Kansai/ Shikoku/ Chugoku Early Spring 2018 – Days 6-7

Our whole trip had been food, onsen and sightseeing. This day finally was the shopping day. Leaving Hiroshima, we drove for around 2 hours to Kurashiki for shopping at Mitsui Outlet and Aria Mall. We are not really hardcore shoppers so half a day would be enough for us… There were really many shops though……

Tram in Hiroshima

So many shops

This was the final night of our trip, destination Ginpaso at Ako 赤穂, an onsen hotel. This hotel was the best one throughout our trip. Great ambience, nice rooms and dinner, wonderful hotspring.

Ginpaso

Delicious oyster dinner

More courses

View from room, interesting looking trees

The next day route was to go to Kansai International Airport. After hotel breakfast we first headed to Akashi market – Akashi Uo no Tana Shotengai (魚の棚商店街), a 90-minute’s drive.

Breakfast was equally nice

Akashi market

This market was not as glamourous as the big city markets, you wouldn’t be able to find expensive seafood served on the spot, but there were many delicacies such as dried squid, dried fish, etc that can be used for cooking. And restaurants too.

Octopus everywhere

We didn’t stay long at Akashi, only for a light meal and some shopping, got a plane to catch. Driving to the airport would take around 1.5 to 2 hours depending on the traffic.

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Kansai/ Shikoku/ Chugoku Early Spring 2018 – Day 5

Another day of nice weather, perfect for our day trip to Miyajima.

We drove to Miyajimaguchi Ferry Pier, approximately 30 minutes from Hiroshima. Miyajima is a popular attraction, we went on a Saturday and end up spending a bit of time going around the few car parks near the pier to get a parking spot.

Miyajima is a small island, takes around 10 minutes to get there by ferry from Miyajimaguchi Pier.

Ferry to Miyajima

Ootorii, view from ferry

From the ferry we could see the famous Ootorii already.

Miyajima is “the place where people and Gods live together”, there are numerous shrines and temples. But first we saw was a whole street of food stalls. And deer.

Deer in the background

Kept strolling on the island, first stop was Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社), a World Heritage Site. It’s also where the Ootorii is located. Quite a magnificent yet peaceful place.

Tide was almost low at the time we visited, so we were able to walk to almost the foot of the Ootorii.

Next we continued strolling around, visited some nearby attractions, and it was time for lunch. We were at the aquarium area with not many restaurants around, out of the few choices we decided to go for the Restaurant Otani, where they served the Miyajima famous seawater eel (anago) cuisine.

Early blossomed sakura

Another spot on my must-visit list was Daisho-in (大聖院), a Buddhism temple complex. It’s really a complex, so many worth-seeing spots.

Stairs to Daishoin

After visiting a few more spots including the Toyokuni Shrine five-story pagoda (豊国神社 五重塔) and the biggest rice scoop and head some more snacks around the island, it was time to head back to Hiroshima.

Toyokuni Shrine five-story pagoda

Huge rice scoop… what can I say…

Dinner was at a seafood izakaya. Izakaya dinners are always great, smaller plates so more choices of food.

Kansai/ Shikoku/ Chugoku Early Spring 2018 – Day 4

Back after hiatus……

Hitting the road again after breakfast

Our trip in March has been blessed with nice weather so far, and this day bad weather caught up with us. Still fortunate enough that our plan for this gusty and rainy day was driving to our next stop – Hiroshima (広島).

The drive from Shikoku to Hiroshima was pleasant, crossing bridge after bridge over the Seto Inland Sea. Apparently island hopping by bicycle is a very popular activity, there are cycling lanes on the bridges connecting the islands, and on the islands themselves. Obviously it would be difficult to do so under bad weather conditions, but we did see a few groups of cyclists in raincoats on our way.

It would be a 3-hour drive and our first stop was Kurushima Kaikyo SA (来島海峡SA) – a rest area by the motorway on Shikoku Island. This rest area was supposed to be a scenic spot for us, overlooking the bridge and the strait, but rain and wind blew the view away…

Again, we had some shopping and snacks at this rest area.

Next stop, also a rest area by the motorway – Takasasa PA, a smaller rest area but the restaurant there served ramen Onomichi (尾道) style. Since we were in the Onomichi vicinity there’s no reason not to try it.

Continue our trip to Hiroshima. After another hour-or-so’s drive we finally arrived. Our first stop at Hiroshima was Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Not easy to find parking nearby, we managed to find metered parking opposite the museum. Hiroshima was COLD in March, the wind and drizzle making it worse.

The museum was built to document the a-bomb blast in Hiroshima during WWII. The exhibits and the information show how horrible nuclear weapons can be, and the rented audio guide did an exceptional job.

We took a stroll at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where the museum is. There are statues and monuments in the park that are worth viewing.

Evening came, weather got even colder, time to head to the hotel. We were to stay 2 nights in Hiroshima at APA Hotel 〈Hiroshima-Ekimae Ohashi〉, nice and clean and conveniently-located with an onsen but the rooms were tiny, real tiny.

After a brief rest at the hotel it was time for dinner, right across the hotel was Hiroshima train station and a few restaurants around there. We had the all-you-can-eat yakiniku (barbeque meat) at Karubi Tengoku. With a stove nearby in cold weather it just seemed a lot warmer.

 

Kansai/ Shikoku/ Chugoku Early Spring 2018 – Day 3

This was the day we left Takamatsu for Dogo Onsen, a 3-hour drive. Since we were still in the home of udon (basically the whole Takamatsu surrounding area), we stopped by Marugame for an udon brunch.

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Nakamura Udon was about 40-min’s drive from the hotel in Takamatsu, it’s a small handmade udon restaurant only opens 10am to 2pm, or earlier if the udon is sold out. We were again driving through some roads that didn’t look like it was leading to any restaurants, until a point where there were quite a few restaurants with handmade udon as their speciality.

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My cold udon

Arriving at Nakamura Udon only 45 minutes after the hotel breakfast, we opted for differents sizes of udon bowls. It’s a self-service restaurant, queue up outside and ordered, then stayed in the queue for the udon. It was really good udon.

The drive from Marugame to Dogo would mainly be on the motorway. It’s a 2-hour drive there. One thing that we always do when driving on motorways in Japan is stopping at rest areas known as “Service Area (SA)” or “Parking Area (PA)” – SA’s are generally bigger with more facilities than PA’s. GPS will generally show the location and facilities of the rest areas. Stores and restaurants at rest areas always sell the local specialties, so it’s always fun to visit.

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Ladies toilet at the SA even shows you which cubicle is available

After almost ¾’s of the drive we stopped at Mount Ishizuchi SA. It was still quite early and we decided to stay at this rest area a bit longer – better to arrive at the hotel at Dogo Onsen around 3pm check-in time. We managed to time our trip well and got to the hotel – Hotel Tsubakikan, sometime after 3pm.

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Dogo Onsen is an old and famous hot spring. The main bath house is beautiful. Around the bath house there are shops, sightseeing spots and foot bath. Our hotel location is approximately 5-min’s walk away from all these so first thing we did was to stroll around.

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My black sesame snack, hot and yummy

After a relaxing foot bath right next to the automation clock at Dogo station, time to return to the hotel. We booked the accommodation package with dinner and buffet breakfast. Dinner was Japanese seasonal set, in March it was sea breams and prawns.

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Dogo Onsen area hospitality business should be quite competitive, there was a Taiko show at the hotel lobby at 9pm every night. By 8.45pm the lobby was packed with audience. It was a energetic, intense and entertaining show.

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Kansai/ Shikoku/ Chugoku Early Spring 2018 – Day 2

Second day of our trip we visited the Benesse Art Site on Naoshima (直島) – a place that I had been longing to visit. Naoshima as an art site is very much unlike other traditional art exhibiting establishments. Art installations are randomly (or maybe calculated, anyway) placed at different spots on the small island in Setouchi Inland Sea (瀬戸内海). The whole island itself is a museum. Reminder – the art facilities on Naoshima are closed on Mondays.

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Sculptures on the way to the ferry pier

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More art installations at the ferry pier

From Takamatsu we hopped on a ferry to get to Miyanoura Port at Naoshima, the ferry ride took an hour. Best to check theferry timetable as they run on an infrequent schedule.

The hour’s ride on the ferry was comfortable, there were normal rows of seats on board, and bigger groups could choose seating area with sofa and coffee table. There were TV and wifi. Or the upper deck, which was extremely windy in March – should be fantastic in May.

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On our way to Naoshima

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Ferry decorated with dots, the signature of Yayoi Kusama

Right next to the ferry terminal at Naoshima was the Red Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama, this sculpture was really popular. Artist wonderfully transforms her hallucinations with dots into art that everyone enjoys. There’s also the Bunraku Puppet by Jose de Guimaraes and the Naoshima Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto, all located near the ferry pier.

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Red Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama

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Naoshima Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto

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Bunraku Puppet by Jose de Guimaraes

Our route was to head towards Ando Museum at Honmura Area, then visit Benesse House Museum (and have lunch there) and Chichu Art Museum. One way of touring around the island would be cycling which we did not opt for (windy and hilly). We took the Town Bus (again, check timetables first).

Ando Museum is like a shrine for the Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The building itself is a small traditional Japanese wooden house, with the interiors redesigned and renovated by Ando. The entrance is not easy to notice, a metal plate closed to the ground telling you “this is the museum”. It’s not a big museum, but it’s a good starting point for the island, as it displays the sketches and models of Ando’s work, including the museums on Naoshima. You get to see how the Naoshima art site and museums are conceptualised and developed.

 

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Ando Museum

After Ando Museum and a stroll around the area, we hopped back to the bus for our next stop, Benesse House Museum. The Town Bus terminates at Tsutsuji-so, where visitors will need to take the free shuttle bus from there to the Benesse House Area where Benesse House and Chichu Art Museum are located.

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Waiting space for bus and ferry also an art installation

Benesse House Museum houses many interesting pieces of contemporary art, like Jonathan Borofsky’s Three Chattering Men and Yukinori Yanagi’s The World Flag Ant Farm. The building itself, work of Ando, is part of the exhibition. No pictures here as photography is strictly forbidden inside the museum.

We had lunch at the cafe there, sadly the squid ink curry with rice was already sold out, settled for the pasta instead, quite nice… Actually there were quite a few cafes in the Honmura Area but too small for our group, so we chose to eat at the museum cafe.

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Naoshima cat

Next stop – Chichu Art Museum. We missed the shuttle bus from Benesse House Museum so we took a 20-min-downhill-and-uphill-walk there. After reaching the entrance building and paid for entry, the walk to the museum itself took another 5-10 minutes (as they courtesy bus broke down). “Chichu” literally means inside the ground, the museum was mostly underground with a lot of skylight. This museum houses works by Claude Monet, Walter De Maria, and James Turrell, and of course Tadao Ando’s concrete architecture is also a part. James Turrell’s Open Field was fascinating. (again, no pictures, photography not allowed)

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Chichu Art Museum (地中美術館)

To catch the last ferry at 5pm from Miyanoura Port for Takamatsu, we had to take the 4pm shuttle bus from Chichu Art Museum and changed to the 4.13pm Town Bus from Tsutsuji-so. We were in a bit of hurry so we missed some of the outdoor art installations, including the famous Pumpkin (the yellow one) by Yayoi Kusama, we caught a glimpse from the shuttle bus though.

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Famous Yellow Pumpkin viewed from the shuttle bus

My health app told me that I walked over 16,000 steps on the island. So rest time then dinner near the hotel. We found a bigger izakaya (informal Japanese tapas restaurant) near the shopping street area opposite the hotel.

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Dinner

Kansai/ Shikoku/ Chugoku Early Spring 2018 – Day 1

After a short stay in Osaka doing the regular shopping and eating and city wandering, the real trip started on a Tuesday morning for Awaji (淡路), around an hour’s drive from Namba, Osaka, via the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge (明石海峡大橋), the longest suspension bridge in the world at the moment.

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Our first stop: Lunch at Kaisenkan (海千館), a self-service sashimi/seafood rice restaurant. Compare to Osaka, this place is cheaper. We tried the grilled oysters which was 600yen for 5 pieces, not those huge oysters that we have had but ok in size and they were fresh.

There’s more to this place – location. It’s right next to the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge on Awaji Island, with a magnificent view of the bridge and the Akashi Strait.

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Awaji Island is a smaller island in between Honshu (Japan’s main island) and Shikoku. After having lunch at the north tip of the island, we headed towards the south end for the Naruto Whirlpools (鳴門の渦潮). The Naruto Whirlpools are tidal whirlpools, happen twice a day at different times, so best to check the tidal calendar before visiting. The time window for whirlpool viewing is approximately an hour before and after the stated time. (The translation on the webpage is weird… red denotes most serious tide.)

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There are a few options for viewing the whirlpool, join a cruise, or view from Awaji Island (I wonder if this really works), or view from Uzu-no-michi (渦の道, literally transalates as whirlpool road), all located at different spots.

We went for the Uzu-no-michi, which is right underneath the vehicular road on the Ōnaruto Bridge (大鳴門橋), crossed the bridge and there’s the entrance, around 5-10 minutes’ walk from the parking area.

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At Uzu-no-michi, we were basically above the whirlpool location, and one way to view the sea was through the glass panes on the ground. We happened to choose a small whirlpool day, viewing from afar, the whirlpool looked less grandeur than my washer, hmmm hmmmm. Still it’s pretty amazing to see the waves flowing in all directions.

Whirlpool passed, time for udon (Japanese thick wheat flour noodle). You can find udon everywhere at the home of udon – Sanuki, Takamatsu, Marugame. We went to the main Yamada-ya udon restaurant (うどん本陣山田家本店) that is located in Takamatsu, just passed Sanuki, around an hour’s drive from the whirlpool. A beautiful place with lantern-lit courtyard seating. Location is really off the grid, didn’t look like we were on the right track on the way to a restaurant, more like we were visiting someone living at a distant suburb, until we started to see the orange signs put on lampposts directing our way. We arrived around 6pm for an early udon dinner, noted that this place closes at 8pm.

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Entrance

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My cold udon with tempura, nice

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Udon with seafood hotpot

Our final stop that day was our hotel in Takamatsu – Dormy Inn Takamatsu. It was our first time visiting Takamatsu and happy to learn that the hotel is located very conveniently with shops and restaurants nearby. The only inconvenience was that the car park was unable to accommodate our 2 rental cars – taller than the height limit.

Kansai/ Shikoku/ Chugoku Early Spring 2018 – Introduction

Here we are, in Japan again, in early Spring 2018. From Osaka, we drove to Awaji Island 淡路 then to Shikoku, stayed 2 nights in Takamatsu 高松, a city busier than I had expected. After a relaxing onsen night at Dogo 道後溫泉, we drove back to the main island for Hiroshima 廣島, which we stayed 2 nights. The final night of the trip was another relaxing onsen stay at Ako 赤穗.