9.3.15

Japan: Day 12 - Himeji + Kurashiki ... Castles + Canals!

Today ended on a dry high ... and probably with a few of my favourite pictures I've ever taken, but that's definitely not how it started!


 I had a feeling that today was going to be one of the more hectic days of this trip. My final destination was Kurashiki, but first off I would be hitting Himeji to go and check out the Himeji Castle. I couldn't be long though because I would be leaving Kurashiki in the morning so only had the afternoon to explore (I guess that's what you get for trying to fit so much into a 26-day trip to Japan!)


Himeji is a city located in Hyōgo Prefecture in the Kansai region of Japan.  During World War II, Himeji was selected as a target by the United States because it served as an important rail terminal and contained two large military zones.

So I left the hotel in Osaka at 7.30am and made my way to Shin-Osaka, which was a 15 minute walk in the pouring rain. From there I caught the Shinkansen Sakura 547 to Himeji. This was only a 35-minute journey so I got into Himeji just after 8.30am. The early start was great as I was told that the castle was within walking distance of the station meaning I shouldn't be long. But before I could head to the castle I wanted to store my luggage in one of the coin lockers at the station as I didn't want to be lugging a rucksack weighing 23kg around a castle. It'd also slow me down and time was of the essence today.

Now I had been told there was quite a few coin lockers in and around the station, but was also informed that even the extra larger lockers were rather tall and narrow, making it hard to store any large suitcases. My rucksack is unfortunately as deep as it is wide so I knew this wasn't going to be as straight forward as it should be.

I had this exact problem with the first set of coin lockers I came across ... it just wouldn't fit, even with a bit of elbow grease! So onto the next ...


I had the same issue with the next two lots of lockers and was starting to think I was going to have to keep this bag on me ... in the rain ... walking around an ancient castle ... on a hilltop!
I made a trip to the information desk to see if they knew of any lockers, or if I could be cheeky and ask if I could leave it with them for an hour, you never know ... well I actually do know now, and it was a firm no. But they did point me in the direction to a series of lockers outside the station which were slightly larger. Thankfully on the 4th time trying my bag fit, so I chose a locker (0751) and off I went.


They seem to love scattering these miniature versions of their famous buildings around stations in Japan, the one of Himeji Castle by the Shinkansen train exit was actually pretty cool. 


When I was told the castle was within walking distance they weren't lying ... it was a straight shot from the station and could actually be seen in the distance from the stations exit to the bus stop and taxi rank. You can just about see it in the image below, it's in the centre of the image ...


So off I went, but not before buying a new umbrella for 500 yen (£2.75) as my last one broke and it had started to rain even heavier whilst I was trying to shove my rucksack into that bloody coin locker!

Himeji Castle is a hilltop Japanese castle complex located and was built back in 1333. The castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, comprising a network of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems from the feudal period. The castle is frequently known as Shirasagi-jō ("White Heron Castle") because of its brilliant white exterior and they say, is suppose to resemble a bird taking flight.

The castle complex was extensive, and on any other day, in any other weather I would have properly explored the grounds, but today wasn't that day, so I headed straight to the castle. The views of the castle leading up to it were actually better than when standing in front of this huge structure. The closer I got, the bigger I realised it was. The grounds were surrounded by a moat which had one bridge giving you entrance.

 

There wasn't anything else I wanted to see in Himeji other than the castle, so I headed back to the station to continue my journey onto Kurashiki. I went and grabbed my bag and jumped on the 11.46am Kikari train to Okayama. From there I had to catch the JR sanyo line for 20 minutes to get to Kurashiki.


The hotel was only a 5-minute walk from the station, and although I arrived 2 hours earlier than my check in time, my room was ready so they kindly gave me the room. By now the weather was really hammering down, which was a massive shame because I was hoping to get some picturesque shots from this location. Kurashiki is a historic city located in the western Okayama Prefecture of Japan, sitting on the Takahashi River on the coast of the Inland Sea.

There was only one area I wanted to check out in Kurashiki, and that was the old merchant quarter, which is called the Bikan historical area. It contains many fine examples of 17th century wooden warehouses (kura) painted white with traditional black tiles, along a canal framed with weeping willows and filled with koi. The area has no electric poles in order to make it more closely resemble the look of the Meiji period. I'd seen pictures of it over the years with the river boats drifting up and down the canal and wanted to see it for myself, but this weather put a dampner (excuse the pun) on the whole day. 

Thanks to InsideJapan the hotel I was staying at for the night was only a stone's throw from the canal so I could pop over at any time.

After dropping off my stuff I headed straight out because I wanted to explore the area and both time and daylight was short; I headed straight to the canal. As I suspected, in this weather most shops along the main street were closed, the river boats weren't in action and in all honesty the whole place looked a little dull due to the awful weather, but it was still impressive so I took a look around. At least I managed to come across a group which added a bit of colour to the afternoon ...

 

I checked the weather forecast in hope that the evening would bring better conditions so that I could get a few night shots, but it wasn't looking good. So with that I went for a walk up the hill away from the canal.

At the top of the hill is Achi Shrine, which dates back to the time of the Emperor Ojin way back in 720.  In 1990 the shrine celebrated its 1700th anniversary ... in other words, it’s ancient!! (No wonder the sign had seen better days!) The shrine’s origins lay with the Achi clan who settled in the area.


From here I headed back down the hill to have a look around the Ivy Square, which is a complex of buildings covered in ivy that includes a museum, a few restaurants and a hotel. The area was the site of the first modern cotton mill in Japan and the brick buildings were originally built as part of the mill in 1889.


At the end of the square was a cemetery on the side of a hill - I went and had a look around. In this weather with nobody around it felt rather eerie ... especially with the bloody crows that kept on flying out of between the gravestones / columns. 



As I was crossing the road I saw out of the corner of my eye a store with shed loads of the 'His Masters Voice' dogs on the roof - this was something I had to check out.
It was an antiques store selling allsorts; from china sets to oldschool toys. I love these sorts of places and enjoyed a good 30-minutes inside. The walkways between aisles were so narrow that I left my bag at the front in fear of knocking something and EVERYTHING coming toppling over!


The owner then told me of the piggy bank museum upstairs which wasn't open because the lady who runs it wasn't in ... but she let me have a look anyway, and didn't charge me the 200 yen admission fee (a bit of extra change for my piggy bank huh!) ;) 


By now I was soaked through and had been walking around outside in the cold for 4 1/2 hours, so I headed back to the hotel, but not before picking up some takeaway sushi from a local store.

 

I was ready to call it a night and maybe get an early nights sleep when I thought I'd check the weather, just one last time ... and to my surprise within an hour the clouds and rain had disappeared and been replaced by a clear nights sky. I grabbed my camera and rushed out to the canal, and am SO glad that I did. Over the course of the next couple of hours I took a few of my favourtie photograhs so far! I had to get into some pretty awkward positions to get a few of these shots and ended up with wet feet and freezing hands, but it was definitely worth it. It didn't actually feel real ... it felt like some sort of film set with fake lighting and grand props ... but it was all just the beauty of the scenery. Here are a few of the best shots ... I hope you like them! 


I could now go to bed with a smile on my face knowing that the day wasn't a total wash out!

When I woke up in the early morning the sun was out and there wasn't a cloud in the sky, so I popped down one last time to take a few more shots before having to pack up and leave for the next city. Compare these images with the first lot I shot in the rain … it’s crazy how different a place can look depending on the weather.


Now it's time to head to the next stop ... Hiroshima!

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2 comments

  1. Your photos are so wonderful. I visited Japan in July 2015 and can't wait to go back. Thanks for sharing your travels--you are helping me plan my next trip!

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  2. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience. I spent 2 weeks in Japan last November and your blog is a great help in planning my next trip to this amazing country!

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