From the youth hostel in Izumo, on the
Japan Sea side of Japan, I headed back across Honshu towards the Pacific
Ocean hoping to spend the day with my friend Sachiko. As I had been
on a very loose schedule, I couldn't tell her when I would be arriving in
her town -- Hiroshima -- until just before I was able to come. I was
unable to reach her but I headed towards Hiroshima anyway thinking that
she knew I was coming and that we should be able to get in touch sometime
during the day.
On the way, I ran into my third wild animal on the trip
-- a real live tanuki! So
now I had seen Japan's two most famed animals, tanuki and kitsune
are called raccoon dogs in English; they are relatives of dogs (not
raccoons or badgers). However they are unusual members of the canid
family in that they do not howl or bark and their diet consists of more
plants and insects than "canines." This tanuki was crossing the road
and was obviously accustomed to humans because he/she didn't pay me much mind
as I pulled out my camera and took its picture. The skinny mammal in
front of me bore little resemblance to the lawn ornaments one can see all
over Japan depicting tanuki standing upright and displaying prominent and disproportionately large genitals. I'm
including a picture from a trip to Mashiko so you can get an idea of what
I'm talking about. The lawn ornament variety can be truly ludicrous.
I had now ridden my motorcycle on this trip for over
3000 miles. I was highly surprised at the lack of living or dead
animals that I had seen thus far. I'd have expected to see more road
kill than live animals but that hadn't been the case. This tanuki
was the third animal I had seen and I had seen maybe only one dead animal
at the side of the road. This was in contrast to my hometown in
Michigan where you can hardly take a drive without seeing at least a
squirrel darting somewhere or other. And, at certain times of the
year, the remains of raccoons on the side of the road are plentiful.
I wondered why I was seeing such a big difference in Japan. Either
the wild animal population was much lower than I ever imagined or the
Japanese were extremely quick to dispose of their dead. Or perhaps
slower traffic speeds resulted in less dead animals. It's still a
mystery to me.
I had left Izumo at 8:30 and made it into
Hiroshima by 1:00PM. I had been to Hiroshima three times before but
last saw the castle in 1995 so I stopped to take some pictures on the way
in. I had a pretty good feel for the city from my prior sojourns so I briefly consulted my map and
headed straight for the central shopping area street, Hon-dori. I
located an okonomiyaki shop serving it, of course, in Hiroshima
style. Yum yum.
I was still unable to get in touch with
my friend Sachiko so I set out in search of an Internet cafe, figuring one
shouldn't be hard to find in a city of this size. I asked around and
was pointed to Com City, an electronics store. It contained a demo
corner with access but there were other people
using it and it wasn't the kind of place you could get online for long.
I asked a couple of store employees and was told that there used to be a
proper Internet cafe
but it had gone out of business. I was about to give up my search
when I spotted a local-looking foreigner. He knew about Com City's
free demo corner -- must be a pretty famous place to go -- and told me
that there was also an Internet cafe in the Best Electronics store near
I got back on my bike in search of the place and found
it with a taxi driver's help. It didn't have a true Internet cafe --
it was a normal cafe with a free demo corner of Microsoft WebTV.
However, one could use a console just by buying some item off the
menu. I got an ice cafe au lait and started surfing. There was
a sign requesting people to limit their use to 30 minutes however there
were three machines and the place wasn't crowded. I ended up putting
in about 1.5 hours on the Internet catching up on my mail. It turned
out to be even cheaper than an Internet cafe.
By the time I was done, I despaired of getting in touch
with Sachiko. I shopped at the large ¥100 store located in the same
building and picked up a few things (I can almost never leave one of those
without buying something) and grabbed a bite at McDonalds. It was
nearing sundown and I hadn't been able to contact Sachiko so I retrieved my bike and sped towards Hiroshima Bay to
try to photograph the sunset. Luckily I didn't repeat the sunset
photo debacle that I had had on Day 7 of my trip
and took my photos without incident.
I hadn't had a
chance to see the Genbaku Dome (Atomic Bomb Dome) close in the dark
before, so I went back to Peace Park to see it up close. This
is the building that was right under the epicenter of the fateful blast that
signaled the end of World War 2. It was gutted but not destroyed and
has been preserved to serve as a testimony to the events of that day. It
is a peaceful place now and it is almost impossible to imagine what it was
like half a century before.
I finally found Sachiko at home at 9:00PM. She had
been working at the Miyajima fireworks the night before, had stayed out all
night and had just returned a couple of hours before. Now, it was too
late to meet and I was annoyed at myself for not making concrete plans with
I resigned myself to search for a capsule hotel to stay
the night, a place where one literally sleeps in a square box about two meters long
and just big enough to sit cross-legged in. I searched for a place I
had used once before but ended up at another one. This one looked
quite new and had a nice set up -- a very nice bath with sauna and a rooftop
bath as well as a napping room and mini-restaurant. The capsules themselves
were stacked two high, each with a TV and radio. Given that women
generally aren't allowed at capsule hotels, the TV even came with a
"handy" 24-hour porno channel. I didn't take any pictures at
this place but will throw in some pictures from my previous capsule hotel
experience when I get a chance.
Sachiko called me back later to say she could meet me for
breakfast the following morning. We made arrangements to meet and I
hung up feeling better. It looked like the main purpose of my trip to
Hiroshima -- spending time with Sachiko -- would be fulfilled after all.