Okinawa OK

We came to Okinawa to spend some time on the beach. After a late start on Sunday, we walked down to the nearest one, a couple of miles away.

Pavements eat broken pots

Naminoue Beach is now my favourite beach. Not because you can gaze upon not one but two motorways over the water while sunbathing, but because the word itself contains all five vowels. (Cf Carnoustie and Cointreau.)

Nice beach, shame about the view

There were just a couple of people actually swimming in the sea, but most people, me included, just went in up to our ankles. I thought it was probably safe enough to swim there, but if the locals weren’t going in, then neither was I.

The sand was very coarse: you should have heard some of the language it came out with! Very good though for exfoliating ones feet.

On the walk back, we encountered another Shinto ceremony.

Another beautiful family, another blessing

This chap looks quite intimidating. His job might be to frighten away evil spirits, but he didn’t deter us visitors.

Alligator? Dragon? Scary either way
Artistic photo of the day

Kokusai Dori, one of the main shopping streets, is closed to traffic each Sunday afternoon. This provides space for local bands and musicians to perform, and allows children to play in the road, legitimately.

Banging drums and dancing
Playing in the road

We walked back via a supermarket that we’d found last night. This one is called Max Valu. It sells Top Valu items. Still, it’s a pleasant change from the ubiquitous 7-Elevens, Family Marts and Lawson Stations. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be funny if we saw some belly dancers here in Naha? Well, we turned the corner, into Makishi Park, and guess what we saw?

I’ll be your belly dancer

Emerald Beach might be more visually attractive than Naminoue, we thought. This was a bus ride away: nearly two and a half hours in each direction. Five hours sitting on a bus is not something we want to do on a regular basis. On a train or a plane, you can get up and walk around a bit: for some reason, people don’t seem to do that on buses.

On the way to the bus stop, via the Visitor Information Office, we came upon a load of old rope. Literally. Every year in Naha, there is a Giant Tug of War involving up to 15,000 people. Liesel and I would have had a go, but the sign said not to.

The biggest rope in the world
The legend

One thing we’ve noticed is that, if you ask for bus related information, people are very helpful in telling you which bus stop to use, and what time to expect the bus, but they seem strangely reluctant to divulge the bus number. If the bus is due at 12:10, you get on the one that turns up at 12:10 and hope you’ll be OK.

We walked through the Ocean Expo Park, past the Aquarium, said hello to the captive manatees and turtles, and made our way to Emerald Beach.

We walked down these nnn steps (forgot to count)
American manatee sent as a gift from Mexico

And it didn’t disappoint. It is very pretty, no motorway to spoil the view. We were surprised to see that you’re only allowed to swim in the sea between April and October. Well, it looked pretty calm today but again, nobody was in the water. Indeed, there were signs all over the place telling people that it was forbidden to go into the water.

Health and safety gone mad, was the tabloid phrase that came to mind. Then I saw the poster depicting the reasons. Box jellyfish have a nasty sting, cone shells are venomous, sea snakes are venomous, you can be impailed by long-spined sea urchins, stone fish (which look like algae-covered rocks) can sting, blue-ringed octopus are venomous, lionfish have poisonous pectoral fins and striped eel catfish can sting. We stayed well away from the water just in case an octopus with a particularly long tentacle tried to grab us.

Emerald Beach
Holy mackerel, stay out of the water

Instead of swimming, or even paddling, we sat on the beach and read for a while, wondering if it would rain. The clouds began to look menacing and the temperature did fluctuate, but it never really felt like a storm was on the way. I went for a quick solo walk and marvelled at the beach and the small number of people here. Again, the sand was very coarse, and there was a lot of broken coral. Some of it was quite soft. I assume that this too was damaged by the typhoons a couple of months ago, and it’s still being washed up onto the beaches.

The time came when we had to go home. From 4pm, there were only three more buses back to Naha. By now, we were too late for the 4pm one, so we walked slowly up the hill and the steps and even used the outdoor escalators to find ourselves at the bus stop in good time for the 4.39. We did see an octopus in the end, but he’s quite a harmless fellow.

Octopus? More like a quadropus

We boarded the bus, paid the fare (usually, you pay when you get off) and sat down.

When the bus was 50 metres down the road, we realised we’d left the green shopping bag on the seat by the bus stop. Usually the green bag has snacks in it, or shopping, or rubbish. Today, it also contained the internet. I’d left the pocket wifi with Liesel while wandering around the beach area and so it was transferred to the green bag away from its usual home, in my famous manbag. By the time the bus had travelled another 50 metres, Liesel had told the driver to stop and he did so. I’m waiting for Guinness to ratify this claim, but I ran all the way back to the bus stop, picked up the bag and ran all the way back, 200 metres, in 17.8 seconds. Admittedly, it was a humid day and I broke sweat slightly, but that’s not a bad achievement for an old fart like me.

We found a restaurant, Ethnic Vegan LaLa Zorba where we enjoyed a good curry. The musical accompaniment was mainly Anandmurti Gurumaa (Hare Krishna) and Bob Dylan, although we did hear John and Yoko’s Happy Xmas (War is Over). Did Yoko ever find her daughter Kyoko, do we know?

Did I mention it? Yes, the curry was very nice, very tasty.

Taking it easier the following day, our first Japanese dance lesson went very well, thanks for asking.

Dance steps 101

We took the monorail to Onoyama Park where we spent an enjoyable couple of hours. We walked slowly, observed a group of old men (even older than me, according to Liesel) playing baseball.

Old fogeys’ baseball

We sat for a while and watched the children playing in the playground. It would be lovely to bring Martha and William here, if only so I’d have an excuse to climb to the top of the very long slide.

Young kiddies’ slide

There’s a running track through the park that is marked with distances and is very slightly cushioned. It was a warm day, but even some of the runners were wearing leggings and two or three layers on top. I was dressed sensibly, shorts and shirt, but I resisted the temptation to try and beat my 200 metres PB from yesterday.

Ms. They’re like M&Ms but half the size

We perambulated in an orderly manner alongside the river and crossed the bridge.

You shall not pass (we did)

We eventually found ourselves back on Kokusai Dori, so went into Edelweiss for coffee and cake. Edelweiss, Edelweiss, every morning you eat me.

There were some strange things on show in the shops and we are so glad that we’d already decided not to buy any of it.

ET and Jaws together at last
Not for us, thanks
Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas, everybody

Yes, Christmas is all over the place, no getting away from it, here. It feels strange: it’s November, but very warm, 23°C, 72°F, so it doesn’t feel at all Christmassy. Hearing Silent Night performed that fast doesn’t help with the Christmas mood, either!

Hot Stuff

Our final day in Kawasaki was fascinating. No, not Kawasaki. Quasimodo. Kagoshima, that’s it, Kagoshima.

We enjoyed a bus ride and a walk to the Museum of the Meiji Restoration.

Waiting for the bus

Kagoshima is full of history. Everywhere you look, there are statues and placards commemorating historical events. The Meiji Restoration changed Japan. Imperial rule replaced the old shogunate political system, and the united country opened up to trade with other nations for the first time in 260 years. This whole thing was kicked off here in the Satsuma province. In the museum, we watched a very fast reconstruction of the events and again, we wondered, why did we know nothing of this from history lessons at school?

Honeymoon of (Reformer and samurai) Sakamoto Ryoma and Oreo

Unfortunately, no photos are allowed from the museum, so you’ll just have to go.

We walked towards the ferry port as we were going on a boat ride. Sakurajima is an active volcano just over the water and when we first saw it, it was having a quiet smoke.

Sakurajima

The ferry ride was easy. No tickets, you just pay when you get off. And on the way back, you pay the same person. It reminded me of the ferries in Norway where it’s just like taking the bus. Why the Isle of Wight Ferry has to be such a big deal, I’ll never know.

We were looking at a pamphlet and Liesel told me about a footpath that we could go and see. It said that at 100 metres in length, it’s one of the longest in Japan. I thought that couldn’t be right, we’ve walked along many, many footpaths longer than that.

“Bath”, said Liesel, “it’s a footbath.” Oh.

I thought it would be fun to walk the length of a 100m footbath, I’ve never done that before. But I did wonder if I’d be allowed to and whether I would, literally, get cold feet.

Well, I couldn’t and I didn’t.

It was hot water. Well, obviously: it’s just downhill from an active volcano. The natural hot spring was almost too hot. It took a while for my feet to get in but once there, and halfway up my calves, it did feel good. Liesel couldn’t take the temperature for as long as I did. Which is weird, because in the kitchen, her teflon fingers are much less sensitive to heat than mine are.

And, no, it was impossible to walk from one end to the other, thank goodness: too many little bridges and other obstructions.

The footbath or foot spa
Scrambled eggs

Meanwhile, the volcano was still puffing away. We went for a bit of a walk and some of the footpath was covered in cinders so it seems we were lucky today that the wind wasn’t blowing the dust and the fumes towards us. We found our way back to the Visitors Centre which was very interesting too.

This very active volcano has hundreds of eruptions each year and we now know why our Airbnb host had given us evacuation instructions.

Sakurajima
Here are the stats

I thought we’d finished with big vegetables when we left Anchorage. But no, we were in for a treat.

The Sakurojima big radish

The wind was changing direction on the return ferry, as the Sun was getting low in the sky, so the cloud above the volcano appeared totally different.

One more time: Sakurajima
More statues in Kagoshima

We still can’t get over how early and how fervently Japan is into Christmas. This tree-like structure outside the railway station is, apparently, typical of this part of Japan. Such a shame the bright colourful tree is almost outshone by the nearby traffic cones.

Merry Christmas, Kagoshima

What to do for supper tonight? Well, I didn’t like the look of this for a start!

Lots of fibre, presumably

And for an entertaining sight, watch someone eating pizza with chopsticks!

After returning home, I walked up the road to the local hot bath. As if I hadn’t been in enough hot water today.

This time, the guy at the counter knew why I was there. I paid, got soap and a towel and after washing and showering thoroughly, I joined four other, Japanese, men in the hot tub. It wasn’t as hot as the foot spa, but still hotter than a normal domestic bath or shower.

I had to get out after only ten or fifteen minutes though, I thought I was either going to fall over or fall asleep. The others, more used to things than I am, quite happily got out and straight into the cold tub. I can do that, thought I. No I can’t said my feet as soon as they submerged in the relatively icy water.

We had to be up early as we had a plane to catch. Jin, our host, had offered to drive us to the airport, for which we were very grateful.

One of the snacks we had with us was Wasabeef Chips. Wasabi flavoured crisps, or so we thought. But sadly, beef was involved in the ingredients. And chicken. And gelatin. Gelatin? In crisps? Why? Janice and Ray came to mind. Who remembers them and their catchphrase?

The flight to Naha Airport, Okinawa, was short and uneventful. And the blast of heat when we disembarked was very welcome.

It had become a little cooler over the last week or so, and quite a few locals, including Jin, had pointed at me, stroked my arm and enquired, “aren’t you cold, you freak?” I was still in t-shirt (or short-sleeved aloha shirt) and shorts while other folks were dressed in several layers of coats and fleeces. And no, I was rarely cold, usually just late at night outdoors.

We took the monorail to our next digs, which is, of course, at the top of the hill.

The futuristic monorail
The view from the front when it rained

The Airbnb is more spacious than the last one, we can spread our stuff out on the floor. But the ‘design’ is unusual to say the least. From the bed, you walk past the fridge on the left and a bathroom sink on the right, through the kitchen and into the shower. There’s a deep, square bathtub which we think can only be used to contain small children: you certainly couldn’t have a relaxing soak in it. But it feels good to be settled in one place for a whole week!

We came across a small park just down the road and enjoyed the entertainment. A Japanese guy with dreadlocks played some reggae from his laptop. But better than that were the Polynesian dance troupe, performing Hawaiian hula.

Hawaiian dancers
Hula and good singers too
Google bad Translate of the day

We’ve tried the rest, so we tried the best. Everest Curry House is run by a Nepalese guy who’s been here for two years, loves the climate as it’s similar to his home, but he hasn’t learned the local language.

The curry we had was (spicy) hot, just right for us. We opted for slightly hot, 10. The options went up to hyperhot, 100. That would have blown the top off my head, like that volcano.

Too Shy

I felt the need to go for a long walk. Fukuoka is a big old town and I thought I’d wander over to the docks, stop by at the onsen for a hot bath before going back to the hotel.

Yes, it’s a big city but the most interesting, picturesque places are by the rivers.

Fukuoka
Confluence
One of the more interesting buildings

I wandered through a park where I came across a disused open-air theatre.

Open-air theatre

The most disappointing thing I saw though was a couple of homeless people. We were just talking about this a couple of days ago: where do all the homeless people in Japan go? We hadn’t seen any in Tokyo, or Kyoto, anywhere. Maybe there are none. Maybe everyone is looked after? But I saw a man and a lady today, each pushing a supermarket trolley full of plastic bags of stuff. These people looked a bit shabby too, which is most unusual.

Liesel missed out when I visited the art gallery. A collection of impressionist paintings on loan from the Burrell collection usually based in Glasgow.

The sign on the wall said it was OK to take pctures, but no flash, no tripod, no selfie stick. But I was told off when I tried to take a picture of the van Gogh painting.

A voyage to impressionism

I walked towards the docks but it was heavily industrialised, not a place to go for a walk, so I never did see the sea. Instead, I went to the onsen. Such a disappointment. I only have myself to blame, of course, for not even trying to learn some basic Japanese. But surely, if I go into a public bath, it’s pretty obvious what I’m there for? The receptionist pointed me in the direction of the café area. But I couldn’t even see how to order a cup of tea, if I wanted one. A few guys were sitting there with towels around their necks. But I couldn’t see where to go, for lockers, to pay, to take my clothes off, nothing. Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye. Very disappointed with myself but there are plenty of other public baths.

The docks are way, way over there somewhere

So, I thought to myself, I’ll go for a massage instead. I looked one up, followed directions and oh my goodness, I know I was still close to the dock area at this point, but this wasn’t the kind of massage I was looking for.

Another bridge

I walked back to the hotel where I had a bit of a lie down!

William looking good, happy birthday xx

Meanwhile, back in the UK, lovely William was celebrating his first birthday. We won’t miss his second, it’s too hard!

And so, on to our next port of call. The name of it has proved to be a bit of a mental block for me. Kajagoogoo. No. Kamikazi. Kama sutra. It’s on the tip of my tongue but I just can’t remember what it’s called.

To be fair, it’s not just Japanese place names I have such problems with. There was that night a couple of years ago when I was awake for hours trying to remember the name of Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis. Yes, I know it’s Moriarty. But I couldn’t recall it that night. Montgomery, Montmorency, Mycroft (close but…), Moorcroft, Moorcraft, on and on.

And while out walking the streets of Fukuoka yesterday, I kept thinking of Cosa Nostra, Kate O’Mara, cash ‘n’ carry.

Every time we pack, we think we have too much stuff. We walked to the station having a late breakfast slash early lunch on the way. Hard Rock Café, as it happens, salad and chips, always a good combination.

Today’s journey on the Shinkansen would be our final train ride in Japan, on this occasion. Such a shame it only took an hour and a half to get to kalamati, no, Kalahari, grrr…

Kagoshima. It’s Kagoshima, of course.

Our Airbnb host, Jin, picked us up from the station, took us to our apartment, way up on the fifth floor and there’s no lift. He introduced us to the local greengrocer, told us how good the chicken was, told us where we could get chicken sushimi for only 100, very cheap.

I went for a walk to confirm that I would be able to find the local hot bath tomorrow Yes, there’s one here too, just a two minute walk away, and I will persevere this time.

Sun sets, shrine appears on the hill

We should be used to it by now, but when the Sun sets here, it sets good and proper. No messing about with twilight and all that nonsense.

We look forward to exploring this place, Kagoshima, Kagoshima, more fully tomorrow!

Mariah Carey Sumo Wrestling

All I want for Christmas is to hear Mariah Carey singing ‘All I Want for Christmas’ on auto-repeat. Today, my wish came true. The siren called us down to the second floor for our breakfast. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any. It wasn’t included with our (admittedly cheap) hotel room fee. Nor was there an option to eat breakfast and pay later. Another example of a misunderstanding from a badly translated website. Hotel, you ask? Yes, we’re in Fukuoka for few more days and sometimes you can’t book an Airbnb for the exact length of time you need. So, we’re slumming it a bit on the 8th floor. It’s a quiet room except you can hear every other toilet being flushed: I think their effluent runs through our bathroom via pipes that think they’re sound amplification units.

But I did take advantage of the public hot bath. Not a real onsen, a natural hot spring, but as close as you can get on the 14th floor of a mid-town hotel. The hot bath was indeed hot. The one in the room next door was hot too, and it was open to the outside world, so on a cold day, you can potentially be snowed upon while in the hot tub.

I’d still like to experience a genuine, natural onsen, but that might have to wait a couple of days.

Colourful welcome to the arena

Today was a day for sport. We walked a couple of miles to the Kokusai Center to witness nearly eight hours of Sumo Wrestling. It was Day 10 of a 15-day Grand Sumo Tournament. And Mariah Carey was still in my head, possibly the most persistent ear worm in the world.

During the day, we saw over fifty separate contests. Each one is very short, preceded by lots of ritual. As the day wore on, competitors with increasing skill levels took part. The final 20 matches were from the Senior Division.

Very small audience early in the day

The Dohyō, the ring in which the contest takes place, is built anew for each tournament. The playing surface is clay and covered in sand. The men wear only a loin cloth, or mawashi, which may be tied tightly or loosely. The idea is to force your opponent out of the ring or to make him touch the floor with a part of his body other than his feet. It’s a mix of strength, weight, balance and strategy.

Not supposed to grab that bit

One of the skills most useful is hard to see, though, so if you’re squeamish, jump to the next paragraph. To prevent injury and pain in that area, sumo wrestlers are able to reel in their testicles to the safety of the lower abdomen.

Ritual before the contest

They all have their hair tied up into a top-knot, but each is a s lightly different style. Part of the ritual is to throw salt onto the Dohyō. This seems to be more common with the more experienced combatants. We saw one chap pick up and throw a huge handful of salt!

Not quite ready to go

The referees, or gyōji, wear brightly coloured outfits. They too are ranked and the most senior ones wear a sword because if they make a bad decision, they are honour bound to do the right thing.

Not always an equal size match

Some of the Seniors had their own group of rowdy supporters but there were a lot of westerners here too, like us, just for the experience. It was a great day’s entertainment.

Some of these are very popular
Curling is not the only sport with broom-wielders
Introducing the Seniors

Yesterday we went to Marine World at Uminonakamichi. As the name suggests, the place was full of fish. And dolphins.

Spider crab
Cleaning the rocks with your toothbrush

The ear worm on this occasion was Marina, Aqua Marina, from the old TV series Stingray. Look it up on YouTube and it will be in your head for the rest of the day, too. Unless you prefer Mariah Carey of course.

Miyajima and Kyushu National Museum

After breakfast, I liberally coated my passport and my JR Pass with mustard.

Miyajima is a small island in Hiroshima Bay, known for its forests and ancient temples. The vermillion Great Torii Gate is visible from the mainland, but becomes much more impressive as you approach on the ferry.

O-torii Gate

There is such a gate at the entrance to all the shrines, but it seems a bit bizarre putting one in the sea. In fact, it’s partially submerged at high tide.

Although it’s a small island, it’s hilly (volcanic) and there is a lot to see. We restricted ourselves to just a gentle walk, mainly near sea-level. It was busy, far too many people in our space, but I suspect they thought the same about us, too.

The beach facing the Gate

The Itsukushima Shrine was first built in 593. Yes, 593 and then remodelled in 1168. There was a heron trying and failing to catch the little fishes that lived in the pools left behind by the ebbing tide. I don’t think this was menat to be the main entertainment. That honour goes to the wedding that we, and many, many other people witnessed as we walked by. The flute quartet played some interesting traditional Japanese music.

The hungry heron
The beautiful bride
Today’s selfie

Of course, you can’t visit a Shinto Shrine without visiting a nearby Buddhist Temple. As a bonus for us, this was a special day.The “Hiwatari-shiki” is sponsored by the Daisho-in Temple and takes place twice a year on April and November 15th. This is a religious rite performed by the Shingon Sect of Buddhism. We wondered what the queue was for, especially as most, not all, had taken their shoes off.

Up, up and away

It’s a long, complicated ceremony and culminates in the worshippers walking on fire: ignited cypress branches, to be precise.

Walking on embers

A lot of smoke was generated so it was hard to see how many steps each person took, but thankfully there were no screams of agony. Of course, if the queue had been shorter, we would have had a go, ourselves.

Lots of little Buddhas
Each one has his own sponsor/supporter
Looking back to the mainland

This five-storey pagoda is over 600 years old, combining Japanese, Indian and Chinese architectural features.

Five storey pagoda

Something else that I want to have a go at is pulling the rickshaw. It looks easy-peasy but suppose I can’t get it moving, even on the flat? So, regretfully, I didn’t offer my services. Oh, and of course, there’d be problems with insurance and health and safety, so maybe it was a wise move to walk on by.

Rickshaw

When we saw the deer eating that woman’s map, I was so grateful I’d spread something hot and spicy on my valuable paperwork.

Omnivorous deer

The deer here are wild, you’re not supposed to feed them, but they’ll try anything. We saw this one nearly get its head stuck inside a milk (beer?) crate.

A cup of coffee sounded like a good idea, but we weren’t inclined to visit this café. You can sit with dogs or cats or even owls.

Dog, cat, owl café
Artistic shot of the day, from the return ferry

We have moved on from Hatsukaichi to Fukuoka. The new Airbnb was hard to find, we were reminded again how different Japanese addresses are to those we’re used to. Getting off the bus a stop early doesn’t help. We followed the directions given by the host, left, right, left, right but the pictures didn’t look quite right. In the end, Liesel accosted a young lady who took us to our new front door. We’d been walking a route parallel to where we thought we were.

I went out for an extra walk to get some groceries and I found an actual Christian Church, St Martins. It looked so strange, up a slight hill, looking all plain ordinary, after seeing so many shrines and temples in their vermillion Sunday best.

St Martin’s Church, Fukuoka

It was a successful shopping expedition too. I found some apples that aren’t the size of melons. Apple-sized apples.

We haven’t been to a museum, yet. That just seems wrong, but the weather’s been so good, we haven’t felt the need to go indoors unnecessarily. The National Museums in Tokyo and Kyoto will have to wait for another visit, but today, we did go to Kyushu National Museum here in Fukuoka. A bus ride then a train ride.

Nishitetsu run the buses around here and it’s a wonderful service. Not so much if you get on a bus on the wrong side of the street. That way lies hilarity, excess fares and a big fight with Google Maps.

(Not really) Glow worms at Tenjin Station
If you gotta have drains, make ’em pretty

Still, we got to the museum eventually and spent a good few hours inside looking at some fascinating exhibits.

It’s good to see that it wasn’t just Brits who went around the world ‘collecting’ artefacts. There were two collections here from most of Asia: China, Korea, Myanmar, India and beyond.

Unfortunately, no cameras are allowed inside the museum itself, so you’ll just have to take our word for it: it was a well-organised series of displays. The captions were in several languages, including English, although with a few slight hiccups in translation.

I was particularly pleased to see the Beatles influence here in eastern Asia. The Northern Song dynasty in the 10th century produced some fab Kyodo bronzeware. Printing technology also underwent significant development at this time, although it’s thought to have begun during the Sui dynasty, that’s the 6th and 7th century. William Caxton and Johann Gutenberg were 900 years late to the party, yet those are the inventors of printing that we learned about at school.

The old maps and map-making tools were fascinating, too. Japan has changed its shape over the years and at one point, they thought Corea (sic) was an island.

Chinese Dragon promoting an event at Nagasaki

People were gathering outside and so we joined them.

The backdrop to our entertainment

We were pleased to witness a spellbinding performance by a dancer whose mask kept changing colour. I think the fan and his baggy sleeves helped hide the changes, but what a clever, energetic performance that was.

Several masks were revealed and removed
Mask Change by Chen Xiaotao
A bonus, bad selfie

Being hungry on the way home, we dined at the Tower Records Café. I know, I know: have we gone back to 1970s London or something? No, here we are.

Tower Records

We found our way home, despite it being dark and despite our internet connection dropping out at exactly the moment we most needed it for navigation purposes. Luckily, my little jaunt last night paid off as I recognised where we emerged from the underground station: just down the road from St Martins.

Himeji Castle

We’re staying in a cute little house in Hatsukaichi. Well, not as cute as some others, maybe. It’s a cuboid with a corrugated tin roof. It’s not made from paper, but we do think cardboard is involved.

It was really cold our first night here. The vents can’t be closed and they seem to let cold air in but keep the warm air out. Also, for the first time since we arrived in Japan, we’re having to use a toilet seat without a bottom heater. On the other hand, there aren’t several other buttons to cause mayhem with.

One thing I do like is the makeshift shelf unit installed above the toilet seat. This is a wonderful way to increase storage for such necessities as loo paper. I don’t think Liesel’s a big fan, though. I had similar ‘temporary’ shelves installed in our house in Chessington, in the main bedroom and on the landing… But when Liesel moved in, they had to go: they made her feel claustrophobic!

A toilet with a delightful home-made shelf

This was all in the future though when we stopped off at Himeji Castle. We programmed Google Maps to take us there, aware that there was a good chance we’d get lost. But no: as soon as we left the station, we could see the castle looking down on the town from a mile or so away. We would have to try very hard indeed not to find it today.

Himeji High Street (I’m sure that’s its real name) is a wide boulevard and decorated with a collection of sculptures.

She looks cold, but it really wasn’t

They are mostly young maidens but there are a couple of chaps too, one wearing a hat.

Let’s Walk Upon Wearing a Hat

But I think my favourite was Summer Hat Girl.

Summer Hat Girl

The first fort on the hill was built in 1333 and it’s been expanded, enhanced, rebuilt, augmented frequently ever since. It is an imposing building and hard to believe that wood forms the main structure.

I think every shrine, temple and castle that we’ve visited has at some point in its history been at least partially destroyed by fire and then rebuilt. Several times in a couple of cases.

But this castle should be safe from now on. A mythical being on the roof is protecting the castle against fire but, as the loud, young American boy wondered aloud, how does that work, then? The other thing in the castle’s favour is the ban on smoking.

The mythical fire-preventing fish on the roof

We took our shoes off before entering the castle as is the custom. Then, within a few paces, I also removed my socks: the shiny, slippery, wooden floor was just begging me to go A over T.

We walked up six (I think) flights of stairs to the top of the castle from where we had a great view of the surrounding countryside.

The first small steps

We confirmed our suspicions: a Stone Drop is the place from where you can drop stones onto your enemies’ heads.

Autumn colours
A view from the top

The last renovation was started in 1956 and completed in March 1964 – more or less the same day as Guildford Cathedral was finished. It never even crossed my 9-year old mind that building work was also taking place way over there in Japan. When they dismantled the old structure, they discarded old, rotting timber, of course. But they did find useful notes written by the original builders, and these helped enormously when they came to rebuild the castle.

Reconstruction

This year marks the 25th anniversary of it becoming a World Heritage Site. I don’t know if this is why the admission fee was waived today, or maybe they were just pleased to see us.

A selfie – not too bad, this one
An unencumbered view of the castle

Walking back down the main road, we passed a shop selling the most gorgeous wedding dresses.

Beautiful wedding dress

And just in case we were becoming homesick, we found this sign in a department store.

Not the real Oxford Street, obvs

We arrived at the aforementioned Airbnb and on the walk from the local railway station, we saw some cats in the street. We hadn’t seen real life cats for a long time, so this was a surprise.

Then, in our new house, we notice the clock has a cat theme too.

Cat o’clock

After dumping our bags, we went out for a quick walk, and we happened to stop at the restaurant right next door to the station. We had okonomiyaki which was a fantastic cabbage-based pancake. Bung some spuds in and it would become the world’s best bubble and squeak!

Okonomiyaki and Mick

None of the staff could speak more than a few words of English, we of course can’t speak more than one word of Japanese, but we had a good chat just the same, about visiting Hiroshima and Miyajima. As a bonus, we were each given a satsuma for dessert.

Hiroshima

Hiroshima.

The word itself is evocative. Visiting the town was difficult. Were we being intrusive? Invasive? Or were we visiting with good intentions in our hearts?

Yes: definitely the latter. What a moving experience. We spent some time being interviewed by several school children. We passed on messages of peace and love and they gave us origami cranes.

The Atom Bomb Dome
The A-Bomb Dome from the Peace Memorial Park
Before the war

After the bombing

From a survivor
A sentiment close to our hearts

The Museum was very crowded, hundreds of school students reading about the war and the bomb and there were some fairly graphic exhibits too.

140,000 of these small tiles, one for each victim
140,000 tiles make up the picture
The willow tree that survived the A-bomb
Hiroshima Castle
From the castle towards the town
The Peace Bell

The Peace Bell was made in 1949 to console the souls of the people who died from the A-bombing, and to hope for peace.

We sat and thought for a while beside Hiroshima Castle before heading for home. It’s a lovely city and the people, museum staff, passers-by, children were all very friendly.

But I suspect the story from that August morning in 1945 will probably be at the forefront of our minds for a long time to come when we hear the name Hiroshima.