In the evening of our first night in Osaka, we realized the power we weld in the form of a large and awkwardly sized laminated piece of cardstock: the JR Pass. We initially planned to only visit Kyoto and spend the remainder of our time in Osaka, but after thinking of other bucket-list places to visit, we found the Itsukushima Shrine: a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Hiroshima area. At 2.5 hours from Osaka station (thanks to the magical bullet train), we felt that it was reasonable enough of a trek to add into our itinerary.
Cameras and umbrellas in hand, we left at around 8am, not realizing we'd be joining the throng of salarymen and women of the city. The empty artery streets we saw the day before were dominated by well-dressed workers on foot and on bike.
A train and a bullet train later, we arrived at Hiroshima Station for our next transfer. Never had the 'it feels like a can of sardines' cliche been more appropriate.
Before departing, we decided to sample one of the local specialties for brunch: Okonomiyaki. Essentially a grilled pancake of yakisoba, squid, and cabbage, it was the perfect meal to fuel our time at the shrine. There are several family-run places selling Okonomiyaki in the station, and I'm sure any one won't disappoint.
For your reference though, we picked Yocchan as we heard about it prior, and it was fantastic.
From there, we were one train and a ferry ride away from Itsukushima Island. Along the way, we noted of many things we wanted to stop by and check out later. We found that with Japan, the further you got from density, the more charm there was to be found.
Upon arriving at the ferry, we were pleasantly surprised to find that even it was covered by our JR Pass. We didn't have to pay a single cent for transportation during this daytrip.
By the time we reached the ferry, a slight drizzle had started to fall. Weather had not been on our side for this leg of our journey.
After finally reaching Itsukushima Island, one of the first things we noticed were the free-roaming deer. Unlike Nara, they aren't meant for petting and feeding, as several signs across the island warn that they're wild and shouldn't be interacted with. Despite this, tourists have trained them to be kind of aggressively curious, so watch your bags around these sneaky cuties.
Walking along the beach towards the shrine was a serene experience. While there were many tourists on the same path we were on, the rain likely scared a good chunk of them off, so for that we were thankful.
Looking up the streets of the island, we saw many hidden gems among the food vendors and souviner wearing the style of an old village. From prior travel experiences I've developed a fear of traveling long distances to a single landmark, only to realize there's not truly much to do once you arrive. Here however, you could easily spend an entire day exploring the paths and alleys of the island.
Everything from the overall atmosphere to the little details, like this sign, were absolute delights to take in.
We were so impressed by the island already and we hadn't even reached the main attraction: the floating torii. With a relatively low tide, we carefully stepped across the beach over to get a closer look.
I wasn't able to catch it on camera, but the little streams flowing from the island into the sea was filled with life; little fish and other critters saturated the running water upon closer inspection.
Not wanting to miss the last bullet train, we decided to head back to leave time for a quick trip around the residential area around the ferry terminal back in Hiroshima.
Something about the relatively small seaside town stood out to us when we transferred from the train to the ferry on our way to the island. It called to us to explore just a little, so we answered our curiosity by spending half an hour walking around the area surrounding the station. perhaps it was because it was the least dense residential area we'd seen in all of our Japan trip.
'Least dense" is a relative term however, as to a Vancouverite this looked much more closely packed than a typical suburban area.
The vibe certainly seemed different from a larger city, however. Every resident we spied on seemed to know one another when they crossed paths.
By the time we were back in Osaka, it was already dark. We originally hoped to see the skyline from the Umeda Sky Building, but the weather and our tiredness caused us to instead resort to something restorative: ramen.
A steaming bowl later, we were ready to turn in for the night. Two days straight of rain hadn't been ideal; the coldness and wetness were starting to get to us. Luckily, the weather was set to improve for our next and final destination before returning to Tokyo: Kyoto. More on that next post.