17 January 2023
Today, we travel 130 miles west to Okayama. Technically, this can be done on the bullet train in under an hour. However, along the route lies one of Japan’s top tourist attractions; Himeji Castle. So, we will be taking two trains and stopping at Himeji.
Train to Himeji
We get up, get dressed and packed, which is harder than it sounds in such a small space, constantly having to perform a weird kind of dance to manoeuvre around round things and each other. Then it’s time to head to the station for our first bullet train of the day to Himeji. Half an hour early due the old man needing to factor in contingency (we only had to walk across the street).
Bullet train toilet report; a braille map to help blind men perfect their aim.
Himeji Station is about a mile from the castle, which is a straightforward walk, or one stop on Shinki Bus No 6. First, we must find a locker to leave our luggage for a few hours. It’s a tight fit, but we manage to squeeze everything and set off sightseeing unencumbered.
According to my guide book, free bicycles are available outside the station so you can cycle to the castle. The old man is having none of this deviation from our normal routine so we must walk the mile to the castle.
To be honest, it’s quite a pleasant walk along a wide boulevard lined with statues and floral displays (mainly cabbages). Even the drain covers are pretty.
Himeji Castle is Japan’s biggest and best preserved castle. Unlike many of the buildings we have visited, which claim to be historic, but were actually reconstructed fairly recently, Himeji is original. Having said that, it did undergo an extensive renovation which involved totally dismantling it and rebuilding it from scratch like an enormous 3D jigsaw puzzle.
The castle is nicknamed White Heron Castle as it is said to resemble a white bird in flight. As much as a castle can resemble a bird. Maybe after a couple of sakes? It consists of a six storey main keep plus several smaller keeps, surrounded by a maze of moats and walls deliberately contrived to confuse would-be attackers.
Entry costs Y1000 (or you can pay Y1050 for a combo ticket to visit Koko-En as well). There is a prescribed route to take around the castle and its grounds. This takes you up to the top of the castle, back down (obviously) then in a loop round the castle grounds.
Upon entering the castle you must remove your shoes and place them in a plastic bag. Inside it’s very dark. In the semi darkness you must climb 5 flights of extremely steep, slippery wooden stairs in your socks whilst carrying your shoes and wearing a mask. Quite a feat.
On each floor of the castle they are informative boards telling the castle’s history, displays of samurai armour, weapons etc. For example, the loopholes in the castle walls are square, round, triangular and rectangular to accommodate a range of weapons from arrows to stones to guns to oil.
From the top there are great views across the castle grounds and the city.
Then we must descend the slippery wooden stairs. At one point I get stuck as my shoe bag lodges in the bannister, causing a log jam on the stairs. The old man has the added complication of trying not to knock himself out on the low ceilings.
Castle toilet report; basic (lol).
After a wander round the castle grounds, we continue to Koko-En; a reconstruction of a samurai home, surrounded by 9 themed gardens;
- The garden of the Lord’s Residence
- The garden of seedlings
- Tea ceremony garden
- Flatly landscaped garden
- The garden summer trees
- The garden of pine trees
- The garden of flowers
- The garden with a hill and pond
- The garden of bamboo
As the entrance fee was only Y50 (£0.32) , I shouldn’t complain, but it’s not that exciting in winter. Apart from the obvious lack of foliage, some of the gardens are closed, while in others, trees are covered in bright blue sheets.
We start in the Garden the Lord’s Residence, the focal point of which is a pond containing hundreds of carp, which an elderly Japanese woman is trying to attack with her walking stick.
We follow the prescribed route round the remaining gardens. From Koko-En we walk back towards the station to catch the bullet train to Okayama.
Lunch at Darbar
As we are walking , we smell curry and decide to stop in a Nepalese restaurant (Darbar) for lunch. They serve a daily set lunch (today it’s chicken and mushroom curry, rice, salad and a naan) which cost Y850 (around £5.42).
It is very tasty and the naan is absolutely massive. It comes served on a tray, hanging over both sides.
Train to Okayama
Then we waddle the rest of the way to the station for our train to Okayama.
Station toilet report; no heated toilet seat, which really took me by surprise. I haven’t sat on a cold toilet seat in weeks! Also, a baby bidet in the nappy change area.
We are spending the night in Okayama primarily because we have to change trains here and it seemed like the obvious place to break the journey. However, it does have a couple of interesting sites; Korakuen Garden and Okayama Castle.
Hotel Granvia Okayama
We check into our hotel the Granvia Okayama, which describes itself as conveniently connected to the station. Albeit a Japanese station, so its still a 15 minute walk.
At check in we are given an upgrade from the 17 m2 room we paid for to a 32 m2 room. It’s such a relief to have some space and not be constantly tripping over stuff/each other. At check we are also given some sachets. I’m not sure what it is? Sweets? Bath salts? Crack cocaine? I decide to throw it in the bath and take a soak (white peach and cypress bath salts) while the old man goes for a wander.
Then, after a brief foray for supplies, it’s an early night before tomorrow’s park/castle combo times two on two different islands.
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