Let’s Go to Okunoshima!

The last time we were in Japan, we visited Miyajima island where deer roamed freely and peacefully mingled with humans. I remember being gently head-butted by a deer that was hoping to get his teeth into my corn on a cob, which, admittedly was one of the best animal experiences I had. This year, we decided to choose a smaller animal. Smaller than a deer anyway.

While the guide book and websites tell you how to get to Okunoshima island, actually getting there is a very, very long trip. And that’s just getting to the port to hop aboard the ferry that will take you to the island. A family friend brought us there this time around since one of our nieces was sick. The long drive may or may not get a bit dull due to the distance, but I still had a good time. And that small curry restaurant that we had lunch at along the way was a nice bonus.

A Wabbit!
A Wabbit!

So what is Okunoshima island exactly?
Well, if Miyajima was an island overrun by deer, Okunoshima on the other hand, is overrun by rabbits. Yup, welcome to rabbit island.

Waiting for the ferry
Waiting for the ferry

We bought feeds from the visitor center at Tadanoumi port before we even boarded the ferry to the island. You can buy them cheap and you would want to buy them because the point of going to the island is to see (and possibly interact) with rabbits. Feeding them is one way of getting their attention. And true enough, once you get off the port at Okunoshima, there are rabbits everywhere. And just like that, we went off on a long hike through the island. That is to say, we didn’t really think about the route that we were going to take.

Eat, sleep, hop.
Eat, sleep, hop.

Of course, with rabbits to your left and to your right, the hike wasn’t really a hike. It was actually kind of a fun walk. We passed a museum that showcased the history of Okunoshima. A dark history that unfolds in contrast to the fluffy and gentle-natured population of rabbits that roam the island. The Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum represents a part of Japan’s wartime history. As the museum name suggests, Okunoshima was once used to produce poison gas to be used in the war. This was despite Japan having signed the Geneva Protocol banning the use of poison and chemical weapons some years before. The Okunoshima plant had been operating in secrecy during that time. Following Japan’s defeat, the factories in Okunoshima were destroyed. However, no one was prosecuted for the use of poison gas. This was because Japan never prosecuted any of its citizens for war crimes. The museum itself is quite small and entry is quite reasonable. It displays the actual weapons, some equipment used by the workers, historical photos and documentation.

Probably halfway around the island, we reached the hotel (and the café, yey!). We had a snack and got some souvenirs. This is the only place on the island to eat by the way, unless you packed your own food.

Feeding a furball.
Feeding a fur ball.

Continuing our trek, it has dawned on us that the last ferry out of Okunoshima is probably in two hours time. The fact that we were out halfway, and that we didn’t have a map stirred a bit of concern. So we braved the trail while feeding rabbits and still enjoying the scenery of the island. We hiked uphill and went through some of the island’s old ruins. We found the old barracks and the remains of old gun placements. We also managed to find the old storage structures but was not fortunate enough to find the old power plant and the tallest electricity pylon in Japan. There was a visitor center though that was surprisingly stocked with information about the islands flora and fauna. We may not have explored the whole of the island, but what we experienced was plenty. And more importantly, we made it to the last ferry (yey!)!

There are already numerous guides all over the Internet providing directions on getting to Okunoshima. We took our ferry from Tadanoumi, but there is another port on the Omishima. Have fun when you get there, and please take note of ferry departure times.

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Back Again in Japan

It was a long sought trip back to Japan. And after some planning and re-planning and re-planning again, we finally got our trip sorted out. We decided on doing things our way with some guidance from online itineraries and reviews. And while we had to cancel our trip to Nagano, we were still going to enjoy our June holidays.

We're leaving on a jet plane.
We’re leaving on a jet plane.

If you are going to be travelling between prefectures, or just having long distance travel in general, I would definitely recommend getting the JR Pass. The shinkansen alone cost upwards of 10,000 Yen per person, per trip from Tokyo to Hiroshima. Shorter trips cost less, and taking local trains or overnight buses would be cheaper, but it will take a day to get there. We did the JR Pass and we managed to clock a lot of hours using the shinkansen. Those trips alone have made the Pass a worthwhile investment while we were in Japan.

So, first stop, Hiroshima. Let me just say that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. There were a lot of English speaking Japanese staff at stations and shops. There will be misunderstandings every now and then, but you will never really be without a helping hand. I can say that for the major stations and cities, though I can’t say to what extent the farther you get away. Still, it won’t hurt to learn a bit of Japanese before going.

Waiting for our ride...
Waiting for our ride…

We spent eight hours on a direct flight from Singapore to Japan and after a hop-on-hop-off affair on the Tokyo Monorail, we spent another five hours on the shinkansen to get to Hiroshima. You would think that it was tiring, but you’d be surprised. It was tiring, but it was sort of relaxing at the same time. The shinkansen rode smoothly and the seats were quite comfortable. In fact, you have more leg and shoulder room on a shinkansen than on an economy flight. I fell in love with the shinkansen that day.

Matthew getting his facts straight.
Matthew getting his facts straight.

We reached Hiroshima and met up with relatives. We had dinner at a Yakiniku restaurant and gained a kilo each on the first day (all except Matthew). Unfortunately, the kids were sick and they were unable to stay longer. We didn’t even get to play. The night didn’t go to waste though. Luckily we were able to go back to the A-bomb dome at the Hiroshima Peace Park. This was one of Matthew’s itineraries. Even though we were here the last time we visited Hiroshima, the Peace Park at night is something else.

The A-bomb dome at night.
The A-bomb dome at night.

There’s something about the cold evening breeze and the quietness of the night at the Peace Park. And while the A-bomb dome is lit up, it was lit just enough to give it ambient lighting. It enhanced the visual of the remains of the building and gave it a sad but peaceful aura. It was beautiful. We didn’t have anything that we wanted to do in particular there, so we just had Matthew enjoy his night and we enjoyed walking through the cool breeze in Hiroshima’s streets.

Father’s Day

First, let’s get it out: “Happy Father’s Day!” to all fathers out there!

I’m sure there are a lot of adjectives to describe our dads. And since we all know those by heart, I don’t really need to lay it all out for everybody else. No matter what we think about our own dad, the fact cannot be changed and regardless of the circumstances, to me at least, a dad is a dad.

Officially, my fatherhood title began sometime in June of 2005. That was when my wife told me that she was pregnant. For those who don’t know, my son was given the month of February 2006 to come out. But for some reason, he couldn’t be bothered with dates and he decided to come out in November 2005. He spent about a month in the ICU when he was born a preemie and he will be going into his teen years soon. Every now and then I get that knock on the head about how time has gone by and I have to entertain a thought…

“What the heck have I gotten myself into?”

Of course being a dad is great and all. In fact, I had been looking forward to it even before I got married. Now that I am one, everything has become one big adventure after another. And it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. It’s like living a reality TV show. Sometimes there’s comedy, other times there’s drama, there’s even suspense and mystery lurking about in a season or two. Make no mistake, I am having the time of my life. But all that depends on your perspective. In recent years, it has become increasingly challenging tackling school work with my son. Everything else is good. The only rough patches are when it comes to almost anything that has to do with school.

Putting that into perspective, I sat down and tried to look back at everything that I was aware of that had happened. I could probably paint a picture, but I can’t help but wonder if there are bits and pieces that I don’t have because I was not able to see them. So the picture isn’t complete. But it is clear that there is something that I need to work on in order to see better days. The next chapters may see a change in the tone of how our stories are written, but I will do my best to keep it light. After all, happiness is a choice. And I will choose happiness for my family every chance that we get. And that is how perspective works.

—–

My dad is a great dad. I learned practically all my life skills from him. We don’t always see eye to eye and we used to argue about things that didn’t really matter (after thinking about it for a long time). I love my dad. I wouldn’t be half the man I am today if not for him. But his generation is different from mine and is going to be different from Matthew’s generation. While there are the basics of fatherhood, it is clear that time is moving faster than ever and fathers need to evolve. I swore to myself that I would be as great a dad as my dad. But deep inside I also have a desire to be even better. I don’t want to have any regrets of looking back at the things I was not able to do with my son while there is time. I generally still have the same outlook as I had when I began this journey. That there will be changes, that there will be emotional outbursts, that there will be misunderstandings, but there will always be love. So we continue moving forward. One step at a time.

Jakjak
Image copyright: Pixar.