Japan 2015 — Day 8: Kyoto; Himeji; Hiroshima


After two nights in Kanazawa, we’re ready to move to our next des­tin­a­tion. With the price of accom­mod­a­tion skyrock­et­ing in Hiroshima over the upcom­ing week­end, we head there mid-week, des­pite its con­sid­er­able dis­tance from Kanazawa. We make stops in between, though, in Kyoto and Himeji, so we don’t waste the day trav­el­ling at all.

Himeji Castle has been under an extens­ive peri­od of renov­a­tion, and only just reopened to the pub­lic in full in May 2015. It’s con­sidered Japan’s most spec­tac­u­lar castle for its impos­ing size and beauty and its well pre­served, com­plex castle grounds. We’ve long wanted to vis­it!



Looking out from our hotel win­dow, the weather’s a bit drier than yes­ter­day.


We’re going to miss the spa­cious­ness of this hotel room!


Outside JR Kanazawa Station is sculp­ture of a giant kettle into a small hill.


Before the two-hour long train ride to Kyoto, we stock up on baked goods to get us through the day at the German Bakery inside the sta­tion. We’re not big fans of ekibens.


And with that, we bid good­bye to Kanazawa after see­ing Hyakuman-san, the loc­al mas­cot for Ishikawa Prefecture that looks like a dar­uma doll.

Kanazawa –> Kyoto


Back on the JR Thunderbird, we’re busy filling out stom­achs with fresh baked goods. On the left is a katsu curry pan — a curry pan with deep fried chick­en inside. On the right is a saus­age pan drizzled with tomato/​bbq sauce. They’re both quite tasty.


Whereas D sticks to safer food options, I’m always keen to try things that look a bit strange. Like the mel­on pan (top) that’s unlike anoth­er I’ve seen — it not only has the pat­tern of a mel­on, it’s col­oured like a mel­on both inside and out, and tastes like mel­on. It is truly amaz­ing. Below, we have an apple pie wrapped in lay­ers of flakey pastry — the apple innards were deli­cious.


After filling our stom­achs, D takes a nap while I watch the coun­tryside whiz past.


…and lots of fields.


Sitting on the oppos­ite side of the train gives us a view of Lake Biwa.



We’re chan­ging trains at Kyoto Station, rather than Osaka Station, for no oth­er reas­on than we’ve been the lat­ter lots of times, but haven’t been to Kyoto Station since 2011. We take a look through the souven­ir shops around the sta­tion before set­tling for some ice cream at Ice Deli.


The shop assist­ant entices us with samples of all the fla­vours, and we end up get­ting a cup of ramune and houjicha. The ramune has bits of fizzy ramune candy with­in, while the houjicha has the pleas­ant roas­ted green tea fla­vour.


We people watch briefly before head­ing back to catch our shinkansen to Himeji.


With our JR passes, we’ve reserved seats in advance, which makes our life so much less stress­ful. There’s no need to worry about arriv­ing early to make sure we can snap up the rare two-seat­er (with Kyoto not being the ori­gin­at­ing sta­tion for the train).


After try­ing out the yakisoba pan from the con­veni­ence store yes­ter­day, we bought a prop­er one from the bakery earli­er in the morn­ing. This one has more fla­vour with bonito fla­vours and aonori. The noodle in bread concept con­tin­ues to impress me by being bet­ter than I expect.



Where to store our lug­gage at Himeji Station while we vis­it Himeji Castle was always a worry for us — there aren’t all that many lock­ers that will fit a large suit­case, and Himeji Station also doesn’t have a counter to hold lug­gage. So, super relieved does not even begin to describe it, when we spot a couple empty­ing their lug­gage just as we arrive!


Himeji Castle is a 10 minute walk north of the sta­tion.


Both sides of the street are lined with ever­green and ginkgo trees.


The main keep of Himeji castle is in full view from out­side the castle grounds.


This is the third bailey of Himeji Castle. It’s rather bar­ren in late autumn, but it’s a pop­u­lar spot for view­ing cherry blos­soms dur­ing spring.


This is the Hishi Gate, which marks the entrance to the paid area of the castle grounds.


Himeji Castle is also known as White Heron Castle (Shirasagi-jo) due to its eleg­ant, white appear­ance.


There are sak­ura blos­soms linger­ing well past spring.


This is what the Himeji castle com­plex looked like in the early Meiji Period.


A recon­struc­tion of the Himeji Castle town is on dis­play in the main keep.


There are some rather low entrances to the castle. I’m rather short, and I just made it through without touch­ing the foam lin­ing the top of the gate.


There are expans­ive views of Himeji from the win­dows as you ascend the main keep.


The impos­ing size of the castle gives you views of adja­cent build­ings from the main keep.


This is the view down the third bailey and the main street towards Himeji Station.


One par­tic­u­lar aspect that dis­ap­poin­ted with oth­er castles vis­ited in Japan, is that the interi­or archi­tec­ture is hid­den by exhib­its show­ing the his­tory of the area and the castle.


Himeji Castle is the excep­tion with the main keep being entirely left empty.


The stairs con­nect­ing each floor of the main keep are ridicu­lously steep with shal­low tread. Yet, we see hoards of gran­nies vis­it­ing the castle!


This is the view of the second bailey from the castle’s main keep. Visiting Himeji Castle is truly unlike any oth­er for its well pre­served, com­plex castle grounds. Unlike many castles in Japan, like Kanazawa Castle, it was nev­er des­troyed by war, earth­quake or fire.


These sculp­tures of fish are said to pro­tect the castle against fire.


Far off in the dis­tance, we spot this town nestled in the val­ley.


The castle has advanced defens­ive sys­tems from the feud­al peri­od.


Soldiers would hide in this hole in the wall in wait of intruders.


The main keep is breath­tak­ing in size and beauty.


We spot this fruit tree on the grounds, think­ing it might be a yuzu tree.


A well on the castle grounds is filled with coins from vis­it­ors wish­ing well.


The stone walls of the castle have a fan curve — when seen from the side, the pitch of the corner of the high stone wall increases towards the top. “The high­er a stone wall is, the great­er the pres­sure on the stones inside, which can lead to the wall col­lapsing. To ensure that a wall can with­stand such pres­sure, the pitch at the foot is com­par­at­ively gentle while the upper part is made with a steep pitch that is almost ver­tic­al, allegedly to pre­vent enemies from scal­ing it.”


Leaving the main keep of the castle on an over­cast day is quite a trippy exper­i­ence. You see none of the city­scape and the col­our of the over­cast sky matches the white of the castle walls. Much like walk­ing into a James Turrell art­work, this elim­in­ates your sense of depth so that the sky appears as anoth­er ceil­ing dir­ectly above you. Yes, I am still an art geek.


From the west bailey (Nishimaru), you can appre­ci­ate the com­plex­ity of the castle grounds.


The west bailey is unfur­nished and shows brief his­tor­ies of its use through­out the years along its long 300m cor­ridor. It once served as the res­id­ence of a prin­cess.


The west bailey provides a closer view of the city­scape around Himeji.


In one of the final rooms in the west bailey, we see man­nequins play­ing the game Hyakunin Isshu karuta, a tra­di­tion­al Japanese card game where play­ers try to find the last two lines of a poem after giv­en the first three lines. D and I recog­nised this card game imme­di­ately, hav­ing seen the anime Chihayafuru. The char­ac­ters play com­pet­it­ive karuta, where they devel­op the abil­ity to identi­fy a poem by its first one or two syl­lables. It’s an addict­ive anime!


If you ever only vis­it one castle in Japan, Himeji Castle should be the one. But per­haps I’ll recon­sider after vis­it­ing Kumamoto and Matsumoto Castles, which are also con­sidered premi­er castles. But even so, neither have Himeji Castle’s bril­liant white exter­i­or.


On the way back to the train sta­tion, we check out the shops on the oppos­ite side of the street as when we came as the rain starts to pick up.


JR Himeji Station is fron­ted by this impress­ive and styl­ish met­al and wooden struc­ture.


The next shinkansen bound for Hiroshima is booked out, so we make reser­va­tions for the next avail­able one (1 hour away) and check out the shops inside Himeji Station.


None of the shops really interest us, so we settle into Oraga Soba for an early din­ner.


We go into the store hav­ing decided what we wanted from the wax mod­els out­side, only to be con­fused when the wait­ress gives us a menu that fea­tures none of that. No wor­ries, though, we go out­side and take pho­to­graphs of the wax mod­els to show her and all is well. (It seems they assumed we were there for din­ner, where­as we wanted their lunch ser­vice which was just about to fin­ish.)


I order cold soba with tem­pura. Cold noodles always have an addict­ive bite to them. The tem­pura veget­ables are crispy and light, although the prawns are little bit soggy. But non­ethe­less, tasty!


D orders the same meal with hot soba, and likes the soup so much he drinks some of it.


Mid-way through the meal, the wait­ress brings me this pot of white liquid that leaves D and I at a loss. What is it? What do we do with it? Do we drink it? We pour some out onto a sau­cer and it tastes like flour and water. And the only explan­a­tion we have for it, is that it’s for me to pour over the cold soba noodles to stop them from stick­ing.


After din­ner, we still have some time to spare before our train, so we head up to the second storey of the entrance to the sta­tion to check out the wooden struc­ture. Isn’t it styl­ish?


You can see down the main street dir­ectly to Himeji Castle, which is lit up at night.


All the tour­ism paraphernalia fea­ture Himeji Castle, which leads D and I to won­der if any­one ever vis­its Himeji for any­thing else.


The man hole cov­ers fea­ture the white her­on — anoth­er ref­er­ence to the castle?


After retriev­ing our lug­gage, we wait in the shinkansen area to avoid the blis­ter­ing cold on the plat­form. There’s a fest­iv­al float on dis­play.


As an after din­ner snack, we enjoy the rest of our pastries from this morn­ing — an apple pie (left) and a lem­on pastry (right). The apple tastes deli­cious like the one from earli­er this morn­ing. The lem­on pastry has both a stripe of lem­on cream and lem­on curd, which are delight­fully tangy.


Shinkansens are beau­ti­fully stream­lined.


The inside of the Sakura trains have wide seats and great pitch. It is noth­ing like trav­el­ling in a CountryLink train in Australia.



Remember what I said about major train sta­tions in Japan look­ing like air­ports?


After reserving tick­ets for our trip to Okayama in two days, we stop by McDonald’s.


One year on and they still sell these chocop­ies. They’re lay­ers of flakey pastry hide a hot fudgy chocol­ate centre. Yum!


We’re used to sub­ways and trains when get­ting around Japan, so catch­ing the tram around town is new to us. They take IC cards but not the Suica (from Tokyo) — an IOCCA or Pasmo (from Osaka) would’ve worked — so we pay using coins.


We’re quite pleased with our accom­mod­a­tion. This room in Hiroshima has a shower cubicle, i.e. not a bathtub with a shower cur­tain. It is quite lib­er­at­ing to shower without hit­ting your elbow on the wall or the shower cur­tain.


We’re still res­ted at 8pm from rests we got dur­ing the shinkansen trips, so we head back out to check out the Christmas illu­min­a­tion down Peace Boulevard.


We walk through the main shop­ping street in down­town Hiroshima, a five minute walk from our hotel, to get to the Peace Boulevard.


A 1 kilo­met­er length of Peace Boulevard is lit up through to the Peace Memorial Museum.


We see some maple trees lit up at night…


…with maple leaf lights!


And some entirely plastic maple trees too.


There’s a pir­ate ship that’s been attached by a whale…


…and some snow flake lights across the street.…


…along with a snow man and lar­ger snow flakes.


There’s a merry-go-round that lets you ride the horses but doesn’t spin.


Giant fruit are made with lights. I’m not sure how this relates to Hiroshima or Christmas?


There’s a phoenix and pegas­us with a horn/​unicorn with wings…


…and a flor­al walk­way across the street.


And a light tun­nel…


…as well as a few hot air bal­loons.


For the love birds, there’s a horse-drawn car­riage.


Or you can catch a train, if you fancy mod­ern tech­no­logy.


There’s a beau­ti­ful Christmas tree with sak­ura blos­soms illu­min­at­ing its base.


The sak­ura blos­soms are pretty lights.


The Christmas tree is made from lights strung on a real tree.


There’s a palace con­struc­ted from light.


And a sec­tion ded­ic­ated to pre­serving peace in Hiroshima.


These candles light up a pyr­am­id.


There’s a rab­bit with a car­rot adm­ist the peace dis­play.


And just before we return to the maple dis­play, there’s a sec­tion for Halloween.


On the walk back to our hotel, we spot this multi-storey car­park with col­oured rooves.20151125-DSC01463

We stick our heads into Okonomimura, a com­plex famed for Hiroshima-style oko­nom­iyaki. It’s late and the atmo­sphere is a bit dodgy, and we’re also not that keen on eat­ing it (too much cab­bage!), so we head back out…


And straight into Don Quixote to check out their snacks. Corn pot­age is the ulti­mate com­fort food. It’s also not quite like corn soup in Australia.


We spot a 250 ml bottle and 500 ml can of Coca Cola.


To fin­ish the night off, I try a roas­ted sweet potato. It’s deli­ciously starchy, although more fibrous than the ones I’m used to in Australia.