Monday, May 19, 2008

Off and running

Said goodbye to Yoshiko and Keita this morning and hopped on a 7AM train out of Imaichi, along with ten thousand high school students, to Utsunomiya. I must say, gotta love the JR PASS! Even if it wasn't such a huge discount (assuming you use it on long haul bullet train runs like I am) it'd be worth it just not to have to buy tickets... it's like VIP treatment... very cool!

From Utsunomiya, I took the Shinkansen to Tokyo station, and transferred for Himeji. Here's where I almost made a fatal (for my lungs, eyes and nose) mistake. After figuring out that trains 1-5 on the Hikari Shinkansen were non-reserved, I walked along the train and settled on car number 3, which had a slightly smaller lineup. As I stood and waited, I looked around and noticed that all the people lined up with me were grey, older men. On a hunch, I went ahead in the line a bit to get a look at the electronic sign for this car's info and didn't see the no smoking sign lit up on it. After confirming with another passenger that this was a smoking car, I quickly trundled off into another lineup... my god, almost 4 hours cooped up in a train car full of smoking people... can you imagine! Disaster averted!

The train ride went well, I got a window seat, which didn't mean much this time around with the cloudy weather... I was hoping for a glance at Mount Fuji but it wasn't meant to be... maybe Saturday on the run back... After arriving at Himeji and dropping off my bags at the Washington Hotel Plaza (hint to anyone travelling in Japan, Washington Hotels are a cheap business hotel, usually located close to the station) I headed off in search of the great little Indian place we ate at when my parents were here. Unfortunately, for the second time on this trip... my culinary dreams were dashed when I found the place was closed on Mondays... d'oh! So I sat down at a lunch place for a so so Japanese lunch set instead and headed to the castle.

Unlike our first trip here in March of last year when we were blessed with a gorgeous blue sky to frame the castle, the skies were overcast today, with a bit of a drizzle. I can thank a second typhoon moving through the area for another spate of shitty weather. Nonetheless, the castle is still breathtaking. I can't imagine being a soldier from a couple of years back tasked with taking Himeji castle... I guess that's why no one ever tried and the original castle is still standing!

With this being my second visit, I opted out of entering the main tower and took a casual stroll around the grounds instead. The park is huge, and there are a number of outer fortifications and buildings which we'd missed the first time around.

I spent a bit of time in the Western Bailey area of the castle, which include this building where one of the princesses of yesteryear took a break from the bleak stone\wooden military styling of the castle in a tower built with her dowry and outfitted with all the modern amenities of the time... as you can see, this pretty much means tatami mats...

With this being a week day and after cherry blossom season, it really wasn't crowded and I ended up alone a lot of the time. Most of the other visitors were on tours (I heard some German and Italian along with the usual Japanese tours) and so were concentrated in little packs working their way through the area.

On the way back out, I grabbed an ice cream cone and sat down to enjoy the view for a bit. This little walk turned out to take a little over two hours... surprising since the castle including climbing to the top of the main tower usually takes about 90 minutes... nice and relaxing stroll this time 'round.

After heading in to the hotel and checking in, I took a bit of a nap before heading out for dinner. I ended up in a little bar-type place which served okonomiyaki, which I am coming to think is probably my favourite Japanese food. It was great, and I washed it down with a couple of beers while planning my time in Kyoto.

With the rain coming down now and for most of the day tomorrow... I think I'll sleep in tomorrow morning before grabbing breakfast and leaving Himeji.

More tomorrow... from Kyoto!


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