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Over the Thanksgiving Holiday, 2006, we traveled to Hiroshima with our friend, Mariko-san.  Once there, we met up with Mariko’s good friend, Yuki-san.  This lively pair of women guided us through a weekend of multiple experiences.  It started with the rain.

Upon arrival in Hiroshima, Yuki-san guided us to a private room in a restaurant serving one of the specialties of the area, kaki (oysters).  We had a huge lunch of oysters served fried, steamed, pickled, baked, and raw.  Oyster salad, oyster soup, oysters with rice; we even ate the innards.  The Japanese waste no part of the oyster.  Suitably stuffed, we headed to the hotel, and to the river bank where the monuments to the victims of the bombing of Hiroshima are located.  Hiroshima, of course, was the focus of the trip.  Mariko had made all the arrangements.  So, even in the rain, we confidently placed ourselves in her hands.  Undaunted by the weather, even thinking it suited the occasion, we set off.  It has taken me some time to write the account of that day.  It is posted as a separate story. 

The wet, gray afternoon was the perfect backdrop for our visit to the Peace Park, the A-Bomb dome, and the museums.  The next day the sky cleared, the sun was bright and warm, and the mood lightened.

The four of us took the train from Hiroshima to the coast where we boarded a ferry for Miyajima, a beautiful island not far off the coast.  You have seen it in photos, I am sure.  It is the island with the huge orange Tori gate in the bay.  A Tori gate is traditionally located at the entrance to a Shinto shrine.  The shrine at Miyajima is one of the most famous in Japan.  The entire structure sits on the water.  It is quite dramatic when the tide comes and goes, and the shrine appears to float on the bay. 

Immediately upon disembarkation, we were surrounded by several dozen of the local welcome committee. There are a multitude of small Sitka (try saying it all in one syllable) deer on the island.  It is a good thing they are small.  There are a lot of them, and they are used to being fed.  (I can hear Wendy cringing.)  The proprietors of the island encourage tourists to buy food and feed the deer. However, it has turned them into a huge nuisance.  They bite at paper, dresses, coats, small children.  If you are not careful, they will steal your picnic.  It is not the fault of the deer, rather the liberal feeding policy.  Wendy had told me about these deer.  They have fangs.  Needless to say that knowledge didn’t do much for my comfort level.

These deer certainly appeared to have fangs.  There are dark streaks at the corners of their mouths which resemble fangs from a distance.  However, if they have actual fangs, they must have been small and contained in their mouths.  We didn’t see them.  I was pretty happy about that.  The deer roamed the island freely in large numbers. The males were quite aggressive, and we noticed more than one display of hostility toward the human visitors.  (Usually the fault of the human; I have to say.)  The antlers have been removed from all but the youngest males to protect the tourists.  Even so, we had to be vigilant to insure we didn’t lose a map, glove, snack, or some part of our anatomy to the deer.

The Japanese love their autumn.  They use a maple leaf motif on everything in the fall.  The red maple, momiji, is revered.  They even make small pastries and candies in the shape of the momiji.  Mariko was very patient teaching me “momiji manju”, the name of the small cakes.  Actually, traveling with Mariko is a history lesson and language lesson in one.  She gives us information and details we would not ordinarily discover on our own.  She is also a patient and determined sensei (teacher).   I was the happy recipient of a three day language lesson.  However, I had to be careful when I asked her for a phrase.  She expected me to use it.  Yikes!    

In a restaurant, while having yet another wonderful meal, this one of small, fresh water eel, I observed a young couple with a very cute baby.  I asked Mariko how to tell them they have a cute baby.  I rehearsed the phrase over and over throughout the meal.  I knew Mariko would expect me to use it on the way out.  I was having a little trouble with the syllables, not quite the right emphasis, when she suddenly laughed.  Huh?  Apparently, the word for “cute” is perilously close to the word for “scary”.  That can’t be good, I thought.  I could just see myself smiling broadly while cooing, “You have a scary baby.” to two horrified young parents.  That vision didn’t enhance my courage any; but Mariko was waiting for her pupil to perform.  So, as we left the restaurant, I stopped at the table, got the parents attention, cleared my throat, and stammered out the Japanese phrase.  To my immense relief they smiled and thanked me.  I bowed my way out the door to the smiling approval of my sensei.   

According to Mariko, we walked 11,000 steps that day.  In addition to the huge shrine that floats on the water, there are also many smaller shrines, and many beautiful gardens to appreciate.  The red momiji trees are all over the island, and we got some great photos with intense color.  We were treated to the unexpected sight of a wedding in progress at the large shrine.   We were visually rewarded at every turn of the trail.  Ponds with large koi were dominant characteristics of the gardens.  We followed a scampering 3 year old in a Winnie the Pooh hat to the top of a hill where a charming outdoor restaurant served tables set under the trees.  The better to view the fall color, of course.

Needless to say, there was also shopping.  I seem to have inadvertently started a collection of Kokeshi dolls.  (I am more careful when I browse, now; but Chas still won’t go in the shop with me.)  The one I selected this day was a slender geisha.  I wanted to buy a beautiful carved wooden plate as well.  However, we were looking at a 6 ½ hour train ride back to Koriyama, and we already had a lot to tote.  I might have to buy my hand carved Miyajima plate somewhere else.  

We left Miyajima late in the day, and headed for the mainland.  The day had been a sort of kaleidoscope of intensely colorful foliage; the sound of chattering children, the aroma of good food, long rows of beautifully displayed crafts and snacks, and nipping deer. Later, back in Hiroshima, we ate at a rotating sushi restaurant where the sushi drives by on a conveyor belt and you grab what you want.  It helped to have two Japanese friends with us to explain what we were eating.  We enjoyed meals of the local specialties every day.  Most of which I recognized.  I feel like I ate my way through the weekend; and I only vaguely wondered if the oysters taken from the bay were radioactive.

Mariko-san and Yuki-san were wonderful guides.  They were very sweet to us.  We are lucky to have made such kind friends.  It makes our experience here much richer than it might be otherwise.  We said good bye to Yuki-san at Yokahama; and, at Tokyo station, amid hugs and promises of adventure to come, Mariko put us on a Shinkansen bound for Koriyama. - Bobbie