When planning was underway for this trip, Himeji was one of the anticipated highlights. Technically the visit wasn’t scheduled for another few days but the blossoms are starting to fall now and we didn’t want to risk missing this iconic location so plans were shuffled and ideas shelved so that we could take the long trip out past Kobe and along the shores of the inland sea to Himeji and it’s iconic castle.
Before getting started on the days activities I should probably explain something about me and my relationship with Himeji!
Japan has a fast food / cafe chain which is similar to the Greggs chain back in the UK. Last year I inadvertantly discovered a pastry which was so good, I ended up searching out branches back in Osaka just to see if they sold the pastry!
The item looks for all the world like a good old fashioned sausage roll, but with a Japanese twist… the sausage tastes like it has been marinated in teriyaki sauce and before baking, is coated in a spicy bbq type sauce then lightly coated in a fine flaky pastry and baked… the result is amazing!
On most days, my itinery for Japan pretty much starts with times for trains, sunrise and sunset, ideas for photographs, notes from last visit, etc.
My plans for today simply starts with… “Himeji. Visit Mr Donuts”
After a tea and a pastry (I’ve no idea what they are called) we boarded the bus for the trip to the Mount Shosha ropeway and the Buddist temples high up on the hillside beyond.
While on the way, we passed Himeji castle and it looked amazing in the early morning light rising from what looked like a sea of white and pink.
We continued on to the ropeway and quickly found ourselves high above the city with miles of quiet wooded paths, temples and Buddist statues and shrines between us and the main temple complex.
We wandered for an hour or so until we reached the main temples, made famous in the film “last samurai”, where we visited the museum, took way too many photos and then headed out to a viewpoint overlooking the city for a light snack and some drinks.
After a short break we returned to the ropeway, stopping for chat with a fellow traveller who was on a solo four week tour of Japan from Portland, Oregon, before decending back down the ropeway, boarding the bus and setting off once more on route to the much anticipated Himeji Castle.
We arrived at the castle in the early afternoon and it had clearly been much busier earlier in the day from the neatly packed piles of waste in the designated waste zones. As always, the park itself was spotless and litter free.
We first visited a garden on the outskirts of the castle walls, which was lovely, before heading around to the main entrance, but not before we were stopped by a lovely old man who wanted to know where we were from and if we were enjoying his home town of Himeji. Just another example of how friendly and welcoming Japan is.
After a chat, he shook our hands and went off on his way and we wandered around to the castle entrance.
The park in front of the castle was still very busy as people enjoyed what is beginning to feel like the end of Hanami. The blossoms have darkened in colour, there are green shoots showing where only a few days ago all was white or pink and every light breeze is accompanied by a blizzard of petals which seem to fall in slow motion or hang in the air before settling silently onto the heads of those sitting in the shade or into the upturned hands of children who eagerly run around trying to capture the pristine petals before they touch the ground.
We found a few vantage points to shoot the castle from (didn’t want to go into the castle again on this trip) then made our way back out towards the main street for some lunch.
As we were leaving another man stopped us and explained that he was learning English and wanted to know if we’d talk to him for a bit to help him improve. He asked where we were from, Hayley answered Manchester to which he replied “ah Manchester United!” My reply of Scotland was greeted with “Sean Connery” and “do you drink Scotch?”
It’s funny how people from other countries see us all eh?
After we said goodbye to the man (who’s English was perfect and needed very little practice!) It was time for some food.
We found a small cafe specialising in Okonomiyaki, which is more associated with Osaka than Himeji so we decided to give that a go to compare and contrast…
Himeji okonomiyaki is much lighter, the vegetables much more finely chopped and the sauce a lot less over powering. I liked it, although I think the Osaka version is still my favourite.
We returned to the train station, narrowly avoiding a second visit to Mr Donuts before setting off on the 2hr trip back to Osaka.
Tomorrow is a free day. We may return to Kobe, or visit Koyasan… the decision will depend on the weather tomorrow!