Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Shinkansen

Hiroshima Day 3

The tickets for our return trip on the Shinkansen didn’t depart Hiroshima until 1700. That gave us time to do a bit more exploring and shopping in Hiroshima. We gave the girls a chance to sleep in and have a little down time. Meanwhile, Danny, Jenn, and I went for a morning walk. There was a long green way trail stretching along the river. The best part was the Sakura lining the path.

After breakfast, we headed out to explore more of Hiroshima. The next area on our visit list was a stop at the Gokoku Shrine.

The double fish statue at the Shrine represents family happiness. Happy family indeed!

Especially, when our next stop is for ice cream! Ice cream makes everything better and everyone happy.

Finally, after all that we got down to business. We made our way to the Hiroshima Castle.

I’ll just cut to the “Chase” and summarize our visit to the castle. The highlight was obviously dressing up these two as a Samurai and a Lord.

I’m still giggling when I look at those pictures. We managed to climb to the fifth floor of the castle and enjoy a spectacular view.

By the time we finished exploring the castle, we were ready for an American lunch. A beer, cheeseburger, and fries filled the need. The crane and driftwood were an added bonus.

The remainder of the afternoon we shopped and prepped for our Shinkansen trip home. We had plenty of food to keep us happy. Cheers!

We had such an amazing trip to Hiroshima. We made it home safely and with so many memories.

Hiroshima

Monday morning we caught the Keikyu line train to Shinagawa. I know I already mentioned the Keikyu Line and Rilakkuma campaign. I must mention it again because we have enjoyed spotting cute trains and bears. Check out the giant Rilakkuma in Shinagawa Station. So, cute.

From Shinagawa we caught the 10:07 Shinkansen to Hiroshima. Again, I was so excited.

I took a video as we waited for our train.

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The train ride was about four hours. We bought lunch for the trip – bento boxes and Japanese sandwiches.

Plus, kawaii company with the adorable Rilakkuma characters dressed as Keikyu Train Conductors.

Our train arrived four hours later. We caught a taxi to our hotel, dropped our bags and headed to the Hiroshima Peace Park. Our first stop was to see the Atomic Bomb Dome.

We were pleasantly surprised to still see Sakura in bloom. The girls stopped and rang the Peace Bell. As all the tourist ring the bell, the sound brings a calling for peace. It’s beautiful.

Our next stop was at the Cenotaph. The Eternal Flame ignited us with hope for peace.

After visiting the museum, we walked to the fountain. Danny snapped this picture of the girls. To me it symbolizes the power of peace. He has also taken many other pictures I’ve used in sharing their story. I appreciate having an extra shutterbug and an iPhone 8 Plus.

We made our way out of the park and enjoyed more Sakura and tulips.

Kyoto Kickoff

Monday morning we caught the Shinkansen out of Shinagawa Station. Our destination was Kyoto. The trip took about 2.5 hours.

Yet again, I was giddy with excitement as we waited to board.

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Most of the marquees in the trains stations and on the trains flip between Japanese and English. This is especially helpful when you don’t speak (or read) the language and you need to make sure you are about to get on the right train. No one is checking your ticket as you board the train. Therefore, the important task of getting on the right train is the responsibility of the passenger. It’s also important because the tickets issued are for a specific train. This is different than taking the local trains. Those you can ride whenever and if you get on the wrong one it’s easy to switch at the next stop in 2-3 minutes. The Shinkansen less forgiving. If you get on the wrong one you may not stop for 25-30 minutes. That’s a long way in the wrong direction with the wrong ticket. Our train was at 10:40. The 509. Anyways, we made it no problem and with much excitement. Plus, we had a view of Mt. Fuji sling the way!

Upon arriving in Kyoto, we took our luggage to our hotel. It was still too early to check in, but we had temples to chase. First on our list was the Kinkaku – The Golden Pavilion. The clear skies and afternoon sun created perfect lighting for our visit. Gold foil covers the upper two levels of the Pavilion. On top of the structure is a shining gold phoenix.

The Gardens were beautiful. We were able to catch a few views of the temple from different angles. The benefit of it not being spring and having full foliage.

Lots of prayer cards!

After leaving the Golden Temple, we hailed a cab to the Ginkaku-ji Temple or the Silver Temple.

When Dave and I planned our trip in August, Manami suggested we visit the Silver Temple. We didn’t make it because it is more remote and off the beaten path. When I mentioned to Manami, Cindy and I were visiting Kyoto, she said, “Julia, please be sure to visit the Silver temple this trip.” Ok! I am so glad I listened. The Silver Temple and the gardens are incredibly serene. It definitely moved into my top five favorite Temples. I would love to live close to the temple and visit frequently. The moss covered ground and curving pathways are perfect for a walking meditation. So much zen.

Near the main structure was a sand garden and large sand structure. The large sand structure symbolizes Mt. Fuji. Just to be clear, the large structure that looks like a stone, is actually sand!

The sand garden was really cool.

By the time we were leaving the Silver Temple, we didn’t have enough time to make it to another one that afternoon. So, we had a cream puff and shopped.

We made our way back to the hotel and checked in. I’m happy to share, our room is directly across from the Kyoto Station. We can watch and hear the trains. My favorite of course are seeing the numerous Shinkansen trains! That entire building is Kyoto Station.

We set out for dinner. We went to Kyoto Station to explore the dining options. Kyoto Station is ginormous. Lots of food and shopping. After dinner, we visited the Kyoto Tower. The night view was lovely.

Kyoto Tower was built in 1964. The tower is 430 feet tall. It is built on top of a building. The 800 tons of weight doesn’t affect the building that serves as its foundation because of the ingenious design. It has the design and appearance of a lighthouse. Kyoto Tower was built in the city center as a beacon for industry, culture, and tourism.

As we walked back to our hotel, we could see the reflection of Kyoto Tower in the glass of Kyoto Station.

We had a great start to our first afternoon in Kyoto. Tuesday we will work our way south to visit another famous Shrine and the city of Nara. Cindy’s Japan adventures continue!

Local Tourists

No alarms were set in the Dwyer house Sunday morning. We all agreed that waking up at 2:30am on Saturday morning earned us late sleepers! We eventually made it out of the house mid morning and worked our way to Enoshima Island. To mix it up a little bit, we took the Shonan Monorail train to get to Enoshima. Here was our route from Zushi.

Before tackling the stairs on the island, we stopped for lunch. We were glad to have extra energy. Enoshima Island has a lot of stairs!

Check out the view as we climbed.

Cindy was able to add another stamp to her temple book. While we waited, we had ume blossoms and the fountain to enjoy.

We continued our way to the top of the island. We enjoyed all the selfie spots on the island.

The clouds prevented us from viewing Mt. Fuji. You know what they say… on a clear day…

This might be my favorite picture of the day. Those smiles!

We worked our way down the island and caught the Enoshima Electric train back to Kamakura.

On the way home, I needed to take Cindy to Hachimangū Shrine in Kamakura. This shrine is mandatory on every Julia tour. We skipped it Friday when we were in Kamakura and opted for seeing Sakura. Having a flexible schedule today, we were able to squeeze in a quick visit.

I’ll be honest. My favorite part of the Shrine are the sake barrels.

We were there towards the end of the day. The Shrine wasn’t very crowded, but the light was getting challenging with iPhone.

A few last pictures. The bridge is blocked off because it is only for the Gods to cross. The lighting wasn’t the best, but I love these shots.

As I think about our day, I can’t help but laugh at our reality. We live so incredibly close to so many really cool, beautiful, and iconic parts of Japan. We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to live here. It’s so special to be able to share our experiences and neighborhood with Cindy. Tomorrow we have traveling plans on the Shinkansen! Kyoto or bust!

Wara Animal Sculptures

One of my friends and Wabisabisole readers, Karen, shared a link with me about Rice Straw Animal Structures in the city of Niigata. Niigata is located in northern Japan. It is about a two-hour Shinkansen ride from Tokyo. 


After looking at the pictures included in the article, I felt compelled to see the monsters! The city uses rice straw or wara that is leftover from the rice harvest to decorate large wooden structures. 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the Wara Art Festival. The festival is over, but the creatures remain on display in Uwasekigata Park. 

I desired a liberty buddy for the trip. Sonia and I were able to coordinate our schedules and made the trip on 10/24/17. 

Our seats on the Shinkansen were on the second deck. I’ve never been on the double decker Shinkansen! 


After arriving in Niigata around 12:30, we grabbed a quick bite for lunch and then caught a local train to Echigo-sone Station. 

The train might have been the bumpiest train I have taken so far in Japan. It was clackety-clack the whole way! 40 minutes later, we were at the station and off the train. We hopped in the one and only taxi waiting outside the station. A 15-minute taxi ride later and we were finally at Uwasekigata Park. Time to find these amazing rice straw structures! It was a beautiful day! Do you spy the giant lion? 


They were so cool up close! 


There were four giant monsters total. A lion, bull, ape, and alligator. Next up was the bull! 

Me, grabbing the bull by the horns. 


It was a little apparent the animals had weathered a few storms over the last couple months. They were impressive none the less. Check out King Kong! 

Slapping King Kong on the tushy. 

The park was great. There was a nice running track – a 2.0 km course. The mountains provided a scenic backdrop. 


The last creature was the alligator. He was pretty cool. He was large enough to walk into and the straw was braided to add detail. 

Sonia helped me capturing the fun of the creatures and our afternoon adventures. It was a fun and unique experience perhaps only to be experienced in Japan. Thank you, Karen for sharing the article with me and inspiring our travels. I hope you enjoy reading and seeing our pictures! 

Nijo-jo Castle

Before leaving Kyoto on Sunday, Dave and I went to visit Nijo-jo Castle. 


The castle was completed in 1603 for Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tokugawa Ieyasu was the first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Tokugawa Ieyasu was able to unify Japan and establish period of peace and prosperity for 250 years. Throughout the past 400 years, the castle has continued to witness significant Japanese historical events. In 1994, Nijo-jo Castle was registered on the UNSECO World Hertiage list. This picture is the entrance gate to the outer gardens. 


This is the entrance to the interior gardens and castle. 


Photos of the inside of the Castle are not permitted. The castle consists of six connected buildings. The interior walls are decorated with beautiful wall paintings and intricate carvings in the hallways connecting the rooms. The best part of walking through the castle was the sound of the squeaky floorboards. The sound is similar to the song of a nightingale and caused by the clamps moving against the nails in the wooden boards and support beams. Unfortunately, according to the brochure, it is a misnomer the squeak was intended to announce the presence of intruders. Oh, well. It’s a fun theory. 

The gardens were beautiful. The islands represent a crane and turtle. Symbols of longevity. 


Hopefully, from these pictures you can see the expanse of the castle. 


From the base of the keep tower that burned down after a lightning strike in 1750, a view of the castle and Kyoto were visible. 


We finished our walk around the gardens. 


Check out the fall color popping out on the Japanese Maples. Dare we dream of fall!?!


As we left, we were able to walk through a water mister. Ahhhh… 


We took the 11:58 Shinkansen back to Tokyo. As per a request from one of my readers, I took a picture of the inside. 



And our cute bento boxes for the ride home. 

Shinkansen 

I must confess. I was completely giddy anticipating our Shinkansen trip. Riding the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) has been at the top of my Japan Bucket List. Our trip to Hiroshima was the perfect opportunity. 

We boarded the Shinkansen in Shinagawa. Here is the route to Hiroshima. 

Considering this is the Shinagawa Shinkansen station, it seemed empty! Our train was on track 23 – car 6. 


I took a video and several pictures while waiting for our train at 10:17am. I was only reprimanded once for not standing behind the yellow line! Oops! 

The video is of the train leaving. I thought it would show the speed better than the train arriving. 

​This is our train arriving. I used the burst setting on my phone. It was still blurry! 


Once on the train, I unpacked our snacks! We packed the needed provisions. A homemade rice ball, veggie sticks, and several chūhai. We settled in nicely for our almost 4-hour journey. 

Let me tell you a little bit more about the Shinkansen. My source was Wikipedia and the JR Train website. I summarized and made it reader friendly. 

Speed – the maximum is 200 mph. The average speed is between 150-185 mph. 

The Route – the Shinkansen tracks are their own separate system. They do not cross roads or go around obstacles. They go through or over any obstacle. Most of the time the tracks are slightly elevated above surrounding landscape. Curves are kept to a minimum. Because as we all know, the fastest way from point A to Point B is a straight line. 

The Tracks – the tracks are Standard Gauge (wider tracks – lower center of gravity) vice Narrow Gauge. Being an Austin, I’m not embarrassed to admit I know the difference. Also, the actual rails of the tracks are longer. This reduces the number of welds required and the effects of thermal expansion within the rails and therefore provides a smoother ride. 

The Trains – the trains are lighter and can accelerate or decelerate quickly. This reduces the amount of damage to the tracks. Also, the cars are air-sealed to ensure stable air pressure when entering tunnels at high speed.

Side note: I felt the speed the most when going through the tunnels. The combination of the speed and confinement created excessive pressure on my ears.

Environmental Impact – the average ride (per passenger) on the Shinkansen produces 16% of the CO2 produced by the same trip made by a vehicle. Considering the Shinkansen has 342 daily departures with 1,323 seats per train, that’s a much smaller carbon footprint than driving. 

Safety – Very. No fatalities from derailments or collisions. Deaths have occurred from people rushing the train and suicides.  

Taking the Shinkansen is a fantastic alternative to driving and much less hassle than flying. We were able to book a train, hotel, and tour package at a very reasonable price. I hope when you visit, we have the opportunity to visit another part of Japan via the Shinkansen. You won’t be disappointed!! 

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