Eventually the noisy numpty from the neighbouring bunk turned his music off and we were able to get a decent night’s sleep ahead of our final full day in Osaka. Waking up bright and early to accommodate our full schedule, we were such keen beans that we arrived before the Umeda Sky Building had even opened for the day. To fill the time, we picked up a cold drink (i.e. more pineapple tea) from a convenience store and relaxed in the shade. By the time we headed back over to the Umeda Sky Building, it was in the process of opening for the day; a small crowd of eager beavers like us were gathered around the entrance.
Cosmopolitan Kobe was slotted into our itinerary for one reason, and one reason only: Kobe beef. However, our day spent wandering this maritime metropolis taught us that there’s far more to Kobe than its cuisine. Since its brief stint as capital of Japan (lasting a grand total of five months, back in 1180), Kobe flourished as a shipping hub for the island nation until the Great Hanshin earthquake struck in 1995, reducing much of the city to rubble. Today, Japan’s sixth largest city is a cultural melting pot, with more to see and do than we managed to fit into our short day trip.
After a fairly relaxing (by our standards) day in Miyajima, it was time to return to the mainland and head for Osaka – a ferry, two trains and a subway ride further north. In the interests of enjoying our inclusive breakfast, we had a slightly later start to the day. There’s a degree of subjectivity to enjoyed as neither of us were accustomed to consuming miso soup, Japanese pickles or tofu for breakfast, but we did our best (and sought sanctuary in the fruit mixed with jam and yogurt).
After a speedy 7-Eleven-style breakfast, we gathered our things and caught the train to Miyajimaguchi. Upon arrival, we motored over to the ferry terminal, arriving just in time to catch the next JR ferry across to Miyajima. We spent the brief journey – which lasted no longer than ten minutes – on deck, snapping away at Miyajima’s photogenic coastline.
The prevailing image of Hiroshima is that of a city obliterated by the nuclear weapon “Little Boy”, on that fateful summer morning in 1945. Today, however, Hiroshima is far more than that: it’s a city which lives and breathes forgiveness, peace and hope.
After a few days exploring the thousand-year capital, it was time to activate our JR West Rail Pass and take a day trip to Bambi-land. For anyone who’s feeling a little befuddled, that’s Nara – another former capital of Japan, like Kyoto, which is home to hundreds of sacred deer.
Kyoto is a fusion of antiquity and progression: ancient temples and Zen gardens are the fabric of this imperial capital of yesteryear, whilst the skyline is scattered with modern skyscrapers and complexes. Knowing full well that it would be impossible to see everything, only two more noteworthy attractions made it into our itinerary: Fushimi Inari-Taisha, the mesmerising hilltop Shinto shrine, and Kinkaku-ji, otherwise known as the Golden Pavilion.
Synonymous with seemingly never-ending bamboo shoots, Arashiyama is one of Kyoto’s most ethereal locales. If you’re looking for solitude, however, there’s a caveat: tourists descend on the bamboo grove in droves during daylight hours. Having gleaned the aforementioned titbit from fellow travellers, we decided to embrace another early morning in the hopes of having the bamboo grove to ourselves.
When Monday rolled round it was time to move on to our next destination: Kyoto. After an early alarm, a speedy automated checkout and a breakfast pastry we bought tickets for the 08:05 Thunderbird Ltd Express service to Kyoto. It wasn’t long before we arrived in the cultural centrepiece of Japan, home to hundreds of ornate temples and shrines, the former imperial palace and a horrifically humid sub-tropical climate.
Straddling Mount Haku in the remote Ryōhaku Mountains is one of Japan’s most picturesque – and authentic – human settlements, dating back to the eleventh century. With its traditional gasshō-zukuri farmhouses, expansive rice paddies and jaw-dropping natural surroundings, Shirakawa-go was a must-visit for us while we were in Kanazawa.