Last of Japan (Hiroshima, Naoshima, Osaka)
Updated: Mar 27, 2019
Rather than going into the same detail for Hiroshima, Noashima & Osaka as I did with Tokyo and Kyoto, I’m just going to touch of the Highlights and stand out moments from each.
It’s hard to believe the horror that was the A-bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 and yet the city has risen beyond that and is the beautiful, welcoming city that it is today. The many monuments, statues and nods to the city’s commitment to world wide peace are strong and touching. Not sure what I was expecting, but I was surprised by how big and cosmopolitan Hiroshima is.
Peace Memorial Museum: Unfortunately the main building was undergoing renovations when we visited, but still a must for anyone visiting Hiroshima
Peace Memorial Park: like the museum, it’s not possible to visit the city without seeing the park and all of the monuments within it. We were lucky to visit on a beautiful day and got to spend time appreciating each sight.
Teppei Okonomiyaki (in Okonomi-mura) - Okonomi-muri is basically a building filled with 3 floors of small Okonomiyaki spots. Teppei was a GREAT choice. Hiroshima also makes Okonomiyaki in it own style (slightly thinner than in the north, and with noodles, though I got mine without).
This really is a day within visiting Hiroshima, but doesn’t quite fit in within the Hiroshima highlights. Mainly known for the floating shrine, Miyajima is worth the trip from Hiroshima even if all you have is a half day to go.
Mt. Misen: Unfortunately we weren’t prepared for the hour+ hike up to mt. Misen (hadn’t worn the right clothes/shoes or eaten adequately that morning).
Momiji Manju: When in Miyajima eating Momiji Manji is a must (thanks @explorewithamelia). These are sweets that look like a maple leaf with different types of filling. We tried a few; ones that were fried (I tried that one with red bean filling and Will got a cream filling) and then we tried others: soy cream filling, chocolate, and pumpkin. There was a place selling them fairly close to the ferry entrance, making them fresh - get them there (we also got a few from a different place that weren’t as good, so choose wisely!).
Otherwise known as ‘The Art Island’ and also recognizable by the Yellow Pumpkin (a piece of art by Yayoi Kusama), Noashima was a beautiful and different experience. It took a few trains, and a ferry to get there but was worth the trip. I do have to note though, that amidst the beauty of the art, we found that throughout the island we often could smell sewage. No idea if it was the time of year or if something happened to be going on while we were there, but it was something no one warned us about and was definitely off putting. Hopefully it’s not a symptom of the island’s tourism growing too quickly.
Chichu Art Museum: The design and architecture of the museum is a sight on its own. There are 3 permanent exhibits here, which make it very manageable. My favorite was probably the Monet one; 5 Monet paintings in one room. It is a stark white room (you have to take your shoes off to enter) and is lit by the skylights above. Will and I walked into the room together and had it all to ourselves.
Benesse House Art Museum & Outdoor Art
Yellow Pumpkin - This piece has become somewhat iconic and I can see why.
Art House Project: Will and I came to think of this as an art scavenger hunt. There are 6 installations around Honmura neighborhood on Naoshima that you can visit in any order. My favorite was the one called Minamidera. It was a really interesting experience with light, the mind and awareness. That is all I'll say about it in case anyone is planning to go in the near future!
Naka Oku: If staying in Honmura, eat dinner here!. Share & order a number of dishes, and be sure to make a reservation (this was the ONLY place in Japan we actually made a reservation for - though we made the reservation on the same day.
Cafe Ippo: good pre-fix lunch; feels like you’re having lunch in someone’s home (in fact you are, we went into the wrong entrance at first and found ourselves in someone’s house, until a woman came and corrected us! whoops!)
I don’t know what I had in mind for Osaka, but I was surprised but how it was yet another BIG and metropolitan city. It is filled with much of the same hustle and bustle as Tokyo but not all the history & sights as Kyoto. Since it was our last city in Japan, we were ready to just relax a little bit and didn’t feel the need to have to see or do so much in the city.
SUMO! Sumo was THE highlight of Osaka and a main reason we ended our trip there. Sumo only happens in Japan a few times a year, so when we found out we would be able to make it to a tournament, it became a priority. It was incredible to see, to learn about the history & traditions of the sport. It is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity but would love to see this again one day.
The sumo tournament lasts for 14 days and begins at 8am each day. Like many tournaments, in the first part of the day lower level challenges happen leading up to the grand finale in the afternoon with the senior division. Most people arrive in the afternoon to see the top 2 divisions, which is what we did. We got there right around 2pm, just in time to see the entry ceremony for the junior division.
Dotonbori: Area filled with restaurants and vendors, lots of big lights & billboards. Be prepared to be swept up in the people and options! We went on a Saturday night and then again on a Tuesday and the crowds were notably different (though still packed on the latter).
Osaka Castle: Definitely worth checking out. We decided not to go up to the top, but just to enjoy the view of the massive castle from the ground, which still seems like the right choice.
Kit Kat Chocolatory: We didn’t get to go to the one in Tokyo, which I expect is bigger (and nicer?) but it was fun to pick out a custom Kit Kat and watch it be made & flash frozen. Definitely an indulgence, but we figured it counted as an Osaka activity.
Exploring neighborhoods, specifically Namba and Shinsekai (the ‘old’ part of Osaka)
Ichibazushi: local sushi spot near Dotonbori (local as in after work crowd, business men, and an occasional cigarette smoker, to my dismay).
Ramen Zundoya Shinsaibashi - amazing ramen spot. Definitely worth the wait if there is a line!
Daiki suisan dontonbori - conveyor belt sushi. The sushi itself was just ok, but a fun experience. We didn’t have to wait but saw a very long line a few nights before. Wouldn’t have been worth waiting for in my opinion.
R Baker: we had coffee and breakfast here on our last day. Wish we had discovered it sooner as the coffee was good and well priced compared to anything else we found in Osaka (or Japan for that matter)