I couldn’t help but think that anyone watching would have exactly the wrong impression of us.  Everyone in Excelsior Caffé was seated and enjoying social drinks.  We were standing for lack of chairs and wolfing down the afterthought sandwiches coffee chains serve straight from the microwave.

We were a little behind as usual, heading to Tokyo station to catch our night train.  Our friend Elisia is with us for 10 days, so we were excited to show her the nobi-nobi beds we thought were so cool last year.

Most of the cabins on last night’s Sunset Express are private little space pods with real beds, but one car has carpeted bunks for those unwilling to spring for the Jetson package.  They fill up pretty quickly for good reason.

I woke up to train sounds with plenty of time to take a shower.

If you’re ever on a night train, it’s an absolute must!!  And a great deal – about $3 gets you 6 precious minutes of shower time.  You get to see the shower clean itself when you’ve finished, and if you forget a towel like I did the first time, you get extra points for drying off with the blow-dryer.  Sorry I don’t have video.

The ocean mist was still heavy as the ferry took us past the most famous temple gate in Japan.  Itsukushima Shrine was built on a little mountain island off the mainland where commoners were forbidden.

Most people take photos of the gate from the nearby pier.  Some of the more adventurous go down into the bay when the tide is out and get a bit closer on the sand.  We zipped off our pant legs and waded out in the knee-high water.  It was freezing.

Miyajima gate

The town is adorable, but the coolest part of Miyajima is the mountain trails.  There are a few routes of varying length and difficulty that lead to the temple, observation deck, and monkey sanctuary at the top.  We locked up our packs and Elisia took off for the ropeway (gondola).

The main trail is pretty good for a 2 km climb.  A lot of the stairs are more like box jumps than steps, but it’s a little hard to be proud of something we shared with the elderly and the high-heeled.  Love the Japanese ladies!

At the top we hung out at the temple of the eternal flame, where it’s said the fire’s been going over 1,200 years.  The monsoon that decimated the island about 50 years ago makes me a little skeptical, but I still drank the tea brewing over it.

top of miyajima

Hard to beat relaxing at a temple at the top of our first World Heritage Site.

A little further up at the absolute summit, kids were climbing on the huge rock formations with their parents looking on, but no one could scale the biggest one.  After a couple half attempts, the kids were so interested there was no way I could stop.

Everyone applauded when Ty made it up with a little boost, and after another 30 minutes of trying I took off my shoe to find a toe hold and narrowly avoided failure.  The view was worth it, and one of the mothers told us we were heroes!

ty rock

Over by the top of the ropeway, the monkeys roam freely and the humans are restricted to one area – the ultimate role reversal. We watched them do monkey stuff for a while and got this superexclusive shot of three mid-lesson with their dance instructor.


Kudos for your choice of “Thriller,” guys.

The ultimate fast food was waiting for us at the bottom: corn on the cob basted with soy sauce.  Delicious, satisfying, and healthy.

We made our way back to the ferry and 3 trains later we were back in Tokyo in time to catch last order at our favorite Indian restaurant.  Pretty incredible how much activity and distance you can pack into one day.

Oh, did you know budding antlers feel like jelly-filled leather gearshifts?