Thursday, May 27—Osaka/Hiroshima/Kyoto
As Advertised: Following breakfast this morning, depart by Bullet Train to Hiroshima, once a castle town and now the infamous site of the first atomic bomb detonation in World War II. See the poignant museum in Peace Memorial Park and view other monuments dedicated to the futility of war, such as the A-Bomb Dome. Also, stroll the beautiful Shukkei-en-Garden, originally laid out in 1620 and modeled after the famed West Lake Garden in Hangzhou, China. You will then be transferred to the Hiroshima station and depart by Bullet Train to Kyoto. On arrival at the Kyoto Station, you will be transferred to your hotel.
This was the point at which the tour became somewhat confusing for us. Although we had received a revised itinerary, it was not marked as such, and the itinerary I had printed and brought along was the original one, according to which we were scheduled to “depart via motorcoach for Kyoto.” So we were somewhat unprepared for the actual plan, which required having our bags outside the door by 6 (to be conveyed to Kyoto by truck) and being down in the lobby by 6:15 for a 6:30 departure. The “motorcoach” took us to Shin-Osaka Station, whence we took the bullet train to Hiroshima. We had been provided with box breakfasts containing about twice as much food as we really needed (we saved the bananas and boiled eggs for snacks if needed later).
This day marked our introduction to Kyoko Kobayashi, who would be our guide for the next week. Our tour required two buses; the guide on the second bus was Suzi Somebody, the guide who had been recommended to us by the couple who had taken the same tour before the convention, but our party happened to get on Kyoko’s bus the first day, after which the two groups became fairly set: although there was no requirement that we take the same bus each day, the same impulse that sends churchgoers to the same pew week after week resulted in our evidently feeling unconsciously that our bus choice was set in stone. Although Kyoko was extremely well prepared and spoke reasonably good and lightly accented English, it is possible that Suzi (who was older) was more accommodating of the slower-moving and slower-thinking tour members, so conceivably we might have been better off in her group.
Still disoriented by the schedule change, I was slow to come up to speed and only belatedly realized that I should be taking notes on the nonstop narrative Kyoko provided during our travel time. Whenever we were on a bus, she was telling us about the site we were about to visit. If it was a long bus trip, she supplemented this with information about what we were seeing outside the bus and/or general information about Japan. It was all pretty overwhelming, and what notes I do have are unfortunately quite sketchy and in some cases indecipherable. If I had done my homework before leaving home, I might have been able to make more sense of what we saw, though I think I would still have found it a challenge. Some of the tour members seemed content to let it wash over them; many of those around us were reading novels, doing crosswords, or conversing with their seatmates. We had found that the seats toward the rear of the bus offered a better view and more leg room, so we tended to sit at the back, which was probably a bad idea, since this made it more of a strain to hear Kyoko, despite the P.A. system.
Once we hit the ground at one of the stops, it was vital to stay very close to Kyoko in order to hear her commentary. Barney usually concentrated on doing this, while I kept falling behind, stopping to take photographs or detouring to use the facilities. At each stop, the bus driver produced a wheelchair for Dad. Many of the sites were not very handicap-accessible, but even those that were required Dad to be wheeled around by a different route. This meant that whoever was in charge of pushing his wheelchair (Tom, Sam, or one of the grandsons) missed out on the tour entirely. It can’t have been much fun for any of them, and I later suggested to Allison Bokoff that it might be prudent to advertise the tours as being suitable only for the able-bodied.
This was our first experience riding the “bullet train.” We didn’t get the full shinkansen experience because noise-abatement regulations prevent the train from achieving its top speed on the route we were traveling. Even so, the train was noticeably faster and smoother than any U.S. train we’d ever ridden. Getting on the train was quite an operation; getting off in Hiroshima proved even hairier, as I discovered I’d left my hat in the seat pocket and dashed back in for it. Kyoko earned my undying loyalty by sticking her foot in the door and bravely facing down the conductor, who was quite prepared to start the train with me still aboard!
On our arrival in Hiroshima, we boarded our respective buses for the trip to the International Peace Memorial Park and Museum. After our visit there, we had lunch at the Rihga Royal Hotel and then went on to Shukkeien Garden.
After our sightseeing, we again boarded the shinkansen for the trip to Kyoto. Because of heavy convention traffic, our tour guides had been unable to book a direct train, so we had to change trains in Okayama. Arriving in Kyoto, we again boarded buses for the very short trip (just a couple of blocks) to the Rihga Royal Hotel.
After freshening up, we ventured out in search of supper. Sam had scouted the restaurants in the hotel basement and decided the Chinese restaurant was the best value. After a look at the right side of the menu, Tom, Joan, Barney, and I decided that our concept of value was different from Sam’s. Sam, Debby, Chris, and Dad stayed at the Chinese restaurant, Hakuho, and the remaining seven of us wandered around until we stumbled on the new Kyoto station. We finally found a restaurant still open and had a delicious Japanese-style meal in the tatami room in the back. Fortunately, the low table was sunk in a pit so that it was not uncomfortable to sit on the floor.
Because Jeff was short of cash, we all paid him for our meals and let him pay with his credit card, so I had no record of the name of the restaurant or what we ate (though my journal says we had “various rice/noodle dishes and beer”). Fortunately, however, Jeff did take a photo of the occasion, which when examined closely, shows the name of the restaurant on the menus. To my surprise and confusion, it is Toh-Sai. Although this was the name of the restaurant in the Porta Mall where Barney and I had lunch the next day, this was definitely a different restaurant.