A Travellerspoint blog

April 2012

Rabbit Island and Other Oddities

A Road Trip to Hiroshima Ken

OK - This is going to be a big entry covering about a week spent travelling around with Andrew, Luke and Nik - the latter two having popped over for a visit and to attend the Japanese reception party. They arrived in Japan on November 15th, and turned up in Kyoto a day later having spent a day in Osaka.

We are using my In-laws house as our main base of operations for most of their visit, but we don't plan on spending too much time there. After getting them settled in we started off small, with a local trip to Universal Studios in Osaka - my second time there, but my first time on the Jurassic Park ride as that was closed last time.

The highlight of the day though was seeing how scary Nik looks standing next to the metal frame of a terminator!


At the other end of the scary scale we also got to see the incredibly twee Christmas tree light up show; I'm sure I saw Luke shed a tear :-)

Ok that was fun, but it was also enough typical tourism. The main thing I’ve planned for their visit is a three day trip to take in some roadside Japan, and for that we headed down to Hiroshima Ken.

The first day was mostly taken up with driving, but we've planned pit-stops at two unusual shrines along the way. The first one I discovered in a Japanese book and although I was intrigued by the photos I didn't really know what it was. Obviously I know now - but have a look at the pictures first and see if you can figure out what kind of shrine this is.


Any ideas - well, the answer is a cow shrine. All of those collared plastic and metal bands are 'Hanagari', or nose rings, from cattle that have been that have died so we can have meat, leather, milk and so on. The shrine was built on the remains of an old mausoleum - whose mausoleum isn't known. It had been lost and forgotten, and when it was rediscovered it was decided that a shrine should be built on the site - the founder then decided to make a memorial to all the cows that give their lives for human needs. However, since every part of the cow was used (the meat, hooves, bones, skin etc) there were no remains go to the shrine. That's when he began to collect the nose rings; I can't even imagine how many there are now in that main pile - they estimate that there are over 7 million now. I have mentally dubbed this place 'Cowschwitz' - by which I honestly mean no disrespect, I have visited Auschwitz in Poland and the uncountable piles of glasses, false teeth, hair that they have there really came to mind looking at the hanagari in this shrine, which is also a testament to death on a grand scale. Every April 18th a festival of remembrance is held in this shrine. In Japan vegetarianism is almost unheard of, and I myself am a meat eater, but I think it is important to be reminded and acknowledge that out food comes from something more than a supermarket.

OK - to counterpoint that rather sobering point, here are some comedy breasts!


Actually, I'm not sure they are intended as comedy. This breast shrine was the second of our 'odd shrine' stops and for me it makes the full set of bodily shrines having already visited a penis and vagina shrine before. Actually I'd guess that it was a fertility and motherhood shrine, as symbolised by swollen milk heavy breasts. As you can see though it was already dark by the time we got there so we didn't hang around for long trying to decipher the information boards - we still had to find some accommodation for the night as we had set off without any reservations!

Our main target for the next day is Ookunoshima, a small island off the Hiroshima coastline. Luckily after a bit of searching we managed to get a big Japanese tatami room for 4 people in a hotel not far from the port. They also had a pretty good spa with a wide range of baths, including one with a mild electrical current in the water - which I didn't know until I jumped in. Shocking! (Best read in a, Roger Moore, Bond voice with raised eyebrow).

Anyway, next morning we were placed only a short hop from the ferry port and we were soon skimming across the water to Ookunoshima.


The best way of getting around the island is to rent bikes and then you can easily cover the whole place in a couple of hours taking in the winding paths, sandy beaches and great views.


Luke was even lucky enough to have this close encounter with a rabbit along the way.


Actually - he wasn't that lucky! The truth is the whole island is infested with rabbits and is locally known as 'Rabbit Island' - that's why we’re here. Everywhere you look cotton tails are dashing around and they aren't afraid of approaching people either. In fact Nik ended up with his own security detail of three rabbits for a while.



Again all this cuteness comes from a rather dark place though. During WW2 this small island played a key role as a production centre for poison gas that was used against China. Having signed the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which banned the use of chemical warfare, Japan was keen to keep this new chemical weapons plant a secret when its construction begun in 1929. At that time it mainly produced mustard gas. Later on the island was even removed from some maps, its very existence denied. At the end of WW2's hostilities the factory was taken apart under Allied supervision and the remaining lab animals were set free.

Luckily for those rabbits the island was too small to have any natural predators and they thrived until they became the symbol of the island. In 1988 a small museum was opened on the island that addresses the 'secret' history of the island, displaying items and photos from the old factory.


The fact that remnants of some of the old defensive and industrial building are still standing was the second reason for visiting the island. At the height of its military significance the island was defended by 10 small forts. All that remains of these are a few low walls, one or two gun ports and some underground storerooms. The almost catherdralesque shell of another building can be found looking out over the open sea on the side facing away from the main land. Exactly what this building was I don't know - but it was probably connected with the gas production judging by the strings of origami crane (a Japanese symbol of peace) left on alter like stones.


By far the most intact edifice still standing is the old power station. Although it’s totally stripped inside, the skeleton of this two storey building is still pretty imposing to look at.



After returning the bikes we spent the time until the next ferry back looking around a small, but nice visitors centre and then we were off. I really enjoyed visiting Ookunoshima, and would really recommend it to anybody looking for some interesting 'off the beaten track' spots to visit. Having checked Rabbit Island off our list of things to do though, we were pretty much wandering aimlessly now.

We set of along the coast briefly taking in hill top castles and roadside porn vending shacks as we passed by. Yes, every so often in Japan you drive past a kind of porta-cabin at the road side that houses adult shop goods in vending machines to avoid the anxiety of having to buy such things from a real person. I'd only seen such places twice before, but oddly enough just as I was explaining this phenomenon to Luke and Nik we passed one - so a brief stop had to be made.


Eventually we ended up stopping in another big four person tatami room in a hotel by the coast, you can see it in the picture below; the tall white building on the right.


The view from the hotel window was really nice too! I snapped the panorama below shortly after we checked in.


Once we got settled in we decided to check out the facilities on offer - trying the (not as good as the last hotel's) onsen and playing perhaps the most bizarre game of table tennis any of us had ever participated in (it would take too long to explain).

It also turned out that on the roof of the hotel there was a small hot tub looking out at the same view that was open in time to watch the sun rise - so Andrew and I dragged ourselves out of bed and upstairs at about 5.30 am. I have to say it was worth it though - watching the light creep over the horizon, shatter into bright shards on the water and illuminate this amazing vista was spectacular.

Having spotted another small port in front of the hotel we decided to do some more island exploration, so after breakfast we were back on another ferry. This time we knew nothing about this island we were heading towards (not even its name). The fact that it wasn't so well known meant that we pretty much had the place to ourselves though. We saw almost nobody else as we wandered around the beaches and coastal paths.


The weather was cool and crisp, and the water was so clear that we could see all kind of beasties below.

As well as various small silver fish we could see quite a lot of fugu (puffer fish) and even one or two busy little cuttlefish - which I've never seen outside of an aquarium before. A spot of rock pool exploration also turned up masses of tiny hermit crabs.



After getting back to the main land and into the car it was the last leg of the trip - time to head back. However we still had half a day and a lot of road between us and home. Plenty of time for a spot of haikyo hunting!

I'd thrown the guide book into my bag as I usually do on these road trips, so we decided to take a little detour and try to track down a nearby old hotel - and this is what we found.



At some point I will eventually catch up on backlog of places due for write-ups over at my haikyo blog, and then I'll write about this place in more detail there. For now though here's just a taste of the interior of surprisingly large and complex building.



That was the last stop on the main road trip. We spent the next night staying over with my In-laws near Osaka, and although the main road trip was over we still had plans for the next day back in Kyoto - monkeys and momiji in Arashiyama.

Next time.

Posted by DKJM74 05:50 Comments (0)

Kimono-chan and Hakama-kun

A photoshoot

Today's entry is basically just going to be a short photo gallery from the Kimono photoshoot that Haru and I had two weeks before the Japanese reception party. This was my first time wearing the traditional man's Hakama, which is the name for the 'skirt' I'm wearing in these pictures (though a Hakama can be divided like trousers or undivided like a skirt). Men don't get as much choice as women as men's kimonos are always dark subdued colours whereas women have a wide choice, the black and gold kimono that we chose for Haru was really beautiful. (So if anybody was playing the 'Guess the colour of Hau's Kimono game I set up last time, you now know if you were right or wrong - no prizes, sorry!)

The photoshoot took place in the Kyoto botanical gardens, just across the road from the reception party venue on a lovely Autumn day. Oh, and we saw a Kingfisher fishing in the garden's pond as well :-)

O.K. that's enough preamble - enjoy the pictures.








Actaully they snapped so many photos of us during the course of the shoot, that I was able to put together this rather natty 'flickbook' movie of the day!

The same day, my friends Nik and Luke arrived from England for the upcoming reception party, and we soon embarked on a three day road trip with Andrew - which I'll be reporting on next time!

Posted by DKJM74 04:02 Comments (0)

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