Bubble Eye. Pom Pom. Telescope. These are just three of the 25 varieties of goldfish, or kingyo [金魚], that are distributed in Japan today. The ornamental fish have been used as a motif in Japanese art and literature since the Edo Period, when they were first introduced to the country by China. First kept as rare pets by aristocrats and the wealthy, they became popular with the lower classes in the Meiji period and, over the years, were carefully bred to feature special characteristics like bulging eyes and puffy cheeks.
Now they are depicted on everything from ceramics to kimono, are first prize in the popular festival game, kingyo sukui (literally, goldfish scooping), and are the dedicatees of books, museums, shrines and festivals. They are also the stars of a unique art exhibition by “aquartist” Hidetomo Kimura that combines prisms, projection and coloured lighting to deliver a spectacle that has people queuing up for hours every year.
If any island served as inspiration for ABC’s LOST (a.k.a the best television series of all time) it was surely Ōkunoshima. Featuring a golf course, pylons, old test laboratories and its very own hatch, it is exactly where every fan wants their plane to crash. You can even enjoy polar bears in miniature – the island is overrun with an abundant population of bunnies.
The latter has earned Ōkunoshima the nickname Usagi Jima (Rabbit Island), with tens of thousands of visitors flocking there each summer to enjoy its beaches, soak in its onsen and feed and pet the adorable, fluffy animals. But the island has a much darker past, and the smoke monster becomes more and move evident as you begin to explore.
On the third day of my trip to Hiroshima, I joined up with Mark, his brother, his brother’s partner, and her daughter to do just that. As it turns out, the bunnies are the least interesting thing about the place…
“…so please do not feed the deer,” the announcement played over a loudspeaker as soon as I walked out of the terminal. Wait – what!? There’s deer here? Thanks to the Interwebs, many of Japan’s “animal islands” have become pretty well known in recent years, but I’d never heard of Miyajima being described as one.
The small island (officially Itsukushima, but popularly known as Miyajima) in the Western part of the Seto Inland Sea is best known for the red, ‘floating’ torii gate that marks the entrance to Itsukushima Shrine. Revered for centuries as a holy place, the shrine is considered one of the most beautiful sights in all of Japan, and, just under an hour away from the city center, a must-see for any visit to Hiroshima.
What I didn’t know was that it is also home to a population of wild-but-tame Sika deer. And that they are slowly starving to death.
I spent most of my visit to Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park sitting on a bench.
This was partly due to the fact that I was supercalifragilisticexpialidociously hungover from the previous night’s festivities; after gatecrashing the Hiroshima JETs’ welcome party to catch up with two old friends, Fiona and Gavin, I ended up at a bar with a lovely Aussie couple on their way to Kyoto, an ESL teacher fresh off the boat from South Korea, and a bartender far too liberal with her vodka. By the time I slumped into bed it was well past 3 a.m.
The City of Water had been on my travel bucket list forever, so when the summer leave form was being passed around at school and I realised I had a bunch of days left over from the last contract year, it took me all of two seconds to find and book a hotel. It seemed a fitting time to visit too: this August marks the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.