6:40 PM – Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Shin-Osaka.
[Note: I split this entry into two parts, this is Part One]
This morning pretty much mimicked the one previous in that I didn’t want to wake up. This room didn’t have a clock (nor a remote control to the TV) although it was a double room for the price of a single. I let myself kind of rest on the futon (a real futon, which is very thin – not the big thick things you see in the United States) but would not allow myself to sleep again. Finally, I dragged myself out of bed, and forced myself to get in the shower. The shower took a little longer than I had intended because I was groggy, and I didn’t get out until 8:10 or so. This really limited my time for logfile creation, again, and I set to work. The logs are getting longer now, and I’m finding it’s taking as much as two to three hours to get each one ready! Wow!
Same time as yesterday, I heard the familiar jingle and clunking of the cleaning crew setting to work. Drat, I guess they switch bottom to top; this time I was on the second floor, and I thought I had time. I got up and got dressed, and luckily, the sounds stopped. I continued work on the log. I considered for a moment taking my computer with me to Hiroshima and writing the log on the train, but that seemed heavy and annoying to lug around after not having done it for two days. At 10am, this was no longer an option. I wasn’t even close to being done, and I really needed to get my butt to Hiroshima, if I was to get in everything I had intended to do.
1) Get Hiroshima-yaki at the Okonomiyaki-Mura.
2) Check out the damage to Istukushima-ji at Miyajima.
That was pretty much it. It wasn’t a big list, but since it was two hours to Hiroshima, and Alex, Misue, and I were planning on meeting up around 7 or so, I needed all the time I could get. I packed up my bag, stuffed my computer in the backpack and went downstairs. The okaasan was behind the desk. I decided it was worth a shot, so I asked her if maybe, perhaps, someone had canceled for tonight, and if she had a room available. To my utter surprise and amazement, she did. It was the room which is right off the front desk, and the only room on the first floor, but hell, I don’t care! It’s also a little more inconvenient because while it has a shower, the toilet is in the hallway. I was completely relieved, and happily paid the 5900 or so yen it cost to stay another night. I briefly thought about asking her for another night, so I could go to Nara on Friday, but decided this was something I could ask later. If not, I’ll find something in Nara. I put my bag inside, and she locked it up, then showed me the room key, which they leave on little trays on the desk. Sometimes I worry about this, but since they’re out at the slightest noise, I highly doubt anyone would be able to get someone’s key and be unseen.
The rain was entirely gone now, and the sky was partly cloudy. I directed myself at the station, where I intended to catch the first train I could get to Hiroshima. Beforehand, I ran into my favorite little panya at the base of the station. Always get food before the tickets, so you’re not rushing to find something before you have to get on. That’s a rule. I picked up a katsu roll and a cheese-potato bread, which I’d forgotten about. It’s got a tangy potato sauce and big blocks of cheese on a sourdough-type roll, in a pit in the center that makes it look like it exploded outwards. It’s really yummy. This cost me 340 yen though, which somehow seemed expensive. I walked out of there and straight into the ticket office where I got tickets to Hiroshima through Shin-Osaka station. Damn, wasn’t going to leave for an hour. Now what…
I went to Isetan and back to the ceramic stuff, looking again for Totoro. After a brief search, I couldn’t locate any Miyazaki glasses, so I asked a woman. She said it was typically seasonal, and currently there wasn’t any in the store. She pulled out a catalog, and found all the items; Noritake makes them, and they’re still for sale. She said that while they didn’t have any, they could special order it, and it would take three days for delivery. I didn’t have three days, so unfortunately, that would have to happen some other way. I thanked her, and took the escalators back down. Along the way, I saw a really cute three year old standing by her mother. The little girl bowed to another woman and said, “Ohayoo gozaimasu!” really loudly to her. It was really, really adorable. I exited and scanned the area for the next place to waste time. In front of me was the Café du Monde and Mister Donut, and a place to have internet access. I wasn’t really in need though, as I’d checked email before leaving the ryokan. I also wouldn’t have the next log ready for a long time, so I wouldn’t even need to send it. Plus the service sucked, and I wasn’t about to risk it. I decided to just sit and write anyway, and so got in line at Café du Monde. The price for a big latte was exorbitant; it was nearly 500 yen for a decent sized drink. I wasn’t too pleased about it. As I stood waiting and thinking about money, another realization came over me.
Money. I need money! I snapped my fingers, turned, and walked out of line. I needed to change more travelers’ checks, duh! I walked full speed back to Isetan and down the escalator out of the station. The post office is next door to the station, and they will do all sorts of things, including allow you to pay your electric bill (if you live in Kyoto, of course). I noticed it had started lightly raining, but didn’t look like it should be, so I figured it would stop quickly. I walked into the Kyoto Post Office, and looked immediately for the familiar gaika ryougae (I remember this now) kanji. This was really rather silly though, as there were several huge English signs that said, “FOREIGN MONEY EXCHANGE” by window 15. I saw a smaller sign that said, also in English, that I needed to take a number, so I looked around for a number ticket machine. I located it far to the left of 15, and started to take one. As I did, a woman to my left leaned over to me and asked, “Money change?” in accented English. I nodded, and she gave me a form to fill out, said “you do not need ticket, just go counter when you have finished.” I filled out the form, which was less detailed than other places, and handed it to the clerk at window 15. I signed over three more $100 travelers checks, and he handed back a little more than 33000 yen, after checking my passport. The whole process barely took five minutes; I guess they’re used to changing money for foreigners here.
I decided instead of going back to the station, I’d wander around the Parka Underground, which is attached to The Cube. It’s wasn’t very crowded today, I guess because typically everyone is in school or at work. There were a number of stores to play around in, but I really wasn’t all that interested, nor did I have all that much time left. I did find a Starbucks (where can’t you find one these days) and since lattes are cheaper here than at Café du Monde, I ordered one. At first, I thought the girl pulled out a menu because I was a foreigner, but this didn’t make sense since everything is in English under the katakana anyway. After another customer ordered though, I realized this was just standard practice for everyone. The man delivered my latte, and I left out the door, my panya items still swinging in the bag underneath it. At this point, I was down to twenty minutes, so I returned to the Shinkansen tracks to take my seat. As I waited, several groups of Australian students wandered around nearby, and also waiting with me were I think a couple of French men, who were staring at a book trying to understand how to read hiragana. It was a funny thought – I mused the idea of giving them some help, but then decided against it as I didn’t even know we’d be able to understand one another! What a concept. Something weird also caught my eye as we waited. Way over in the distance I could see part of the main area of Kyoto station, where I’d taken pictures from the first day. I saw some shining, moving gold things and looked more carefully. Cheerleaders. There were cheerleaders performing in Kyoto Station with gold pom poms. I wondered whether they were Japanese or from somewhere else. The train I was waiting for arrived.
I was in a window seat on a three-seat wide row, so I had to step past someone in the middle seat to get to mine. My jacket was hanging off my backpack, and I basically slathered him in it. I felt bad and apologized. My next loveliness came when I reached down to my backpack to get my rail pass and ticket right after. The train was still in the station, and I’d put my tray down from the seatback and put the latte and breakfast on the tray. As I reached down, somehow I flipped the tray up and my latte, which was full, went tumbling over the front. CRAP. I quickly ducked down to see, but I didn’t see it, it had rolled forward. There was a little coffee on the floor, and I knew if I didn’t get my coffee fast (it had on a normal Starbucks lid) it would be everywhere, assuming the lid hadn’t come off. I sumimasened my way past the guy next to me and subsequently sumimasened my way into the row in front, where I reached under the window seat occupant’s legs. The coffee was sitting, lid side down, but upright. As luck would have it, since it was sealed in the cup and air could neither go in nor out, it was like a little coffee water cooler, and nothing had spilled out! However, I quickly (very quickly, as I was basically headfirst between a horrified salaryman’s legs) determined that removing it from this precariously balanced position was going to cause severe upset in the coffee continuum. I thought in my mind, “quick like bunny” and flipped the coffee right side up.
The good news is that the coffee was upright, mostly intact, and back in my row a few moments later. The bad news is that while flipping it, the coffee near the sipping hole basically slung out in a wide arc and managed to spray the poor victim’s left pant leg. It wasn’t much, but I gomen nasaied my way out of his row and returned to mine as the big, loud, bumbling, obnoxious foreigner who has no respect for decent, hardworking Japanese. Of that, I’m sure. I used a wet wipe from the Vodaphone store to clean off the top of my cup and then ate my breakfast in embarrassed silence. I thought maybe this would be disgusting to the guy next to me, but he didn’t know that the lid had just been on the floor. Hey, I cleaned it off.
The train to Shin-Osaka was very short, only fifteen minutes, and I was transferring trains in no time. I had a brief wait, but was again off for Hiroshima. This train was nicer, with only four seats across, and all were really wide and comfortable, with double-wide arm rests. Not as nice as a first-class Green Car, but very nice, nonetheless. A nice, older woman was in the seat next to me, who had an arm crutch. I was again in the aisle seat this time, and I hoped I wouldn’t be in her way, what with the laptop and all. She pulled out a bentoo, and apologized for eating in front of me. I told her it was fine, I’d just eaten and it didn’t bother me at all. This was the nice, average type of banter I like, because it makes me feel good about my Japanese, which as you might gather I like having constant reassurance of. Sometimes I have to reassure myself. The nice woman got off in Shin-Kobe, which was moderately close to Hiroshima. I was reminded that I really wanted to have Kobe steak while I was here, but keep forgetting to do so, and really haven’t had the opportunity anyway. Maybe Friday, or in Tokyo.
I got off in Hiroshima Station and re-emerged into the sunlight near the streetcar. After the Bomb, one of the first things they got working again was the streetcar, which gave hope to everyone. It still runs to this day, although other forms of transportation may have been easier, but this is still a heavily-used method. I stared at a map for a while, trying to figure out exactly where I needed to go. Fortunately enough, right as I figured out where I needed to end up, a man next to me doing the same thing asked some women how he could get to the exact same stop as I was going to. She told him the streetcar and pointed him towards them. Thanks!
I determined which line I needed to take, which was everyone but the green one. I looked up. I was at the green one. Naturally. I walked toward a crowd nearby that seemed to be waiting for the red line. The streetcars all terminate at Hiroshima station, so you can’t make the mistake of going the wrong way. I noticed, standing and waiting as well, a girl that was dressed from head to toe in crimson. She had her hair done up, heavy eye makeup, and was wearing a wrap that surrounded her. Some young people dress up like this in an attempt to be very different from everyone else, and in that regard, they succeed. The streetcar arrived, and the crowd entered, packing their way into every crevice. I rode about six stops to Hatchoobori, which is also where the red girl got off. I had read the price sign to the best of my ability (it was halfway across the train) to determine how much it was going to cost when I got off. From this limited information, I guessed that 120 yen was the correct amount and had already prepared it in my hand. However, as people were getting off, they were paying a lot more than 120 yen, and everyone had come from Hiroshima station. I asked the conductor how much it was from Hiroshima, and he said 150 yen. Confused, I reached in my pocket and pulled out that amount. He stuck out his hand, and then looked at my coins before allowing me to leave. I asked myself out loud as I stepped off how I could have screwed that up!
I knew that somewhere around here was the Okonomi-mura, the big building full of Hiroshima-yaki places. I had estimated on the map where the big shopping arcade was, as I know off the top of my head how to get there from the A-Bomb Dome, which is close to the center of the city. I found, only one block over a big covered shopping arcade, and thought that was it. I looked left, since I knew that the village was at the extreme far end of the arcade, but this didn’t look right. I crossed the street, since I knew also that I never crossed a major street anywhere along the way. This arcade dead ended rather quickly, and I thought I might be screwed. I turned left, then looked right. Well, lookie, lookie. In front of me was a Starbucks, which was not only the epitome of irony, but also it was the end of the arcade I was looking for. I was just coming from the wrong direction. I approached the Starbucks and turned left. Immediately I confirmed in my mind where I was. Another left led me to the plaza where a big, red steel cube structure stands, and to the right of that is a rampway that looks like playing card suits. Beyond all this, was the tall, glowing neon tower that is the Okonomi-mura. I raced inside and up the stairs.
This building is packed from the bottom to the top with various okonomiyaki places, all that make basically the same thing, but all that make it somewhat differently. The other similarity is that it’s Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which is different than the pancakey thing they make in Kansai (i.e. Kyoto and Osaka). That kind is still good, but even the guide books I’ve read have claimed Hiroshima-yaki to be the better tasting of the two. I passed up Chii-chan, which I’d eaten at before only because it was really busy with sailor-suited school girls, and also because it wasn’t being run by the namesake cute girl chefs today. I continued down to the end of the hallway, and took a seat at Shin-chan, somewhere I knew to make fantastically delicious stuff. I ordered one “soba-hairi” okonomiyaki, which means “with noodles”. This is one dish that is very far gone from Kansai style, as they actually put ramen-style noodles into the recipe.
The man began to make the item, as my mouth watered in anticipation, by making a small circle of batter, very thin, on the hot griddle. This already is hell and gone from Kansai style; in that method they mix the batter and ingredients together and cook it all at once. He topped this with thinly shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, kombu (a type of seaweed), green onion, and some little tempura crunchies. He added some seasoning, and a little water to help cook the cabbage. This was all topped with little swirls of batter. The next thing laid on top was several strips of bacon, and at this point, he flipped the entire stack over so that the bacon was touching the griddle to cook. Beside this, he put a small circle of cooked noodles, much like what goes into yakisoba, onto the griddle as well. After a short while, he flipped the primary stack on top of the noodles, and the cracked an egg onto the griddle. This he manipulated ever so deftly with the paddles to make a perfectly sized, perfectly round omelet, onto which he slid the original stack. A few moments later the entire stack was flipped one last time, and it was brushed with okonomi sauce, a sweet brown sauce, and then piled with green onion.
With the construction complete (I use this term instead of cooked; it’s more built than prepared!), he slid the entire pile over to me, where I was able to use my mini cooking paddles and chopsticks to slice and dice the thing like a pizza. Each piece I transferred from the hot griddle to a smaller plate where I wolfed the thing down. I savored every bite, however. At this point, I became horribly aware that it was getting late. It was already 2PM, and time calculations in my head were not pretty. On the train going to Hiroshima, Alex had written me and said we’d meet up at 7:30. This seemed to be a difficult thing to do, considering each way to Miyajima was likely an hour, not including the ferry ride. I forced myself to hurry. I explained to the woman who was assisting the chef (probably his wife) that I couldn’t get this in the States, and every time I came to Hiroshima, I would come here for a treat. She thought this was great, and complimented me on my Japanese. I always say I’m not “pera pera” which is basically fluent, and they always seem to disagree. I finished the last terrific morsel, then got up to pay. I read the menu, and assumed it was 730 yen. He mumbled a price, and I handed him the change. He stared at his hand for a moment, confused. “Is that not correct?” I asked. He said because of the green onion, it was a little more expensive, 820 yen. Oh. He had asked me if I wanted onions, but I had no idea it was an extra charge! I didn’t care, really, I just misunderstood. I apologized, replaced the change with a 1000 yen bill, and he returned the difference. “Until the next day that I can eat this again, I’ll be waiting,” I told the woman.
“No, it’s we who will be waiting,” she told me, smiling, and I hot footed it out the door and down the stairs.
Out in the plaza, I tried briefly to get a signal lock on the GPS so I could get a waypoint, but the buildings were just too high around that area. Dagnabbit. I gave up, and I hope the directions above are useful enough. I might revise them later. I walked very, very fast back to the intersection where I caught the streetcar. I figured the fastest way was to return to the station, then catch the JR line out to Miyajima-Guchi. I noticed a streetcar that was about to arrive, so I sprinted across the street. There wasn’t any way to get to the center of the busy intersection there, where you board the streetcar, however. I ended up running all the way down the block to where the crossing did allow one to get onto the streetcar loading platform. I sat and waited for the light, panting, but it was a fruitless gesture. The light never changed again, and the streetcar came and went. I waited for the next streetcar. I saw a sign with the various lines, and studied it for a moment to make sure I wasn’t going to board something that went somewhere other than the station. Pretty much it was fine. Every line that went through here terminated at the station. As I stepped away, another piece of information I’d seen suddenly registered. It was *always* 150 yen to ride the street car. So that explains why I screwed up, but that doesn’t explain why they have a price guide at all on the trains themselves!
The train arrived and I got on, suddenly surrounded by teenage foreigners. I heard them speaking English, and at first thought they were Americans. They were with a middle-aged Japanese woman, who spoke nearly perfect English, and I immediately surmised it was their teacher. I waited a little, then asked the closest two boys where they were from.
“Australia,” the boy replied, in an Australian accent. Somehow I’d not noticed it before. Turns out they were high-school Japanese students on an extended field trip to Japan. They’d been here about a week and a half, but were on their way to Kansai Airport to return home tonight. We talked for a brief while about Japanese classes and such, but the streetcar arrived at the station really quickly. As we got off, I handed them my card and said if they wanted a pen pal in the US, to send me an email. They thanked me and raced off with their teacher to catch the Shinkansen back to Osaka. I, on the other hand, aimed for the normal JR trains.
Inside, I saw on the map which line went to Miyajima-Guchi, but just to save time, asked the woman who was checking tickets manually. There are very few automatic gates here for some reason. She pointed me at track 1, which was right in front of me. I had no idea if this was an express train, nor how long it would take to get there, and it was already pushing 2:40. I waited for the train, and when it arrived took a seat across from a foreign woman and a schoolgirl, who was wearing a terrifyingly short skirt. I couldn’t figure out how her parents let her out of the house like that!
I knew it was at least 20 minutes, so I took a little time and worked on my log. The man next to me kept looking over at my laptop, amazed. I would occasionally catch the eyes of the woman across from me, but I had no idea where she was from, and I’m not really good at meeting new people anyway. At one point, I swore I heard “the next stop is Miyajima Guchi” over the PA, so I quickly put away my notebook. I realized it was way too soon though, so I leaned over and asked the man next to me what they’d said. Not Miyajima Guchi. The schoolgirl got off, and a little while later, so did the man next to me.
“Are you going to Miyajima?” asked the girl across from me, in another Australian accent.
“Yes,” I told her.
“I tried to go yesterday,” she said, “but I got caught in the typhoon, and all the trains stopped. I’ve never been in a typhoon full on like that before.” I switched sides of the train to sit next to her. She told me that when the trains were shut down, they deposited her at some station that was 40 minutes from Hiroshima, and really nowhere near either Miyajima or Hiroshima.
Her name is Nikki (no idea how she spells it), and she’s an Aussie who’s been living in Japan studying for about 9 months with a host family. She’s got another three months or so, but she’s moving out of the host family’s house soon. I told her I was just visiting, and that I was from Texas.
“What’s Texas like, is it all desert?” I laughed. That’s a common misconception, I said, and also that we all wear hats and cowboy boots. I tried to explain Austin’s geography and vegetation for a moment, then snapped my fingers.
“You know what? I have pictures,” I said. I pulled out my laptop, booted, and showed her a few pictures of Austin near 360. “It’s not all like this, but this at least gives you an idea.” A moment later, the train arrived at Miyajima-Guchi, and we both got off. Since she’s living here, she can’t buy a rail pass, so she’s really envious, she told me. She’s just seeing what she can from time to time and not thinking about the costs, which are a lot if you add them up. She put her things into a locker, with which she had trouble getting locked. She was certain she put in 300 yen, but it was asking for another anyway. She traded two fifties with my 100, and was able to put everything away.
We walked along, talking about various things, and it turns out she was a Japanese major as well in ‘university’. “We don’t have things like colleges,” she said, but I told her that ‘college’ is a generic term in the US, which also can refer to a university. Actually I guess universities are collections of colleges in the US. We arrived at the ferry terminal, and she bought her ticket for 170 yen to get to the island nearby. I didn’t need one; the JR ferry allows rail pass use. We boarded the ferry and found a seat. Two foreign girls got in the row behind us, and Nicki immediately asked where they were from. Again, Australia. “ I thought I heard another Aussie,” she told them, and asked where they were from. Coincidentally, they were also from Melbourne, and close enough that the girl’s high school used to compete with Nicki’s high school in debate. “I was done ages ago, actually, but they probably still compete,” Nicki told her. I said I was from Texas, and the girl said that a girl with them was from Texas as well. She didn’t see her at the moment though.
As we got off, they called over their friend Sarah, who apparently used to live near NASA in Houston. I told her, “ah that’s not really Houston anyway!” and laughed. She doesn’t really remember it anyway, as they moved away when she was 7 (she’s also a native Aussie, but just lived there for a little while). I waved my rail pass as we passed through the gate, and said to Nicki that I really loved having the ‘all-access pass’.
“Bastard!” Nicki exclaimed. “Look at me, I barely know you and I’m already calling you Bastard,” she said, amused. She stopped off at the information booth at the ferry pier, and asked for various items in very good Japanese. It’s interesting to hear people switch to another language – her pronunciation was good, and it was weird to suddenly hear her speak without an Australian accent. We both took some maps and I got the times of when the ferries were leaving.
Nicki and I walked along the street that follows the shoreline. I had told her I didn’t have a lot of time, but we decided to stay together until I had to leave, which would certainly be soon. We arrived at the Itsukushima Shrine, which is one of the coolest places on the planet, in my humble opinion. I was expecting to see a lot of damage; I’d heard it was hit hard by Typhoon Songha just recently and it was closed to the public. The latter was true, and there was some evidence of it being damaged, but it didn’t look bad at all. There were many construction crews around though, and all were working diligently to repair what damage there was. Nicki and I took a staircase down, and another tall foreign man was taking pictures of some rolling baskets that were attached to the wall.
“Where you from?” Nicki asked him, and once again, replied Australia. “Ah, another Aussie! We’re everywhere!” she said.
“Man, I’m like the only American anywhere, apparently,” I added. The rolling baskets, we all decided were the property of the people who were out on the beaches digging for clams. Nicki and I walked toward the great floating toori (gate) which is the symbol of Miyajima, and is of the most famous sights in Japan and quite possibly the world. It’s a gigantic red wood gate, and stands well out into the beach. When the tide comes in, the base is underwater, so it appears to be floating. This is quite incredible to see. There are some pictures of this on my older websites, but unfortunately, the tide was out during this visit. When the water is low, however, this affords a different convenience. The toori is not underwater, so you have the ability to walk underneath it. We both strode in that direction, and I noticed that the ground was not in fact composed of sand and little pebbles like I thought; the pebbles were actually, and entirely, composed of small spiral snail shells. Neat! Tiny crabs scuttled around in the puddles and maneuvered their way between the shells. As you get close to the toori, you really notice its scale and magnificence. Nicki had me take a picture of her underneath to get an idea of the size.
“I know I just look like this tiny little dot, but it lets people get the scale,” she said. She did look like a dot in the picture.
We walked close to Itsukushima proper, and took some close up shots of the damage, or what little we could see. There was no way to approach, and so we had to return to the stairway to walk in the direction to the left of the shrine. We took a wide track around it, both of us snapping pictures, and Nicki asked me if I’d been up to the ropeway. I hadn’t. We started a hike in that direction, passing several shops selling Miyajima souvenirs, and many wood items. One store housed many different statues of Buddha and Kannon, and I’m sure my friend Kathryn would get a real kick out of that place. We passed a sign pointing us at the ropeway, and also noticed the first real evidence of typhoon damage on the side of the road. She led me to a really beautiful bridge, which she said is supposed to be absolutely fantastic during autumn, as the colors on the trees bring out the orange of the bridge. This had to be true, considering the number of Japanese maples that were littered in the area. We crossed the bridge and witnessed the beautiful river and waterfalls, and then started to hike uphill along a wooded path. Up ahead was more typhoon leftovers, as a gigantic tree was lying in the path. They had cut it in half with a chainsaw to allow passage. Nicki took a picture near the roots of the tree so she could show her friends. “My friends always make fun of me for taking so many pictures of like trees and flowers and stuff,” she told me, and I said I had the same problem! We took the path to the left, but Nicki looked at the map and thought maybe the other way was better. “Did you ever hear of that book, ‘Women Can’t Read Maps and Men Can’t [I forgot the title here]’? That’s really true,” she noted.
We followed the path further up the mountain, and it split in front of a small shrine. At first we walked right, past a number of the fabled Miyajima deer we’d seen everywhere, which are more like rats. Everyone thinks they’re cute at first, then you just get desensitized and find yourself ignoring them. Around the corner, we approached a shop, and Nicki decided we should go back and take the left branch of the path. This was in fact a much cooler direction, as a long stone staircase was flanked by a waterfall and bubbling brook. As we headed further and further up, we were suddenly impeded by yet another fallen tree. On the map, we thought maybe we had gone the wrong way, but in fact, it was just more typhoon damage. Now what. She thought maybe we could go around, but short of some serious off-roading, there wasn’t any way to bypass the blockage. We reversed course one more time, and headed back down towards the staircase.
Suddenly, she yelped “SNAKE!” and I jumped. Sure enough, a two to three foot long snake had shuffled its way across the path and was now shooting downhill at a remarkable pace.
“Yep, that was a snake all right,” I said, and regained my composure.
“I wouldn’t know if that was poisonous or not, it’s a Japanese snake,” she said.
“Best just to not find out,” I told her, smiling, and then we walked down the staircase. As we rounded the bend once again, I decided that this was as much as I could wait before returning, so I said I had to go. We shook hands, and I gave her my card to keep in touch. I bounded down the mountain, and Nicki walked off, the ropeway being the destination in mind. I’m sure she got there soon after.
I walked very quickly, as I only had thirteen minutes before the ferry left. It was scheduled to leave at 4:40, and I knew that it was going to get me back to Kyoto late already. I huffed my way past Itsukushima one more time, and took some pictures, which I knew wasn’t really in my timetable. As I rounded the bend, I looked at my watch, saw the distance to the pier, and broke into a run. I slid my backpack off so I wouldn’t jostle the equipment inside and ran as fast as I could with all the weight. I really didn’t think I was going to make it, and my lungs were burning. These weren’t exactly running shoes. I had less than a minute when I entered the station, and had some trouble pushing my way through the crowds of schoolkids who had just arrived from the ferry I was trying to get to. I ran down the ramp and past the man who kept looking at his watch while I approached. Gasping, I made it onto the boat, and immediately they launched, headed back to the other side of the water. I found a spot up on the deck outside where the wind was blowing hard, and stood in it, letting the sweat dry off. I bought a sports drink from the vending machine on the boat, and it really, really hit the spot. A passing ferry loaded with school kids was waving, and the rest of us waved back. As the ferry arrived, I grabbed my backpack again and walked to the ramp to get off as quickly as possible.
I was still in a rush; I had to get back to Hiroshima, then catch a train to Kyoto, and by now it was nearly 5PM. This wasn’t going to be close, I was going to be late for sure. How much was the question. As I walked into the station, I heard the clang clang of an approaching train, and saw people sprinting up the stairs to the other side and the Hiroshima-bound trains. Luck had given me a train, but sadly, I had to run, again. I raced up the crossover and got back down just as the doors opened. I took a seat on the train and got out my laptop once more to work on logs.
Thirty minutes later, we got to the JR Hiroshima Station, and I quickly located the reserved seat counter. The line was very long, so I quickly scanned the departing trains. There was one leaving in 5 minutes, which I could catch with unreserved – oh, but it’s Nozomi. I can’t ride those with a rail pass. I checked the schedule above the ticket window, and the next train wasn’t leaving until 5:40. Ugh, that would put me into Kyoto already 10 minutes later than we planned on meeting. No choice. I got my tickets, and the train wasn’t leaving for another twenty minutes. I stopped briefly for a snack and drinks, then waited for my car at the expected location.
Expected my ass. Once again, the durn car was incorrect, and I ended up sprinting about 8 cars down to find mine. Dagnabbit, I will never figure those out! At least I didn’t have a suitcase this time. I took a seat next to yet another nice lady, and again worked on the logs (it’s very long, you know). This ride was smooth and without incident, and I got off in Shin-Osaka an hour and a half later. Unfortunately, there was yet a twenty minute layover again, and I sent Alex a message saying I was going to be very late. He said 8:30 would be better. That was fine, I could run to the ryokan, chunk some of this gear, then head back to Teramachi. That I could do in 30 minutes. This time I just flat out assumed I’d get the car wrong, and of course I did. I broke out into a run and got into my car, which was nearly deserted outside of three Spanish tourists. One fifteen minute ride later, and I was at Kyoto.
As I got off the train, a foreigner, carrying a guide book and wearing a baseball cap approached me. “You just coming from Hiroshima, mate?” Another Aussie. I said I had. “It’s really amazing, isn’t it?” I told him it was, but I wasn’t ever going back to the Peace Museum. It’s just way too depressing, and I’ve done it three times.
“You’re from Australia, I gather,” I said, and he confirmed it. “Man, all I’ve met all day are Australians! Not another American in sight anywhere!”
We laughed about this, and as we walked through the station, he asked, “So, mate, where’s a good place to get a beer?” I told him the story of where we had gone last night, and tried to give him decent directions to where those places were located. He had a Lonely Planet with him, so he had a map to most of the places. I said I really was in a hurry though, but I gave him my card and told him to send me an email some time. He found his exit to the JR lines, and we shook hands and introduced ourselves as a farewell. He works for Toshiba Japan, and his name is Alan. I wished him good luck tonight and then exited the station towards the underground.
Once again, I found myself in a run, and went down the stairs. I was suddenly feeling very energized, having met several cool people today, and excited about meeting Alex and his girlfriend Mizue. I had no trouble getting back to the ryokan in record time. Getting into my room was another matter. The entire internet station area was jam-packed with Australian high school students. I squeezed my way by to the only room on the first floor, and got inside. I dropped off my crap, changed shirts, and grabbed just my camera for the night’s activities. As I walked out, I asked where they were from, although I already knew. I told them I was from Texas, and a girl said, “Oh, we know Texas, that’s the one place we really do know,” as I walked out. A girl was trying to pet Julie-chan at the front desk, and I stopped briefly to simply stand away and watch, as Julie had tried to take off a finger of mine earlier (“she doesn’t like men,” the owner had informed me).
“Kowai?” The girl asked the dog if she was scared, in her limited Japanese. I briefly talked to the okaasan in Japanese, who apologized about all the people in the entrance. I told her this was fine, and I think all the Japanese really shocked the teenager. I then hopped out the door in my lighter shoes I reserve for DDR. I pretty much ran all the way to the subway, but somehow wasn’t remotely tired. Maybe it was the apple juice on the train, but I was just completely full of energy and really just generally in a great mood. I bought a ticket for the subway and flitted downstairs, where I rode two stops to Shijo.
The covered walkway from the subway was again packed, and it still took another 5 minutes at full speed to get to the bank where Alex had taken out money the day before. I was only five minutes late, so I had really made a super fast journey. Alex and Mizue were standing near the closed bank.
I think, since this log entry is so long, I’m going to split this into two parts.