Japan | Himeji, Kyoto, and a Few Really Long Days

Given the prices of rail passes in Japan (seriously, I’m still on about the $80 cantaloupes), we decided to make a really long day of it and work our way to Himeji, return to Osaka for our things, then leave for Kyoto. Happily, the train systems in Japan are superb, and the whole experience was pleasant. Even wandering Himeji blindly was uneventful, by and large. The Himeji Castle, as the oldest and most famous in Japan, was much smaller than I had envisioned, though still charming and elegant. Unfortunately, we discovered that they had just closed the inside for a year but two weeks prior to our visit. Such is luck, I’m afraid. This made for a pretty rapid outing, as you can only do a sort of crescent-moon around the building. Still, seeing the white beauty atop the hillside was worth the ride.

After our visit, it was fantastic luck that landed us in a Hibachi-style restaurant where we sat eye-to-eye with the chef, belly-up to the stove. The udon and omelets were superb and came served with numerous sauces, a spatula of sorts, and some chop sticks. We lingered and watched locals interact and converse intensely. It was fun, but expensive, and we were still hungry! This seems to be an endless cycle in Japan. Blessedly, we found an amazing fresh-foods market thing at our train stop (as these are often in malls), where we bought random fried items on sticks. After picking up our luggage, we were off for Kyoto, where we arrived late but managed to organize ourselves. We bought bus passes for the next day and even found our hotel, which is impressive given its obscure location off a bus stop without a sign, down an alley without a sign, and in a regular house with without a sign. We love the gal who runs the place, Jun, as she is kind and helpful. Our room is a traditional tatami mat room, but the lack of windows reminds me of a psych home, though Josh seems to dig it.

Though we are still partial to Osaka, exploring Kyoto has been admittedly fun in general, as it offers a quaint atmosphere and numerous charms. For one, there is a temple on practically every corner, offering picture-perfect scenes complete with rich colors. Knowing full-well that staring at every temple was a fast way to burn out, we dedicated only a day to view the sights, beginning with the north side of town and working our way to the Rokuon-ji Temple (or Golden Pavilion), which certainly lived up to its name, having been entirely plated in gold like an ornament. We were ushered in right before close as dusk was settling, but the temple was still glimmering in the remaining sunlight, sitting secluded in a small lake. We meandered through well-manicured (understatement) gardens and lake-side pathways, starting at birds so interesting that even I was enthralled. What’s more, we watched someone clipping a tree with a pair of scissors the size of a thimble – this is Japan, don’t forget. Also managed to visit the Toji Temple before dark, which is supposedly the tallest wooden tower in all of Japan. After this particular viewing, I am now more certain than ever that nothing in Japan is really all that tall. Go figure.

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