Day 5, continued: Kure, Hiroshima, and Sword Dancing in Otsu!
After making our connection at Shin-Osaka coming from Takarazuka, we arrived in Hiroshima at 1:30pm and went from the Shinkansen to the Kure line where the 1:40 local to Hiro was waiting for us. Kure is the thirteenth stop on the line and it takes roughly 45 minutes to get there.
Riding out of Hiroshima you see Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium, home of the Hiroshima Carp in the Nippon Professional Baseball league. As you go on it looks like any other major industrialised city in the world. Even this small look at Hiroshima, and it’s hard to imagine it being the site of the single biggest disaster in human history.
A large map with English just outside the station.
The scenery you see along the rail journey is a mix of beaches on one side (including the food huts you commonly see in anime and manga during an obligatory “beach” episode/chapter), and mountains on the other. As you get nearer to Kure itself the ships of the JMSDF can be seen anchored among mobile cruise and cargo vessels.
Arriving at Kure, we didn’t hear the Yamato jingle until we had left the platform when another train was arriving (from July 1, 2013 the Kure JR Station’s official jingle is the Space Battleship Yamato theme; hear version 1 here and version 2 here). We proceeded to follow the signs which were in English as well as Japanese to a walkway which led us on the nine hundred meter hike (mostly covered, thank goodness) to the Yamato Museum.
Some of the Yamato Museum’s outdoor display pieces. Across the road is the separate
Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Museum, which is built around a decommissioned submarine.
Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum
The entrance to the Yamato Museum. Note the Kodai/Yuki/Yamato photo stand-in to the right of the entrance!
After initially taking the wrong turn into an adjacent shopping mall we found our way in. ¥800 per person including a free English audio guide and access to the special exhibition. The ticket allowed unlimited exit and re-entry on the same day according to the guide who showed us around.
We dropped most of our stuff into a coin locker and began by going into the special exhibition, which included a mock-up of the Yamato‘s bridge. A CG video simulated the view, and recorded dialog sounded for aiming and firing the main guns. There were also a lot of blueprints for Yamato and the infrastructure needed to build her. There was an AA machine gun, which I’m guessing was recovered from the wreck of Yamato or a ship in its Operation Ten-Go fleet, and a history of Kure’s warship building history.
video display showed a virtual view of the forward
gun decks and the main guns aiming and firing.
An anti-aircraft gun retrieved from the Yamato or one of the ships in her Operation Ten-Go fleet.
Then it was onto the permanent exhibition, which includes a history of Japan’s and Kure’s naval vessel industry. It began with Perry’s arrival in Japan, which exposed the nation’s lag in shipbuilding technology. From there it went through the development of the naval base and shipbuilding industry in Kure, through the Yamato project and its top secret construction (sounds a bit familiar doesn’t it?). It goes through the history of the ship, its career, the aftermath of the war, and Kure’s its growth into a civil shipbuilding city. This part of the tour includes artifacts such as shell casings and crew shoes, ships’ logs, photographs of the ship and its crew, and numerous models of other Japanese warships.
A fine example of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero.
At the end, the English tour audio (which explained very little up until this point, quoting verbatim the English signage) really came into its own in the main gallery. There were several torpedoes, including a manned one used for suicide attacks, the first Nikon zoom lens (a submarine periscope with fifty lenses), a miniature one-man submarine (ironically sunk by a falling unexploded bomb hitting its stern – you can still see the point of impact) and a pristine Mitsubishi Zero. Also, a 20cm gun from the heavy cruiser Aoba and a range of shells from 55mm (8″) through to the mighty 460mm (18″) fired from the main guns of Yamato and her sister ship Musashi.
Front and rear views of the 1/10 scale Yamato.
The 1/10 Model of Yamato is incredible. The detail captures every little nuance of the ship: the turrets, the deck, the catapults and recovery cranes for the spotter planes, the bridge and radar array. While the pictures just don’t do it justice, they still put it more eloquently than I could ever hope to.
Some close-ups of the detail of the 1/10 scale Yamato. See many more from the 2009 Yamatour here.
Surrounding the 1/10 scale model were a lot of smaller models. One depicted the ship’s original fitout, which had two extra 5″ turrets – one either side of the smokestack, which were removed in 1943 to make way for the more familiar AA batteries that would become the Space Battleship Yamato‘s pulse lasers.
Due to time constraints, we couldn’t see the outside sights so we jumped into a taxi and headed to the next destination.
Yamato Gallery Zero
Maetel and the Three-Nine mark the location of Yamato Gallery Zero, which is the blue-signed building on
the left side of the mall. Note the anime posters adorning the pillars – we’d see what they were about inside.
Yamato Gallery Zero is in a shopping mall on the opposite side of town from the Yamato Museum, but it’s not difficult to find, as the pictures above indicate – a huge banner floats above the mall with Maetel in one direction and Yamato in the other.
The famed “Cut Model” of the Yamato, one of only two in existence. This one was built to promote
Be Forever in 1980, and is now owned by Leiji Matsumoto. Before this gallery was built, it was on display
at the Yamato museum. The other Cut Model is in the possession of Shoji Nishizaki and Voyager Entertainment.
The second mezzanine floor has a mini-bio of Matsumoto, a large non-cutaway Yamato model behind blue glass, and a transparency of Starsha, as well as a timeline of Matsumoto’s work. The giant cutaway model on the second floor proper is still the centerpiece of this gallery.
A close-up of the mural, with characters from across the Leijiverse, signed by Matsumoto-san on September 29, 2012.
The third mezzanine and third floor proper have a lot of concept art and artifacts for Matsumoto’s manga, including copies of Queen Emeraldas, a giant wall frieze of his most famous characters, an Arcadia model, and framed and signed manga covers and artwork. The fourth floor contains a lot of WW2 fighter pieces and other memorabilia, a testament to Matsumoto’s Battlefield manga as well as his fascination with dials and gauges.
Such a shame we couldn’t photograph what’s on the fourth floor because it looks AWESOME; a whole new series of original designs, including complete balsa wood prototype spaceship models (with commentary on the process of making them), a lot of Great Yamato and Galaxy Railways concept art, and some character designs from mid to late 2000s. A video was playing of people involved in the design process.
Terry and I each bought a mug, and as we were leaving it suddenly occurred to me that we hadn’t seen Analyzer. Despite the communication barrier with the friendly gallery attendant we established that Analyzer had, to use Australian lingo, gone walkabout. He wasn’t at the entrance and we might have been too busy drooling over that giant Yamato cutaway model…I guess we have to assume he was out getting his ten-thousand light-year check-up. If you’re in Kure, visit Yamato Gallery Zero, it’s well worth a look. That beautiful cutaway Yamato is alone worth the price of admission and the time spent to get there.
So, we managed to cover several hundred kilometers and three museums in two prefectures in the space of a single day. While carrying ridiculous and ever-increasing amounts of loot. Is it possible? Yes. Should you do it? I wouldn’t recommend it. You have to curtail your time spent at each location, and miss out on various things you would otherwise have seen had you done the two cities on different days. Doing both cities in one day is a last resort only to be used if you’re pressed for time.
Day 6, August 20: Hiroshima
Terry and I got on the 7:20 Hikari to Hiroshima. This is the only option for the JR Pass to Hiroshima, to make the start of the tour from Kyoto (the only other option would be paying full fare for a seat on the ultra-express Nozomi, which the Japan Rail Pass does not cover). You book by emailing Mazda from the address provided on their web page. Tickets are free though. I booked a couple of weeks before I left, and I recommend it. A couple of trains stop at Mukainada, and from there it’s less than a five-minute walk from the station.
Go through this alleyway. The entryway to the museum is around to the right and across the road.
The museum staff are friendly and welcoming, and provide an English language information brochure. Photography is prohibited while on the bus to the museum and while in the assembly line tour, but is allowed in the foyer and the museum itself. There’s a miniature display just inside the door that includes a short time line, some miniature models and two Gran Turismo 5 game stations using Logitech wheels and pedals.
The Mazda 787, the first and only Japanese car to win Le Mans.
If you like cars, you’ll enjoy this museum. If you’re a fan of rotary engines, you’ll love it. The museum has a collection of Mazda vehicles through the ages, and most if not all of their rotary engines. They provide a video explaining the techniques in building a rotary engine. They also have their Le Mans-winning 787 car on display along with the spoils of victory. From there you learn about the process of manufacturing the chassis, console, etc. and assembling the final product before going on a walkthrough of part of the assembly line. Multiple car types are assembled on one line, both left- and right-hand drive for various markets. At the very end of the observation platform, you can see the holding yard where completed vehicles await loading onto one of the massive container ships that dock at adjacent piers.
Genbaku (Atomic Bomb) Dome
The photo of the Genbaku Dome I posted to Facebook on the day. Words failed me then as they do now.
Surreal. That’s the only way you can describe it. Seeing the location where the worst man-made disaster ever took place is simply surreal. You can know the particulars of nuclear physics and still wonder how on earth this building remains standing.
Across by the riverside, you can see a T-bridge in a similar location to the one that was the target point in 1945. There are numerous monuments and plaques and informative signs surrounding this world heritage site, and numerous memorials to the various groups (for example conscripted student workers) who were among the victims on that terrible day. Sixty meters away, in a small alleyway, a small monument stands directly below the point of detonation which took place 600 meters in the air.
The Hypocenter marker only sixty meters away.
The peace park is mostly green and beautiful, but between Peace Museum and the memorial to the bomb victims, there’s nothing but concrete which can take its toll on a hot and humid day. The museum and monument are set up in line of sight – you can take a picture of the monument and eternal flame with the museum in the background, then turn around for a fantastic picture of the dome.
The Hiroshima Peace Museum.
The Peace museum is only ¥50 to enter and I recommend that anyone visiting Hiroshima pay it a visit.
After that, we figured we may not make Miyajima before sunset and could get back rather late to Kyoto, so we decided instead to return to Kyoto and get our sunset photo from Kyoto Tower.
The sunset from Kyoto Tower.
Toki no Akari, the designated meeting point
at Kyoto Station, near the western exit. The
centerpiece is lit differently depending on
the time, and advises you what greeting
you should use.
Our last morning in Kyoto was spent at Samurai Kembu, a studio that gives a samurai sword-dancing experience in a private residence in Otsu, to the northeast of Kyoto. You get the full three-hour experience for ¥9,000 (US $90-95) per person.
You are met at Toki no Akari (時の明里: Light of the Time) at Kyoto Station by your instructor, who will guide you onto a rapid train (tickets are included in the cost) which takes you two stops to Otsu. Then a car picks you up and takes you to the dojo in a private home. Just before you get there there is an incredible view of the largest lake in Japan.
They take you into the reception area (removing your shoes at the door, of course) where you fill out your details (for a certificate given to you as you leave) and pay the fee (in cash unless you paid in advance online via PayPal). They ask your shoe size and provide all international sizes on a chart.
You are provided with footwear for the class before entering the dojo, where you watch a three-minute video about samurai while they prepare a class. They give you a white obi and teach you how to tie it, then you choose your katana for the day. You are run through the various moves that form part of the sword dance, the etiquette of gripping, unsheathing, and striking with your sword (if it’s not making any noise you’re doing it wrong). You will go through the entire set of sword kata several times before you don a samurai costume in a color of your choosing.
Then it’s time for posing and a lot of photos with your camera and theirs; one of you and your group, which you keep, and another of the whole class. Later, you leave comments for their album. You also get to pick a neck scarf for your costume and keep it as a souvenir. After photos, it’s time to learn the sequence and get in some practice before doing it to music or poetry. We had music, and they modified part of the routine for me since I can’t kneel easily. Everyone gets to do it solo, guided by the instructor, then you get trained in using the sansen (Japanese fan) in the sword dance.
After this, another instructor came out and demonstrated a dance with both katana and sansen. I mentioned Musashi in passing during the photo session, and an instructor appeared with a wakizashi during the photo session. This resulted in me fending Terry off with the wakizashi while counter-attacking with my katana. After everything was over, we were given our certificate and souvenir photos and asked to sign one for their album. They returned us to Otsu station just in time for a rapid train back to Kyoto (these tickets are included in the price as well).
Terry coming at me while I try my best to emulate Miyamoto Musashi!
There are shorter and cheaper options (you can do it without the costume for ¥1,000 yen less) but it’s a bargain for ¥9,000 and an incredible amount of fun. There aren’t many better ways to spend a morning in Kyoto if you’ve begun to tire of temple or shrine visits.
Once back at Kyoto Station, we had some hours to kill before our mid-afternoon Shinkansen to Tokyo, so we went back to our favorite burger place, Gavly, and again had our fill of two Kobe beef burgers.
All aboard! Next stop, Tokyo!
We’d boarded the train, thankful that we had sent our luggage on ahead. I should point out at this time that Shinkansen cars have next to no space for large luggage, but Japan has that covered. Courier companies such as Kuroneko [Black Cat] Yamato have a service where they will pick up your luggage from a hotel and take it to your next hotel, or to a kiosk at the airport. This is a brilliant service, and quite cheap – much cheaper than similar courier shipping back home in Australia.
It looked like we would run into storms all the way to Tokyo, so our chances of seeing Mt Fuji as we glided past it were looking slim. Since we only had a rough idea of when we’d pass by, we watched with an eagle-eye for the entire last hour of the trip. We think we saw it, but we’re not sure. Ah well, something for a return trip in the future.
Fuji-san? If not, this was the closest we got to seeing it on this journey.
We arrived at Tokyo Station just before 6pm and transfered to the Chuo rapid service for Shinjuku. A short train ride later, and we were negotiating our way through the world’s busiest train station. In peak hour. Amazingly, it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought, save for how easy it was to get lost. It was raining lightly, and the overcast conditions had made it dark earlier than usual. Then it was time to head to the hotel. KimTak was still on the top of the Studio Alta building, so we used that as a point of reference for the walk to Kabukicho and Hotel Wing International.
Upon arriving, we entered the lobby and immediately saw our luggage waiting for us. Once we had checked in, it was a night of rest, recovering, and laundry. We put the TV on just in time to see old footage of a live-action Astro Boy on NHK that was made before any animated version. We made contact with Patrick Bleakney, a fellow Yamatourist from Boston who had just arrived in Japan that evening, and made arrangements to meet up the next day.
Thus marked the end of the Kyoto Arc of the trip. Tomorrow, the Yamatour would begin in earnest.