Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It's a small, small world... [The Return to Hiroshima!]

Phew. What a weekend. It's Wednesday now and I've been back from my second trip to Hiroshima for a few days... so I guess it's about time I filled you in!

Saturday saw Hiroshima host its annual Sake Matsuri (festival) - a chance for locals and gaijins alike to pile into the City and sample over 500 different flavours of sake. Obviously I was sold as soon as I heard of it, so the second work was over on Friday night, I hopped on a bus to Matsuyama to let the weekend's festivities begin!

...well, I say I hopped on a bus to Matsuyama. Truth is, I hopped on a bus going in the COMPLETE OPPOSITE direction. And didn't realise this until 30 minutes into my journey when I was spat out, clueless, on the side of a motorway. Two months into my stay here, I was miffed I still hadn't learnt which bus to take, but even more miffed when the busstop I got off at had conveniently had its timetable ripped off. Not wanting to be stranded in the middle of nowhere indefinitely, I walked back the way I came. 

An artist's interpretation of an all-too-frequent occurrence in my life
Luckily, two minutes into my walk, I stumbled upon a quaint little motorway-side hotel. Venturing inside, I managed to scramble together enough Japanese to ask the owner to ring me a taxi, which she did... and then she not only came outside and waited with me till it arrived, but also made sure the taxi driver knew exactly where I wanted to go and saw me off with a wave. JAPANESE HOSPITALITY MAKES ME SO HAPPY. 

Next morning, (having, for better or worse, made it to Matsuyama) it was time to jump on the ferry to Hiroshima! 

All aboard! Destination: Shitfaced.

  Annoyingly, by the time I ended up arriving in Hiroshima (having slept in later than anticipated), it was pretty late... so much so that the Sake Festival was all but winding down. I was just about ready to cut somebody in retalation for having come all this way for nothing when, walking down the street, I bump into my literal JET BFF: Rachel, my partner-in-crime from the Great Takashimaya Break-in back in August. Thrilled that we've just so happened to be in the same place at the same time, we hop on a train to Hiroshima City where we spent the night at Southern Cross, a local gaijin haunt which seemed to be populated by literally every JET I've ever met ever. Talk about turning the night around. 

Chance encounter in Hiroshima #1

 And although I may not have been directly privy to the Sake Matsuri's delights... the surrounding streets were enough to paint a fairly clear picture of what I missed. I've never seen so many twatted people in such a concentrated space (usually because if I've been in such a place, I've been one of them). And although I would've preferred to have been joining the carnage, having seen what I saw, it was definitely a memory I'm glad wasn't diluted by booze. Whole armies of policemen had been employed to create a human-shield in front of the railway tracks just so those too-drunk-to-walk didn't unwittingly find themselves under a train. And then there was the woman who ripped her boyfriend's glasses of his face just so she could slap him better before yelling, attempting to storm off and falling flat on her arse. People were passed out in bushes, on stairs, under makeshift coat-beds in the middle of the pavement... pure debauchery. Oh, Japanese people, I love you.

Having somehow found myself in the big city when I was meant to be staying with Tom in the inaka, I ended up crashing Rachel's hostel. The grouchy door attendant wasn't so keen on seeing one man stay with three girls in the same room, but after telling him that I was their older brother (quick thinking there from Catherine), he let it slide.

When in Rome... Rachel does her best to imitate the locals.

After a tumultuous evening, next morning we decided to do something altogether more cultured and set off for Hiroshima's Peace Museum for a completely different experience. Having come all this way, I felt it was something I couldn't go home without seeing: like going to Paris and not glimpsing the Eiffel Tower. Well, it was certainly an experience that's for sure.  

One of the few buildings in Hiroshima not to be completely flattened by the bomb.

   I'd read quite a lot about the Hiroshima bombings before, but, more than any impersonal Wikipedia article, the real human stories and exhibits which the museum showed added a level of personalness to it all.  It wasn't a bitter or finger-pointing account of the bombings at all. (Which I thought was amazing in itself). Rather, it was a plea to visitors to see the real danger of nuclear weapons, regardless of the nation which possesses them. Needless to say, we were all feeling pretty emotionally fragile by the time we got out. [And there you were thinking I couldn't do serious?]

Sitting in the Peace Park afterwards, it was there that I had my second chance encounter of the week... this time with Ben, a friend I'd made all the way back at London Orientation and who'd been on my flight to Tokyo from Heathrow. Taking the chance to catch up over lunch, we headed to Okonomiyaki Town to stuff our faces...  


 For the unitiated, "okonomiyaki" is Japanese for "fucking delicious pancake thing". There are two main types: Hiroshima's come stuffed with noodles, and Kansai's come without. I've heard okonomiyaki referred to as "the Japanese pizza", but the only real similarity between the two is their shape: okonomiyaki is a pancake stuffed with meat, herbs, spices, special sauce and a slathering of mayonnaise. All in all, a God amongst foods. The only downside? When the chef adds fish flakes on top... not only do they taste of fish (obviously), but the rising heat makes them flap and move, so it looks like your pancake is covered in moths flapping their wings. Fucking creepy.

Having been booze'd, museum'd and okonomiyaki'd out (I ended up having it for lunch AND dinner), it was time to jump on the ferry home where, lo and behold, I ONCE AGAIN have a chance encounter with some JET friends! This time, the Uwajima Crew who I went karaoke-ing with a few weeks back! 

Me and Sam on the ferry home!

Me, Sam and Emma

 I had a troll when I was little (well, my sister did, but I used to pretend it was mine), that sang "It's a small, small world..." when you pushed the star on her belly. I didn't take much notice of it at the time, but from my THREE chance encounters this week, I'm willing to admit... although her hair was purple, the bitch had a point.

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