A lack of sleep last night meant I missed my planned shinkansen to Hiroshima. I still travelled to Shin-Osaka, more in hope than expectation, but the ticket office confirmed that all bookable seats were taken until the 11.08am train which wouldn’t reach Hiroshima until 12.34 meaning I’d only have a few hours in Hiroshima before I’d need to leave to return to Osaka.
This didn’t feel long enough to do the city justice so I decided to switch plans and head somewhere else instead. A quick look at the departure board settled it… Okayama!
I had planned to visit Okayama later in the trip – and later in the day as the gardens and castle I planned to visit are lit up at night – but with this seemingly my only realistic option I boarded the train and found myself a seat with a view by the window.
This was my first trip on the Shinkansen and thanks to my green card upgrade it meant I was travelling in style!
The carriage looked more like an airplane than a train and, as it was relatively late in the morning, it was all but empty.
I hadn’t long sat down when a lady came over and handed me a hand wash towel and a copy of my menu for the trip! Nice touch!
We set off exactly as scheduled and 13 minutes later we were pulling into Shin-Kobe. (Last year using traditional trains it took me around three times as long to get to Kobe!)
Before long we were whizzing past Himeji at twice the speed of seeing anything and I was officially further from my usual base in Osaka than I’d ever been (while still in Japan obviously!) – and it took me less than an hour to get there!
We arrived in Okayama on schedule and I set off to explore the city.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Okayama; other than I should visit the castle and the Korakuen Garden.
My plan had been to wander and explore the city before heading to the castle and gardens shortly before sunset but my lack of sleep was really beginning to take its toll so I opted to visit the castle and gardens first, thinking that if I couldn’t continue later then at least I’d got to see the main locations I’d planned to see.
The castle was a 2.5km walk away, along a fairly direct route so after confirming I was indeed on the correct road, I set off.
Near the castle I went down through an underpass below a busy road junction and stumbled across the above space beneath the city streets! In Europe the only yellow-green water you’re likely to find in a city centre underpass isn’t really photogenic but this spot was lovely!
Emerging from the underpass I was just a short walk away from the castle park and my first location of the day.
The general layout of the city of Okayama reminded me of Himeji but on a smaller scale. The street art and the general feel of the city felt very familiar which was good as I really like Himeji.
Unlike Himeji (thankfully) the castle is much smaller and, today at least, much quieter.
I went inside the castle – which was rare for me as I tend to avoid places with a “no photography” rule – but I’m glad I did. It has some amazing views over the city and the history of the place is interesting.
The original castle was completed in 1597 and was officially recognized as a national treasure in 1931 before someone (I’m looking at you America) completely destroyed it in an air raid at the end of June 1945, just a few short weeks before the end of WWII.
What is now standing on the site is a reconstruction from 1966 and as a wandered around I couldn’t help thinking how needless that destruction was, made all the more tragic by just how close it was to the end of hostilities. Of course I’m sure there will be many much more tragic parallels when I visit Hiroshima later in the trip but in some ways this one came as more of a surprise as I had no idea of the history until today.
After exploring the castle and grounds I crossed the Asahi River over the Tsukimi Bridge – a long and slightly bouncy suspension bridge with alarmingly low rails on either side! Perfect for photography but rather off putting when you can feel yourself bouncing up and down with little between you and the water below.
There was also a rather worrying warning on the other side of the bridge. Presumably as the city is quite close to the coast and therefore prone to the occasional tsunami alert.
Undaunted by the imminent danger I was now in I followed the path to the main gate and entered into what must be one of the most impressive Japanese gardens in the world. Designed in the Kaiyu (“scenic promenade”) style the garden presents the visitor with a new view on every turn of the path.
I even managed to photograph the Seiden (rice fields), another on my “to do” list although I was a little early as they are apparently best seen in late June / early July.
I spent some time photographing a huge black crow as it hopped around the rice fields looking for bugs, only to find later that the castle was originally nicknamed “Ujo” – crow castle – after the black lacquered appearance of the weather boards.
Odd coincidence I thought.
As expected, the walk combined with the heat and lack of sleep meant I was beginning to wane. I walked the 2.5km back to the station and found a place to eat (beef curry with rice and pickled vegetables!)
If anything the meal made me even more sleepy so rather than risk a further walk I decided to head back to Osaka on the next shinkansen.
Within 2 minutes of the train pulling out from the station I was fast asleep, waking only when the train stopped at Shin-Osaka a little under an hour later.
I returned to my hotel, fell into bed and slept for 2hrs, waking at 8.30pm. Determined not to sleep for the rest of the night I left for a brisk walk around nearby Shinsekai.
While in the area I had a light meal of kushikatsu the local street food (I opted for Scallop, green pepper and chicken breast despite the tempting trio of chicken gizzard, beef entrails and mixed giblets being on offer!)
Fed and increasingly tired again I returned to my hotel to write up the blog.
Tomorrow’s plan is Nagoya, a major city between Kyoto and Tokyo. Once again it’s an early start and this time I’ve no idea what to expect as I’ve deliberately left my research on Nagoya blank!
I still feel that I’ve yet to get into my stride with the photography. Most of what I’ve taken so far is more touristy / documentary and not as arty as I’d like. Perhaps Nagoya will be my muse and kick start my creativity? We’ll see tomorrow!