Day 1: Kawachi Fuji Garden & Miyajima

Our Plan for the Day

We had planned to visit two destinations today. The first was Kawachi Wisteria Garden and the 2nd was Miyajima. Our target was to be at Miyajima before sunset which I already found out would be at 7.00pm. We had booked a hotel room on Miyajima island as we would be staying overnight on the island.

Driving route from Fukuoka to Miyajima guchi station

Driving route for the day (toll paid ¥6010)

We were on schedule today and met our two targets. During the first part of the day we were full of energy and had a great time at the wisteria garden. The drive to the 2nd destination was a bit taxing as it was a long three hour journey and we were feeling the effect of a “not so good” sleep on the plane the night before. Our remedy was to stop at a safe place and took a 15 minutes nap. After that we were fully awake and were able to last till midnight.

Picking up our rental car at Fukuoka Airport

We touched down at Fukuoka Airport at about 8.30 am and it was drizzling! Oh dear, this was not a good start as the rain would surely spoil our sightseeing.

Tarmac at Fukuoka Airport

Raining at Fukuoka

Picking up our luggage and clearing immigration was pretty smooth and easy. The arrival hall was not very big and we were able to locate the Toyota Car Rental counter quite quickly. Unlike our previous experience at Hokkaido where every tourist seemed to be renting a car, we were the only customers at the counter.

The rental car outlet was not in the airport but somewhere offsite. This is a standard practice for all airports in Japan where rental car outlets are not permitted to be located in the airports. After the staff verified our details, she directed us to a “Toyota” van just outside the exit door of the airport terminal. It took us to a Toyota car outlet just a couple of kilometers away.

Similarly at the outlet we were the only customers and all the necessary paper work were processed without delay. I verified that the ETC card and the “English” GPS were made available to us as I had specifically requested for them during my online reservation.

Unlike Nissan Rent a Car, Toyota Rent a Car did not have a very comprehensive English website. Its online car rental instruction was in Japanese, so I relied on Chrome (browser) translation to understand the Japanese words and carried out a online car reservation. I was not able to find a place to state  my “English GPS” and ETC card requirements and could not find a “Email id” to convey the message, so I ended up calling them over the phone. It was a great relieve that the staff spoke good English. She was very helpful and recorded my GPS & ETC requirements and also transferred my car reservation to the car outlet at the International side of the airport as I had made a mistake and chosen the Domestic outlet.

Since it was still raining when we picked up our car it was difficult to verify the car for scratches, anyway the wet car looked okay.

Our Toyota Rental Car

Our Toyota Rental Car

As usual we got the staff to guide us through using the GPS systems and located our first destination using its mapcode. Unfortunately the “English” GPS still did not have the function to locate destination by co-ordinates.

I whipped out my handphone to take a photo of the car, ensuring that the number plate was clearly seen. With so many Japanese cars looking so alike it was not surprising that I would confuse my car with others if I did not have the car number on hand.

On the way to our first destination

Our journey to Kawachi Wisteria Garden was about 60 km and based on google map it should take us about 1 hr 15 min to reach our destination. But based on our car GPS systems the drive would take about 1 hr 45 min. Which would be more accurate I would know later.

Route to Kawachi Fuji Garden

Route to Kawachi Fuji Garden (toll charges paid: ¥1500)

We  had breakfast on the plane unfortunately I disliked plane food so much that I left most of the food untouched. So for me it was as good as not eaten any breakfast.

I was hungry but instead of looking for food we decided to start our journey immediately. We were sure that along the Kyushu Express way there would be a Service Area (Toll road rest stop) where we could get a nice and affordable meal.

It was about 30 minutes later when we pulled into 古賀SA (Koga SA) for a meal. It was a small shopping area cum food court.

Koga Service Area, Toll Road Rest Stop

Koga Service Area, Toll Road Rest Stop

Food Replicas and Food Ticket Vending Machine

Food Replicas and Ticket Vending Machine

Buying our food was quite easily done by first looking at the food replicas in the display cabinet. Then we used the vending machine to purchase our food tickets and handed them to the cooks. Once the food was prepared the cooks called out to us.

 

Our Udon (¥550) and Ramen (¥780)

Our Udon (¥550) and Ramen (¥780)

Our Udon and Ramen came up to ¥550 and ¥780 which were the usual pricing when eating at a toll road stop.

Water (hot and cold) and green tea were provided free, this was the standard practices throughout Japan which helped us to save money as we needed not pay for beverages.

Free Water and Tea

Free Water and Tea

Kawachi Wisteria Garden

The Japanese word for wisteria is Fuji so this garden is also known Kawachi Fujien (河内藤園). Fuji viewing was the primary reason we were visiting Japan in late spring.

Kawachi Fuji Garden was known for housing the “most beautiful” flower tunnel in the world. I had seen so many breathtaking pictures of this garden and was very excited and afraid upon getting here. Excited because I was finally fulfilling a long time wish and afraid because what if… what if… it was a disappointment. The fear was aggravated because the weather was lousy, it was still drizzling!

We drove all the way to the entrance of the garden and was glad to find a car park just outside the entrance. The garden entrance ticket was a hefty ¥1500 per person for the day, this was a good sign because the the more beautiful the blooms the higher would be the ticket price.

Entrance to Kawachi Fuji Garden

Entrance to Kawachi Fuji Garden (mapcode: 16 275 311, co-ords: 33.831209, 130.792472)

Wow, wow, wow the flower tunnel was absolutely stunning. Though it was still drizzling and our view was frequently blocked by the umbrellas held by the visitors, it was still a wonderful sight. We took our time strolling through the first flower tunnel which was about 100 metre long.

Most beautiful flower tunnel in the world

Most beautiful flower tunnel in the world

The interlacing of the white, pink and purple wisteria flowers over the tunnel roof was absolutely brilliant. Just when I thought that these contrasting color layerings were the best I came to another section of the tunnel that displayed only light pink wisteria flowers and I fell in love with this new display all over again.

Light pink Wisteria

Light pink Wisteria

We seemed to have arrived at the best timing of the bloom. Everywhere we turned it was so beautiful. White, pink, yellow, purple wisterias they were equally beautiful.

Most people would probably spend about two hours strolling the two tunnels, two domes and a huge trellis and be done with this place, we took about four hours. Near to 2 pm, the rain stopped and most of the crowd had left so we were able to enjoy the place even better.

After the first tunnel we walked up slope and visited two flower domes, the domes were beautiful but not as impressive as the tunnel.

Wisteria Dome

Wisteria Dome

After the domes we arrived at gigantic trellis full of dangling pink wisteria flowers. It was amazing that just with a few wisteria trees this gigantic trellis could be completely filled with their blooms.

Trellis of Pink Wisteria Flowers

Trellis of Pink Wisteria Flowers

From the high ground of the garden we could see the top of two flower tunnels, one of which we had already walked through. The second tunnel was sort of beside the first one, which somehow we had missed after we exited the first tunnel. It was lucky that I knew the existence of the 2nd tunnel from my research and was looking out for it or we might have left the garden without exploring the second flower tunnel.

Top view of the two Wisteria flower tunnels

Top view of the two Wisteria flower tunnels

The second flower tunnel though did not have the contrasting colors of the first one was also very beautiful in its own way. The flower colors were lighter and there was plentiful of white wisteria flowers. The white long dangling wisteria flowers caught the rays from the sun and gave out a silvery glow.

Wisteria Tunnel 2

Wisteria Tunnel 2

Kawachi Wisteria Garden was one of the two famous wisteria gardens in Japan. It was the smaller but more beautiful of the two. Unfortunately it did not offer night flower viewing which Ashigaka Flower garden did, and from those photos that I had seen on the internet, the garden looked magical under the night lighting. For a while I could not decide which of the two I should visit. In the end I decided to visit both.  We would be arriving at Ashigaka Flower garden about 11 days later.

After today the Japan Golden week starts, for about 10 days the locals would be out in full force visiting all the beautiful places in Japan and these two wisteria gardens would surely be packed with visitors. I planned my itinerary such that for the next 10 days we would be visiting the more “remote” places of Japan to avoid the crowd.

Miyajima (宮島)

Miyajima was a small island north of Kawachi Fuji Garden. Based on the google map, the driving distance to the jetty, where there was ferry crossing to Miyajima, was 210 km and it would take about 2 hrs 50 minutes. Interesting our car GPS stated  a longer duration of 4 hours to arrive at the same jetty.

Four hours just did not seem correct because three quarters of the journey would be on the expressway where the speed limit was 80 km/hr, but most cars were travelling around 90 to 100 km/hr. It was only on the normal road when the cars adhered to the low speed limit of 50 km/h.

Driving route to Miyajima Jetty

Driving route to Miyajima Jetty

We took about slightly more than 3 hours to reach Miyajimaguchi (宮島口) and we parked our car at a huge carpark beside the jetty. The car park charge was ¥1000 for a day. I told the carpark attendant that we would be spending a night on the island and come back for our car the next day. He kept nodding his head so I presumed he understood. He collected ¥1000 from me so I deduced that one day parking meant 24 hours.

I did consider putting our rental car on the ferry (car ferry) and bringing it onto Miyajima but decided against the idea after reading that parking would be very difficult for non locals. So I picked a hotel on the island that was near the jetty and within walking distance of all the famous sites on Miyajima. In this case we would not need a car on the island.

We bought the ferry ticket at ¥180/person one way and waited for about 30 minutes before boarding.

Ferry trip to Miyajima

Ferry trip to Miyajima

The ferry passenger deck was very comfortable. The ferry journey was only 10 minutes and in no time we reached the island. After disembarking we walked a short distance (300m) to our hotel for the night.

Map of Miyajima

Map of Miyajima

Sakuraya Hotel

Sakuraya was a very simple hotel and it costed ¥12400/night for a double room without a view and no breakfast. At that rate it was still the cheapest hotel I could find that was within walking distance to the famous Itsukushima Shrine. Immediately upon checking in I asked for a package intended for me that was sent to the hotel two days ago. It was my mobile router that I had booked and paid, from Japan Wireless.

In my two previous visits I had also rented mobile routers from Japan Wireless and both times we picked the mobile router at the Airport Post office. This time the mobile router was not available for pick up at Fukuoka Airport so I  requested for the router to be sent to the hotel. It felt great to have 24/7 internet connection.

Room for 2 at Sakuraya Hotel

Room for 2 at Sakuraya Hotel

Sunset at Mikasano Hama beach

From our hotel we walked a short distance (400 m) to Mikasano Hama beach which was considered the best place to see sunset on Miyajima. This beach was just next to the island famous shrine, Ituskushima.

Mikasoano Hama Beach at Miyajima

Mikasoano Hama Beach

The walk down to the beach was very scenic, very peaceful and very romantic. It was a Thursday night and the crowd had yet to descend onto the island. At the beach we could see the vermilion torii gate of Ituskushima Shrine standing proudly on the sand.

Ituskushima Shrine

It was low tide and we saw several people had walked all the way to the foot of the torii gate. Wow the torii gate was gigantic. As the sun set the color of the sky turned from light blue to dark blue to black. It was beautiful to see the color of the backdrop of the torii gate changed as the night progress.

Torii gate of Ituskushima Shrine

Torii gate of Ituskushima Shrine

Further inland from the torii gate was the “floating shrine”, Ituskushima Shrine, unfortunately due to the low tide the shrine did not appear to be floating. Nevertheless it was still very pretty, no wonder this place was considered as one of the top three sights in Japan.

 Ituskushima Shrine, Miyajima

Ituskushima Shrine, Miyajima

We stayed on until about 8.30 pm before we decided that it was time to leave and search for a dinner place. Just as we turned back we caught sight of the 5-storey pagoda of Ituskushima Shrine and stopped to take more photos.

3-storey Pagoda of Itukushima Shrine, Miyajima

5-storey Pagoda of Itukushima Shrine

It was near to 9 pm when we reached Omotesando Shopping street where we hoped to find a restaurant still opened for dinner. Unfortunately most of the shops were closed and the street was deserted. Oh dear… if all the restaurants were closed and there was no 24hr convenience stores like SevenEleven in Miyajima we might end up with no dinner tonight.

Quiet Omotesando Street at night

Quiet Omotesando Street at night

I remembered our hotel receptionist mentioning to us earlier on that there would be a couple of restaurants that stayed opened till 10 pm. So we walked further down the street and found a restaurant still in operation. On the outside it looked deserted but peering into its windows we could see many people inside. We ordered fish and fries for two and the dinner cost came up to ¥2000 which was lesser than my expectation. I had read on the internet that everything on Miyajima were expensive.

We were so hungry and gobbled all our food quickly. We totally forgot to take a photo of the dinner for our blog. After dinner we stay on to surfed the internet (via our mobile router), read our mails, news and connect with our love ones back home before heading back to our hotel which was just on the next lane.

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