Hi Japan Travel Blog | Chapter 4

r.j. kushner
6 min readMar 20, 2024

We took another bullet train — the Shinkansen — to Hiroshima. Our tour guide this time was named Kumiko, which she told us is a common name for her generation and means “a child who is beautiful forever.”

When we arrived we had a couple hours of “free time” and got rice balls at Natoya Lunch, a cafe-type place. I went to a small fridge on the counter and tried to yank it open to get a Coke, but apparently it was just a display and I was directed to another cooler by the door. A lot of traveling is just wandering around and looking like an idiot. Or maybe that’s just me. I keep walking up to mailboxes and thinking they are trash cans.

After rice balls, which were actually more of a triangle shape, we went to a vintage clothing store that had at least six trucker hats that said “You’re lookin’ at a redneck.”

We toured the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and listened to a presentation by an atomic bomb survivor, an incredible 81-year-old woman who did not speak English yet memorized her entire 30 minute speech in English for the sake of sharing her message. What a force.

She told us she was eight years old when the bomb was dropped. Afterword there was a Q&A with an interpreter. One student, perhaps in an attempt to lighten the mood, asked what the rest of woman’s life has been like: “I want to know more about you!” There may have been a translation error relating the question, however, as the woman answered by saying that she remembers seeing dead horses in the river. The lecture was sobering, and in the end I was glad I didn’t wear the “You’re lookin’ at a redneck” hat.

On the bus to our hotel, Kumiko started telling us about her father. “My father was an interesting person — to my mother, he was not an interesting person,” she said. “He did what he wanted.”

Her father died 10 years ago and Kumiko said her mother still complains about him. Apparently he researched grass for a living and got to travel to Wisconsin and play golf for free. When he retired he took up magic classes and got super into it, eventually performing magic shows at city events. I hate to say it, I’m with Kumiko’s mother on this one — he sounds a bit much.

We arrived at Aki Grand Hotel, a Japanese-style Ryokan, and discovered it had no beds — just tatami mats on the floor and a closet with some bedding in it. Outside sat the mossy green mountains of Miyajima Island, stationed across a gentle lake filled with oyster farms.

That evening we were treated to a traditional Japanese-style dinner, for which we were given traditional robes to wear. It was one of the most exciting meals of my life. We sat crosslegged on the floor and they lit a flame under the bowl on my tray. I cooked beef, vegetables and noodles together. It was as if the setup were specifically designed for me to spill things and set myself on fire and it was thrilling. I drank a dry beer and sake but not enough to think I looked good in the robes.

After, we changed back into our regular clothes and took a night cruise out to see the Itsukushima Shrine. It was freezing and we were the only foreigners on the boat. We were taking pictures and when we turned around realized we had missed the signal that it was time to bow.

It was a clear night and we could also see Orion’s Belt. The water was unbelievably calm and I didn’t get nauseous until later when I saw a picture of myself in the robes.

The tatami mats provided probably the best sleep I’ve had in six years. It turns out after all this time all I really needed was to be sleeping on the floor.

We took a Ferry to Miyajima, where chunky deer walk around with a certain amount of smugness and try to eat any important papers you might be carrying. One put his nose in my pocket, the crazy bastard.

Miyajima is where the rice scoop was invented and there were big statues of spoons everywhere. We stopped in a shop to try to buy one but when we asked the owner what he recommended he said his scoops were junk and gave us detailed directions for finding the best ones on the island. Talk about giving us the scoop! I am truly sorry.

The vending machines in Japan have hot drink options and I got a plastic bottle filled with black coffee. It was nice to carry a warm bottle around in my cold hands and I could really taste the microplastics.

Along with our scoop, I bought a mug at one of the shops, then immediately went to a shop next door and found the same mug for 100 yen cheaper. I walked out and looked at another deer, which looked back and shrugged as if to say, “Whadda ya gonna do?”

We took the Shinkansen back to Tokyo and got off one stop earlier than the rest of our group to make the show at the Tokyo Comedy Bar. We squeezed our way into the subway car, which was crammed with well-dressed people, each reading manga on their phone.

After the show an older Irish-American man in the audience came up to me and said, “The murder rate is low in Tokyo, but you are killing.” Was flattered but also couldn’t help thinking it was a line he’d thought up before the show and had been dying to use. Would not blame him, it’s a good line.

The other comics were very welcoming. They told me “Otsukare” is essentially the Tokyo equivalent to “Good set.”

We had ramen and walked the famous Shibuya crossing, the neon lights blazing futuristically bright as huge swaths of people filtered between one another. It felt like I was part of a dance, or would have if I didn’t keep accidentally bumping into people with my big green backpack.

I was on the toilet back in the hotel when the room started to wobble. The shower curtain swayed, and for about five seconds it felt like the building was on top of a jello cake. It turned out there was an earthquake in Fukushima at 12:14 a.m. that could be felt in Tokyo. It was a 5.8 on the Richter scale. Naturally my only thought as it happened was, “Oh, yes, of course — I will die on the toilet.” At least the seat was heated. There would have been some consultation in that.

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r.j. kushner

Dubbed by the New York Times as “all out of free articles this month.”