Last day in Japan! Woke up to fogged up windows, a sea of scarlet and gold leaves across the road, the murmur of water, a great breakfast and regret. I felt sad to leave Auberge Watanabe after being so well taken care of. Yuki and Shigeo had been very kind to us and we were sorry to leave. I also felt sad to leave Miyajima – I’m glad we decided to splurge out and stay the night. More than that, I knew that our trip was certainly coming to an end with Tokyo in sight for the night and our flight home waiting for us the next day.
We left our bags in Auberge Watanabe and walked across the creek to Daisho-in. Unlike many other temples we’ve been to, Daisho-in had a very comfortable air of being well-used – like a neighbourhood parish church instead of say, the town cathedral. Instead of being elegant and reverential, it bordered on the quirky, whimsical and cheeky.
For one, even before we passed through the big gate, we were already charmed by the tiny stone statues of little bald monks in varying playful poses scattered throughout the grounds. These impish little guys were sleeping, praying, grinning, dressed as a samurai, practising kung-fu, sitting, meditating, holding gold ingots and so on. The kids had a nice time running around looking for ever more of these cute little statues. I think we found easily more than 50 of these scattered everywhere – under bushes, beside paths, next to gurgly streams, on a bed of moss and so on.
Even the many sub-temples on the grounds were more fun, like a huge gathering of every Buddhist saint and deity under the sun, in various little houses. I thought it was fitting that Daisho-in was like a summary of all the temples and all the things we did at the temples throughout Japan this trip. So we got the omikuji (in English!), rang the huge temple bell for blessings, ran up and down stairs to twirl the Buddhist sutras for luck, doused the Jizos for the last time, ran the entire 88-temple Shikoku pilgrimage in one hall, said a silent prayer at the Kobo Daishi sub-temple, descended to the bowels of the main hall in another attempt to ‘gain enlightenmight’ or good luck – whichever works best! And of course, I got my lovely henro!
I also got to say a nice goodbye to Miyajima, fittingly, high up on Daisho-in in front of Kobo Daishi’s shrine, where the hills of Miyajima spread around and the silver glints of the sea a little beyond.
Down from Daisho-in, we collected our bags and said goodbye to the good people at Watanabe. Shigeo was kind enough to give us a lift in his MPV down to Omotesando. There, we bought a typical Miyajima souvenir – momiji manju – soft buns shaped like maple leaves with filling inside. I liked the one with chunks of apple filling while the kids gravitated to the chocolate and cream cheese filling.
We also chanced upon a stall selling skewers of deepfried ‘fishcake’. Particularly loved the prawn and veggie mix. It was so good the kids were clamouring for more. Had to go back and buy about two more skewers.
Back on the mainland, we retraced our steps to Hiroshima station, collected our bags from the lockers and took the shinkansen back to Shin-Osaka. From there, we changed shinkansen to one heading back to Tokyo. By this time, we had grown a lot savvier about shinkansen-hopping without the need for reservations, managing to find the right platform, the right carriage (non-smoking! Lesson learned after choking for more than half an hour on two separate occasions where we ended up in the smoking car!) right down to the right door. We could have taken the shinkansen from Okayama, several stops earlier than Shin-Osaka, but figured that Shin-Osaka being the busier station, we would have more chance at getting seats.
And we were right! Shin Osaka was a lot busier than Okayama but being early at the head of the queue meant we could get our choice seats. The work day was clearly ending by then as hordes of commuters also crammed on board the shinkansen. It was so packed that people were standing in the aisles – pretty much like a town bus or a commuter train – except that this was the shinkansen and the commute was a 2-hour journey all the way back to Tokyo!
So passed our last evening in Japan with the day’s dying light casting long shadows on the platforms of Shin-Osaka. We passed the two hours napping, talking, eating. The crowd on the train never got less.
By the time we got to Tokyo station, it was night. But the place, the nexus of train transport in the city, was still buzzing with commuters hurrying off to their appointments. From Tokyo, we hopped on the Yamanote line two stops down to Shinbashi station. From there, we walked about 10 minutes to our hotel. We walked on a raised pedestrain walkway that led us beneath the Yurikamome monorial line and through the heart of Tokyo’s futuristic city, Shiodome, encircled by towers of glass.
KH and the kids were wondering what kind of posh hotel I was leading them to since this area of Tokyo clearly looked expensive. I had a nice chuckle to myself since the Hotel Villa Fontaine is a nice, value-for-money find. I enjoyed watching their jaws drop as they saw the sprawling marble lobby and the soaring atrium. I could see the calculator ticking in KH’s head! But in truth, the hotel offered decent-size, comfortable business-class rooms in a fantastic location at a fraction of the cost of its neighbour hotels in the same locality. It was great value and unlike other business hotels, also included a buffet breakfast in the price.
Once the kids had gotten over their excitement and KH’s jaw had been lifted off the ground, we dropped our bags off and headed out for dinner. We backtracked back to Shinbashi station. Lots of action going on there with a lively nightlife and restaurant culture. Packed into tiny slots beneath the JR tracks are smoky bars and izakaya filled with penguins (the black-suited corporate warriors) of nearby Ginza having a post-work drink. It was very atmospheric and I wish we could have walked around more but stomachs were growling and the natives were restless.
We settled on a small izakaya filled with locals, the red lanterns outside the door giving a welcoming glow. We were led upstairs to a small room with low tables. As usual, we had to take off our shoes and were shown to a low table with cushions next to a window. On the menu – DIY BBQ with salad, different cuts of chicken, pork and beef. The grill was on the table. The waiter could speak some English and could produce an English menu! The other tables in the room were filled and the sizzle of the grill and the smoke of cooking meats filled the air. The mood was quite festive.
This being our last night in Japan, we decided to splurge it. It was a great meal, memorable because it tasted good and was a novel experience. It also ended up costing us more than S$250!! But okay, no regrets!