Japan Part 3: Munching on Melted Plastic

Today, we headed out at 9 – I expect this to become the norm, which is perfectly fine with me. In fact, I’m an early bird anyway, so 9 seems a bit late. Others were complaining about the “early” hours, but I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not the typical college student. Apparently most of us aren’t expected to wake up until noon.

Schau-sensei rounded us up, shepherded us into a 7-eleven, then gave us free reign to buy some portable breakfast to carry with us. I tell you what, Japanese convenience stores (in Japanese, conbini [コンビニ]) have some really unique stuff. Snack-size packs of dried octopus tentacles aside, breads and drinks were two radically, err, un-American sections of the store. With so many snack bread choices ranging from watermelon goo bread to corn, cheese, and mayo buns, I decided that I should probably hold off for now and stick with something a little more familiar. Normally I wouldn’t be like that, but considering we’d be coming back to this store a few more times, I wanted to save the interesting breads for a snack for later.

Instead, I headed over to the onigiri shelves and, after a slow translation process, decoded the onigiri package as tuna. Snagging one of those and then also grabbing a white, yogurt-based Japanese drink called Calpis, I checked out of the store and tagged along with my group to sit down in the park and snack on my Japanese foodstuffs.

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The onigiri was delicious, though sensei had to teach me how to open the package so that I didn’t crack the seaweed sheet. Onigiri is, at its most basic, just a triangular-shaped ball of rice. Mine, however, had some tuna inside it, and you hold it by wrapping it in a sheet of nori (seaweed). After I get past that first, nori-filled bite, I’m content. The Calpis was also great – sweet, but not as much as most American drinks. I’m told that many Japanese children like Calpis.

As we sat in the park eating our food and people-watching, I got my first glimpse of our destination for the rest of the day – the atomic bomb memorial museum or, as it’s called in Japanese, the Genbaku Dome (Atomic Bomb Dome).

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The dome itself is the remnants of Hiroshima’s city hall after the bomb exploded. The museum next to it is filled with amazing displays of the carnage and pain that occurred because of the bomb.

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From displays depicting citizens fleeing the city as their skin melted from their bones to a woman whose kimono pattern was scorched onto her back, the museum was a poignant reminder of what happened and how the atrocities of war are never constrained only to the participants.

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As we left the museum and headed back toward where we’d come from so that sensei could stop by a bank, we heard some muffled shouts from the other side of the street. “Hello! Hello! Herro!” Turning to look, we spotted a crowd of Japanese high school students waving frantically at us and testing out their English language abilities.

“Hello! How are you!?” we shouted back, and they whooped and hollered happily. They had this look on their faces like “Wait, it’s really true? Some people really do speak English?”

Indeed, my children. What you are learning in school is not useless after all.

After bidding farewell to them and watching a short ceremony in front of a atomic bomb statue, we followed sensei to the bank and hovered around while she withdrew some money. I found this pretty cool dragon tapestry, although I’m sure I noticed it because I was on a quest for dragons the entire trip.

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Money in hand, we returned once again to the atomic bomb museum, but this time we took a detour down to a dock on one of Hiroshima’s rivers and boarded a small ship bound for Miyajima, an island shrine. The ride was pleasant for me, though I’m used to being underway on a ship from my time on the Flagship Niagara and her fellows. Sarah, however, was not quite so keen.

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To be honest, though, I have little pity for her. I don’t claim to be the expert at life (most of the time…), but I could claim to maybe have a little knowledge about ships. So when she told me that she was afraid of getting seasick, I gave her some sailing tips that had always worked for me and my crewmember friends – drink lots of water in sips, breathe deeply but slowly, don’t eat dairy, and above all, watch the horizon. The primary reason that seasickness occurs is because the brain loses sense of what is stable. I promise you, the horizon never moves. Giving your brain something steady to watch will help it to understand how it is moving in relation to the world.

Therefore, because I told Sarah all of these things and she proceeded to stare at the floor and breathe in short gasps (and then get angry at sensei of all people after she felt sick) without drinking any water, I no longer had any pity for her. She deliberately ignored everything I tried to do to help. Whatever.

Needless to say that with Sarah a bit debilitated after the (30 minute) trip, we sat on a bench on the shore of Miyajima waiting for her to recover. I suggested that she walk in order to help her brain acclimate faster to being stable again, but once again, she ignored me. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. Unwilling to wait until she decided to get up, I wandered around the side of the riverside temple and found the small community that lives on Miyajima.

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Taking a few steps toward the homey village, I paused when I caught sight of a deer. He watched me, and I watched him. Then, when I took a step in his direction, he came a step in mine.

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With that, a beautiful relationship was formed.

The deer and I hung out together until Sarah decided to get back on her feet and follow us. When the group was back together, we began our journey into the more forested part of the island to reach the main temple compound. Shortly before we arrived, I stopped to have lunch at a small, family-run restaurant that served the local specialty – Hiroshima oyster soup.

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Not going to lie, the oysters and I didn’t have quite the same beautiful relationship that I shared with the deer.

Still, the dish was worth trying, but I was happy to get on my way to the Miyajima temple. We passed by the famous water arch whose base is submerged each time the tide comes in. Unfortunately, we were there at low tide, so the arch (Japanese torii) was dry and surrounded by crab fisherman.

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Upon entering the temple, I was thrust into an entirely new world. How can a place like this still exist? It was beautiful, big, and everything I’d always thought the old parts of Japan would be.

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To our great fortune, we were also privileged to watch a wedding taking place within the Miyajima temple.

The bride, her head shadowed by her huge white veil, remained silent as the monks played on their flutes traditional Shinto music. It was a true blessing to see such a rare sight in person.

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I was not entirely done savoring the pleasant shrine when it was already time for us to leave, so I hovered around the temple offerings for a moment before making my way out.

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Another simple ferry ride, this time only about 7 minutes long, put Sarah in yet another foul mood, which irked me. You’ve just seen a legendary Japanese shrine in person and witnessed a wedding. Get over yourself.

Once we arrived on shore, it was a short trip via local train to return to our ryokan in the center of Hiroshima. It was short…until we realized that we were one traveler short.

Sarah.

Of course.

We’d all seen her get on the train with us, so we knew that she either must have gotten off at the wrong stop or stayed on the train. For all of our tired sakes, we were hoping for the latter. Unfortunately, it was the former.

It took some supreme coordination between me, Sarah’s best friend Amy, Schau-sensei, and the railway guards to pinpoint her location before we all dragged our tired butts back out to meet her. And what is she doing? Sitting on the ground pouting. Not trying to look for us, not standing up so that she’s easier to see. It was not our responsibility to come back and get her – it was her responsibility as an adult to get off at the stop she was supposed to. If it was anyone’s responsibility to go back and get her, it was Schau-sensei’s because she was the leader. Not ours. Yet we all came to find her, because we all cared enough about finding her. And her response? To shout at us for not coming to get her to tell her to get off the train.

Excuse me, but we are not your parents. Schau-sensei is not your mother. You are an adult college student. If you did not know which stop we were getting off at (which she didn’t, yet separated herself from us on the train), you should have asked. Your knowledge is not our responsibility. Schau-sensei is working hard for you and for all of us, and this is how you thank her. Nice.

For the rest of the day, Sarah was mopey. Even when we went to dinner at a local place, she was all huffy. We all ordered individual dishes and then shared them, but when I asked Sarah to get someone’s attention, she looked right at me, huffed, and ignored me.

Um, I’d like to know exactly what I did wrong. Because as I recall, we’re not the ones at fault. We’re not making it your fault either. We’re over it. So how about you act your age?

Aside from Sarah’s pitiful attitude, the dinner was fantastic. I had some of everything – a little fish, some yakisoba (fried noodles), and some other noodles, just to name a few. However, the highlight of the night was getting to taste some really eccentric food.

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As I’m sure my regular blog followers know, when I travel, one of my primary goals is to taste local cuisine and especially to sample any rare, unique, or “challenging” foods that the natives eat. I’m a big foodie, and I believe that a location’s food culture can speak volumes about the people who have prepared it and about what they and their culture value. Here in Hiroshima, that challenging food happens to be raw horseflesh.

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If you’ve ever had sashimi (slices of raw fish) or nigiri (sushi made from such fish), you’re familiar with the texture of this raw horseflesh – kind of gummy but not in a springy way, more like you’re biting into a piece of wet bread only with a little more resistance. However, no kind of sashimi or nigiri can ever prepare you for what this beast of a dish tastes like.

In a phrase, it’s like supremely strong-tasting melting plastic.

The taste lingers like a bad burn, and it permeates every taste bud and nose hair you’re packing in your face. Even a good drink of pineapple juice can’t quite obliterate the decision you’ve just made.

Needless to say I won’t make that decision again, though I’m quite glad I did it once. Once being the key word.

After the horseflesh, I reverted back to my old faithful delicious foods like yakisoba to finish off my meal before heading back the ryokan and parting with Grumpy McGrumpface for the rest of the night.

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