We ending up spending the night in Himeji since a British traveler we spoke to in Miyajima had said he was going to stop and see the castle in Himeji on his way to Kyoto. Tara had remembered reading about Himeji castle in a guide book, so after she confirmed that some Shinkansen trains did stop right at Himeji station, we decided to spend the night here instead of in Kyoto. We'd be giving up the hotel bath at the hotel in Kyoto, but that was OK since Tara had experienced many nice baths since coming to Japan.
Getting to Himeji and finding a place to stay proved a bit harder than expected. For the first time, the man selling us Shinkansen tickets didn't know the best route to take. He suggested going in a train without a first class green car or waiting two hours for a first class green car. Seth figured out a better idea, Tara confirmed it on her JR schedule and about an hour after we bought our tickets, we were in HImeji - having traveled in green car luxury the whole way with only a quick change of trains in the middle. We arrived at just before 7pm and tourist information had already closed, so after seeing no alternative, we walked to a hotel that was listed in the "Welcome Inn" brochure. They politely turned us down by saying they only had suites available for a very high price and gave us a list of other hotels and ryokans. Since we prefer Japanese-style ryokans, Tara called them first. She was refused by all five of them since they were "full". OK, let's try the other hotel listed in the "Welcome Inn" brochure. They did have a room avaialbe for 13,000 Yen. Tara got directions (all in Japanese) and we started walking to it. A bit surprisingly, we were able to pick out the landmarks and follow the directions. However, en route to the one hotel, we walked by the "Green Hotel". We'd seen this hotel's sign from the Shinkansen and decided to see how much their rooms were. Seth held all our backbacks while Tara went it to check. They did have a room and for only 11,000 Yen. We took it and Tara called the other hotel back, politely informing them that we wouldn't be coming.
The Green Hotel was much nicer than we expected. We'd developed a pattern in the past week of "good place / bad place / good place / bad place / good place" - so we were prepared for a bad place tonight. We were happily surprised! It was modern, clean and we had our own private bathroom with tub even. Unfortunately, the common bath was used separately by men and women with the women bathing first. We got to the room at 7:47pm and the women's bathing time ended at 8pm. Oh well, we headed out to explore the town instead. We could see the castle if we stuck our head out our window, so we knew where we were heading. But first we went to an restaurant that a women working in the hotel lobby had suggested. It was yummy and Seth pointed out that all the other patrons were women. Maybe that's why the three men at the hotel lobby had to summon a woman when Tara asked where was an Italian restaurant!
We then walked to the castle, but not before popping back to the hotel to empty our digital camera. We'd been taking A LOT of photos in Japan! We got out just at 9pm, so all the shops on the cute, covered-over shopping street were closed. Seeing the castle at night was neat. The garden in front of the castle was still open and there were plenty of people around still enjoying the faded cherry blossums. We wandered part way around the castle, trying to get a photo that wasn't just a tiny white blob. At one point, we found stairs leading up onto a castle moat wall. These stairs had no guard rails and we had to be careful. It was neat to be up on the wall though.
In the morning, we got up early, but hung around the hotel room enjoying ourselves until about 9am. We ended up reaching the castle ticket gate at 9:34am. It wasn't that crowded, so we were glad we'd arrived early. We followed the "usual route" and enjoyed a very, very, very long building along the West edge of the castle. They even had big sized slippers for Seth to put on! As large groups of Japanese women rushed past us, Seth commented about how there was no way they'd be walking so fast if they were shopping! We, by contrast, stopped to inspect the stone-thowing holes, window sill drainage pipes, closets, windows and wood used in the construction of a 400 year old building. The residence of the 2nd Shogunate's daughter just kept going and going and going. It was neat.
We then headed towards the castle and enjoyed sitting in front of it gazing upwards before heading inside. Again, we were moving at a slower pace than the ever-increasing number of Japanese tourists. Climbing the not-quite-deep enough stairs seemed a bit dangerous in our slippers, so we made our way up slowly and carefully. We reached the temple at the top and enjoyed sweeping views over the surrounding areas. It was COLD in the top room since the wind was strongly blowing through the windows. Tara determined the if she were a princess in the 1600's she would have spent all her time in a corner.
Overall, we've glad we came and saw this castle. It was much larger
and more touristy than the ones in Hirosaki, Fukuyama and Hiroshima. It
was also the only one where we had to pay to see the gardens, thus it is
the only one where we actually went inside. On the way out, who do we run
into but the British guy who'd given us the idea to come here the day before.
We thanked him and headed towards the shopping street.
The covered shopping street was very nice. We found a store selling Doraemon songs on casette and a store selling My Neighbor Totoro merchandise. We just love Japanese animated characters - they are so cute! After a not-so-quick breakfast at McDonald's (Seth had to wait for his double cheeseburger). We rushed to the train, picked up our luggage and happily made the 12:56 Shinkansen bound for Tokyo. The 3.5 hour journey was enjoyable and we even had a nice view of a melting snow-topped Fuji mountain on the way home to Tod and Kristen's house.
|Ease of Journey||Very easy from Hiroshima|
|Accommodation||Green Hotel - very tiny room, but much better than we were expecting.|
Leave Hiroshima at 5:25pm arrive Okayama at 6:19pm
Transfer to a waiting Shinkansen that leaves Okayama at 6:23pm and arrives Himeji at 6:48pm.
Green Hotel 11,000 for a double room.
Leave Himeji at 12:56pm and arrive Tokyo at 4:35pm.