Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Himeji & Kobe

Another day...another castle. Himeji Castle!

As we were using the Kansai Thru Pass for journey to Himeji, we were not able to take the JR trains. This unfortunately added an extra 40 minutes to our journey but that was ok. We learnt from our lesson yesterday and adjusted our departure accordingly by half an hour to avoid the commuter crush. We reached Himeji in about 2 hours. Himeji Castle stands about 1km down the broad Otemae-dori Street from Himeji Station.

Vending machine surprise. The children were delighted to find the can of drink...warm!

Catching the regional train to Himeji

The city of Himeji is famous for its UNESCO World Heritage Castle. Unlike many Japanese castles which are reconstructions, Himeji castle was never destroyed by fire, war or earthquake. The imposing white castle and its well preserved complex castle grounds remains as it has been its construction in 1581 by the samurais. If the castle seems somewhat familiar, that may be because the castle appears as the Tiger Tanaka's secret ninja training camp in the James Bond film "You Only Live Twice"!

The children had a ball at the castle. We had initially planned to follow a self guided tour but couldn't keep up with the children! After winding through the Castle grounds, we finally reached the main keep where we had to remove our shoes and wear slippers. The only way up to the top is via the original stairs which were narrow, steep and most had quite low clearances. It wouldn't bode well for those who were large or had mobility challenges. Despite the official prediction of "low crowds", there was a steady stream of visitors. The Castle had just completed a long period of restoration and we could see how in "peak" season, special tickets had to be given out to limit the number of visitors.

The original UNESCO listed Himeji Castle. And yes, we climbed to the very top!

The start of yet another walk

Just keep walking, just keep walking

A pretty low gate!

But wait! It gets smaller!!!

The show taking off, putting on station. Everyone walked around carrying their own shoes in a plastic bag

Everyone had to wear slippers. They even had small ones for Jonah!

Within the keep

We purchased a combined ticket which gave us entry into Kokoen, a series of nine beautifully maintained Japanese gardens right next to the castle. We were initially dubious but we were quickly won over by the pretty surroundings. The children loved exploring the nooks and crannies, as well as going over the various stone steps and bridges over water canals. We decided to stay and have lunch at the tea house within the gardens which turned out to be a great decision. The prices of the food was equivalent to those outside the castle and gardens but we were able to eat in a peaceful setting overlooking the gardens. The food was delicious. I shall let the photos do the talking.

Kokoen Garden

Amazingly vibrant foliage

Pristine gardens

The fattest kois ever. They were about 50cm long!!!

What is with the little gates?!!


Lunch at the restaurant within the gardens

Soba with eel on rice

Somen, a specialty in Himeji

The children super excited to get their own bento

Oma had made us promise to buy her ono, which was white tanned leather, something that Himeji is known for. The leather was surprisingly soft and there were a myriad of different designs. I would take a photo but the shop girl gift wrapped it so beautifully I haven't the heart to dismantle her handiwork!

Our last stop for the day was Kobe. And when in Kobe one must consume the famous Kobe beef. We were warned that the restaurants could get very busy and they were not kidding. We started lining up at 4:10pm and only got a seat at 5pm! By the time we left, the lines were crazy. I must mention the kind Japanese young woman who offered to help us when she saw us looking lost. She proceeded to walk us to the restaurant from the station which saved us a lot of time! A further 10 minutes and we would have waited longer for  a table. We ordered 3 different grades of Kobe beef and even the children could tell the difference between them. Soa, our chef, cooked them to perfection. They literally melted in your mouth. In fact they were so good, the children fought over them! It was definitely well worth paying for the higher grade steak.

And yes we managed to squeeze in some shopping!

Waiting in line at Steakland!

Ready for Kobe beef!

Beef broth on the right, lemon sauce on the top left and garlic sauce on the bottom left

Sao cooking everything fresh in front of us

Our previous steaks

Cooked to absolute perfection. Seared on the outside, red and juicy on the inside

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