Monday the 16th dawned nice and sunny in Osaka, but I knew already that my near future held rain and a lot of it. So I got up very early and headed to the train station to grab a shinkanesen to my first destination, world-famous castle, Himeji-jo.
Unlike my typical trip planning, I had no train tickets in hand, deciding instead to take the next available train to each destination, with an eye to price and schedules. So I bought a Kobe beef bento box for breakfast, then bought a ticket to Himeji and jumped on the next train.
Himeji-jo is just one prefecture over from Osaka (Hyogo), so I really had just enough time to eat and finish waking up and I was there. Stuffed my bags into a locker at the station and then looked around for the castle. Discovered pretty quickly I was on the wrong side of the station for as soon as I turned around and looked out the other side: CASTLE.
Having been born in Germany, and grown up on European castles, my brain still has a little trouble thinking of Japanese castles as … well, castles. But they are impressive and lovely in their own inimitable way. Less imposing and more … delicate seeming, despite their defensive nature. I’ve only been to a few in Japan — Osaka, Hikone, Kumamoto, Okayama and now Himeji and Matsue. Fukuoka’s castle is scant ruins now, unfortunately, just a few outer walls left.My favorite is definitely Kumamoto, and I am heartbroken at the damage it took in the recent quakes.
But, back to Himeji-jo. It just recently underwent years of reconstruction work (there’s still some work going on around the lower walls), which is a big reason why I hadn’t made it there before now. It reopened spring of 2015, and I was hoping the crowds would’ve died down a bit. I took me about half an hour to walk to the castle from the station (slowed down by picture taking), and I was able to walk right in a few minutes after it opened.
I wound my way up to the castle, and ended up heading straight into the main keep, which I should know better than to do. The stairs in Japanese castles are … almost straight up, which makes climbing up and down six stories a bit of a chore. I did manage some nice shots of the town and the roof adornments at least. Unfortunately by the time I made it out, the wind had really picked up and rain was imminent. This and the need to get to Matsue, a few hours away, meant I didn’t explore the rest of the grounds. Another time, perhaps.
On my way out, I chatted briefly with a couple of older Japanese ladies, who were curious where I was from, and we commiserated about the climb making us tired. I also grabbed a plush version of the castle mascot, because it was just too adorable.
Back at the station, rescued my bags and bought a shinkansen ticket to Okayama, where I picked up snacks and a ticket on the Limited Express Yakumo, which would take me from Okayama to Tottori and finally to Matsue in Shimane. I settled in for what would be almost three hours, glad to be in a train and not out sight-seeing, as the rain had arrived, and was pouring.
I’d thought I’d read or doze on the train, but I actually spent most of the time enjoying the scenery. Okayama is lovely: steep, tree-covered hills, winding rivers, picturesque towns. The clouds were low, clinging to the hilltops, making everything seem magical. Saw a cormorant on a rock in one river as we crossed over. All too soon we zipped through Tottori (must come back to actually visit at some point) and reached Matsue. Where the rain was torrential.
My hotel was just a few minutes from the station, and since I’m a member of Toyoko Inn, I can check in at 3 PM. So I did, and napped, in hopes of the rain easing up. Which it finally did, so I was at least able to pop out to hunt for food in the evening.
There were far more bars (like Sexy Night Club Rodeo there on the left) than restaurants around the hotel, but I managed to find a chicken restaurant that was open and had take out, and came back with some amazing fried chicken.
Since the rain had disrupted my plans to see Matsue Castle in the afternoon, I decided to get up early and walk there before hopping on a train to my final destination, Izumo.
Next: Izumo Taisha