Hiroshima. Just mere hours from Tokyo on the Shinkansen, but in reality over 500 miles apart.
Hiroshima marked our furthest venture into Japan’s Southern reaches, and it was now time to turn around and eat up those miles back to the capital.
One Shinkansen ride would have done it. But Japan is like a candy store – it hides too many riches – and we refused to be kids staring into that store – excited, frustrated. We wanted to discover and take part in the treats beyond the window.
Three stops then. Miyajima. Kurashiki. Himeiji.
A place in Japan that everybody knows. Even if you are sitting reading this and thinking, ‘I have no idea what that place is’, when you see this…
… You will know it. The floating Torii gate. Known as one of Japan’s top sights and for good reason. In high tide the gate appears ethereal, otherworldly; a spiritual structure unhindered by contemporary clutter and mankind’s other machinations.
The grand gates pierce the heavens and hold swaths of people – and their clicking cameras – in rapture throughout the day.
But the small island of Miyajima holds more wonders than the gate at its entrance. Hiking high above the turrets of the torii, climbing well worn stone steps and coursing through trodden forest paths, the gate receding far below your feet; the canopy thinning overhead.
Sandstone curved slowly in its war with nature breaks the ocean of blue far above. This is a summit to sit and savour. And so we did.
Our fall back through the forest was led by water’s race down to the sea.
We followed its route. Its race. And as the sun set over the horizon I captured the same shot of the torii gate caught by so many others (that first one above). The sun falling behind oceans and ridges. The gate standing proud, unmoved by the coming closure of yet another day.
A town rarely featured on foreigners’ visits to Japan’s shores, and only a last minute addition to ours.
Kurashiki was once a vital town of trade with Edo further up shore. Its canals lined with warehouses and stores; its streets lined with merchants. And a small section of it remains.
Meandering around this preservation of the past, finding the rhythm of the canal and taking in the old world was all that the day required. And as night fell the canal remain unchanged, but the buildings took on a more mysterious veil. Imposing against the canvas of the night’s sky, imposing against simple passers by.
The canal flowed calmly, effortlessly below. Unchanged.
Our final stop on our scenic tour back to Tokyo beckoned and alighting from our Shinkansen one thing now struck us clearly. Autumn is well and truly surrounding us.
Long ago did autumn don its golden crown. Here and there it clings, refusing to clatter to the ground. But, certainly, the crown has aged; now a regal red robe stands centre stage.
The backdrop to this fall performance was Himeji-Jo.
The largest – and most resplendent – castle in Japan. However, large scale restoration obscured the main tower (…timing!). So we wandered the castle grounds with new found friends and a retired Japanese man – Inoue – who regaled us with history, myths, legends and, some of his own, jokes.
It was one of those travel moments where things, surprisingly, come together when you think they won’t.
His kindness and knowledge washed away the scaffolding and transported us into the medieval past.
But all too soon, light had faded from the day, and our scenic tour was coming to a close.