Yamatour 2014: Return From Down Under, part 2

Back up to Part 1

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I only had part of the morning to do my last bout of sightseeing. In the end, I hadn’t really seen much of Fukuoka, aside from the castle ruins and the neighboring Ohori Park, the central borough of Tenjin (though that was limited to a search for a particular ramen restaurant) and the Hakata Station precinct. I’d intentionally left some of the sights nearer to the hotel for this purpose; I’d have time for two of them, maybe three if I was lucky.


The entrance to Sumiyoshi Shrine

The outer shrine at Sumiyoshi.

First stop was the Sumiyoshi Shrine, which has a connection to Yamato 2199 of sorts, given that it is a shrine to Amaterasu, the Goddess who was used as a codename for Sasha’s ship during Operation M in the first episode. However, I could not find an admission booth and I had read that there was an admission charge (which I found strange for a shrine rather than a temple, since the two major shrines I visited in Kyoto in 2013, Fushimi-Inari Taisha and Matsuo Grand Shrine, did not charge admission). Anyhow, I snapped some photos of the outer areas before looking for Rakusui Gardens, a nearby attraction that was on the way to Canal City, which was touted by more than one website as being a sight worth seeing. Alas, it looked like it was closed this day, or I was there too early. In any case, I made my way toward Canal City after that. Nothing was keeping me from a last bowl of ramen in Fukuoka!


The plant lined facade of Canal City.

A rather interesting sculpture at the entrance.

I was determined to finish my time in the hometown of Tonkatsu Ramen with another local example of the dish, so Canal City and its Ramen Stadium would be my final destination for an early lunch before checking out of the hotel. Canal City is a shopping mall near Hakata Station (and my hotel), so continuing my circuit to get there was not a problem. It was kind of hard to miss, since the wall of the building facing me was covered in plant matter. I quickly made my way through the entryway and found a map, which told me that the Ramen Stadium was way down the other end of the mall… of course.

The iconic Australian Tim Tam,
cheaper than back home!

Along the way, I was walking past a coffee shop which sold coffee beans, tea, and a multitude of sweets. Imagine my surprise when I saw a very familiar product – Australia’s iconic Tim Tam chocolate cookies (or biscuits as we call them here). A multitude of flavors, and all of them cheaper than back home in Australia! I grabbed myself one pack for the road and continued on to the area which contained the Ramen Stadium. It was still before 10:30, and Ramen Stadium didn’t open until 11, so I had some time to kill. Fortunately, there was a nice Christmas display to photograph around the fountain on the ground floor of the building.

One more ramen for the road!

As the opening time drew nearer, I went to Ramen Stadium and looked at the various restaurants. The Stadium has nine ramen restaurants, a few of which primarily offer the local Tonkatsu ramen and its variations, while others offered the signature ramen of other parts of Japan. I settled on one of the Tonkatsu places, and upon buying my meal ticket, was promptly served upon the restaurant opening. The food was very good, though I thought the ramen I had at Shin Shin on the Saturday was better but this restaurant had the better atmosphere (maybe because I was the only customer in the shop when it opened). Having finished my food, I made haste back to the hotel with a full stomach. Feeling sleepy from lunch, I took a taxi to the station to make sure I had plenty of time to get to the Shinkansen area platforms and buy snacks for the trip. Before I knew it I was boarding the train for my next destination – Hiroshima.

I arrived in Hiroshima after a 67-minute Shinkansen trip from Fukuoka. Like a lot of the stations I’d been to so far, there was renovation work going on. A platform overbridge Terry and I had used a year prior had now been completely renovated. After a short stop at Mr Donut for a snack, I headed out of the station.

Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki!

After a short walk I found my hotel, checked in, and relaxed for a few hours before going in search of food. The legendary Okonomiyaki district was too far away given my current levels of energy, so I settled for the eateries at Hiroshima Station. There I found a number of restaurants ranging from sashimi to noodles to okonomiyaki. I ended up choosing an okonomiyaki restaurant that seemed rather non-descript, but the food certainly looked good.

After deciding on a pork topping on an udon base (they gave you the choice of udon or the thinner soba) and ordering a beer, I sat down and watched real Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki being made. Unlike the Osaka-style, which is better known outside of Japan and the ingredients are all mixed together, the Hiroshima style is more layered, using more noodles and less cabbage than its Osaka counterpart. The time seemed to fly by before my meal was served.

One thing about okonomiyaki of any sort is it is very filling. I’m not normally one to eat small portions (which is half of my weight problem), but this meal challenged me even though I’d not eaten anything since four hours prior. After somehow finishing both it and a pint of beer, I made my way back to the hotel. Tomorrow would be a busy day, seeing two of the region’s iconic sights.

Thursday November 20, 2014


One of the paintings of Kintai Bridge at Shin-Iwakuni station.

The adjacent painting of the same bridge. Not sure why they had two paintings side by side.

I rose somewhat earlier than on prior days since I wanted to accomplish a lot today. First order of business would be to take a Shinkansen to Iwakuni and the famous Kintai wooden arch bridge. After spending some time there I would be heading on to Miyajima, one of the “Three Great Sights of Japan” and famous for its giant waterlocked tori gate. I headed to Hiroshima Station and booked a ticket to Iwakuni (only the Kodama, which normally does not have green seats, stops at Iwakuni, so I had to settle for a standard reserved seat).

Then I noticed a familiar place: the Little Mermaid bakery at Hiroshima Station was where Terry and I had eaten lunch the day we visited the Genbakku Dome and the Mazda Factory last year. The food was quite good there, so I chose to grab something for the train ride to Iwakuni. What I got was one of the culinary finds of the trip; a grilled Cheddar and Camembert roll, which had grilled Cheddar cheese on the base of the roll and was filled with Camembert. Absolutely delicious. A few minutes later, I was on the short 14-minute hop to Iwakuni’s Shinkansen station.


A mockup of a traditional fishing boat used in the region.

A model of Kintai Bridge in the Shin-Iwakuni station.

Upon arrival at Shin-Iwakuni, I was treated to two side-by-side paintings of Kintai Bridge. Making my way downstairs, a miniature model of said bridge was on display in the station concourse, alongside a full-size mockup of a traditional fishing boat, complete with stuffed bird.


Kintai Bridge

The autumn colors on the castle-side bank.

One 15-minute bus ride later, I was at Kintai. It only takes a few footsteps after leaving the bus for the bridge to come into sight, and it was every bit as impressive as I’d hoped. Although not the original bridge (for its history check the Wikipedia entry), it is still a sight to behold. I paid the 300-yen admission and took my time walking across it. It’s a novel experience, and gave me the opportunity to see some of the local maple trees in autumn red. The river bank has a roughly equal mix of Japanese maple and Sakura (cherry blossoms), so they get two peaks in tourist season during the year. After photographing the surrounding area, I returned to the side I entered from and headed back to the bus stop, boarded a bus for the shinkansen station on the other side of town, Shin-Iwakuni.

Less than half an hour later I was in Miyajimaguchi, the town from which ferries operate to Miyajima. I used my Japan Rail Pass (which meant no fare), and with the mistaken belief that the JR Ferry was the one doing the collaboration with Yamato 2199, I boarded the next one that was departing (I would learn later that the non-JR ferry service was the one that had the PA announcements by 2199 voice actors).

Some of the autumn colors in Miyajima’s Momijidandi Park.

On the upside, I had just read a report that morning on Japan-Guide.com that Miyajima’s autumn leaves were at their peak. The downside was that I wasn’t getting anywhere near the starboard side to photograph the tori gate as we sailed past it, so the iconic photo would have to wait for another time, or I’d have to settle for a different angle. After disembarking, I made my way to the map just outside the terminal and got my bearings. I spent the next hour or so just walking slowly through the multitude of restaurants, omiyage (gift) shops and specialty sweet shops.


One of the many deer that greet you on arrival at the island. Don’t have food on you!

Senjokaku Hall.

One thing I noticed upon arrival was the large number of deer on the island, along with the signs that warned not to feed them. Fortunately, none had antlers of any length, so there was no chance of being gored by a hungry deer. Unfortunately the need for signs means that they have developed a dependency on people feeding them. Not that this sort of problem is limited to Miyajima or even Japan. Hopefully it will get sorted out. After a quick snack (being careful to avoid the deer, not an easy feat), I did another loop of the shop row before heading toward Itsukushima Shrine, the main shrine on the island that looks out on the famous Tori gate.


The giant Tori gate of Miyajima.

The entrance to Itsukushima Shrine.

Itsukushima Shrine offers two unique experiences, depending on the tide. At high tide, the waterline makes the shrine and the tori gate appear to be floating; at low tide it gives you the opportunity to walk right up to the tori gate itself. At this stage I went out and got some photos of the tori gate from halfway between it and the shrine. Prior to this, I wanted to visit the top of the mountain and found it used a ropeway (cable car). Not good for someone like me who has a vertigo, even less so when there was wind blowing, so I looked at my other options. After arriving at the base station for the island’s first ropeway, I was looking at a 3-4 hour return trip hiking, which was impossible given the time. So I settled for enjoying the foliage around Momijidandi Park, which was a fantastic spectrum of autumn colors.


Itsukushima Shrine in the late afternoon.

The giant Tori gate as the tide starts to come in.

Genbakku Dome is even spookier at night.

Once I’d seen enough of the autumn leaves, I ventured to the Senjokaku Hall (“Pavilion of a thousand mats”) and the neighboring five-story pagoda before heading back down to have a look around Itsukashima Shrine. The shrine itself is beautifully maintained, but it was crowded like everything else on the day, so I make a quick tour of it before heading back to the main path. On the way back toward the pier, I notice an ice cream store, with a most peculiar flavor… Deer Poop? Not the best way to market choc-chip soft-serve. If I’d been hungry, I think I would have tried some just to say that I had. Instead, I made my way back to the pier area. It was coming up on 5pm and the daylight was fast running out, so I opted to get a fast, direct ferry back to Hiroshima rather than go back via Miyajimaguchi on a crowded ferry and getting an equally crowded train back.

When the boat pulled up in Hiroshima nearly an hour later, an unplanned opportunity arose. After visiting the Genbakku (Atomic Bomb) Dome on my 2013 trip, I had no plans to revisit it nor the Peace Museum this time around (it’s the kind of thing you can really only go through once), but as I left the boat dock, I saw the Genbakku Dome lit up… a very eerie picture it painted. I tried to get as good a photo as I could in darkness (using a flash would have distorted the color balance), and then realizing I was not too far away from the Hiroshima Don Quijote department store, I made my way toward it. It was also in the direction of a tonkatsu restaurant that Trip Advisor gave very good reviews, so I wanted to see if I could get dinner there.

The sight of a Japanese Street Fair.

After about fifteen minutes’ walk, I reached the address on the map, but… no dice. It must have moved on, or the map must have been wrong. Ten minutes examining the surrounding city blocks failed to turn it up, so I focused on Don Quijote, where my objective was a small-sized wheeled suitcase. While making my way to the store, I came across another Japanese cultural icon I’d yet to encounter – a street fair! The entire street was closed off and both sides had game and food stalls. By now I was starving so I bought myself a serving of chicken karaage, which I hastily ate before heading into the store. A short while later, I came back out and got a taxi back to the hotel.

Friday November 21, 2014

After sleeping in on Friday morning, I again sent my luggage on ahead to Kyoto before heading to Kure. Due to the rushed visit the previous year, I’d not only seen all of the Yamato Museum, but had not seen any of the JMSDF Museum across the road.

So, after breakfast I jumped on a train to Kure. The forty-five-minute trip brought back memories of the previous visit, with the train running along the seaside.

Upon arrival at Kure Station, I heard the familiar station jingle of Space Battleship Yamato coming over the PA system. My feet were aching from all the walking I’d done the past week or so, so I was trying to take it easy today. First stop: the JMSDF Museum.


The JMSDF Museum.

The front of the Yamato Museum.

The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Museum is a three-story annex built alongside the Akisho, a 1980s Yushio-class submarine which became part of the museum when it opened in late 2004, a little over six months after she was decommissioned.

Some of the exhibits at the JMSDF Museum, clockwise from top left: an Iraqi LUGM-145 moored contact mine, like the type the JMSDF swept for during the 1991 Gulf War; a minesweeping submersible; a ship-mounted gatling gun AAA emplacement; and some of the equipment carried aboard minesweeper ships.

The annex houses not only a good amount of detail of submarine technology (a wonderful set of cutaway models of Japanese submarines) and what life is like for a submariner (showing crew quarters, amenities, kitchen, and so forth), but also provides great details on the art of minesweeping, for which Japan has been considered an expert (the Museum exhibits explain that they got a lot of practice clearing the many, many mines the IJN had planted in waterways around Japan during World War II). This activity was the only Japanese military operation outside Japanese territory in the 1991 Gulf War. One of the centerpieces in this display is a full set of minesweeping gear from a minesweeper ship.

More exhibits in the JMSDF Museum annex, clockwise from top left: a cutaway diorama of a submarine, an antisubmarine warfare drone helicopter armed with a torpedo, a mockup of a submarine galley, and a mockup of a sub’s crew quarters.

After going through the three floors of exhibits, it was time to walk through the submarine itself, and being my first time on such a vessel, I realized that it’s not a place for people of hefty proportions. While you’re limited to a short route on one level of the submarine, you do get to see the bridge. There’s a “Captain” on the deck to show you how to use the periscope (it still works), and how the weapons and comms systems worked.


The captain’s station aboard Akisho.

One of Akisho’s consoles.

After a quick snack from a nearby 7-Eleven, I ventured over to the Yamato Museum, and made my way around the back. I’d completely missed the deck the last time I was here, and didn’t want to miss it this time. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. The deck is incredible – it gives you a real idea of just how massive the great battleship was. The port side of the foredeck is represented in the landscape at 1/1 scale with mosaics of tiles illustrating the size and location of AAA guns as well as the 18-inch primary and 6-inch secondary turrets, and you can observe all this from an elevated position roughly where the bridge would have been (but not quite as high, alas).

The observation deck near the Yamato Museum. Note the mosaics indicating gun turrets and AAA emplacements. The shipyards where Yamato and Nagato were constructed are out of shot to the left. You can find them on the map here – go to street view and you can see the Memorial. These shipyards are still in use today.

After walking the length of the “foredeck” and back (even the bow crest is represented, sans the golden chrysanthemum), I made my way inside the museum, again taking advantage of the English guide audio and the storage lockers.

The “bow” of the observation deck near the Yamato Museum.

Having been there twice now, I can say I will never tire of seeing that majestic 1/10 scale model of Yamato. The workmanship, the detail, is just mesmerizing. This is one of those places I’ll try and visit any time I’m in the Hiroshima area. This year, I had much more time to go through the exhibits, so I looked through the section which covered the history of Kure Naval Shipyards, the design and construction of Yamato and her sister Musashi, and the transition of the region post-war into a civilian ship-building center. This display includes numerous models of various classes of Japanese World War II-era warships, relics including engineering drawings, tools, diaries, logbooks, uniforms, instruments, and the like. There are many worse ways for a Yamato fan to spend an afternoon.

From there, as I described in my 2013 travelogue, you are directed to the large exhibits area, which includes several torpedoes, small submarines, a Zero fighter, and a cruiser cannon barrel, along with a selection of shells right up to the 18-inch behemoths that Yamato was capable of firing.

After getting another look at the gallery of models in the concourse area, as well as some more photos of the 1/10 scale giant, I headed into previously unexplored territory – the fourth level. On one side is an educational area which explains the science of sea travel, such as buoyancy, and offers children of all ages a number of interactive activities, explaining the principles which allow massive ships such as oil tankers to sail the seas. Across the other side of the fourth floor is a small theater, which this time around was showing a short film mixing technology of Yamato with the technology of today. Unfortunately, being in Japanese, I could not fathom exactly what they were communicating, but it was a good place to rest my still-aching feet. The billboard outside shows Leiji Matsumoto’s photo, since this is where his exhibit was housed before it moved to Yamato Gallery Zero.

By the time I’d gone through the gift shop and procured myself a Yamato cap, it was beginning to get late… but not late enough to head back just yet. I headed back to Kure Station with a plan to see whether I could get to another Yamato-related site I had heard of – a former naval cemetery called Nagasako Park, which was several kilometers away. Since this was up on a hill, it started to make me wonder about “Heroes’ Hill” in Farewell to Yamato and Yamato 2, and whether Kure was indeed the inspriation for it. Alas, I would not get the chance to prove nor disprove that theory, because I could not find the bus that would take me there, and my portable wifi was low on battery. In addition, fatigue was setting in and I really wanted to head back to Hiroshima for some food, since I hadn’t eaten a full meal all day. So I settled for beating rush hour and hopped a 4:45 train back to Hiroshima. An attempt to record the Yamato theme jingle as the train arrived was unsuccessful due to ambient noise.


German-style Potato Cake for dinner…

… Accompanied by Kohaku Yebisu!

A 45-minute train ride later, I was back at Hiroshima Station. It was my last night in Hiroshima, so I thought I’d have a look at some of the other restaurants in the station building. I saw a Lion Bar, which I would learn is the next best thing to a Yebisu Bar…. or in fact possibly even better. While the Yebisu Bars are great and offer a wide variety of Yebisu beer and western-style food, the Lion Bar offers all the same Yebisu beers, the western food, and plenty of Japanese pub-type foods. So, first things first. I promised I’d have a Yebisu Kohaku each for Terry and Patrick, with whom I had the same beer at the Tokyo Dome Yebisu Bar the prior trip. I accomplished this between servings of Karaage, sausages, and German-style potato cake.

After that, it was a stroll back to the hotel through the underground walkways so I could pack everything packed I needed to, since I had an early Shinkansen the next morning, returning to my favorite city in Japan – Kyoto.

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