On my second full weekend in Japan, I bought a ticket for a Shinkansen ride to Hiroshima.  By high speed rail, the trip takes a smidge over four hours.  My plan for this weekend was aggressive and exhausting, but totally worthwhile given my limited time in Japan:

  • Friday, go to Hiroshima.  Stay there overnight.
  • Saturday, stash my bag in a train station locker and then see as much as I can before late afternoon.
  • Saturday before dinner, take another two hour Shinkansen ride to Osaka.
  • See as much as I can in Osaka before it’s too dark, and stay there overnight.
  • Sunday, see more of Osaka, including the aquarium.
  • Sunday afternoon, take a very short train hop over to Kyoto.
  • In Kyoto see two very specific things before taking one last two hour train back to Tokyo.
  • Profit.


The weekend didn’t go entirely according to plan, but I did get to see most of what I wanted to see, starting with a lovely fast train ride through the Japanese countryside after leaving work on Friday.  Have I mentioned lately that I love trains?  I really do.


Arriving in Hiroshima shortly before sunset, I saw that a baseball game was in progress at the Mazda Zoom-Zoom stadium, which probably has another, more accurate name that I haven’t learned.  I never had a chance to see a baseball game in Japan, but I’m told that they’re very entertaining.  Fellow blogger Adam has written about baseball in Japan quite a few times.


A momentary aside about the station in Hiroshima-  this waterfall statue thing looks a great deal to me like a pair of mushroom clouds.  I’m quite sure that’s not the intent, but I can’t be the only person who sees that image, can I?


After checking into the hotel in Hiroshima, I was delighted to find that housekeeping had placed a tiny paper crane on the bed.


Once I dropped off my bag at the hotel, I set back out to have some dinner.  I ate some junk food near the station, delighting in how much the city has been rebuilt since the bombs 70 years ago.  I don’t know why I was surprised about the rebuilding-  70 years is a very long time.  It’s not as if the land is irradiated.


I spotted this German restaurant after I had already eaten dinner.  I rather wish I’d spotted it beforehand.  I would have been thrilled to try German cooking in Hiroshima.


On Saturday morning, I found the Hiroshima sightseeing loop bus, with its adorable pudgy moose mascot.  When traveling through multiple cities on an abbreviated timetable, it’s important to research things ahead of time.   For example, it’s excellent to know that a single fee for the day will take me to all the things that I most wanted to see:  Hiroshima Castle, the Peace Memorial Park, and the Genbaku Dome.


First up, Hiroshima Castle, sometimes known as the Gokoku Shrine.    Terumoto established this castle in 1589 at the delta of the Otagawa River.


The original castle was destroyed by the atomic bomb blast in August of 1945, and was reconstructed in 1958 as a museum to exhibit historic artifacts.  I didn’t take many photos of artifacts.  I never really do.  I do like the reconstruction of living quarters though.  I find it interesting.


I’m also thrilled by the view of Hiroshima from the top of the castle.  I like tall places.


The castle structure is built next to a shrine.  I saw several weddings during my journeys; this was one of them.


The castle and shrine together are surrounded by high walls and a moat.  The whole arrangement was really very pretty.


From the castle, it was less than a mile to walk to the Peace Memorial Park, which is preserved as a remembrance to the atomic bomb and the people killed or wounded at that time.  I have misplaced my notes about the sculptures in the park, but I believe this one was about the families killed in the blast.


I think this one was about the teachers killed in the blast.  There are about a dozen different sculptures and monuments in the park.  I should have taken better notes.


This one, at least, I’m sure of.  This is the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students.  During World War II, more than three million students over age twelve were mobilized for labor services in Japan.  As a result, more than 7,000 were killed by the atomic bomb.  This tower is twelve meters high and gradually widens as it rises.  The sculpture depicts the Goddess of Peace accompanied by eight doves perched around the tower.


This one is well documented on the Internet-  the Children’s Peace Monument.  The top depicts a girl holding up a crane, a symbol of longevity and happiness.  The monument was inspired by the story of a young victim who believed that she would recover from her radiation poisoning once she made 1,000 paper cranes.


This structure is the Cenotaph.   It is dedicated to all the victims of the bombing, and it embodies the hope that Hiroshima will forever stand as a symbol of peace.


The building behind the Cenotaph is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and I went inside after I was done in the park.  I took almost no photographs inside this museum, because it felt like sacrilege.


Looking back through the Cenotaph, you can see the structure of the Genbaku Dome, the lone building to remain standing after the atomic bomb blast.


This is the Cenotaph courtyard as seen from the museum-  this is a better view of how the entire park is laid out.


The Atomic Bomb Dome was once the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall.


At 8:15 AM on August 7, 1945, the atomic bomb designated “Little Boy” was detonated over the city of Hiroshima.  The bomb missed its target by about 240 meters.  It was supposed to detonate over a bridge, but instead detonated almost 2000 feet over a hospital.  This red sphere signifies where the explosion occurred.


Because the bomb was almost directly overhead, this building’s dome and columns were able to partially withstand the downward force of the explosion.  People closest to the center of the explosion were vaporized instantly.  The pressure wave from the explosion reduced this portion of the city to rubble in moments.  Roughly 70,000 people were killed immediately, and tens of thousands more succumbed to burn injuries from the blast or to radiation poisoning soon after.

Here’s what the Genbaku Dome looked like immediately after the blast.


In 1966, the Hiroshima city council adopted a resolution to permanently preserve the dome in its current state.    It has been structurally reinforced and fenced off, but is otherwise unchanged from the way it looked in 1966.


Visiting this dome felt similar to visiting Auschwitz, somber and sobering.  It’s important for us to remember places with massive death tolls, in order to prevent destruction of this magnitude from ever happening again.


Have you ever been to Hiroshima?


Akihabara and a Cat Cafe

Meanwhile, back in Japan…  Akihabara’s Electric City is an amazing place.  It is home to thousands of shops selling electronic gadgets, video games, anime and manga stuff, and more.


When I first day in Tokyo, I went along with my colleague to Akihabara because he went there for souvenir shopping- there are tax and duty free shops near the main rail station for the area that are full of nifty things to bring home at reasonable prices.


If you’re not sure that you’re in Akihabara, just look around.  Even the soda vending machines are decked out in Otaku themes.


This vehicle was playing Japanese pop music very loudly as it passed by on the main street.  This is very typically Akihabara.


One of the reasons that we went to Akihabara on that first day was that I had expressed curiosity about the local version of Denny’s.


Based on the menu, I would say that Japanese Denny’s is Denny’s in name only.  However, their french toast was deliciously superior to anything I’ve had in the States.  Your mileage may vary.


Another great thing that I enjoyed in Akihabara is a cat cafe called Neko Jalala.  The cafe is a short walk from the main Akihabara rail station, and it’s pretty easy to spot despite the nondescript brown wooden sliding door.


Once you step inside the first door, you remove your shoes and put them in a cubby.  Next, you pay an entrance fee.  I paid for thirty minutes inside.  This little fuzzball was my favorite of the cats inside.


There were about fifteen cats inside.  A binder was presented to me which detailed the names, ages, and personalities of each of the felines, along with a few photographs for easy identification.


I also paid a small fee for a cup of cat treats.  This gentleman has a cup of treats in his hand, hence all the attention.


As you can see, the cats all come out for treats.  They are most insistent.


This kitty was one of two that spent time using me as a feeder.


The other one was all stripey!  Since this is also an actual cafe, you can have a tasty cold beverage while you’re inside.  I selected apple juice, but their coffee drinks also looked delicious.


During my afternoon visit, many of the cats were sleeping or just sitting around attentively.  Very few were active.


The sleeping hideaways were tucked in every nook and cranny.


This cat is the only one that seemed to be in a playful mood.


The little plush cat-car is fantastic.


This grumpy looking fellow was napping while I was in the cafe.


Skritch skritch skritch!


This tiny little girl was the sweetest cat.


Just before I left, she deigned to allow me to pet her a tiny bit.


Have you ever been to Akihabara?  Have you ever visited a Cat Cafe?

Throwback Thursday: Repatriation day plus one year.

A lot of my friends do this thing on Facebook called Throwback Thursday, where you post a really old photograph of yourself, but I realized a few days ago that this Thursday would be the first of October.  It’s been precisely one year since I left Germany to start my life over here in South Florida.

In that time:

  • I spent just over four months living in my brother’s spare bedroom which was also his office after my return.  I’m still very grateful for his hospitality-  by staying there, I was able to find an apartment on my own terms.  When I moved to Germany, I had to live in a hotel for three weeks while I searched for my apartment.  This was significantly more relaxed.
  • Soon after my arrival, I inexplicably won a Bose SoundLink Mini in a contest from my web hosting provider.  Thanks, DreamHost!
  • On my first weekend back, I attended the wedding of a man I’ve known for more than twenty years now.
    I brought Amelie as my date.   I first met Amelie a few years ago, and we officially became a couple during my last year in Germany.  This was the first time we went to a wedding together.  Amelie wore a Valentino dress, and she looked awesome.
    valentino  wedding2
  • I reacquainted myself with Tijuana Flats.  Amelie introduced me to Shake Shack.
  • I relearned the convenience of grocery shopping whenever the heck I feel like it instead of having to do it before 8pm on weekdays.
  • About a month after my return, I purchased a car.   My previous car was sold when I moved to Germany, so I was starting from scratch.  After much deliberation, I decided on a Mazda 3 hatchback.  This decision proved beneficial later, when Amelie and I bought all new furniture for my apartment at Ikea.  The storage in this hatchback is insane.
  • Amelie and I have gone to many, many concerts since my return, including some long time favorites of mine (Information Society, Kraftwerk, Weird Al Yankovic) and some favorites of hers (My Morning Jacket, Barenaked Ladies, Paramore, Pixies) as well.
    Kraftwerk Information Society
  • During the late January trip to California to see Information Society, Amelie and I briefly visited with my old friend Miri in the Sacramento area.  Less than six months later, Miri took her own life.  That sucks.
  • Back to fun stuff!  Amelie and I have also been to six theme parks in South Florida since my return-  all four Florida Disney parks, and both of the Universal Studios parks.  We are now Disney annual pass holders, because it’s so close!
  • On the fifth month, I moved into my own apartment, a one bedroom affair boasting 617 square feet of space.  It’s 150% the size of my apartment in Regensburg, yet somehow feels smaller.  This can probably be accounted for by the actual kitchen, which does eat up a bit of space.   Totally worth it, though.
  • I spent five weeks in Japan for work, and I’m only about a quarter of the way through posting those photographs.  This was the 27th country outside of the US that I have visited.
  • Work also sent me to Utah for a week.  It’s not as fascinating as Japan, but it’s still pretty darn scenic.
  • Edit: I didn’t realize this until I hit publish, but this is the 350th post on this blog.  I thought that was momentous enough to warrant a post-publish edit!

So the running total for this last twelve months:  One wedding, one funeral, one new country, three out of state trips, and lots of concerts and shows.  I wanted to write a great deal more, but one thing that I’ve noticed in the last year is that time goes much, much faster here.  I often feel like I don’t have enough time to write everything that I want to write.  In Germany, it felt like I had a great deal more time to write and so forth.

This doesn’t mean I’m not having fun, though.    While I was scrolling through my phone’s camera roll for this post, I noticed two things:  First, that I’ve taken better than five thousand photos in the past year, just on my phone.  That’s not even including the ones on the big camera that I take traveling.   I take a LOT of photographs.  I think I may have an addiction.  Second:  In a huge percentage of the pictures, I’m with this girl, and I’m smiling like a fiend:


That’s because I have a great time with her. She’s the Bonnie to my Clyde, and I love her to bits.  I don’t usually talk about her much here in great detail, but anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while has seen her name and her picture lots of times.

Last October, I came back to Florida.  It wasn’t until I was with Amelie again that I was truly home.


So what have you been up to for the last twelve months?


Sanja Matsuri at Senso-ji

On the 16th of May, the first full Saturday after my arrival to Japan, I traveled to Asakusa to see the famed temple Senso-ji.    Founded in the year 645, Senso-ji is Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple.  I arrived to Asakusa expecting to find a serene place for contemplation, and stumbled right into the middle of Sanja Matsuri, one of Tokyo’s biggest festivals.   I noticed right away that the streets were blocked off to vehicles, but I didn’t know yet that this was unusual.

I was following the little map robot on my phone, and it told me to walk down this street.  I only got about ten paces in before I turned back to go a less crowded way.   What I didn’t know until later was that this covered walkway is the Nakamise arcade, a popular covered breezeway full of shops and restaurants.


Every street I walked down while in Asakusa was lined in lanterns for the festival.  At this point in the day, I still had no idea what was going on.  Also, I really like this woman’s shark shaped backpack.


As I got closer to the temple, I encountered thicker and thicker crowds.   Of course in a crowd this large, it’s completely appropriate to spot Waldo.


After some walking, I caught my first glimpse of the temple.


I walked in through Kaminarimon or “Thunder Gate,” and found myself facing statues of Raijin (god of thunder) and Fujin (god of wind).  It is not at all clear to me which is which.   You can see Tokyo Skytree behind the statues here, and I could easily have seen Senso-ji from Skytree, if I had been there on a clear day.


This is the point at which I realized that this might not be normal tourism.   I still didn’t know that it was a major festival, however.


I walked up as close as I could, even making it to the stairs beneath the enormous paper lantern in this photo.


Here’s a closer shot of the paper lantern.


However, the inside of the temple was fenced off with this mesh.  I could look, but I could not enter.  There are several Buddhists inside conducting a ritual, but I don’t know more than that.


Moving away from the main temple gates, I walked around to the side, where stalls selling merchandse and traditional food rested beneath more paper lanterns.


Walking back down toward Thunder Gate, I noticed another incense burner.  I like the smell of these things, but it was very warm.


When I walked back toward the train station, I found the main street to be significantly more crowded than when I first arrived.  This is one of the biggest parts of Sanja Matsuri!


The giant metal and wood construct being held up here is called a Mikoshi.   The Mikoshi pictured here is one of three which are built to act as miniature and portable versions of Asakusa Shrine.  They contain representations of Kami, the spirits, gods and deities of Japan’s Shinto religion.

The Mikoshi are tremendously heavy, and they are carried on four long poles lashed together with ropes by a Mikoshi team of about 40 people.  The Mikoshi team has a uniform, with a Happi coat and Tabi boots.  The team bounces it up and down, as a show of strength and teamwork.


Mikoshi are usually carried around the neighborhood so that the Kami inside can see the neighborhood. It’s considered good luck for the area. Afterwards, the Mikoshi is brought back to the shrine.


I watched the Mikoshi for a while, then I grabbed a burger before I headed back to Kanda.  Several of my colleagues who had previously visited Tokyo mentioned that they really enjoyed Mos Burger.  It wasn’t bad, but it definitely wasn’t the best burger I had while I was in Japan.


Have you ever seen Sanja Matsuri?  Have you ever seen a Mikoshi being carried? Have you ever eaten at Mos Burger?


Zojo-ji and the East Imperial Garden

On the day that I visited Tokyo Tower, I also took a short walk from there to visit Zojo-ji.


This Buddhist temple, founded in 1393, is the main temple of the Chinzei branch of Jōdo-shū Buddhism.


The proximity of Tokyo Tower makes for from pretty amazing views.


This stairwell is actually on a path just outside of the main gate.


This is the same building pictured earlier, the main hall of the temple.


Off to one side of the courtyard is what’s called an “Unborn Children Garden.”


These rows of statues represent the unborn children of Japan, including miscarried, aborted, and stillborn children.


Parents often choose a statue in the garden to decorate with clothing or toys.  They often leave a small gift for Jizō, the guardian of unborn children to ensure that they are brought to the afterlife.


Incense was burning in the courtyard.  It smelled very nice.


There were nice statues around the courtyard as well.


Near the exit, ice cream was on sale. It was warm, but not quite warm enough to try the green flavor.



One of my favorite things about Japan was how often you found the older structures nestled among newer construction.  Once you walk through that  gate, the dial is set  back to city.


Speaking of old things, I took some time to look at the East Garden of the Imperial Palace.  You can tell it’s a palace because there’s a moat!  This is the Seimon Ishibashi bridge, approaching the main gate.



The hard plastic entry token was printed in Japanese on one side and English on the other-  I had to turn it back in when I left.  I suspect that’s how they control crowd volume.


The East Garden houses the administrative buildings for the palace, and it also includes some older historical buildings from the Edo period.


Also, there’s fish statues.


This was a guard house of some sort.  Regrettably, I have misplaced my notes about this structure.


This was living quarters for samurai, if I remember correctly.


The East Garden is vast and winding, and quite pretty.


This isn’t far from the heart of the Otemachi financial district, but you’d never know it.


This stone is similar to one which marks the place where the 47 Ronin story began.


I only saw a tiny fraction of the full Imperial Gardens, and my memory of what the buildings mean is terribly flawed.  If I find my notes from that day, I will come back later to update this post with more accurate detail.

Have you ever been to the Imperial Palace Gardens?