Thursday June 8, 2006
I was up early again, without any ill affects from the previous evening's drinking.
Yumi, on the other hand, was a little late to rise and seemed a little hungover.
I had an early breakfast at the little coffee shop next to the hotel I was staying at,
and had a good look at the native police cars, because based on the large numbers
of police cars that had gathered in the area around the hotel, it seemed that there
had been a rather serous crime committed around the corner from the hotel.
Then we were off to Miyajima.
Miyajima literally means
"Shrine Island". It is located in the southeast area of
the Hiroshima Bay, and can only be accessed by ferry. The island is famous for
the huge "floating Tori gate" that is in the water in front of the main shrine on the
island. In reality, this giant red Tori gate is built on the floor of a shallow cove
that is dry during the day at low tide, but covered with water in the early morning
and late evening (and at night during, high tide). At morning and evening, the gate
appears to float in the water.
The island itself is the deity and the main shrine dedicated to the island, who is
attributed to be the maritime goddess (water, boats, shipping, travel by sea, etc.).
We arrived at late morning, and the tide was still in, so the base of the gate was
still covered by water and it was somewhat foggy with a little drizzle of rain. The
main shrine is actually built on "stilts" and at high tide, it also appears to "float"
on the water, but the tide had already receded halfway out of the cove and the shrine
appeared to be very much on dry land while we rode the ferry across to the island.
We arrived at the ferry terminal and started out toward the shrine and the giant
Tori gate, but first encountered the miniature deer at the exit to the terminal building.
These miniature deer are all over Japan at shrines and temples, and are fed by the
tourists who are sold bundles of big, round crackers, by the locals and the people
running the shrine. This is something like feeding the goats at the zoo or the carp
at the botanical garden. The zoo sells little bags of goat feed and the botanical garden
sets up little vending machines to sell fish food, and the visitors pay for the privilege
of feeding the animals for the entertainment value.
Well, the miniature deer are a little more diabolical than the carp or even the goats.
They are bigger than the goats can jump and raise up on their hind feet, have the same
appetite for eating anything that they can fit into their mouth, and a thousand years of
being fed by the visitors to the shrines has them just tame enough to fool you, just
wild enough to surprise you, and overtly brave enough to climb over the top of you
if they think you might even have something to eat on you.
It's a pretty sick and twisted thing, they have effectively trained semi-friendly
So I got a little idea for a little trick. I thought I would buy a bag of the deer
crackers, quickly thrust them into Ms. Yokomizo's hands, step back, and watch as the
deer "tore her to shreds", chasing her all over the square in front of the ferry
terminal, and I got my camera ready to record the event for posterity. Well, Ms.
Yokomizo is a little slyer than I had thought (no fooling the locals), she wanted
nothing to do with the idea of feeding the deer, refused to take the bag of crackers,
instead stepping back, got out her little video camera, and watched with glee as the
maniacal little deer chased me around in circles, over concrete picnic tables, and
the little demons just would not accept that there was no more food once the bag of
crackers ran out, chasing me for a good five minutes and biting at anything they could
get ahold of. Somewhere in Japan, there is a little video of me running like a little
girl from a horde of rabid miniature deer...
Every great shrine or temple in Japan has it's own shopping street (remember,
everything has a mall attached), and Miyajima has Omotesando Shopping Arcade, a
long and gradually curving street with just enough curve that you can't see the end
so it appears to go on forever. This street is conveniently located directly between
the ferry terminal and the shrine, to make absolutely certain that visitors have the
maximum possibility to spend a little money going both to and from the shrine.
I was actually looking for a few things, a Daruma charm, a Fudo Myo charm, and
some Omamori, all for my cars. The story behind this is that Catholics in the US
put little St. Christopher statues in their car for luck and safety, but I drive
Japanese cars, and I am reasonably sure the cars are Shinto/Buddhist, and probably
wouldn't do well with a Catholic charm, even if I were Catholic, and I am not. So
I am reasonably sure it is more appropriate to put Omamori in a Japanese car, and
with my bad luck and large number of cars, I need to buy Omamori buy the case.
We passed some child shaped roadside concrete figures, and there seems to be a
story behind the different characters they portray.
Ms. Yokomizo, now settled down from her good laugh at my expense with the deer, was
now looking for a burnt rice on a stick snack.
I spotted several shops that had charms that looked promising and took note for
the trip back so I could stop and buy them on the way back to the ferry.
We came to the end of the shopping street, and found a concrete Tori gate guarded
by lions, leading to an avenue of lanterns, bounded on the left by the rocky hill of the
island and on the right by the bay.
This led to some beautiful views of the giant floating Tori gate, but I was surprised
at how quickly the tide had receded and the floor of the cove was completely exposed
with people walking out to the Tori gate. This was the point that I realized the cove
was so shallow that the floor was exposed when the tide went out. I had expected the
gate to be completely surrounded by water.
Always living up to the "ugly American" stereotype, I had to hike out and touch the
Tori gate, wet sand or no wet sand.
We made our way back to dry land and the path leading to the Itsukushima Shrine and
paid to visit the shrine. Ms. Yokomizu explained that this shrine is a very popular
site for weddings and also for wedding pictures, but that it is considered unlucky to
have a wedding at or take wedding pictures at the shrine, because the goddess is very
jealous and will break up married couples because of her jealousy to have the groom.
We took several pictures from the main shrine.
I also found a few safe driving omamori at the shrine.
We exited the shrine and found that there is a cluster of smaller shrines and temples
along the eastern edge of the cove, and one in particular, dedicated to Fudo Myo.
Fudo Myo is one of my favorite Buddhist figures. Fudo is the most recognizable of the
Wisdom kings, who uses his sword to vanquish evil and ignorance and his rope to tie
up demons. He sits upon a rock to show that he is immovable in his faith. All
admirable attributes. I was really happy to find this.
We walked back toward and around the Five Storied Pagoda and the Senjokaku, as the
weather got rainier. We found ourselves back at the Shopping Arcade and found some
umbrellas and Ms. Yokomizu found a pair of more comfortable sandals for walking.
It was time for lunch, and lucky for me, we found a very good curry restaurant and I
filled up on another delicious meal of curry beef and rice.
After lunch, we decided to head for the cable tram to the top of Mt. Misen to see
the overlook, and there was mention of monkeys.
The idea of monkeys, loose and running around, poses a few distinct hazards, and I
have always had a few reservations of dealing with an animal or pet that is potentially
just as smart as I am, especially if it is loose and most likely throwing things at
Given my experience with the vicious little deer, I probably should have surmised that
the monkeys were being fed by the visitors and had been trained to be just as deceptively
untamed, potentially wild, and overly brave, but also smarter and more cunning than the
As it turned out, we got lost several times, walked around in circles for a while, and
when we finally found the bus stop to catch the bus to the cable tram, we were told that
the fog was blocking any view, the rain was pretty heavy, and the only thing to see was
the monkeys. That said, my decision was made, and we weren't going anywhere near that
We did, however, pass a little fire station with a couple miniature Isuzu fire trucks.
We discussed out options for a little while and decided to go to the Miyajima Aquarium,
past the Itsukushima Shrine. It would be a long hike, but it would be indoors, out of
the rain, and I always liked having fish tanks when I was little, so it sounded like a
pretty good option.
We arrived at the aquarium and I had expected something a little more modern. Instead,
it was a very old facility, probably built in the 1950's. Almost completely pour-in-place
concrete construction, and showing some age. But they appeared to be trying to do their
best to care for the animals and keep them happy.
The large main tank is directly past the entrance. This tank had some pretty large open
We played a little game of "Don't take my picture, don't take my picture, don't take my
picture, fine, if you are going to take my picture, I'm going to take your picture..."
There were a lot of smaller tanks with displays and educational descriptions of chorals.
The tube fish (eel grass) were a little difficult to see, because if they saw you, or they saw
anything move, they would duck back into their little holes and hide.
They had the feeding times of some of the fish arranged as "shows" with a daily schedule.
We first saw the oscar fish feeding, which was pretty typical for cyclids, swim up and swallow
We saw them feed the piranha first, which always sounds more interesting than it is, because
piranha are actually really timid fish and they aren't bold or vicious unless starved. They
get their man eating reputation from being trapped in pools after the Amazon floods annually,
and the starvation in the ever shrinking pools forces them to become much more assertive.
They had the archer fish feeding set up a little more interesting. They positioned little
pieces of meat on a plate in the middle of little bulls eyes drawn on the plate. The plate
was then hung in the tank, and the archer fish would spit little jets of water and hit the
targets, washing the meat off of the plate and into the tank. The trick was that many of
the fish were not trying to shoot at the targets, but had figured out that they could just
swim around below the plate and wait for the target someone else had hit, to fall into the
tank, where they could snatch it up before the actual marksman could swim over and collect
his prize. I was all set up to get a picture, when the aquarium worker quickly pulled the
plate back up and out of view. I almost thought they didn't want their little target game
It was difficult to get good pictures in the aquarium, because of the low light level and
the reflection of the camera flash off the glass of the tanks.
We went outside to see the sea lion show, and it seemed a little bit exploitative to me.
They had two sea lions, and the show was scripted as an "Olympic" competition between the
two sea lions, to see which would earn the gold medal.
The head trainer with a headset microphone rattled through the well memorized sequence of
color commentary, praise for the winner of each little game, and poked humor at the
Maybe it was more a sense of fair
play and competition, but it bothered me that one sea lion had been trained to loose, and
the other sea lion had been trained to win. And you knew that this happened the same way,
four times a day, five times a day on weekends and holidays, and the outcome was always the
same, the one that was trained to win got all the applause and the one that was trained to
loose got all the jeers. It really seemed like a little window into Japanese society,
showing a tendency and acceptance of exploitation for the purpose of entertainment.
But maybe I am reading too much into a show script that may very well be common to sea
lion shows everywhere.
Next we saw the penguin feeding, and there didn't seem to be any script or story to
it, more or less controlled chaos as the little penguins chased the trainer around
competing for fish. All the while the trainer recites a well memorized educational
speech about penguins. Maybe it is a blessing to be untrainable and therefore
We walked back through the aquarium building in reverse order on the way out,
this time stopping to see more of their prized finless porpoises. The tank is open
with a large glass wall on two sides and has viewing portholes on a third side.
It would have been beneficial to have the "no flash photography" signs in English,
and on the third side of the tank instead of just on the large open sides. I felt
really guilty taking these pictures as the friendly and sociable marine mammal swam
up to see who was watching through the smaller portholes, and then I shot him with
the camera flash, likely causing temporary blindness for the poor animal. I pictured
in my mind that the poor animal might be swimming about and bumping into the side of
the tank a little while until his eyes recovered.
The rain and fog steadily increased as we walked back to the ferry terminal. The
floating Tori gate was almost completely hidden as we left the island.
Dinner was at a Korean restaurant, which was very good, and was followed by many more
cups of Sake, Shochu, and Chuhai, late into the evening.
Click here to go
back to the Visiting Japan for the 2006 Gemini Owners Meeting Index Page.