Autumn is my favourite season. It’s cool enough to leave the house, baseball season is thankfully drawing to a close, sukiyaki is the dish of choice and Japan looks beautiful in the autumn colours.
My wife and I decided to head off to Miyajima for the day. It’s not quite the time when the leaves have turn their autumn shade, but we just fancied a day out. It’s 15 minutes on the train then 10 minutes of the ferry, so it’s fairly close. And as has become the norm over the last couple of years, the train was rammed full of tourists and backpackers.
A group of American ladies, took the opportunity of being on a crowded train to FaceTime their friends back home. The sheer f••king arrogance and rudeness of some people has unfortunately become normal on the Sanyo Line towards Iwakuni . The middle-aged Japanese man sitting next to me simply shook his head and let out a loud sigh.
Before catching the ferry at Miyajima-guchi, we decided to get lunch at “Gator’s Cajun Kitchen” after I’d heard about it on Instagram. A small, upstairs restaurant with two tables and a counter offers cajun cooking ranging from fried catfish to jambalaya. The owner/ chef who grew up in California, opted to open a Louisianan-style eatery instead of Mexican on the advice of a friend. And it’s a welcome addition to Hiroshima’s food scene. I had the Chicken Po-Boy, while my wife had the Shrimp one. Though I can’t comment on the authenticity, my wife and I really enjoyed the food and the friendly conversation.
We took the JR ferry across to Miyajima. The boat takes a 90 degree left turn before the red torii (Shrine gate) at Itsukushima Shrine for a photo opportunity. Amusingly, a small ruckus ensued as tourists tried to take pictures with their metre-long camera lenses and their selfie sticks. To be honest, I don’t think it’s a terribly great view from the boat. It’s recently become spoiled by the sight of canoes and small boats swarming the shrine gate at high tide.
Every time we come to Miyajima, at least twice a year, there’s always a new store or cafe. The usual tourist tat is on full display, but a few more fashionable shops and places have opened up in their place. Granted they’re all essentially selling the same thing, whether it be grilled oysters or the combination of ice cream with some other sugary blah-blah. But it makes the streets a bit less dated and drab. However there’s something rather depressing about seeing a Starbucks in the vicinity of a “World Heritage Site”. No matter how much you dress it in bamboo and Japanese imagery, it’s still Starbucks. But by the sheer number of customers, my thoughts seem to be that of a minority. Pumpkin Latte, anyone?
We visited the Miyajima Aquarium, my first time in fact. And I have to say that for its size, it’s pretty good. Rather than shoving as much as it can into cramped tanks and displays, it makes good use of it’s spaces and sticks to it’s local ecology. There’s nothing there that you haven’t seen at any other aquarium, but there’s a level of restraint and tastefulness that makes a refreshing change. We then stopped off at our go-to cafe that serves warm tea and zenzai (sweet bean soup). The tatami flooring, cordoned-off garden and secluded location offer a tranquil and serene refuge from the hustle and bustle down the road. Not to sound like a hipster or anything, but I pray that it doesn’t catch the attention of tourists and became another “queue and wait” place.
Heading back to the ferry, we took the opportunity of the rapidly departing tourists to try age-momiji manju, a deep-fried momiji manju. I’d heard my students’ comments about it being delicious, and have seen its rise to fame on Instagram and Japanese TV. I ordered the custard filling. Then waited as it was dunked in batter and deep-fried. God, I wish they deep-fried Mars Bars here in Japan. As I was handed my order, I embarrassingly let out a small cheer. Yet after taking a bite, I was left disappointed. It’s was alright, nothing special. Definitely not worth the long queues we’d seen earlier in the day. In fact, I think a normal custard momiji manju would have been better. So I guess there are some things that aren’t better when deep-fried.