I love orderliness of this country, there are lines painted on the platforms so that you can queue and file onto the trains. I never saw the clichéd image of these trains where the guards push people into the carriages so that they can close the door. Maybe because I didn’t travel during peak hours very often. Still today I was travelling down to the Kitakyusha, on the southern island some 7 hours away. I made an early start and grabbed my first train down to Osaka where I changed on to my next train to Hiroshima. However, at Osaka station I was waiting for my bullet train to arrive and suddenly they announce it will be 30 minutes later, something I did not expect from Japan who rival, if not better, the Germans on efficiency! This is a country where they apologise for a train being delayed by 5 minutes and longer delays make the media, so someone’s head must have been rolling! England…take note!
Anyway, the train turns up and I decided to break up the journey by stopping off at Hiroshima to see the iconic A-Bomb dome. I was sat next to a pleasant old Japanese lady, who started to rummage in her bag to pull out a couple of packets of traditional sweets (green tea flavoured red beans) and she ordered a cold green tea off the hostess passing through. I noticed this because the next thing, she poured half the drink in to the cup, put it down on my tray with a packet of sweets and in broken English said ‘enjoy my culture’. This act of kindness does not even sum up the friendliness of the Japanese, they really are an amazing bunch of people. I managed a couple of words and thank yous in Japanese, I really was touched. We said our goodbyes as I got off at Hiroshima and went to locate the coin lockers to dump my bag whilst I went off to explore the city. I love how there are convenient coin lockers everywhere. Hiroshima – what a history, made famous for being, tragically, the first city to be targeted by an atomic bomb and this year it’s acknowledging its 70th anniversary. I had a walk through the city towards the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where stands the A-bomb dome. Sadly, at the time the building was behind scaffolding whilst they surveyed it to ensure its stability. But nonetheless, the impact of the building or shell of a building reinforces the devastation of nuclear weapons. What an eye-opener. The park is lovely to amble around and acts as memorial to those killed and affected by the bomb, represented by the Children’s Peace Memorial, the Peace Memorial Museum and of course, the A-Bomb Dome. Happy to have found a way and the time to stop off and visit Hiroshima. But time to continue the long trip down and my third bullet of the day.
I arrived at Kokura / Kitakyushu, whichever it is and walked to find Fukuoka Guesthouse Little Asia Kokura and the staff were so friendly and gave me a tour of the hostel. And the bed was a good old futon style one. Once all the bags were dumped I headed out for a walk around the town and visited Kokura Castle. The castles of Japan are all built in the same fashion and being the cherry blossom season, it gives them that slightly more beautiful look, even if it’s overcast. The rest of the evening was ambling the length of the long undercover shopping mall and looking for a cheap food stop (a vending machine ticket meal) before going to chat with randoms in the hostel’s cosy common room.
The morning brought rain and I didn’t really know what was to do in Kokura, however, I had read about a Wisteria garden not far away but also that it was about 3 weeks too early for flowering season. Ah well, I got nothing else to do I might as go and have a look. I jumped on a train to go a few stops down to Yahata and set off in the direction of the Wisteria Gardens, realising it was a mere 9km away, google maps told me a bus ran up there. I waited at the bus stop and tried to ask the driver if it went there, he had no idea what I was showing him on Google and I had no idea what he was trying to tell me, so I sat down and about 2km’s later (if that) his line terminated. Damn. Time to walk the rest of the way, it was a pleasant walk beside the Kawachi Reservoir. In spite of the weather, the blossom was out and all the green and gold gave it an autumny feel. Eventually I made the Wisteria Garden and there wasn’t even a sign of a bud! Oh well, wasn’t a complete waste of time as the walk around the reservoir was lovely and stretched the old legs.
Back in Kokura, I went for another walk around the town and along the river front, before heading back to the hostel where I found two Japanese lads in the common room drinking sake. Before long, I was sat on the floor drinking with them and trying to chat using hand movements and broken English. We were joined by a couple and before long we were in the local shop buying more sake and wine and what I can only describe as food in tins that looked like dog food! One of the lads insisted on buying it and refused to take any money, again showing the generosity of Japanese people. We had such a funny night and a great laugh, alcohol always brings people together! Even if it does leave a hangover when you have to be up early to get a train out of there.