While my first week in Japan revolved around becoming familiar with Tokyo and everyday life, my second week involved learning about the history, culture, and hardships of the country. My visit to Hiroshima on Monday surpassed all of my expectations; the 'floating' torii at Miyajima and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial both took my breath away, for different reasons. A shrine stood in the ocean for thousands of years, while just a couple miles away a city was completely destroyed by an atomic bomb just 72 years ago. Visiting Hiroshima during such a volatile time in geopolitics also made the experience a lot more hard-hitting for me; the clock at the museum that counts the days since the last nuclear test was only at 2.
Seeing Kyoto was also a nice change from the bustle in Tokyo, for the most part. I found the city to be a little too crowded with tourists for my liking, but the beauty of the sites we visited made up for it. Performing karaoke with other members of the group was also a definite highlight of my trip!
I decided to return to Tokyo for the weekend to see some friends visiting from UW. However, I had a lot more free time than I thought I would, so I decided to make a spontaneous day trip to an onsen in the riverside village of Shuzenji, on the Izu Peninsula. After an hour-long shinkansen ride from tokyo, a 30-minute ride on a wobbly, older train from Mishima, and a short bus ride, I made it to the small village. It was such a nice departure from being in cities for so long. While the town was definitely designed to be accommodating towards foreigners, I didn't see any while I was there. Bright red bridges contrasted with the lush greenery of the hills, and the Shuzenji Temple was a nice shady oasis from the sun. Although I shouldn't have been, I was surprised to find that the water was hot when I used it to wash my hands at the temple's entrance! I found a popular onsen that only cost 350 yen, called Hako-yu, which was apparently patronized by a shogun hundreds of years ago. It was newly-renovated, clean, and not very busy. Even though it was hot outside, the water was so relaxing. In the middle of the town, near the river, there was also a free public foot bath from the hot springs. My trip to Shujenzi was long, but definitely worth it. Going out to the countryside was much more relaxing and needed than I thought.
On Sunday, I decided to visit the Museum of Modern Art Tokyo (MOMAT) to see their current special exhibition about the Japanese House after 1945. I was surprised to see how much of the exhibit related to ideas of "Japaneseness" and identity, and it was interesting to see all of the architectural models through the years.
While I love being in Tokyo, it was refreshing to visit Western Japan and to see culture outside of the capital city, both in urban centers and in riverside onsen towns.