Himeji castle

En-route from Osaka to Hiroshima we decided to break the journey and visit Himeji castle, an imposing castle dating back to the late 1500s but renovated in recent times. From the station we walked through the shopping street in the correct direction. Along the way we saw this bridal couple, a bit of a bonus, as they were in traditional dress using traditional transport.

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However on reaching the outer park area of the castle we missed any directional signs and went right when apparently we should have turned left.

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This resulted in us almost doing a complete circuit of the gardens surrounding the castle. It wasn’t all bad as I ended up with a rather nice reflection photo of the castle in the moat’s waters.

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After completing a ten minute walk we finally came to the front of the castle. Along with many others we took out our camera and did our best to take a good photo.

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Just after I snapped away a young guy approached us and asked if we would like him to take a photo with both of us in it. We accepted his kind offer.

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Then he had a request for us. He explained he worked for NHK TV. Would we mind being in a promotional video segment. Out of curiosity we agreed. Over to the cameraman and sound lady we went. It was for a show promoting travel in Kansai region. We had to jump up and shout out, “Kansai up!” After three takes they were happy and thanked us. Any reader with cable TV should look for us on NHK at 19:30 on the 28th of October for an amusing moment at our expense. Here’s the crew in the next photo after finishing with another couple who they had roped in.

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After that I walked around to the left to come closer to the castle. I took one more photo of this impressive castle

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before we headed back to the station for our train Hiroshima. Given that a fair section of the castle was covered in scaffolding we didn’t feel we missed much by not having time to go in and explore further but it was well worth stopping in Himeji.

Nara

The ancient capital of Nara was a short train trip from Osaka. So we decided to head there for a day trip. Nowadays it’s better known for being the home of the largest wooden temple Todai-Ji which houses a massive bronze Buddha known as Daibutsu. The train trip on the Kintetau line took just on forty minutes. From the station we joined the masses of school students and other visitors walking to the huge temple. It didn’t take long for us to spot some of the famous, and far too numerous, deer in an adjoining park.

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As we approached the temple entry we were a bit surprised to see a wooden boat on a lake.

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We paid our entry fee and approached the door to the main temple through a haze of incense. The giant Buddha was certainly huge but due to the darkness and a bit of an incense haze it was hard to make out all the detail.

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This side view shows him in a better light.

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Movement around the temple was in a clockwise direction. Next to the giant Buddha was another gilt bodhisattva, Kokuzo Bosatsu, to whom students pray for wisdom and memory to help with their studies.

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The next statues we saw were fierce looking guardians of wisdom.

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After exiting the temple we walked up towards a complex of sub-temples. Along the way we passed a massive bell with an equally large pole to ring it.

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Here is is the Nigatsu-do building.

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From its’ balcony we had an excellent view of Nara and the surrounding plain.

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We continued our circuit walk and passed this small temple

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and many of these lanterns, which I love photographing, especially when they have moss or small plants growing on them.

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The last part of the walk saw us going through a couple of the parks with the ubiquitous deer just waiting to be fed and/or photographed.

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Nara was a town of contrasts with the tourist flocking to the well known sights but you could also walk peacefully in the gardens and parks away from the crowds if you chose, as we did.

 

Osaka – a castle and octopus balls

After an excellent night’s sleep we indulged in a breakfast of eggs, bread, pastries, juice and black tea. At Ebisucho station we purchased a Sunday day pass for unlimited use of the subway for only 600¥. Our first destination was Osaka castle. It was in the middle of a massive park. We followed the steady flow of pedestrian traffic until we came to the moat and outer walls.

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As we looked at an information board a uniformed man approached us and explained he was a volunteer guide. He showed us some diagrams and told us about how the castle walls had been built.

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This stone was the fourth biggest and was about 80cm thick.

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As we passed through the Sakuramon Gate on one of the inner walls we were again approached by another volunteer guide. He started to show us the biggest stone in the wall and how it had been constructed. We thanked him and told him another guide had already explained the building process to us. From there the castle was clearly visible. Although it is a reconstruction from the 1930s it certainly looked the part.

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The guy in costume was available for ‘free’ photos if you took your own or the photographic company would sell you theirs.

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We decided to keep moving closer to the castle. However another group in armour were encouraging visitors to be photographed with them, no strings attached. So we quickly jumped in for a photo.

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We continued to walk around the castle and then out through one of the inner gates and over a bridge with the moat beneath. Here we noticed you could board a traditional boat for a guided trip along the moat.

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We continued walking along the paths around the castle gardens. Lots of groups of picnickers were enjoying the sunny day.

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From there we took the subway nearer to the city centre. There is an island in the middle of the river with gardens, paths, cafes etc. After walking along for a while we came to the expansive rose garden. Quite beautiful.

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We sat there eating our picnic lunch and looking at the boats travel along the river.

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After lunch we kept walking and happened upon an art exposition by young talented artists.

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Not long after there was a children’s activity area. Osakans certainly like to get out and about and be involved.

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At the end of the island we made our way to the subway again. Our next stop was a 1300 year old temple. Described as hidden in plain sight in the middle of skyscrapers was pretty apt. However after asking for directions we found it.

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Intriguingly it was the site of a Japanese Romeo and Juliet story with a similarly tragic ending. Apparently Ohatsu and her lover Tokubei committed suicide there in 1703.

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From there we took the subway to the Shin-Osaka station just to familiarise ourselves with the layout for when we would be coming back in peak time two days later. Whilst walking through we noticed a girl at a food stand making one of the local delicacies, octopus balls. We stopped to take a closer look and she gave us quite a performance. Clearly she’d made the odd thousand or so in the past!

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I purchased some and we took them back to our apartment for a late afternoon snack. Really yummy!

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After resting for a while we made our way on the subway. To the nearby Dotombori area, a great restaurant and nightlife area. It was very busy, lots of lighting and advertising signs. Eventually we left the main streets and found a lovely little restaurant making another local delicacy, Okonomiyaki. It was a very thin restaurant with a bar with seating for about a dozen adjacent to a large grill area where the chef was cooking. We were the only non Japanese there. We ordered from an English menu. Drinks arrived quickly but the cooking of our Okonomiyaki dinner was a sideshow; actually it was the main event. When they arrived they were on a small steel hot plate and we received a cutting tool as well as chopsticks.

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Really delicious is a description which doesn’t really describe our eating experience but it will have to suffice. As we paid we had a brief chat with the chef. From there it was back on the subway to our apartment. It had been a really interesting and varied day.