July 6 – Hiroshima, Miyajima, Onomichi

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Our last morning in Hiroshima we ate our concessionary minimal breakfast, yoghurt and jellied fruit salad, drank essential Brazil coffee, and, while waiting for the ferry to Miyajima, we watched the fishermen on the breakwaters – how they got there a mystery – and on the beach. One of them caught something. It didn’t look like a fish, more like a squid, and was in fact a cuttlefish. The fisherman and friends leapt aside when it was landed and its ink sac burst. They didn’t seem to want to kill it. The left it heaving on the concrete leaking ink and occasionally prodded or tapped its hard top shell. When we approached, one of them showed us his earlier catch: an octopus. Well done, we said. Thank you, they said.

The Seto inland sea does not move like water in the open sea or like that in the harbour. It rises and falls like silk and jelly. It is strangely threatening and a green-charcoal – which reminds me of my snack bun: there’s a snap here – bamboo coal bun.Tasted like spice bun without spice or fruit…

A light rain was falling when we arrived on Miyajima that got heavier as the morning progressed. We could see one red wooden Torii gate when we arrived but not the famous one. To see this we had to walk around the esplanade, where we immediately encountered the equally famous deer of Miyajima. They have grown so use to people, the story goes, that they cohabit peacefully in the town with them and at night sleep on the many tracks through the forests and hills of this small island. In truth, they are greedy and scavenging from humans is worth the risk that not all humans are as timid as the Japanese. A sign read that people should keep their distance, that an effort is underway to re-wild the deer, for their own good. Their life-expectancy has been radically reduced through the ingestion of plastics – from trays and wrappers – which do not break down in their stomachs.

We saw the might Torii gate, numbered one of the top 3 sights in Japan. It’s very big and elegant and, as over-sized monuments go, likeable. Second major draw is the shrine that sits on piers out into the bay. It comprises a series of halls and buildings, laid out symmetrically along an axis running out from the beach. These are connected by covered boardwalks. An admission fee was being charged and hundreds of people were presently using the boardwalks. We headed away, up a hill, to Hokoku Shrine (Senjokaku), a massive wooden edifice. Senjokaku is the Hall of One Thousand Tatami Mats, meaning that the covered area is large enough to sleep a thousand people on tatamis. It was built in 1587. The lice have had a good go at some of the wooden columns and some have been replaced, but the shrine appeared to be largely intact and whatever remedial work has been done the same techniques and materials have been employed. The cedar-wood bathes the room with its delicious scent and the floors have been polished by countless feet to a warm sheen. The height to the top of the ridge tile is 17.4 metres and the foor space 1,314.3 square metres, covered by a roof of 54, 529 ceramic tiles.

Next to it stands a five-storied pagoda dating to 1407. It is listed as a feature of this structure that the central pillar descends from the top only as far as the ceiling of the first floor, but no height is given. It stands at least twice the 17.4 metres of Hokoku.

Deer everywhere. And tourists. We walked around the tiny streets where the tiny cars and trucks and the tiny fire-engines go and climbed into the forest towards the gondola line, or rope-way, not intending to take it, but loving the trees and the emerald tinted light and the arched red foot-bridges and waterfalls and stone steps in the forest.

Despite swearing off okonomiyaki for a while, we ended up in a place that did the noodle-filled egg-enriched omelette-pancake with oysters. We had grilled oysters with it, laid in their shells on the open flame.

I was writing this in the shinkansen – this time a needle shaped thing threading along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea to Shin-Onomichi. Now I am sitting in a business hotel in Onomichi, a short taxi ride from Shin-Onomichi sipping on delicious Kamoizumi Saijo Hiroshima sake, which I picked because the bottle states: “Paper cranes “ORIZURU” are recycled into this label.”

J. like the blue telephone. From where I’m sitting I have a view of the water.

We have a problem, however, since it looks like our planned cycle trip – Shimanami Kaido – island-hopping across the Seto Sea will be rained on, if not rained off: heavy rain forecast and thunder storms.

In the taxi hear, looking at the modest houses and commercial buildings, there are no facades; the buildings are not fronted with a face. Considering the shrines, the facades are on the inside, a plane folded in, accessible as exactly a surface suspended over the nothing.

Hotel Kukasai boasts a single restaurant which seems to exist under two names. It has at least two entrances. They open onto the same room. We were offered a 10% discount when we arrived, which made us reluctant to go there; but it got late, and we tried first one entrance, reading carefully through the menu – looking at the pictures – then the other entrance, doing the same. We slid open the door: Is this the same restaurant? Of course the question made no sense.

So we sat down and picked a few things on the menu and looked around at all the empty chairs and tables. Noone there but us. Surprisingly quickly three trays arrived: Z.’s sashimi plate, with pickles, a rice bowl and miso; my rice box, the top covered with slabs of sashimi; J.’s unagi – done three different ways. This was a kaiseki meal. Not necessarily expensive elements but many different elements. J.’s eel was to be eaten firstly as it is, with a simple dark sauce; secondly with yam and a different sauce – the yam a slimy concoction; thirdly with a spiced ‘tea’ – a tall teapot on the tray with four or five ingredients to be put in it, steeped, and poured onto the unagi, amounting to an according-to-taste stock. An excellent meal.