We've been back in the States a full week, and I still haven't gone through my photos. I've decided to dump the best pictures as I process them to my flickr stream, so please check that out for all the photos. I will post a slideshow of each day as I complete them to this blog, as well as facebook.
The first leg of our trip - Iwakuni
After a 4 hour flight, a 2 hour layover, and a 12 hour flight (all of which took place over 33 hours on the clock -- we left Chicago 6am on Friday, and didn't arrive in Osaka until 3pm Saturday), we arrived in Osaka excited and a little anxious.
Our final destination will still 3 hours by train away, where Christina's step-brother and his family were waiting for us. We got a JR Pass in anticipation of our trip, and I can't recommend them emphatically enough, if you're doing any kind of serious travelling within Japan. They must be bought in the US from a travel agent, and you turn them in to have free access to all but the fastest JR trains and metro lines in the major cities.
After going through immigration and customs, we turned in our vouchers for our Rail Passes, and we got tickets to our final destination, Iwakuni.
The train ride from Osaka to Hiroshima (about 2 hours) was magical. We got 1st class JR Passes (which I recommend if you have the extra budget), which gave us reserved seats on 1st class cars. We were literally the only people in the train car on the way to Hiroshima, so we just soaked in the countryside. Everything was so green and lush. It was overcast and beautiful from the air-conditioned train. We found out later how hot and humid it really was outside!
At Hiroshima, we had to transfer to a local line that took us to Iwakuni (about a 40 minute ride). The local train was more akin to a subway, we had to stand and straddle our bags while surrounded by commuters.
I don't have pictures from the day of our arrival at all. I'll blame jet lag and just be preocuppied by it all. John and Brenda met us at the Iwakuni station and walked us to our hotel, then took us to dinner at a Teppanyaki restaurant, where you cook your own meat over a small charcoal hibachi in your table.
Christina made the first faux-pas of the trip and barged into the dining room with her shoes on! Luckily the waiter got her attention before she got too far. Christina was in for another culture shock when she pointed at some good-looking meat on the Menu and found out it was actually Horse meat prepared "shabu shabu" (sliced extremely thin and boiled quickly in broth at the table). Needless to say we weren't interested in any horse meat.
After dinner Jet-lag started to sink in (it was about 10pm), so we went back to our hotel, watched some TV, and crashed. We stayed at the Green Rich hotel, which was quite nice and very modern, but our room was tiny.
The next day we both woke up dead awake at 6am and couldn't go back to sleep, so we decided to go explore the area around our Hotel, even though it was a little drizzly. I shot some pictures and was absolutely struck by how clean and tidy and safe it all felt, considering how small and rural the town was. Dozens of bikes without locks, people opening their shops and sweeping the sidewalks.
It was very warm and humid that day, so needless to say we were sweating most of the afternoon. Kintai bridge was pretty amazing, even though I was disappointed to learn they rebuild it every 40 years (I thought it was original). After crossing the bridge (which cost about $3), we explored a pretty large park with gardens, koi ponds, shrines and other cool things.
There was a tram that went up to the top of a steep hill where Iwakuni Castle waited. While Iwakuni Castle was a "small" castle by Japan standards, it was very cool to see, and the inside was decked out with old Samurai armor, swords, and scrolls and paintings. At the top was an observatory where you got a breathtaking view of the whole city, looking south all the way to the ocean.
All in all it was a good first full day in Japan. Getting to spend it with family made the transition a lot easier, and it made us excited for the days to come. I'm very glad we saw the Bridge and Castle in Iwakuni.
Up next, I will talk about our trip to Kyoto, where our vacation took a bit of a turn for the worse (but don't worry it gets better).