Yesterday, Yuko and I took a one day trip to see Himeji castle near Kobe. We chose Silver Week to do so because I don’t have many consecutive days off right now at my new job, so the five day break (four for me…) seemed an obvious time to travel. Also, they’re going to be doing five years’ worth of restoration starting next month, so I figured I should get on it before they put up the scaffolding. Silver Week happens sporadically (once every five to ten years-ish) when national holidays and the stars align (not kidding- one of the holidays is the autumnal equinox). The name comes from the desire of Japanese commercial interests to capitalize on the entertainment money spent during Golden Week every April.

Our trip was originally going to be a two day trip, but as every hotel Yuko called was completely booked (including capsule hotels, though I later discovered she hadn’t tried any love hotels), we shortened it to one day. Almost exactly twenty four hours in fact, as we caught the highway bus at 6:00am on Monday, and returned on the overnight bus at 5:52am this morning.

Anyway, it was pretty sweet. We arrived in Kobe at about 10am, and went straight to Himeji castle. One of the highlights of the trip for me was eating lunch at Subway before going to the castle. Matsuyama doesn’t have any sandwich shops, and I really miss being able to get a sub sometimes.

Never underestimate Japanese people’s ability to spontaneously form a line. I guess the throng that showed up because of the national holiday was a lot more than normal, so they had to control the number of people inside the castle at once. As visitors entered the grounds from the main gate, they sort of spontaneously started congealing and slowing down to form a line. Being American, I insisted on seeing what the front of the line was up to before joining the back end of it, a trip that satisfied my curiosity but cost us about 15 spaces in line.

I don’t know many Japanese ghost stories, but one that I’d heard before coming to Japan was of the servant girl Okiku who was betrayed, murdered, and thrown down a well. I was pleasantly surprised to find Okiku’s well on the grounds of Himeji Castle.

Even once we were inside the castle grounds, the large number of people visiting the castle on the same day created a remarkably long line to actually get inside the castle building. They set it up very much like a Disneyland ride line, where you go through one waiting area thinking that you’re almost to the front, only to turn the corner and find that there’s another area full of people waiting.

The castle itself provided a commanding view of the city surrounding it, of course.

Many of the walls inside had hooks for weapons and gunpowder bags.

I found the architecture really neat. It takes huge wooden beams to support a six story castle, and they were definitely in evidence. I was a little surprised to learn that the current form of Himeji had never been used in a war, so all of the intricate battlements constructed remain essentially untested.

After the castle, we went to Koko-en garden just outside the main gate. They have nine different styles of Japanese gardens on the grounds, which I would have given a pass, but Yuko was interested. The gardens were very serene and beautiful, to be sure, and they had some landscape art installations that were interesting. It was near the end of a very long day though, and I was tired from all the walking we’d done, so it was hard for me to be as appreciative as I might otherwise have been.

No trip to Kobe would be complete without a steak dinner, so we stopped by “ステーキランド”, the very appropriately named “Steak Land” restaurant near Sannomiya station. We both ordered one of the less-expensive dinner sets, but let me tell you, it was easily the best steak I have ever had. They cook on teppan grills in front of the customer (think Benihana) using only the most basic of ingredients: meat, salt, pepper, butter, and oil. The steaks there come with two light dipping sauces, adding a subtle flavor of garlic or soy sauce, but the steak easily stood by itself. My steak was so tender that when I poked it with one of my chopsticks, it cut a little circular hole through the surface of the steak, but the meat still had a very pleasing texture in the mouth. Absolutely exquisite, I tell you. While we were eating, another couple at the same table ordered shrimp, and it was so fresh that it was actually alive as the chef put it on the grill, its little legs moving around, huffing for its last few breaths of suffocating air.

After dinner, we spent our last few hours in Kobe on the boardwalk called Harbor Land (“ハーバーランド”). It was a surprisingly American affair, with an open-air mall atop a parking garage and restaurants, replete with fair-type attractions like a ferris wheel, kiddie rides, crane games, and a playground. One interesting attraction held two “3-D” roller coaster magic motion pods. The experience was 3-D by way of a helmet covering the user’s eyes with two small screens filmed from two video cameras in the front seat of a few famous rides, including the Desperado at Buffalo Bill’s. After riding, I can tell you that it’s fun, but not nearly as exciting as the real thing. It’s kind of like a roller coaster for people afraid of roller coasters, but the experience was worth the $3. We also took our requisite ferris wheel ride and ate dessert at a small cafe with a view of the Kobe tower, overlooking the water. After that, we killed our last half hour or so by leisurely window shopping our way through the closed mall.

Closing out our very long day, we caught the midnight bus back to Matsuyama, arriving just as the city was starting to wake up.

Last up is a picture from my seat in the overnight bus, showing that they only have three seats across, with two aisles (and free coffee and tea). The seats recline pretty steeply, and leg and foot rests extend from the seats as well, so it’s easy to relax. Think about that next time you’re sitting in economy class wondering if there isn’t a more comfortable way to travel.

I leave you with a slideshow of most of my better pictures from the trip. Though if you’re reading my blog on Facebook, you won’t be able to see it. Try this link:
2 Responses to “24 Hours in Himeji”
  1. Looks like you guys had a great time, I think this opportunity you have is great it is such an amazing experience.

  2. Looks like it was fun! Keep posting.

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