Monday, October 08, 2012

Taking the public transportation to Miyajima...

The MCAS Iwakuni Cultural Adaptation Program hosted another educational trip and I, of course, took advantage of the guided tour, led by Cultural Adaptation Specialist for the base, . This time we went to Miyajima, an island famously known for the Shinto Itsukushima Shrine. It is a vacation and educational destination for the Japanese, so it is very touristy (i.e English) friendly town. The educational part of the cultural tour was to teach us how to use the public transportation system to get to the town. We hopped a bud from outside the base to the train station. Took a train to the ferry and then took a ferry to the island. I now have confidence in my ability to hope from vehicle to train to boat with little trouble... I just need to make sure I don't fall asleep or get too deep in to a conversation and miss my bus or train stop!

A sign as you approach the ferry stations. There are two, competing companies that ferry people over to the island. They are the same price, with similar boats, so we simply chose the ferry that we could get on soonest.

As I mentioned, this is a huge tourist destination, so the ferry boat was filled with Japanese students on field trips, all matching in their uniforms. This group of boys pictured below was especially friendly, allowing our group to have the rail and then bantering back and forth with us about taking their pictures.

A look back to the mainland

 A ferry boat like ours

The day was a little hazy, but I am sure you can make out the bright red gate to the shrine in the distance

Miyajima is known for a few things: Its cuisine featuring eel and oysters, tasty filled sponge cakes in the shape of maple leaves, called momiji, and the overly-friendly deer that run wild on the island. we encountered the deer right away, which scavenge for anything edible, including maps, paper money and blister packs from medicine (I swear - I saw them eat or attempt to eat all of those!)

The deer warning sign displayed near the ferry station. I told Akie that my husband would love to have his bow and arrows here to hunt. "Oh,no! Not here!" she said. OK, I'll make sure he leaves them at home, I told her. :)

As you can see, the deer are about the size of a German Shepherd. Not much venison on that scrawny body.

There were some ladies to welcome tourists to the island. They were dressed in kimonos fashioned in a style that was popular prior to the existing style of kimono, Akie said.

A huge map of all the things to see and do on Miyajima. I saw about a tenth of the island. The brown roads to the left of the red gate is where the main village and ferry stations are.

To get to the shrine, you must walk through the shops and restaurants the village has to offer (as a marketer, I totally appreciate this... and there was no price gouging at the closest stores. Each store had the same price for the same item, such as a decorative rice paddle, which was 400 yen.)

The village is about five blocks of shops and food, with an occasional point of interest mixed in.

It was time for my mid-morning snack, as it was for many in the group (there were only 9 of us, so we stayed in a group for most of the trip, which was fun), so Akie recommended we try the fish-on-a -tick, called negititen. There are a lot of different flavor options and I opted for the cheese and bacon fish-on-a-stick. How could something with bacon wrapped around it be wrong? And it wasn't - it was delicious! Flakey white fish with melted white cheese, wrapped in a couple slices of bacon and fried. Heaven on a stick!

Me with my negititen in front of the booth I got it from.

One of the "occasional points of interest" I spoke of earlier: The is the world's largest rice paddle carved from a single piece of wood.

After about a half-hour meandering through the village with my fish-on-a-stick (garbage cans were not available, probably because of the scavenger deer. However, one of the shopkeepers saw my plight and offered to throw my stick away for me as I walked by. Akie said that that is unusual for them to do that) we finally made it to the walking entrance to the shrine. In previous centuries, pilgrims to the shrine had to go through the gate in the water. Fortunately, I did not have to get in one of the narrow, long canoes. The walking gate is guarded by Ah and Un... two lion-ish creatures that symbolize a good partnership, Akie said. I asked her if one was male and one was female, and she said she did not know.



As you walk through the gate guarded by Ah and Un, there is a great vantage point in which to see the water gate to the shrine. During low tied, you can walk out to the shrine, where people often push coins in to the cracks of the wood and make wishes. Unfortunately, low tide was going to be around dinner time and we had to be back to base by 4 p.m. But it is definitely something I want to do!

The steps down to the bay are just to the left of the lantern-looking structure.

The shrine is built on the bay, on wooden pillars, and appears to be in the shape of an exaggerated 'W.' It cost 300 yen to  enter. Once you pay, you then walk over to a basin of water fed by the bay to wash your sins away. The shrine is to be kept very pure. In fact, pregnant women close to their due date and terminally ill patients are removed from the island so the shrine will not be tainted.

The entrance to the shrine

The basin fed by the bay. You use the cup in the stick to get the water, and then wash your hands, left hand first, over the bamboo grate.

A series of rooms inside the shrine.

A Japanese couple was getting married while we were touring the shrine, We were not allowed to take photos of the religious personnel (who we did not see anyway) but no one said anything about a wedding party. So, since I am not sure I will ever see a Shinto shrine wedding ceremony, I figured I'd better get a photo of the traditional clothing while I could.

Another view of part of the shrine. The entrance is to the left.

The gate, as seen from the shrine's stage area.

While you are at  the shrine, you can purchase good luck charms and have your fortune told. I paid 500 yen for this little sachet, which is supposed to give me general good fortune for a year. 

I also paid 100 yen to get my fortune. This wasn't like tarot cards or palm reading. No people were involved at all. There were tall, hexagon-shaped boxes with sticks inside. Each stick had a number on it. You shook up the box and it had a slit in the top, big enough for just one stick to slide out. Mine had the number 3. You then open the drawer with that number on it and take out the printed fortune. Of course, it was in Japanese, which a sign warned you of, but we had Akie, so she translated for us.

Shaking the box

Akie translating my fortune.

What the slip of paper looked like.

Apparently, I have middle-of-the-road luck for the year. Nothing great, nothing terrible. Either that, or the great balances with the terrible. I don't know, but time will tell. Among other things, I am to find a good doctor if I become ill (this could be harder that one would think since I am stuck with the corpsmen on base) so I can survive, now is not the time to build a house or start a business, and now is a good time to meet a good husband. I will have to let Rodney know.

Traditionally, once you have read your fortune, you tie it to a tree near the shrine. Instead, there are bars within the shrine to tie it to. So I tied. 

I am not sure what this building is, but it was just outside the shrine and near the restaurant where we ate lunch. I liked the way it looked,

After we toured the shrine, is was time for lunch. The majority of the group wanted noodles or udon, so we went to a tasty noodle shop. One of the ladies decided to get dessert instead, and got a Japanese shaved-ice blue raspberry snowcone with condensed milk drizzled on top. She offered me to try a bite and it was very sweet, very rich. I don't know how she was able to eat the whole thing!

My beef udon... tasty!

The Japanese snowcone

After lunch, we had to rush to our appointment to make momiji, maple-leaf-shaped the sponge cake Miyajima is famous for. While the commercially-made cakes are made with machines click here for my video of the machine they had on display) we did it by hand with gas burners. The cakes are filled with various tasty goodness, from sweet beans (I did not think I would like these, but they were amazing!), chocolate, custard, etc. We filled ours with sweet beans and chocolate.

The sign welcoming our group. You'll have to take my word on that like I took Akie's :)

The humorous and good-spirited gentleman who walked us through the momiji-making process. He also ensure we did not burn the place down. 

My baking area

Once the cakes were cooked, they had a machine that wrapped and sealed them in plastic.

Me with two of the four cakes I made.

Our tour group in the bakery.

After we made cakes, it was time to take the three modes of public transportation back to base. I had a lot of fun in Miyajima and can't wait to take my family next time!

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