Lima Does Japan // Hakone and Hiroshima

  Downtown Hiroshima I hope you all enjoyed my previous post on Tokyo, and had your appetite for Japan thoroughly whetted! The thing a...

Downtown Hiroshima

I hope you all enjoyed my previous post on Tokyo, and had your appetite for Japan thoroughly whetted! The thing about Japan though, is that whilst Tokyo is an absolute mega-city, in every sense of the word, there's an awful lot more to see and do elsewhere. And this is perhaps where Japan really comes in to it's own as a nation, because intercity travel doesn't feel like a chore, as it does in Britain, it actually feels... good?!

So as fun as Tokyo was, we wanted to expand our horizons as much as possible during our short two week stay in Japan. We'd heard that Hakone (pronounced Ha-ko-nay), in the shadows of Mount Fuji, had some of Japan's best Onsen, so we had to go and check it out! An Onsen is a traditional Japanese public bath, with the water coming from hot springs. Unfortunately, the public ones are actually gender segregated, because you kind of have to go into them naked, so we didn't go for the full experience.

Instead, we decided to book a private one at 4,900 Yen per hour at an Onsen resort called Hakone-Yuryo. There are a couple of ways to get to Hakone from Tokyo - you can either take the Shinkansen to Odawara, and switch to a local train which carries you to Hakone, or you can take the Odakyu Romancecar from Shinjuku Station. Both take around an hour, but the Romancecar is direct and has the advantage of being called Romancecar, so we had to try that out!

Hakone-Yuryo, magical Onsen

When we came to book an Onsen in Hakone, there were quite a few places to choose from, spread out across the area. Some are much closer to Mount Fuji, and therefore more expensive, and actually a little more difficult to get to, and some are easier to get to, but a little further away. It didn't really make all that much difference for us, as we knew the weather wasn't expected to be great, so we went for Hakone-Yuryo, as it was a three minute shuttle ride from the station. Also, there were a couple of Onsen that required use of a cable car. That sounded fun, but apparently due to high volcanic activity, it was closed off. Gulp.

Anyway, we arrived at Hakone-Yumoto station, where we were promised the free shuttle to the resort, we couldn't really work out where the shuttle bus was actually supposed to stop! There were signs directing us where to go up to a point, but they stopped once we got outside - so we jumped in a taxi instead. We later found out we were stood in the right place, right outside the station, haha!

Our first glimpse of Hakone-Yuryo was promising indeed, a traditional, expensive looking Japanese restaurant next door in an old fashioned Japanese building. Once inside, we were shown to our room, where we had to follow an outdoor path around a central square. It all felt a bit Memoirs of a Geisha at this point. And when we actually got in to the room, it was a traditional Japanese Ryokan and I found myself a bit gutted we hadn't booked to stay in overnight. It looked very plain, very simple, adorable and seemed to fit every description you could wish for in a traditional Japanese home. And yes, it even had those sliding paper walls.

It got pretty steamy...

It also had a wall made entirely of two huge glass doors that slid open and led out to the private Onsen overlooking a forest, it was 6pm and dark by the time we'd got here, so I have no idea what was out there, but it felt very private and exclusive. The water is quite possibly the hottest water I've ever bathed in, so much so it became difficult to breathe at times! But, it felt like every muscle in my body was being massaged, much needed after a week in Tokyo! I could have stayed there for hours, but unfortunately it was time to head back to Tokyo, to get ourselves ready for the next leg of our whirlwind tour of Japan. Hiroshima.

Just in case you aren't already aware, on August 6th 1945 the United States dropped an Atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Almost everything within 3 kilometres of the blast was vanquished, tens of thousands of people died immediately, and those who didn't, were exposed to high levels of radiation, either killing them later or at least affecting the rest of their lives. We'd both learnt about it at school, and watched painful documentaries about it, so we decided we just had to go.

Hiroshima itself is immediately and noticeably different from Tokyo. It feels newer, cleaner and much more open. Whilst the streets of Tokyo can often feel cramped, frenetic and in your face, the streets of Hiroshima felt a bit less claustrophobic. What was most striking for me, is that it's just like any other city on earth. There are hotels, shops, shopping centres, restaurants, office blocks, apartment blocks and cinemas. It even has a red-light district, which just happened to be a little too close to our hotel.

The Streets of Hiroshima

All we ever hear or see about Hiroshima is the atomic bomb, the peace museum and the Atomic dome - and it's quite right that we do hear and see of these things - but it also feels like it does Hiroshima a little injustice. It's an incredible city, vibrant and very much alive, and I regretted we could only stay a couple of days. We arrived late in the afternoon after a 5 hour journey on the Shinkansen, which in itself is an experience. You can't go to Japan without taking a trip on one, the bullet train just is Japan. It's a symbol of excellence really, smoother and faster than you could imagine with the added bonus of being unbelievably comfortable.

So we arrived in Hiroshima at about 5pm on the Sunday and took a walk along the bustling main street towards the Atomic Dome. It felt strange that the place was still so busy at 5pm on a Sunday as we're used to our own city centres in the UK turning into ghost towns by this time, but it also felt strange that we were walking towards a building that survived an atomic blast 72 years ago, and to get there we were walking through a very urban, modern city.

The Atomic Dome

The Dome itself may not look much, but it really does steal the breath from out of your throat. Knowing that just a few hundred metres above it, a ball of fire as bright as the sun erupted and caused so much pain, suffering and destruction. And like something out of a film, it started raining pretty heavily, only adding to the sombre mood. A Japanese family walked over, and the father seemed to be explaining what happened to his children, it felt very moving to witness.

The next day, we got up early to make the most of our time here and visited the Peace Memorial Museum. I can't remember how much the entry fee was, but it was very cheap, just as most activities in Japan tended to be. The museum itself was also very moving, with personal stories behind many of the artefacts on display. It would take a heart of stone not to catch a tear in the eye, and feel the palpable air of sadness and quiet reflection around the place.

One of many artefacts with harrowing stories.

 Radioactive Black Rain Streaming Down a Wall

 We then moved on swiftly to a place called Miyajimaguchi, about 20km south of the city, via train to catch the Miyajima Ferry. The Ferry would then take us to island of Miyajima Island, one of the Three Scenic Views of Japan. It really was quite something, a brilliant red Torii Gate rising out of the sea, almost as if it were floating. This is probably the only place we came to that was flooded with tourists, but it made little difference, as there was so much to explore.

Obviously the gate is the most striking thing about the entire place, but there is also a sprawling Shinto shrine, as well as a five-storied pagoda high up on a hill. I also made myself a few new friends on the island, courtesy of the local free-roaming wild deer. Miyajima provided me with an image that will live long in the memory, strolling down the beach in the sunshine side by side with a wild deer. Now, it was time to leave Hiroshima and head for Kyoto. The city of a thousand temples.

One of the Three Scenic Views of Japan - Easy to see why.

Hiroshima at Night

Hiroshima Station Fountains

Bullet Train, or Shinkansen

Backstreets on a rainy evening

It wasn't a real friendship. She only wanted me for my bag.

The Peace Memorial, Hiroshima

Dango: Japanese Sweets...

Kawaii, Kawaii Everywhere!

Miyajima Island

The Five-Storied Pagoda, Miyajima Island


A night on the tiles, Hiroshima

It's a long way to the top...

Lima vs The Vending Machine


Bird by the Sea, Miyajima

Nightlife, Hiroshima

Underground Shop with Rainbow Lights!

A moment's reflection at the Peace Fountains

Sadako's Thousand Paper Cranes - a moving chapter of Hiroshima's Atomic History

71 Years Later, and those mushroom clouds don't look any less horrifying

Solitary Silhouette

Oh Deer...

I hope you've enjoyed the second leg of my tour of Japan. Whilst Hakone was luxurious, relaxing and much needed after the madness of Tokyo, Hiroshima was deeply emotional. I may not have been alive when it happened, and even my parents weren't alive, but I couldn't help but feel a really strong connection to the people and to the city. Leaving the museum, I can't comprehend the kind of heart a person would have in order to feel it justified, without a hint of remorse or regret.

Kyoto is next up, and I have to let you in on a secret: it was probably better than everything else!

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  1. Ohh wow that is some beautiful and some powerful imagery. This just really shows of how much we really can learn when we visit new places and cultures. Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Thanks Lisa, that's exactly why I wanted to go really - put myself out of my comfort zone and learn a few things along the way. Amazing place.

  2. Your post has just made me move a visit to Japan to the top of my wish list.

    1. Yes! Put it right at the top please, you won't regret it!

  3. Imve always really wanted to go to Japan and now I'm slightly jealous of your travels!! This has just made me want to go even more! You took some awesome photos too!

    1. Thanks Francesca, just wait until you see my Kyoto post next week - that was an incredible city!

  4. I am so jealous! We really wanted to go to Japan this Spring, but life got in the way. Hopefully next year.

    1. Boo to life! Japan will welcome you with open arms though, and you'll never want to leave!

  5. Interesting post and lovely photos! Japan has so much to offer

  6. Your photography, your style = perfect!! I'd love to go to japan some day, I love kawaii styles and anime!x


    1. Thanks Aimee - get saving! Better than any other holiday I've been on! x

  7. Such a breath taking photos! This place looks amazing! it seems like you had a wonderful time! thanks for sharing :)
    xx Jamie | With Love, Jamie

  8. so interesting, and your japan photos in both these posts are beautiful! i'd love to visit, and it seems like you had an incredible trip! :-) xx


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