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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Tag: Hiroshima

Japan in Photos

Paula Gaston

Have you ever been thinking what is the furthest destination you have been to? Seven years ago I was thinking that when I vacation in California or when I move there, I will be quite far away from my home. I was living in Finland at the time. Even the flight to California was so long, that I really felt like I was going to the other side of the world. And I was. If you look at thing from Finland, the furthest place I have visited is Hawaiian Islands. If I look at the same thing from California, it would be Dubai in United Arab Emirates. But I have actually traveled to those places from shorter distances.

But being far from home can also be measured as a feeling as well, not just by the miles or kilometres. Being in a totally different culture what you are use to definitely makes you feel like you are far far away. We got this feeling in Japan. Japan is physically far away from both California and Finland, but even more it really feels like far away. Everything there was different! After figuring out how things work there we absolutely fell in love with this country! It was both exciting and awesome, and somehow tiring as well. But we feel like it is definitely a country far away that we want to return someday.

These are the things we wont forget:

BUILDINGS

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Japan is a mixture of both history and modern building. From the skyscraper’s Tokyo you can take a bullet train and within an hours be walking around the traditional, old Japan. The picture on the left is from Todaiji Temple which is said to be the biggest wooden building in the world. On the right is the Himeji Castle, one of the national treasures of Japan.

DIFFERENT KIND OF PEOPLE

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The amount of people in Tokyo feels surreal. But even though the metro is full of busy people, they will never pump into you or be rude. In different prefectures of Tokyo you can meet different people with different styles, and you might run into a wedding couple if you visit a temple. We even saw few geishas in Kyoto even though seeing them is quite rare.

RELIGIONS

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Different religions are strongly visible and present in Japanese life. Anywhere you go, you will see temples and shrines. Visiting them is interesting and there are many rituals and traditions that takes place at the temples. Even though these places are open for tourists as well, they are mainly calm places designated for praying.

FOOD

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Exploring the Japanese food was one the highlight on our trip to Japan. We got to try many new foods that we had never tried, and some local treats. There is some international chain restaurants there but they are very expensive compared to the local food places. And who wouldn’t like Japanese food?!

GOOFYNESS

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We were surprised how often so serious and quiet Japanese people seemed to love everything goofy and silly. It was awesome! We visited several theme cafes, and at the Trick Art Museum where the photo on left was taken at. People in Japan truly knows how to have fun!

OPPOSITES

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From the city life to the calmness and quietness. From modern into a middle of the history. Japan was truly a country of opposites where you can meet the modern future and the old traditions in one day. The picture at left is from Nara where you can pet some tame deer, and the one at right is from Hiroshima. Hiroshima is a big modern city with a piece of sad and touching history in a middle of it.

All these pictures are from my Instagram account. You can follow me @paulagaston

 

A Humbling Thanksgiving Day at Hiroshima

Paula Gaston

We arrived in Hiroshima, Japan on a day when people back home in California where celebrating Thanksgiving. After visiting Kyoto and Himeji, we hopped on to a bullet train and moved on to Hiroshima for one day. After that we would return back to Tokyo for the rest of our vacation. The day in Hiroshima was both touching and fun. We saw so many different sides of the city, and we were happy that we travelled this far from our original destination, Tokyo. 

I'm sure we all remember Hiroshima from history. On August 6th, 1945 the United States dropped an atomic bomb from 9450 meters on to Hiroshima. The bomb exploded at 8:15 am killing approximately 75,000 people and destroying 90% of the city. By the end of the year, a total of 140,000 people had fallen ill by the radiation and died. After a few days another atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, in Nagasaki. There are many different opinions about the necessity of the atomic bombs. Some say that they are the reason why the second world war finally ended, but many also thinks that Japan would have given up soon anyway, and therefore the bombing was not acceptable. Today the city of Hiroshima has been rebuilt, and they are devoted to work on world peace. 1.2 million people visits Hiroshima every year.

After taking our luggage to the hotel, we walked to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The memorial is one of the rare buildings that survived the bombing even though it was at the hypocenter of the bomb. Today it is known also as the A-Bomb Dome, but back in the day it used to be an exhibition hall, museum and art gallery. The dome was registered in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996.  

On the other side of the Motoyasu river and the Hirsohima Peace Memorial is the Hiroshima Peace Park. You can walk along the river and go over it from several spots. One of the bridges is called Aioi, and it is said to be the focal point of the bomb. There were several groups of school children visiting the Peace Park. One group was singing by the Children's Peace Monument. The monument was built to honor the memory of children who died in the Hiroshima bombing, and it tells the story of Sadako Sasaki who died at the age of 12. Sadako was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima but she survived that day. However she got exposed to the radiation caused by the bomb, and fell ill with leukemia later. When she was ten years old she got hospitalised. Her best friend visited her in the hospital and brought her some paper cranes she had folded. According to a Japanese tale, if you fold a thousand paper cranes, you can wish for anything and your wish will come true. Sadako started folding paper cranes while she was in the hospital but according to her father, she died when she had made a total of 644 of them. Before Sadako's funeral, her class mates folded the rest of the paper cranes and they buried them with her body. There are several different versions of this story, but it is famous around the world as a heart breaking example of the results of atomic war. Several books have been written about Sadako and her statue is also in a park in Seattle, USA.

You can see the A-Bomb Dome through the  Hiroshima Memorial Cenotaph . Names of the victims are written on it. 

You can see the A-Bomb Dome through the Hiroshima Memorial Cenotaph. Names of the victims are written on it. 

On the top of the Children's Peace Monument is a statue of Sadako Sasaki holding a giant paper crane. 

On the top of the Children's Peace Monument is a statue of Sadako Sasaki holding a giant paper crane. 

From the Peace Park you can also find an interesting museum called the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. There you can read about the chaos and consequences of the atomic bombing. Before going in, you should know that some of the pictures in the museum are quite upsetting. I had to walk through few of the rooms quite quickly because I was visiting with our 4 year old daughter and I didn't want her to see them. My husband who is a history freak followed us later since he wanted to read all the signs. The museum is not huge, so you will most likely walk through it in a couple of hours. But it sure is very touching! We were pretty quiet while walking back to our hotel while we were trying to process everything we had seen. Especially when we knew that our family and friends back in California where now enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner and celebrating the things we should be thankful for. Our day in Hiroshima gave a whole new meaning to Thanksgiving Day! 

In the museum you can see a model of the city of Hiroshima and where the bomb was dropped. 

In the museum you can see a model of the city of Hiroshima and where the bomb was dropped. 

I will never forget this little tricycle in the museum. 

I will never forget this little tricycle in the museum. 

In the evening we did a little stroll in the city. One of the streets had some amazing Christmas lights so we ended walking a little more than planned. It is wonderful to see, that even after the city was completely destroyed, it has risen again, and today Hiroshima is full of life! 

Taking a Train around Japan

Paula Gaston

The most convenient way to travel around Japan is by train. It is both easy and fun. We travelled by train daily inside Tokyo, but we also took a train to multiple different cities in Japan. Someday, I would love to do a longer trip around Japan by train, but on our first visit to the country, we also wanted to spend a lot of time in Tokyo. From Shinjuku, Tokyo we travelled to Kyoto, and from there we did a day trip to Nara. Then we took a train to Himeji and from there to Hiroshima. At last, we returned to Akihabara in Tokyo. We sat in many kinds of trains, and even stood one time when the train was totally full. 

WHY THE TRAIN?

When travelling by train, you can relax and enjoy the views, or even write your blog. You don't need to think about navigating, parking or road tolls. My husband is from the USA where people are used travelling mostly by car, so he asked right away, why aren't we renting one. After a little bit of research, I found out that going around the country by train is the easiest way in Japan. They sell a separate train pass, called Japan Rail Pass for travellers from foreign countries, which makes riding a train quite affordable. When travelling by train you don't have to worry about driving on the left side of traffic, or learning new traffic rules. It can also be quite expensive to park in the larger cities, and I figured that we would probably get lost quite often. Tokyo is huge!  Or we would get stuck in the traffic. The word "traffic jam" makes every Californian sweat since we fight against the traffic every day. So in the end, it was pretty a clear choice to travel by train in Japan. 

Sometimes we were wondering about the tiny parking spots in Japan. I´m so glad I didn´t have to try backing up a car over here!

Sometimes we were wondering about the tiny parking spots in Japan. I´m so glad I didn´t have to try backing up a car over here!

The bad side of travelling by train is that you will have to drag along all your luggage, but that can be overcome by bringing slightly smaller bags. I had read somewhere, that there is not much space to store your luggage in Japanese trains, so we made an effort to be among the first passengers when boarding. That was unnecessary. Our backpacks and umbrella stroller for our daughter fit just fine in every train. The only time we had problems with trains, was when we took a bullet train from Hiroshima to Tokyo on Friday morning. The faster train was fully booked, so we were directed to a slower train in which the Japan Rail Pass didn't entitle us to reserved seats, and then had to switch to the bullet train in the city of Kobe. The slower train was over it's capacity, and there were only two cars reserved for people without reserved seats. We survived by standing in the hallway by the doors, and in an hour we were able to change to the Hikari Shinkansen bullet train. If possible, I would recommend avoiding trains on Fridays and Sundays since they do get very crowded on those days, or at least make sure you get a reserved seat. 

HOW?

We used Google Maps to see what routes we should use, and what kind of trains are going to our destination. Google usually got the route correct, but it didn´t tell us what kind of train would take us there the fastest. And of course, it didn´t know that we had the JR Pass, so it often suggested other train lines first. We tried out a couple other train apps, but ended up using mostly only Google Maps. And we quickly noticed that visiting the JR office before travelling was worth it. They told us when the next available train leaves, and wether we can reserve seats with the JR pass or not. They also told us how to find the platform for the train we were taking. Some of the stations were huge, and it took some time to walk through the whole station to find the correct platform. The staff didn´t always speak much English, but they were very friendly and helpful. 

The trains usually run on time and there is plenty of them, so most of the time we didn´t even look at the time tables before going to the station. The longest time we waited for a train was 45 minutes, and even that went fast when we had to walk to the other end of the station to find the platform. We often also wanted to buy some snacks from the many stores that they had at the station. For the local trains or metros the wait time was usually only 10 to 20 minutes. A couple times we happened to take the train from its starting station where you had to wait for the train to be cleaned first. The cleaners literally ran through the train while cleaning. The trains in Japan were very clean. 

Japanese people talk very quietly or not at all in the train, since they don´t want to disturb other passengers. I also read from somewhere, that eating in the train is not polite. However, after we saw many of the Japanese opening their lunch boxes in the train, we ended up eating ours too. In the bullet train you can also buy coffee, tea and snacks from a sales trolley going around the train. Conductors were always very polite when talking to them, and they always bowed when leaving the car. 

THE JAPAN RAIL PASS IS WORTH PURCHASING

The JR Pass aka Japan Rail Pass must be ordered before traveling to Japan. If you plan on using the train in Japan, you should do a little bit of math before purchasing train tickets. Train tickets in Japan are not very cheap, so the JR Pass will be worth purchasing already if you plan to take the train a few times among the trips from the airport and back. 

The Japan Rail Pass is only sold for people entering the country with a tourist visa, not for example the citizens of Japan. There are passes with different durations, and you can use them in most trains around Japan, in JR busses and JR ferries. You can also use it on the bullet train (shinkansen). Using the JR Pass is very easy. When you want to activate your pass, you simply go to the nearest JR office and they stamp it. For example, we bought passes valid for two weeks which were activated in the Narita Airport. When activating your rail pass, you must fill out your information on it and show your passport. They also helped us to find a train to our destination and made seat reservations for us. Our 4 year old daughter didn´t need to pay for the pass but she didn´t get reserved seats on the train. In case of a full train, she would have had to sit on our lap but that only happened once. When entering the platform, you must show your rail pass to personnel who then let you in. The same goes when exiting the train. 

You can use the JR Pass in most other trains except for private lines and metros. You can also use it on the Yamanote Line which goes around Tokyo, so it is easy to go from one prefecture to another. When looking for accommodations we chose to get apartments and hotels close to this line, so we didn't have to use the metro so much. JR stations are marked with a big, green JR logo. 

There are two different kinds of passes for sale, and you can choose from several different durations. We purchased the regular pass, but there is also a so called "Green Pass". With the green pass you get to travel in more spacious first class "green cars", but you must remember to make a seat reservation before entering the train.

We got our JR Passes from here, but also some airlines and travel agencies sell them. 

BULLET TRAINS

The bullet train (shinkansen) looks quite futuristic from outside but from inside is like a normal train. Some of them had three seats on one side of the car, and two on the other side. Inside the train you don't really feel the high speed even though they go as fast as 320 kilometres in an hour. The fastest bullet train, Nozomi Shinkansen is excluded from the JR Pass, but Hikari Shinkansen, which we used often, is only a couple minutes slower than Nozomi. And depending where in Japan you are, there are also other types of bullet trains. 

OTHER TRAINS

Other trains in Japan that you might run into, and you can use with the JR Pass are Tokkyū (Limited Express), Kyūkō (Express), Kaisoku (Rapid) and Futsū (Local). We used for example the Rapid train and local trains, but we never quite learned which trains the JR Pass would allow us reserved seats. The local trains work the same way as the metro, so we didn't even ask for the reservations, but there are so many other trains and it got us a little bit confused. And of course, there are more trains that listed here, but at least for these you can use the JR Pass. 

METRO

In the biggest cities we mostly used metros to the places where JR trains didn't go. On the first day, we were a little bit confused how to buy tickets since there are different lines that require different tickets. Most of the ticket machines work in English, and the bigger stations have staff standing next to ticket machines ready to help passengers who are buying tickets. You can buy either a one time ticket, or if you think you will be using the metro often, you can load money on a prepaid metro pass. Surprisingly fast we learned how to read metro maps, and we used the metro in both Tokyo and Kyoto.

The busy hours for the metro seemed to be in the early morning and in the evening after 5 pm. In the middle of the day, we never had problems finding a seat in the train. Most stations had an elevator which we used since our daughter was sitting in a stroller, but otherwise you should prepare yourself for a lot of walking at the stations. 

Good luck purchasing a metro ticket from here! Well, luckily you can switch the language into English, and if you still have trouble, you can press the "help" button. Then that little door on the right upper corner opens, and a staff members head comes out... and Voila, soon you have a ticket in your hand!

Good luck purchasing a metro ticket from here! Well, luckily you can switch the language into English, and if you still have trouble, you can press the "help" button. Then that little door on the right upper corner opens, and a staff members head comes out... and Voila, soon you have a ticket in your hand!

Travelling by train in Japan is both fun and exciting!

 

Japan for the First Time

Paula Gaston

Last February I got very lucky and won tickets to Japan. So we started planning our trip. Because we never visited Japan before, I read many travel blogs and articles about what to see and do in Japan. My ex colleague from work, our Country Specialist for Japan, convinced me that in addition to Tokyo, we should also see at least Kyoto. So our trip soon started to look more like a cross country tour, which made me a little nervous since we were travelling with a 4 year old. But this was the plan we used, and it worked out well.

In a the middle of November we jumped into a plane and got to enjoy business class service at All Nippon Airlines. After we arrived at Narita airport in Tokyo, we stamped our JR pass (a train ticket sold only for foreigners) and took a train to Shinjuku in Tokyo. After some confusion at the metro station we finally found our apartment, and started our very first Airbnb experience. 

The most beautiful airplane meal I have ever seen. 

The most beautiful airplane meal I have ever seen. 

Gyoen Park in Tokyo

Gyoen Park in Tokyo

We stayed three nights in Tokyo before taking the bullet train to Kyoto. In Kyoto we visited some shrines and castles, saw many Unesco Heritage Sites and some geishas in Gion district. We got to experience the autumn colours of Japan, and enjoyed some delicious Japanese food. We also spent one day in the city of Nara. Then we packed our bags and moved on to Himeji and Hiroshima, and finally back to Tokyo again. 

Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle

In Nara you can find some friendly deer roaming around the park freely

In Nara you can find some friendly deer roaming around the park freely

Hiroshima gets one quiet.

Hiroshima gets one quiet.

Everything on our trip went surprisingly well. We were able to drag our bags and a baby stroller along, and our daughter seemed to enjoy the trip as well. We got to visit all the places we planned, and had no problems with our hotel reservations. The only blunder we had, was that on our way to the airport when leaving for home, we lost one small backpack. And of course, the one with some important things in it. We are hopeful that we will get it back. Other than that, we arrived back home to California both tired and happy. Now we have time to process what all we saw and experienced on this trip. So stay tuned!

All these pictures are from my Instagram account which you can follow @paulagaston. You can also follow my travels on Facebook, Twitter; @paulagaston or at Snapchat with username paulagaston.