After arriving back in London, it took a day or two to adjust – jet lag was not much of an issue (thanks night shifts), but it was a funny feeling coming back to the flat and nothing much had changed. I’d only been away six weeks, but here I was taking the familiar routes home and seeing familiar faces when so much had happened while I was away. Mum did a roast the day after I got back which was lovely!
A couple of weeks in London were meant to be some sort of a rest bite, but I ended up faffing around with embassies trying to sort two visas, as well as a lot of other menial tasks – I was actually grateful that I had come back to sort them out. The visa for China seemed to be one that caused a bit of grief as I had to have a letter from work confirming that I wasn’t travelling there to work. This meant popping into work to talk to a manager which was also a bizarre feeling – walking down the corridor gave me the creeps. The whole point of the sabbatical was that I could forget about work for six months (and I had done a pretty good job so far). God knows how it’ll feel when I have to go back to work in October! On the plus side, it was nice to catch up with family and friends – I was lucky enough to get to a wedding which I had initially thought I wouldn’t to be able to get to. I also was able to reassess the amount of clothes I should take with me – Asia wasn’t going to be as cold as South America.
Leaving for Japan and realising that I’m not going to be home for a few months didn’t sink in when I got on the plane from Heathrow. Maybe the two weeks at home had worn me out so much that I hadn’t had time to think about it. I still felt massively unprepared, but it wasn’t a bad thing. It could mean that I’m fairly relaxed about everything, and ready to face with what I get hit with. As long as I had my passport with the right visas sorted, a bit of money and my phone, I wasn’t too worried about other things. It’s quite liberating. I had planned my route in Japan based on a blog that I had read online which had talked about the best things to do in a few weeks and showed how easy it was to get around on trains etc. I had also sorted out getting the Japan Rail Pass when I was at home which was a bit expensive, but it would make life a lot easier as long as you knew you were on the correct trains that use it – it can’t be used on certain bullet trains. Stepping off the plane in Tokyo after 17 hours on planes and not too much sleep was exciting. But I was only thinking about my bladder at that precise moment, so decided to do something about it. It was going to the loo that made me realise I wasn’t in London anymore. For one thing, it took me ages to work out how to flush it – lots of buttons with options in Japanese characters. Secondly, there are some other buttons on the loo you can press to play music, as well as a flushing sound. Do you really need to let other people know that you are doing your business that badly? If something needs extensive flushing, why don’t you just flush twice? I’d get embarrassed if I’d walked out of the cubicle and others washing their hands had heard extensive flushing. Would only mean one thing, really….The seats are heated too which was a little bit of a shock. Anyway, bar the loo fiasco, getting into Tokyo was fairly straightforward. I was struck with a sense of brightness, colour and information, both digital and placarded. I just about found the place to sort the Rail Pass out after checking there was an express train into the city fairly soon – I managed to find an app on the App Store called HYPERDIA which gives you train times, and selects those which you can use the Rail Pass on – v useful, I think you’ll agree. Just about made the train (after a moment of panic, questioning whether it was the right one as the information was in Japanese, and running down stairs with my massive bag) and it was an hour into the city, The main train station is massive and I could get an intercity train one stop to my hostel for the night. It was a pretty decent hostel and it was compartmentalised rather than just beds which was quite nice. Picked up some Dim Sum which was much appreciated and got my face stroked by a few people which was a bit odd. But hey ho, all part of it, right? Jet lag hit me a bit and I only got a few hours sleep. I didn’t mind to much as I had to be up and out to catch a Shinkansen to Hiroshima. I changed at Shin Kobe on the way so I could use the rail pass. Arrived after four hours and found the capsule hostel! I had been looking forward to staying in this. I walked through Tokyo in the early hours when it was very quiet. I am amazed at the fact that you can smoke on trains – only in certain carriages, and I’ve only noticed then on Shinkansens. Then it was out to explore Hiroshima. I was fairly tired but I kept on the move. I visited the Peace Memorial Park where there is a cenotaph paying tribute to all of those who lost their lives on 6th August 1945. Apparently, the park is now built on what was the political centre, and was the target of the atomic bomb, The dome building which is one of the few buildings left standing is very ghostly. I visited the memorial park centre where there was an exhibition about what took place leading up to the bomb being dropped, and the horrific events during and after the bomb was dropped. The scale of the tragedy is unfathomable. I then went to the castle which was originally 16th century but had to rebuilt after 1945. The building is nice and it was interesting to see some artefacts that survived. There was a shrine nearby and I first noticed the water ladles and fountain which is used to purify your hands and mouth before prayer.I wanted an early night after a busy day so thought I’d just grab some food and get some much needed rest. There were a lot of places to choose from just off the Main Street – Hiroshima’s Oxford St. I went into one random one which was quite small and was given a menu solely in Japanese. There were some locals willing to help me out who didn’t speak too much English but were keen anyway. I had some eel, pork and edamame beans – yum!
After trying to break down some of the language barrier, it turned into a great evening. The older gentleman was nice enough to buy my dinner and wouldn’t take ‘No’ for answer! This turned into going to a small bar where one of the locals worked and singing karaoke – and yes, my attempt at ‘Wonderful Tonight’ was a little to be desired!The next morning, I have to admit that I had a bit of a headache. But it was a lot of fun. My alarm was unwelcome, but I knew I had to get another train to Miyajimaguchi which is only half an hour away. I then dropped my bag off at another hostel and caught the 10 min ferry to Miyajima Island. I hadn’t done a lot of research about the island but had heard great things. Getting off the ferry, I was greeted by deer who roam freely and are quite tame. I visited the Itsukushima Shrine which is essentially on water. If the tide comes up too much, the wooden floor can rise up out of the pole it is attached to. This was originally built in 593 but was redone in 1168. It was interesting to see how many people prayed. Also, there are a lot of places where people can write wishes and attach them to rope for good fortune. This is a shrine as opposed to a temple, because there is a ‘gate’ to the shrine – in this case, it is red and in the water. You can’t miss it.Then off to Daisho-in Temple which is a complex full of smaller shrines. The religion here is Shingon Buddhism. This particular sect teaches that humans can attain enlightenment through rituals combining physical, spoken and mental disciplines. It is at the bottom of Mount Misen which is believed to be sacred. There were lots of different shrines for different prayers e.g. One for good health etc. After a quick udon and tofu soup, it was time to climb to the top of the mountain. It took me back to the Inca Trail – climbed 3km of stairs and I didn’t think that Birkenstock sandals and black cropped jeans were the best form of attire. Nor was carrying a rucksack in 30 degree heat a good idea, especially with a mild hangover. Made it to the top looking like a tomato! Got a cable car on the way down which was good and back on the ferry – knackered! Looking forward to the next few days!