains from choosing a side between the U.S. and Japan. Instead of framing the U.S. as the all-encompassing enemy, like Vietnam tended to do in their war museums, they opted to promote peace and discourage the use of nuclear weaponry.
There is a bit of an argument to be made here that Japan is keeping things hush because of their involvement with world domination. There’s no arguing that the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were horrific events for the innocent civilians. It’s also hard to ignore the fact that there would be no need to drop any bombs in the first place if Japan hadn’t invaded all Southeastern Asia, Korea, part of China, Darwin, Australia, and provoked war with the U.S. via the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Peace Memorial Park
After exploring the museum, the grounds surrounding offer individual memorials in a lovely outdoor park. You can lay an offering for the victims of the bombing and ring the bell for peace. The park isn’t terribly large and offers a nice pathway to the most eye-catching relic, the Atomic Bomb Dome.
Atomic Bomb Dome
Sitting across the river from the museum you’ll find the remains of the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. This building has since been renamed the Atomic Bomb Dome as it was almost exactly underneath the detonation point. It is a great example of the chaos and destruction caused by the atom bomb. Most buildings were completely evaporated. It is believed this one survived in its current state because of the earthquake resistant steel reinforced concrete.
A few blocks away on an unassuming street is the sign locating ground zero. It marks the location of the epicenter of the bombing. However, it is a few hundred feet away from where it was targeted. The bridge connecting to the now Peace Memorial Park was originally the desired location. Pretty much nothing survived, so all development here is new.
July 28-29, 2023
We had a quick stop at Osaka on our way back to Tokyo from Hiroshima. Osaka and Kyoto are so close they’re practically in the same city. We planned to do some brief exploring in each city the 2 days we were there.
Dotombori Street is a fun, busy street perfect for tourists. The street is the home of countless restaurants and attractions. If you’re looking for street food this is 100% the place to go. There are hundreds of vendor options to choose from, all highlighted with animated signs to draw your attention. Giant moving crabs, dragons, and lifelike octopuses are some examples of interesting signage. Osaka overall gave a much more tourist-friendly vibe than Tokyo. We only had a half day to really explore so this will definitely be a city we’ll have to come back to!
Recommended to us by a friend (shoutout to my old Disney colleague Ramon!), we walked through Dotombori Street until we came to an outdoor mall area. In one of the marketplace’s stores we found Uncle Rikuru, the best homemade cheesecake in town! It’s more of an egg-cake as it’s light and fluffy. Filled with golden raisins and packaged literally fresh out of the oven, this egg cake was a winner in my book!
We needed something to wash all the cheesecake down, and what better option than some traditional Japanese sake! If unfamiliar with sake, it is a popular alcoholic drink in Japan. It is stronger than wine, but not as bitter as soju. Sake can be ordered cold or hot and pairs excellently with Japanese cuisine, especially seafood. We sat down at a local bar and had two glasses of locally made sake and some complimentary edamame. What a perfect Osaka night cap!
July 29, 2023
Starting from downtown Osaka, Kyoto is only an hour’s train ride away. Originally the capital of Japan, Kyoto is filled with historic and cultural landmarks. We only spent a few hours in this beautiful town, but there is enough to do to fill a couple of days.
Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine
The Fushimi grounds hosts one of the most popular temples in the county. Here you’ll find hundreds of red torii archways lining the pathways and leading to the multiple temples.
On a cooler day we probably would’ve attempted the hike up to the peak of Mount Inari to see the Ichi no mine Temple. But today, much like the rest of the world, it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so we opted to do the shorter hike to the lookout point just past the Crossroads.
Since they line the walkways of the paths there’s plenty of torii’s to go around. If you’re looking to take pictures, we recommend waiting until you’re a little further up the path where the crowd disperses. Fushimi Park is another site popular for dressing up in a Kimono and there are plenty of great photo opportunities.
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
A little way further into Kyoto is the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. It’s interesting to see simply for the vast, endless, amounts of bamboo. Take a peaceful walk through the area stopping at the multiple shrines and ancient buildings.
Some of the buildings have especially interesting histories. One that stuck out was an old convent where they sent coming of age princesses to prepare for marriage. A Home Ec.-Princess Camp if you will. It has since been turned into a shrine where you can offer your fortunes and good luck charms.
After walking the grounds and taking in all the fine bamboo you can take a scenic one-way train ride through the nearby countryside. Or, if you’re not up for the extra price, relax at the nearby villages where you can have a snack or pick up a souvenir.
Fuji Yoshida and Mount Fuji, Japan
August 1, 2023
Our last activity before departing Japan was to take a day trip to Mount Fuji. Fuji is the largest peak in Japan and the closest mountain to Tokyo. This incredible volcano has woven its way deeply into Japanese history and mythology.
It’s iconic for its typically snowy peak, but because we visited during the middle of summer, it remained snowless. During this time of year, you can catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji during sunrise or sunset when it’s known as Red Fuji. The absence of snow plus the glow of sun makes the mountain appear red and angry.
No matter the time of year visiting you’ll be lucky to catch a glimpse of the famous mountain. Since the climate is so much colder at Fuji’s peak, when it mixes with the warmer air beneath it, it creates a thick fog that hides the top.
We got lucky and had the best view on our drive from Tokyo. The entirety of Mount Fuji was completely visible! Our guide told us that the week prior was a cloudless, sunny day but the mountain was still hidden. We hope to visit Japan again during the winter and maybe see the peak snow-covered.
Our first stop on our Mount Fuji tour was to the Saiko Iyashi-no-Sato, a traditional Japanese village. This tourist-friendly village offers plenty of Japanese oddities to explore. As you walk up the pathways, you’ll find artists dotted along the hillside poised to capture their interpretation of Mount Fuji. The buildings are made from wood and bamboo in classic Japanese style. Overall, the quiet place is peaceful and serene.
We looked through the Samurai Museum, saw the glass-blown artwork, and even got to try some of the world’s most expensive fruit. Fuji apples can go for $21! That’s nothing on some of the more gourmet fruit, which we were not permitted to try. And for good reason: Ruby Roman grapes can cost $460 USD per grape and Yuri Melons can cost up to $45,000 USD each! Lawrence also tried a shot of bee-sting tequila. The bee venom gives the alcohol an extra kick, while whole bees themselves ferment in the bottle from which the tequila is poured.
My favorite part of visiting the village was our time at the tea shop. After removing our shoes, we sat on mats on the floor. We were served a shallow serving of green tea in bowl along with multi-flavored mochi dumplings.
Our view of Mount Fuji had become too cloudy to see anything. However, the surrounding countryside scenery, plus the great view from earlier, made up for it!
We had more luck with our view from our next stop. This beautiful flower garden sat lakeside giving us glimpses here and there between the clouds of the base and the peak of Mount Fuji. It was a wonderful place to sit and have a picnic or to snag any Fuji-themed souvenirs.
In addition to a gift shop there were also plenty of options to grab something sweet. The ice creams looked especially delicious in flavors that matched the flowers outside. Rose, lavender, and blue grape were some of the unique offerings.
Arakura Fuji Sengen Shrine
The Arakura Shrine is a more recent addition to the list of places you can get a good view of Mount Fuji. Though the shrine has been believed to be a place of worship since 788 C.E., it has grown in popularity since “discovered” by a Thai tourist in the 2010’s. After making the steep climb up to the top of the shrine he found Fuji sat perfectly between the Pagoda and a cherry blossom tree. The iconography of Mount Fuji, the temple, and the cherry blossoms made it a perfect, and authentically Japanese, photo location.
Dark storm clouds were forming in the distance, clouding our view and threatening an imminent downpour. Lawrence and I made the steep climb quickly. Having had good practice in Nepal, and the cooler weather blowing in from the storm, it turned out to be a piece of cake! We didn’t see much of Mount Fuji from here, but the lookout itself was satisfactory. We climbed back down and hopped on the coach bus with time to spare before the heavy rain fell. And as a finale to our Mount Fuji journey a vibrant rainbow bid us farewell.
Though in Japan for longer than Malaysia or South Korea it went by much faster. A major bucket-list country with tons and tons to do, we are glad to have been able to visit at all. Hopefully we get the chance to come back and thoroughly explore from top to bottom!