I wasn’t a ramen fan until I had true ramen for the first time, in a Japanese ramen-ya in Tokyo in 2009. The best way to have ramen is to visit a ramen-ya (typical Japanese ramen bar) which are common anywhere in Japan. For us outsiders, the ramen produced by most outlets in Japan would be nothing short of excellent, so just hopping in to any convenient one would normally do.
But there are still times when a ramen-ya isn’t really convenient. Such as when you return really late and most shops have closed. Or you just want to eat comfortably in your hotel room instead. So during our recent trip to Japan we tried something different. We tried pre-packed instant ramen from the convenience stores. After all most of them are open 24/7.
What surprised me most was how good these instant ramen products were. They usually come in big sealed plastic bowls with the noodles and various other dry and wet ingredients in their individual pouches, to be steeped in hot water. Not unlike many other Asian instant noodle solutions.
But unlike most other Asian instant noodles, these ramen packages don’t skimp on the additional toppings and ingredients, such as menma (fermented bamboo shoot), egg or slices of meat.
The result is a wholesome ramen experience anywhere you want and at any time.
See the video below for for how we prepared our instant ramen from start to finish. Doesn’t it look good?
The sad thing is most of these excellent instant ramen products are not easily available outside of Japan, especially in India.
In the previous part I covered the first day of a 2-day tour of Hiroshima and Miyajima from Tokyo. The first day consisted of arriving at Hiroshima from Tokyo and touring the Peace Memorial Park. In this part I will cover the island of Miyajima and the beautiful Itsukushima shrine.
Miyajima is often described as one of the most beautiful places in Japan. Thanks to the efforts of the administration and the people of the island, it still retains a traditional Japanese Edo-era look. It’s one of those places that let you experience the old charm of Japan before all the modernization happened. It’s also a nature lover’s paradise and provides good opportunities for hiking and camping, though we will leave those out of our itinerary for our one day tour. Okay, if you’re a really good hiker, you can still make it up and down the mountain by afternoon, in time for a train back to Tokyo.
As I had elected to spend the night at Miyajimaguchi after my tour of Hiroshima the previous day, it was quite easy for me to get to the island. Miyajimaguchi is where you have the ferry docks for the short ride to Miyajima island. If you stayed at Hiroshima instead, see the first part of this series on how to get to Miyajimaguchi.
As far as I could see, there are 2 ferry operators for the Miyajimaguchi to Miyajima ride and back. One of them is JR (Japan Rail), so if you have a JR Pass it’s a free ride for you!
The primary attraction of Miyajima is the Itsukushima shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sprawled across a shallow bay, this mid-16th century Shinto shrine is a sight to behold. But don’t head in there as soon as you land on the island! The shrine looks its best at high tide. The shrine is built on stilts on the shallow bay and as sea water floods the bay at high tide, the shrine appears to float on the water. It’s a majestic sight!
If the tide is low, it’s better to wait till it rises. But of course, if you missed high tide earlier in the morning, you can’t wait for the next one. If you got there early enough, the tide may still be high enough. Use your best judgement here. I didn’t think about the tide being a major factor at first and went in anyway, only to go in again later by spending twice the amount of money on entrance fees. At ¥300 per entry, it’s not that much though.
To reach the shrine, just turn right from the ferry dock and walk along the shore. Even as you are sailing towards the island you should be able to catch a glimpse of the shrine and the O-Torii. The O-Torii is the sea-facing gateway to the shrine and built in typical Japanese style. Like the rest of the shrine, the O-Torii also appears to be a floating structure when the tide is high.
Hiroshima is a place of immense historical value. Although the history associated with it is fairly recent, its nature is of a unique kind. A visit to Hiroshima is humbling for most people, a testament to the horrors of war in it’s most destructive form, and the resilience of the Japanese people to recover from such unthinkable destruction. It’s definitely a must-see for World War II history buffs, but even if you’re a casual tourist visiting Japan, I would highly recommend a visit for one or two days. Specially a two day trip as that would allow you to visit the neighboring island of Miyajima – often described as one of the most beautiful places in Japan.
I made this two day tour of Hiroshima and Miyajima from Tokyo in October 2009 during my short tour of Japan. Although a one day tour of Hiroshima alone is possible, you will be on a very tight schedule, so I won’t recommend it.
As my tour of Japan was based in Tokyo, I planned on starting early from Tokyo, taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) all the way to Hiroshima, reaching there around noon and sightseeing till evening before checking in to my hostel in Miyajimaguchi in the suburbs of Hiroshima. Miyajimaguchi being just a short ferry ride away from the island of Miyajima would leave me pretty much the whole of day 2 to tour Miyajima before heading back to Tokyo.
As you would have it, after a long day of traveling in Tokyo, which included a lot of walking around, and some late evening beers, waking up early isn’t the easiest thing in the world! Still I managed to leave my hotel in Ueno around 7 AM and after a short commuter train ride, reached Tokyo station in time to get tickets for the 7:33 AM Shinkansen Hikari service to Hiroshima with a change of trains at Osaka. I used my JR Pass to pay for my Shinkansen tickets and I recovered the cost of the pass and then saved some from this round trip alone! I would therefore highly recommend getting the JR Pass if you plan on using the Shinkansen a few times during your stay – it offers great savings! More on the JR Pass in another article.
The Shinkansen system of Japan, or bullet trains as they are popularly known are definitely worth a try. To really experience them, you should avoid taking just a short trip to a neighboring town like Yokohama and take a slightly longer journey which lets you experience the extended high speed runs between cities. And although you may not get a true sensation of the speed from sitting in the train, you will know how fast you’ve traveled when you find yourself hundreds of kilometers away in just a couple of hours! Doing the Tokyo-Hiroshima-Tokyo journey more than fulfills your quota of Shinkansen experience. The JR Pass only lets you use the slower Hikari and Kodama services (slower as in more stops) and require you to change trains at Osaka, so if you’re not using the pass, I would recommend going with the Nozomi service which goes all the way to Hiroshima and is faster (less stops). The Hikari trains are faster than the Kodama ones. so get a Hikari if you can, but don’t bother waiting too long for one.
Finding the track or platform for your train in a Japanese station is quite straightforward. Shinkansen trains use dedicated tracks/platforms and these are separated from the other tracks in a station. Once you’re in the Shinkansen section, find out from one of the electronic display boards which track/platform your train will be departing from and then just follow the signs to there. Note that Shinkansen trains are extremely punctual. Once the train’s door closes, there is no way you can get in, even if you were standing right in front of it when it closed. I have seen this happen, so trust me! It’s also a good idea to make sure your watch (or cellphone, whatever you use) is accurate to within a minute. This really helps when you’re asked to decide at the reservation counter if you want a ticket on the the train that departs in 10 minutes. Making the right decision there can help you save considerable time.