June in Japan, day 3

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!

Japan in June, day 2

I woke this morning to clear blue skies and rising temperatures. Not what I was hoping for but still rather pleasant!

The first task for today was to visit the JR ticket office at Umeda to exchange the UK JR rail pass voucher for the actual rail pass.

I’d pencilled in 30-40 minutes for this, partly because I wasnt sure where the relevant ticket office was and partly because I wasnt sure how busy the service would be, if there would be any translation issues or complicated paperwork to deal with. It’s a testament to Japanese efficiency that it took all of 3 minutes to exchange, validate and issue my rail pass… no queue, no fuss, just handed over the voucher and my passport, signed a document and walked out with 7 days of free Shinkansen use!

Suddenly I was ahead of schedule!

My plan for today had been to travel to Kyoto, visit the Kyoto Museum of Photography, then go back to Kawaramachi, take the train to Kiyomizu, visit the temple (I’ve only ever been outside before) then head to Gion to visit the Leica Gallery before having a walk through Pontocho taking photos and eventually stopping for some food.

As I was half an hour early as I stepped from the train at Kawaramachi I decided to take a detour to nearby Maruyama park to see if it looked any different in this new, more flowery, season…

I wandered around for a while mainly snapping other park visitors, many of whom were out in colourful kimono before I headed out on my quest to find the museum of Photography.

I’d traced the route on Google maps street view several times so I felt like I had a rough idea of direction and landmarks to look out for. The planning seemed to pay off, the only surprise being that it was much closer than I expected based on the painfully slow click click progress I’d made on street view!

The museum is a lovely space filled mainly with work by Japanese photographers, but the themes of the work included lots of images from Europe. There are 2 floors, one of which seems to be a permanent exhibition, presumably by local artists while the other floor seems to be more of a curated show for a fixed period of time before it changes around again.

I was surprised to find a photographer I’ve been following for a while online in the permanent space.. I’d no idea he had work on show in the museum!

As you’ve probably guessed, the reason for the trips to gallery spaces and museums is that I’m hoping to pitch some ideas for future exhibitions here in Japan, ideally with some gallery representation and book sales to go with it! I spent some time talking to the staff member on duty, taking some cards and contact details in the process.

Needless to say i would love to exhibit my Japanese images in Japan so I’ll be in touch with all of the places I visit during this trip. Fingers crossed!

After spending some time looking at the exhibited works – then spending a little too much on photography books to support some of the artists – I set off to trace my route back towards Gion for the train ride to Kiyomizu.

On my way back I found a lovely little covered shopping street which I walked along snapping images of dimly lit shops and cafes. It was still rather early so the place was quite quiet but I’m sure it’s a hive of activity when busy.

I retraced my steps towards my original route then wandered back down along Shijo-dori to the station for the brief trip to Kiyomizu-gojo (if you’ve been following my blog for a while – this is the spot where an old man hit me thinking I was trying to steal from Hayleys backpack before realising what was going on, laughing and hitting me again anyway!)

It’s a 20 minute walk to the temple complex of Kiyomizu Dera but in the hot afternoon sun it felt more like 2hrs!

20 minutes and 2 bottles of water later I arrived at the entrance to the temple, paid my entry fee (Y400) and set off to explore what is an extremely busy and popular site.

While at the temple it suddenly became overcast and I hoped for a while that we might be in for another cloud burst like the one I experienced on my first ever trip to Japan (when I took my exhibition image “Cloudburst on Shijo-dori”) but the rain didn’t come although the shade was very welcome for a while!

Kiyomizu means “pure water” and the name comes from this waterfall. Visitors queue to catch and drink the water which is said to have wish granting properties. I was now so hot that just drinking the water would have been my wish fulfilled had I queued!!

After spending some time photographing a few visitors I wandered back down to the temple entrance for the 20 minute walk back to the station.

For a brief moment at the station I toyed with the idea of going onwards to Fushimi Inari but decided against it and returned to Gion with a view to continuing my planned route.

Back in Gion I almost immediately decided to depart from my plan as I was becoming very dehydrated and not a little hungry so I went straight to Pontocho for a walk in the shady alleys, looking for somewhere to stop for a rest and a bite to eat.

After a dish of spicy fried chicken, veg and rice I wandered back towards Kawaramachi where i noticed a “Highball Bar” was open.

I was first introduced to the Highball through reading Murakami – almost all of his characters love the drink – but had never tried one. (I normally prefer my whisky straight and almost never drink fizzy carbonated drinks) but “try a Highball” was one of my stated goals for this trip so in I went to experience my first Japanese whisky Highball.

It was amazing! Soda, whisky with lots of ice and a hint of orange.

As I was congratulating myself on the goal achievement I noticed they also did a Chita Highball. The Chita is my favourite Japanese whisky (I came back with 3 bottles of the stuff on my last trip!) , so in for a penny in for a Yen i thought and ordered one of those too – this time with a draft Suntory beer to “cleanse the pallet” in between drinks… you know? Purely so I could appreciate the subtle differences in the two Highballs… 😉

Again another great drink but if I’m honest the original took the prize due to the subtle flavour the orange added (no orange in the Chita one).

Resisting the temptation to sample the rest of the menu I dragged myself reluctantly back to Gion, primarily with a view to visiting the Leica Gallery but also with one eye on Maiko spotting! I grabbed a few pics of Maiko making their way between tea houses but failed to visit the gallery as it appeared to be closed by the time I got there. One for another trip perhaps…

It was now around sunset so after another wander back along the river side and through the now bustling lanes of Pontocho it was back to Kawaramachi for the train back to Osaka and the underground to my hotel.

Back in my room I quickly took a bath (soaking in a Japanese deep basu after a long walk is amazing!) Before falling into bed to write this blog.

I have a trip to Hiroshima scheduled for tomorrow but this involves an early start. After walking 25km today carrying 10kg of camera gear in burning temperatures I may struggle to get up in time! If I do over sleep, my back up plan is a trip to the much nearer Kobe instead. Find out tomorrow which I do!

June in Japan – day 1

Not much to report for day one other than to say everything went to plan for the journey.

Emirates have been using the Airbus A380 from Glasgow since mid April and so I found myself sitting by the window of one of the largest commercial airliners in the world as it taxied from the Terminal before climbing, effortlessly, into a slightly overcast Scottish sky.

The trip to Dubai was largely uneventful other than I experienced that rare joy of having an empty seat next to me which meant lots of extra leg room! As always though I couldn’t sleep on the flight and arrived in Dubai tired and anxious about the connecting flight.

Flight times have changed in Dubai recently and where I used to have 3 – 3.5hrs to get from my arrival gate to the departure point for Osaka, on this trip my connection was cut to just 1 hr 50 minutes.

The usual delays in trying to disembark a huge airplane ensued and by the time I reached the security check for connecting flights I had just 1hr until the gate closed for Osaka! As we edged slowly forward I couldn’t help frowning at a sign on the far wall which proclaimed that it was 20+ minutes walking time to my next gate!

It took about 15 minutes of stop-start queuing until I emerged on the other side and set off on the quest to find my next gate.

20+ minutes was closer to 35 minutes with the terminal being so busy but thankfully I arrived at an open and already boarding flight with around 10 minutes to spare.

I boarded, this time sat next to two Japanese ladies on their way home from a Mediterranean cruise, tried to settle down to sleep but in the end resigned myself to catching up with some films.

Weather on arrival at Osaka was exactly what I’ve been hoping for on this trip! Grey, cloudy and with the threat of rain!

This is the start of the rainy season in Japan and while it doesn’t usually rain all the time, I’m hoping for at least a few days of rain as this will allow me to shoot some scenes differently and also allow me to get some images which will help with one photo project in particular!

Seas of umbrellas, reflected neon signs, dramatic landscape skies, flooded rice fields and fireflies at night are all on my photo “wish list” for this trip so I was more than happy with the weather when we arrived!

After the usual customs and security checks I stepped out into a very humid Osaka evening and made my way to the Nankai railway for the Express link into Namba.

It was a busy trip and the city was beginning to light up as I stepped off the train for the short walk to my hotel.

I’m staying in the same hotel I used in August as I found it a very handy base for exploring the Shinsekai and Tennoji areas to the south of Namba while it’s only 4 minutes walk to the nearest subway station and 15 minutes to the main railway hub for central Osaka.

The above image is the view from my room.

After check in I headed to the nearest 7 eleven store for essentials… coffee, milk, some asahi beer and a bite to eat.

It began to rain as a I walked back from the store, a sign – i hope – of things to come. It almost tempted me back out with my camera but 30hrs of no sleep won and I resigned myself to an early night…

Tomorrow is a relatively local day. I need to sort my Shinkansen pass and prebook trips to Tokyo, Okayama, Nagoya, Kobe, Hiroshima and a few other locations before heading to Kyoto for the day.

I hope to visit a few old favourites (ideally in the rain!) and a couple of new locations. I have a few galleries to visit too.

Just hope I’ve managed to sleep before then!

Anyone know any Japanese rain dances?!

Spring in Japan – day 10

I wasn’t going to blog about today’s activities but as something eventful happened later in the day I thought I’d record the day after all.

Universal Studios a few years ago was probably my least favourite day in all the times I’ve been to Japan, so i was in no hurry to return, but, with rain and strong winds forecast and little chance of getting any photography done I reluctantly agreed to spend the day surrounded by people in rain soaked costumes queuing for hours for 5 minute rides and maxing out credit cards on wizard cloaks, butterbeer and Spider-Man ponchos.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing experience and I totally get the attraction, especially for kids and the young at heart, but as i dont like rollercoaster rides, hate crowds and despise queuing for hours on end for anything it’s not really a day out designed with me in mind!

I probably had the only permanent frown in the entire park as we weaved and dodged our way through tens of thousands of excited visitors and around the various rides and shows, each one staffed by beaming perma-grinning staff keen to make our visit memorable.

To be fair, the staff are amazing and I definitely couldn’t do what they do. From a constant stream of photo requests to a never ending line of expectant children they must fall into bed each night utterly exhausted and unable to raise another smile until they’re next back on duty!

As we watched one member of staff instructing children on how to use their newly purchased interactive wizard wands on the various floating, spinning and rattling smart items around the park, one smiling assistant siddled up beside us and whispered enigmatically “it’s magic” before wandering off to smile at someone else…

I’d have to agree with him… the park was magically generating money on an industrial scale!

After several hours of narrowly avoiding being struck down by the grumpy old git fairy or whatever the Harry Potter equivalent of that is, we decided to rescue me from my torment and return to the station for the trip back to Namba.

Back in Namba, where the only costumes on display were the manga fans on route to Den Den town we wandered back in the general direction of the appartment, trying to decide on what to do with the remainder of the day.

Almost by chance we came upon the park we visited first thing on day 2 – the park where we first saw the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Almost every single bloom had fallen or been blown from the trees. It really struck me just how lucky we have been on this visit.

We arrived the night before the blossoms fully opened, managed to visit and photograph them in some great locations, in brilliant sunshine, witnessed them wane and fall and now we’re catching their final moments. I couldn’t have asked for better timing and considering the Sakura officially blossomed early this year, and the blooms more transient than normal due to the sudden temperature drop and the change in the weather, the fact we caught them at all is surprising but to have been here for the entire cycle in a brief 12 day window booked 195 days in advance from the other side of the world – THAT is the real “magic” of today’s blog!

I may be a muggle but perhaps i do believe in a little magic now! (Just don’t tell anyone!)

This is the same park just 9 days ago…

Tomorrow we’re off back to Osaka Castle for some more before/after shots then it’s a day of shopping and relaxing before our final day of the trip on day 12.

Spring in Japan- days 8 and 9

Day 8 was spent shopping in and around Osaka. We visited Shinsaibashi and picked up a few presents, had lunch in Dotonburi then continued with the shopping in Namba Parks before finding a lovely little bar near BIC Camera (where I treated myself to a new LED light for portraits back home – watch this space for details of this new service when I get back!)

We spent an hour or so watching the world go by from the bar before heading out on the 15 minute walk back to the appartment.

Day 9 started early as we prepared to set off on the trip out to Wakayama prefecture and the mountain temples and cemeteries of Koyasan.

It’s usually a fairly straight forward trip to Koyasan; train to Hashimoto, change for train to Gokurakubashi then cable car up the last 1500ft to Koyasan.

Recently though a typhoon caused damage to parts of the line and the route was closed for a while – it only reopened 3 days ago – so there are still disruptions to several of the services; it’s a tribute to Japanese efficiency that despite these disruptions, and several more train changes than would normally be required, we still arrived in Koyasan on time and feeling like the trip went hassle free and according to plan.

Koyasan is another of the locations I’ve visited in all four seasons now and yet again it didn’t disappoint.

Okunoin, a cemetery with over 200,000 tombs doesn’t have very many cherry blossom trees, but it didn’t really matter as it was obvious from the train journey that the few blossom trees they did have had almost completely lost their blooms, proof of just how brief the blossom season is and just how lucky we’ve been to catch it at all!

Everytime I visit Koyasan I find areas I’ve never noticed before and today was no different. The forest seemed to be filled with incense smoke today as we wandered aimlessly along the paths which fan out from the main pilgrims path beneath giant Japanese cedar trees, some of which are nearly 200ft tall.

After the walk through Okunoin we went shopping for a while before boarding the bus for the short trip back to the Koyasan cable car and the trip back down off the mountain.

When we arrived at Gokurakubashi we had a choice of routes back to Osaka: local train back to Hashimoto or limited express straight to Osaka Namba. The limited express required an additional upgrade payment and as we were in no great hurry we opted for the local train, but as it pulled into the station at Hashimoto it became clear that, due to the schedule changes, we faced either a 40 minute wait for the connecting train, or just 5 minutes if we upgraded and caught the express. That was an easy choice! Upgraded and reserved seat tickets in hand we travelled in style back to Osaka, pulling into the station not long after we’d have just boarded the regular service at Hashimoto had we waited..

The evening was spent in Namba eating and having a few beers in one of our favourite bars before walking back to the appartment just after midnight through the still busy streets of Namba.

We’re at Universal studios tomorrow so not sure if I’ll blog about that… There’s only so many ways you can describe 2hr queues, over priced plastic toys and hotdogs! (or long meat buns as I saw some described earlier in the week!)

I’ll also try to capture a few images of the fading blossoms before they’re gone completely. They have almost all fallen now and trees which were pink and white just a week ago are bare with only the light green shoots of new growth to show for what was a spectacular few days. There is a strong wind forecast for tomorrow so it’s very possible that this will strip the last of the petals from the trees and we will have experienced the entire blossom cycle by the time we depart again late on day 12.

Spring in Japan- day 7

According to the morning news the cherry blossoms were beginning to fall all around the Kansai region so with one “must see” location still to visit on this trip, today’s itinery kinda picked itself.

“The Philosophers Walk” in Kyoto is a pedestrian path that follows a cherry tree lined route alongside a canal between Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji temples.

I’ve visited the walk in late autumn and winter but spring is the must see time due to the Sakura.

We travelled through to Kyoto, changing to the underground at Karasuma / Shigo before travelling on to Keage.

Our first stop was the Keage incline, a small railway siding dating back to 1891 which was closed in 1977, restored and re-opened as an important national historical site in 1996. Both sides of the incline are lined with cherry blossoms and the site is very popular with locals and visitors at this time of the year.

We watched another few weddings / photoshoots at the incline before heading down towards the Nanzen-ji temple to join the steady stream of walkers following the philosophers walk.

The walk is stunningly beautiful even though we were visiting as the blossom was on the wane.

Every little breeze lifted a new flurry of white and pink petals into the air that slowly settled back down onto visitors, the pathway and the canal. At times even the water seemed to flow white and pink as the gentle current swept the delicate petals along until they reached a barrier then spun in tiny pink whirlpools on the surface.

I was so wrapped up in trying to capture all this on camera that I forgot to take any shots on my mobile for the blog so all images of the philosophers walk are copyright H.Boardman. (Thanks!)

Once again if I’ve managed to capture even a fraction of the beauty of this walk in a single image then the whole trip has been worthwhile.

As you may know, I’m a Buddhist and I carry a small Buddha that I bought years ago in Thailand everywhere I go, so we decided that a photo of the statue in some blossom would make for a nice image so here is a preview of that shot…

After the Philosophers walk we returned to the underground at Keage then back to Kyoto for a light lunch on the banks of the Kamo River.

Initially the plan was to visit and climb Mount Inari again then head to Kiyomizu Dera for sunset but we delayed slightly too long on the river bank watching huge Kites (the birds not the manmade flying type) stealing food from crows and gulls. Back home Kites are quite rare and solitary but we counted six in the skies over the Gojo Dori bridge as they swooped and harassed the other birds into dropping their food before fighting over the scraps between themselves.

If you follow my blog regularly you’ll know I’m no expert on wildlife or wildlife photography but it was great to just watch as these huge birds dominated the sky above Kyoto, sweeping as low as 10-20ft above the crowds on the bridge.

From Gion-shijo station we travelled one stop to Kiyomizu-Gojo where I was brutally assaulted by a local!

I should probably explain the above statement before continuing…

On the way out of the station I noticed that Hayleys backpack was open so as we climbed the stairs out of the station I reached out to close the bag. A local man who was walking in the opposite direction saw what I was doing and with no hesitation alerted Hayley to what was happening then rattled me on the arm to get me to stop! He obviously assumed I was trying to steal from her and took it on himself to stop the crime! I was at least 25 years younger and over a foot taller than him but he didn’t even pause before setting about me. I laughed, then Hayley laughed as we tried to explain what was going on; then he laughed and hit me again anyway before walking off giggling to himself!! What a great guy, and what a great sense of community where someone would intervene so quickly to help a stranger. Even if it meant potentially putting yourself in danger.

Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple and world heritage site in the hills above Kyoto. The name comes from a sacred waterfall deep in the temple (Kiyomizu means pure water)

Probably one of the best locations for watching sunset in Kyoto we watched the sun set over the city last year from this site and vowed to return again as soon as possible.

The sunset wasn’t quite as dramatic as last winter but we had a lot more time to explore the temple and look for new angles so im hopeful that I’ve got some nice images to share when I get back.

As the sky darkened we walked back to the train station for the journey back to Osaka.

There won’t be a blog tomorrow as its a day off. A day filled with shopping, eating and no doubt a beer or two. If anyone would like anything specific from Japan let me know!

Day 9 will involve the long journey out to Wakayama and Mount Koya. Another location ive been lucky to visit in all four seasons.

I hope you’re all enjoying the blog!

Spring in Japan – day 6

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!

photo blog of John McKenna