Slow Train to Hiroshima


Golden week again in Japan, this week forming a nice 9-day weekend. Travel prices during this time sky rocket, as Japanese travelers envelope the Earth. There is a simple (tough) way to beat the system though.

While a Shinkansen trip to Hiroshima is a brisk hour and a half affair, it runs in at about 10,000円. Being a student, I gots plenty o’ time, but not a lot of money, I found a better (worse) way to do it.


Local trains. Osaka to Hiroshima at half the price. It would only require changing trains a scant 4 times, and could be done in less than (more than) 6 hours. It involved waking up at 5am, something I am very poor at. So come 6am, when I actually wake up, I had to recheck my schedule on the cell phone, and found the optimum time to leave would be 7:40. So I got another hour of sleep and still had time to buy a breakfast of yogurt in a squeeze pouch and some onigiri for the rails.

The trip there was pretty uneventful. The first transfer at Osaka station I’d done a hundred times. It’s the same one you’d take to go to Sannomiya in Kobe. Except you don’t get off at Sannomiya, nor at Kobe Station, nor Motomachi, nor at Himeji.onigiri1.jpg Under my revised schedule, you keep riding it till you hit a backwater station called Aioi. Here, anyone who’s transfering has 1 minute to transfer trains. Something I was a bit worried about. If the transfer was just across the platform, as it often is, then I’d be safe. If I had to run to another platform, I doubt my fat ass would make it up and down a flight of stairs in time. Luckily, pulling into the station I could see it was right across the platform. Because of this, I didn’t understand why everyone made a mad dash for the other train the second the doors opened. Getting to the other train I realized it was because EVERYONE got on this train. We went from an 8 car express train to 5 car local train that appeared to be pre-war. Needless to say, I didn’t get a seat. All I could do was straddle the wall and eat my onigiri as ladybugs flew about the packed cabin. It was pretty rural. There were some nice views along the way, though with station names like “Bear Mountain” you’d better have nice views, because there sure wasn’t much of anything else.

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Not many people got off at any of the 12 stops between Aioi and Okayama. Though, arriving at Okayama, everyone except me and about 3 other people got off. They must take that route all the time. My next transfer at Itozaki wasn’t for another hour and a half, so I kicked back and ate my last onigiri. Along the way I met a guy named Ken from Shikoku, who was on his way to Hiroshima to watch a soccer game with his friends. He gave me a can of coffee, reminding me of the guy I met on the Korean KTX who did the same. Arriving at Itozaki we switched to a newer train and made the last 90 minute leg to Hiroshima. This is where the Shinkansen saves time, by tunneling through all the mountains in about 20 minutes. The local train just sort of saunters around them until it finally pulls into Hiroshima station 6 hours after I boarded a train in Osaka.








Arriving in Hiroshima, I found that they are still sort of behind the times when it comes to their train stations. IMG_2248I had wondered if I would be able to use my smart card train pass out here, when some of their major stations don’t even have magnetic ticket readers yet. They rely on a combination IMG_2244of ticket stampers at the gate and the honor system. Their “metro” system is the same way. I don’t know what qualifies as metro nowadays, but Hiroshima’s is pretty much identical to the MUNI in San Francisco. It was cheap, though not very fast, and I don’t consider a 2 car (sometimes 1) train that has to wait at traffic lights very metro-y. Also there comes the question of where to stand when you want to board. Since the “stations” are basically in the middle of the street there is only a very small area to stand on, which isn’t bad except around busy stations. This being the only expected sunny day for Golden Week in Hiroshima many stations were busy, with many people getting off and many others getting on, and the ticket/money/train pass takers trying to scramble to keep up. Then even the locals didn’t know where to stand.


After figuring out the Hiroden system I made my way to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. It’s the site of the Atomic Bomb Dome, one of the few structures to (partially) survive the 2km atomic bomb blast. It was sort of sombering and sort of eerie at the same time, but then you see tourists posing smiling with peace signs in front of it and you are snapped back to the (non-)reality of Japan. There was also some sort of festival going on for whatever holiday it happened to be today. There was a parade and crowds and lots of Okinawan music.








The next stop was Miyajima, a small island off the coast of Hiroshima. It’s about an hour’s train ride to the ferry, then a 10 minute ride on the ferry. On the ferry, a group of people in the bench across from me were speaking loudly in Kansaiben. I’d quickly grown to dislike the strange, annoying Hiroshima dialect. It was really nice to hear my own strange, annoying dialect and it made me start to miss home. miyajima.jpg Miyajima is packed with deer and further up the mountains, monkeys. IMG_2304The deer aren’t as pushy as the deer in Nara, but they also don’t bow for food when you offer it to them. Miyajima is also home to Itsukushima Shrine, a Shinto shrine dating back to the 6th century. The shrine, notably the floating torii (gate?) is one of the “Three Views of Japan.” They like to do the top 3 thing in Japan. There is also the “Three Castles of Japan” and “Three Gardens of Japan” and “Three Famous Mountains” and “Three Great Night Views” and on and on and on. The torii as well as the shrine itself seem to float, and is often photographed. IMG_2347However when the tide is low, you can walk right up to the torii. IMG_2357Along the beach there are people digging for…something. I’m not sure what, but I assume shellfish or crabs, of which there are plenty. Even the deer get in on it. At the torii some people were throwing rocks to see if they can get them to land on the torii. I don’t know if there’s any real reason or legend, other than one person tried it, then everyone else followed suit. It was interesting to be able to walk down to the torii, but the shrine probably would have been nicer if the tide had been higher. The island is also home to the “1000 Mat Pavilion” and the “5 Story Pagoda.” They don’t screw around when they name these places. They sort of screw around when it comes to souvineers, though. Miyajima is famous for its…rice scoops.







Click to bigistrate:




After I’d had enough of the island I took the ferry back to Hiroshima and took the Hiroden back to Hiroshima station. It would have been faster to go by JR, and not much more expensive, but I was guaranteed a seat on the Hiroden and thats all that mattered. I stopped along the way to find an Okonomiyaki joint for some Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki. I may not have known much about Hiroshima style, but I’ve lived in Osaka long enough to know where the best Okonomiyaki places are. They sure aren’t next to stations or along major roadways like all the places listed in the guide book. I found a small place in a dark alley. At first glance I couldn’t even tell if it was open. A good sign. Loud drunken local dialect coming from inside. Another good sign. Two kinds of beer on tap? Sold. They were surprised to see a furigner. It seemed like everyone was a regular customer and was on a first name basis with everyone else. Made a lot of friends and drank a lot of beer. The Okonomiyaki wasn’t bad either. Osaka is still tops.




After closing out the shop, I walked to the station. I switched my Shinkansen reservation to one leaving a little sooner (I totally would have done the 6 hours home, but then I would have had to leave at 5pm) as I didn’t want to wait for hours. On the train I made friends with the guy sitting next to me, Hironobu from Toyota city. Instead of coffee, he bought me a beer. He rocked.



~ by foomfoom on May 4, 2007.

One Response to “Slow Train to Hiroshima”

  1. They were digging for clams

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