Rippling Bridge, Samurai Stuff and Eaten Alive in Bamboo Grove

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September 24th 2016
Published: September 24th 2016
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Today I had originally planned to visit the cat island on Aoshima but it was not to be. It's not that it would have been one tram ride, 2 ferries plus 1 or 2 trains, but it turned out that the first ferry to Matsuyama in Shikoku was going to be £30 per person each way. And then there was no guarantee that the twice a day ferry to Aoshima from Nagahama would be running or even have a places for us as there is only room for 34 passengers. So with a heavy heart I've had to postpone a dream to visit a Japanese Cat Island.

So what to do instead? We'd seen more or less everything my guidebook suggested in Hiroshima, it had mentioned the rebuilt castle but didn't say anything good or bad about it. Glyn's more in depth guide suggested an incinerator and the Mazda factory but strangely I was not enticed. Eventually we decided on a day trip to Iwakuni.

The day started with a tram, then a train, then another train, then a bus, then a cable car (or rope way as they call it here). Before the cable car was a visit to a shop to buy ice cream, choosing from a list of 100s of flavours sold by two elderly ladies so short that even if they stood on top of each other, the upper woman wouldn't get face to face with Glyn. I had grape ice cream, it was ok, bit of an odd after taste.

Iwakuni is know for its Kintai-kyo bridge, also known as the 'brocade sash' bridge due to its rippling effect of five arches. Like most stuff here, the original was old, built in 1673 but then was destroyed (this time by a typhoon) and an exact replica has replaced it in 1953.

Glyn had some lotus bun thing to eat, I would have too, but we managed to communicate with the vendor enough to find out it contained 'just a little pork'. Japan is a hard country to be veggie in; other countries also don't do veggie food but always list meat as an ingredient so it's easy to avoid. But in Japan, meat is treated like a garnish and used to ruin the flavour of decent vegetables just about all the time.

Up the mountain in a ram-packed cable car we travelled to Iwakuni Castle, which is a large and wide white tower. Japanese castles are a bit lame compared to what I've come to expect from a castle in Britain. They generally tend to be four or five rooms piled up on each other, getting narrower with each room. Their only similarity with European castles is that they are up on high so tourists have to do a lot of uphill walking (generally in the hottest part of the day) to get to them. This one also had some samurai swords and armour which were pretty cool but all the signage was in Japanese, so I've no idea what it was all about.

Anyone who read yesterday's blog will know that I saw an old man pushing three small dogs and a cat in a pram yesterday and thought it unusual. I was wrong. It's not unusual, it's completely normal. Today I saw a whole family pushing a dog around in a pram, but on closer inspection, it was a special contraption designed for pets. It had a zip to completely enclose the dog if needed and a mesh area to let air in - like a cloth version of the box I take my cat to the vet in, only this one was on wheels and purposely designed to look like a pram with a far more leisurely look to it than my pet vet box. Mind you, my cat would still hate such a thing.

Like everywhere in Japan, there were banks of vending machines outside the castle. I have noticed that the Japanese rarely just have the one vending machine, there are at least three, selling drinks and sometimes food. Glyn decided it was time to try the Pocari Sweat - so named because it is meant to replace the liquids and nutrients lost when sweating. Now it did taste better than human sweat, but not much. I also broke out of my comfort zone and tried the cold milk tea, which its only redeeming feature was that it was cold. Never again.

Heading back down in the cable car, past a room of around 8 vending machines, we looked for some lunch. The small restaurant we ended up in was old and rickety with tattered wooden sliding doors that opened electronically. Part of the room was raised with knee high tables for the
Mekata ResidenceMekata ResidenceMekata Residence

Iwakuni - once the home of a mid-ranking samurai
locals who removed their shoes, the other half had western height tables for tourists, who did not remove their shoes. There were only two other groups in there so we soon got served and caused the waitress to call out her mate when Glyn showed her the writing his Japanese friend had emailed to him that translated about me being a veggie. After some thought and discussion, they decided they could cook up some noodle soup with onion and other unknown veg. It was nice enough. Glyn got a tray with many tiny plates containing an array of things including fish, rice, veg and other unidentifiable stuff. He was happy.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around the Mekata Residence (which once was the home of mid-ranking samurai), Japanese garden with shrines and temples (naturally) and I found a cat sleeping in a tree! This was my second cat of the day after seeing one skinny tortoiseshell fuss up to two women in the park. Things were looking up after the cat island disappointment.

Glyn wanted to go to the white snakes museum, despite the fact that snakes are evil. Now the place did have aircon, so it wasn't all bad. A cartoon at the beginning that was tried to make out that white snakes were good luck and kept the mice away from your farm (a cat of any colour can do that), they tried to make the snakes appear cute but no way was I falling for that. White snakes are merely mutated Japanese rat snakes so in my eyes, a complete fraud. There was one case inviting you to put your hand in. NO. I could see through the glass that it contained a stuffed dead snake and a place to touch it's skin. Get lost, my hands were going nowhere near, but Glyn did but it was nothing special as he's handled many live snakes before. There was a glass case containing three or four live white snakes, itching to get out and wreak havoc on the world and that was about it.

Looking at our map, we saw a bamboo grove and fancied seeing that. It was a bit away from everything else, past the old wooden boats with signs banning fires and barbecues, and past the party of young Americans having a drunken barbecue littering the place with cans. No doubt my hubby will rant about this in his blog, the Japanese people watching the spectacle looked unamused and slightly confused because they just don't litter here and they certainly don't light fires next to historic wooden things, especially when there are signs specifically saying not to.

Talking of following the rules, one huge thing that is so different to the UK is crossing the road in Japan. In the cities, people only use the designated crossings, you never see people running in and out of traffic, dodging cars and getting beeped at angrily. When at a crossing, people only cross when the green man is showing, not even when he's nearly appearing - he has to be there. Even if there's no traffic, people still wait. Even if it's the middle of the night and no cars have appeared for hours, people will still wait patiently at the crossing until the lights say it's safe to go. It is exasperating if you're in a hurry, but that just how it is here - or at least in the places I have visited so far.

The bamboo grove was a bunch of trees surrounding an empty car park, but still I felt the desire to step inside it. Now I'm already covered in insect bites and had been wearing long jeans all day in the heat in the hope of lessening the bite count, so stepping into this grove was the opposite of a good idea. Glyn suggested using the bug spray we'd bought yesterday and we both smothered ourselves in it but too late, the insects were on us like flies on fresh dog do. We ran out of the grove and got away as quickly as possible but the bugs managed to bite my feet and legs through the jeans. Poor Glyn has a bite on his eyebrow now. Hopefully I will have some good bamboo forest type photos - I suffer for my art!

After meeting a cat by a statue and a paddle in the icy cold river, we took the bus and just one train this time back to Hiroshima where we'd previously seen a cafe selling Okonomiyaki which is a local speciality that's meant to be a savoury pancake. Now I asked for the noodles and cheese version, but there was a note in English on the menu requesting that

you mention anything you don't eat. So even though in most places you would assume no meat in a noodle and cheese dish, it was a good thing I did ask because normally they put pork in it, they just don't say this on the menu. It's like not mentioning they add salt! it's just assumed you know. So my meal was a plate of noodles with a dash of cheese sandwiched into an omelette plus a few onions and soy sauce. Very filling and quite nice. Glyn liked his squid version (with pork of course!)

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