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Chasing Sakura in Japan Part 3

Himeji & Kyoto

overcast 55 °F

I was up by 7 am and got some stretching in while everyone else was sleeping. I quietly packed my bags and walked to the bar. I was there at 8 am and had the same BF as yesterday, 300 yen. I took the tram back to the train station and booked a train to Himeji. There are no buses Hiroshima-Himeji so that was not an option. The only train option this early was the 'Shinkansen' or 'bullet train'. It is super fast but also stupid expensive. It only about an hour ride to Himeji but cost $75. I put it on my Visa card tried to forget about. The seats in first class look like seats you would find on a business class airplane. I went in the wrong door and got to see them but was directed to the non-reserved seats. Still comfortable compared to most trains, but nothing like first class. I settled in and the car filled up. We left on time and I was in Himeji well before the noon arrival I had time e-mailed Miho. Once at Himeji, I followed her instructions and got on the local train. Her stop is only 2 from the station, 190 yen. I got off at Gochaku and walked to her place. She had e-mailed detailed directions and I found it easily. The only problem was that nobody was home. I waited for 15 minutes and decided to call her. She was shopping but had left her car. In 10 minutes Miho arrived and gave me a tour of her place. She had a Western bed, small table, heating and a/c. The toilet is separate from the shower, full kitchen. I asked her where the closest grocery store was and she showed me. I could see it from her bedroom window. She is upstairs and the store is an easy walk from her place. I left my main bag and took my day bag with camera, water, etc. Back to Gochaku station, into Himeji. There is a info booth like all large Japanese train stations and I got a map of the city. Himeji Castle is rated as the best preserved castle in Japan. You can see it from the main entrance to the train station. I started walking to the castle and saw hundreds of people just off the main street. Some festival I guess. I took a few photos and moved on. Found a 7-11, had a sand plus chocolate milk and marched on to the castle.
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I paid my 1,100 yen for the castle plus Kokoen Gardens next door. It is Sunday and the castle was just packed with locals and visitors. Hundreds of Japanese were camped under the cherry trees even though they were not blooming yet. It did not matter to them. It was Sunday, nice weather and so what if the trees did not co-operate? I walked most of the castle but decided not to enter. I was not going to make the same mistake I made at Matsumoto Castle. Very steep, narrow stairs and huge lines of people waiting to go up or down. No thanks. The views are not worth the danger and stress of steep , narrow stairs. IMO. There were a few trees that were flowering and I got what I could. After a few hours of walking the castle, I was getting tired. I started to sit very frequently and needed to plan my next move.
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I looked at the map and the only thing I could do with the time & energy I had left was to tour the Kokoen Gardens next door. I walked there and did my best. There were enough people there that you just follow the people in front of you and go around the various gardens. About an hour of that and I was out of leg.
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I started back to the train station stopping for another sand. and to rest. Back on the local train, off at Gochaku and walk past Miho's place. I found the grocery store and bought my eggs, bread, tea, bananas, 600 yen. Back to my room for some toast and tea. A quick shower and into my PJs. Time to rest, read, get on my laptop. I did some stretching, my sit-ups and fixed my dinner at 8 pm. Eggs, toast, tea, clean up the kitchen and get ready for bed. I took my pill and read until I was tired, 10 pm and my day was over.

Up at 6:30 am, I did my stretching, sit-ups and waited until I heard Miho making some noise. I fixed my eggs, toast, tea and asked her what was my best choice on sightseeing today. I had read about the Himeji Cental Zoo & Safari Park, Shoshanzan Engyoji Temple, Taiyo Castle & Stone Park. Miho echoed what TripAdvisor had said about the Safari Park. Expensive and not worth your time/money. I like the idea of the animals running wild and cage up the people. I have had enough of zoos that confine large animals to small spaces. I decided to vote no on the Safari Park and asked about Shoshazan Engyoji Temple. It is the second rated attraction after the Himeji Castle. But, it is basically another temple high on a mountain and entails a lot of walking. I like the peaceful setting away from the crowds plus some scenes of the 'Last Samurai' were filmed there, but voted no because of the all day transport plus extensive walking. So I made plans for the Taiyo Castle. It a replica of the famous Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. Train to Himeji station then asked the info booth for what bus to take to the castle. I found the right bus and about 45 minutes later the driver signaled me that this was my stop. The castle is on the top of a hill so it is easily visible. However, it is a 20 minute hike to the ticket booth, 1,100 yen. I had to sit a few minutes to rest before walking to the funicular railcar that takes you to the top. There is a restaurant, gift shop that also has costumes for the ladies to wear when visiting the castle. Women seem to enjoy this dressing up and playing a role thing. I saw plenty of women trying on costumes, no men. Once at the top I just followed a Japanese family around the various floors. There is not much inside but a few dioramas, mannequins, toys and the 3D photo ops. But, that is why the kids love visiting the castle. It really is for families with younger children, not old men from Vegas! But, I did have fun watching the kids pose and take photos of each other. They did not speak much English, but we worked it out. They even took some photos of me with the 3D paintings. They made it fun for me because I would have been out of the castle much faster w/o seeing them enjoying the 3D paintings.
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After riding the rail car back to the bottom, I walked over to the Stone Park. They have replicas of most of the world's famous stone monuments. First up is the Arc de Triomphe at the entrance. Of course they have The Great Wall of China, Xian terracotta warriors, Buddha, moai statues from Easter Island, etc. I ran out of leg and energy long before I got to the end of Stone Park. I finally just had to pack it in and walk to the entrance area. I basically walked from bench to bench. The lady at the ticket booth looked up the schedule and I had about 45 minutes before the bus would go past the place they let me off. There would not be a bus at the Stone Park entrance for almost 2 hours. I had my apple and carrot while resting and finally just started trudging for the bus stop. I was really out of gas and was happy to just sit and wait for the bus.
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Another 490 yen and 45 minutes later I was back at the train station. Another 190 yen for the train and I walked to Miho's place. I fixed some tea, toast and rested before taking a shower. Into my PJs I got on my laptop and e-mailed Fumi, the lady I would be staying with in Kyoto. Around 7 pm I fixed my eggs, toast, tea, read, e-mail then time for bed. Another day of too much walking and sore legs.

I was up at first light and got my stretching, sit-ups in before having my BF. Pack and walked with Miho to the trains station. She was heading for a yoga class and I was on my way to Kyoto. I just bought a 190 yen ticket and got on the train to Kyoto. I could see that the cherry trees were in full bloom in Osaka as we passed thru. I decided if the cherry trees in Kyoto were not in full bloom, I would day trip Osaka. The train got into Kyoto around 11:30 am and I paid the proper fare at the fare adjustment kiosk. If you buy the wrong ticket, it is no big deal. You put your ticket in the slot and it will tell you how much you owe. The fare was really 1,100 yen so I put the owed amount in the slot. It spits out your corrected ticket and can now exit the platform. Kyoto station was a madhouse but finally found the tourist info center. Long line but wanted a Kyoto map and chat about where the best cherry blossoms were right now. I needed the Kosei line to Fumi's room. Another 410 yen and I was on my way to Katata station. Once there I called Fumi for instructions. She thought she could pick me up but that option was not going to happen. I followed her directions and 10 minutes later I was at her apt. building. The security guard called the apt. and sent me up the elevator. Fumi was waiting when I got off the elevator and lead me to her apt.. She and her BF Tomo have a beautiful, modern apt. Western kitchen, dining room and bedroom. By far the nicest Airbnb room of the trip. We chatted a bit and I wanted to go sightseeing as the weather was nice. Took my day bag and headed off for the train station. Next to the train station is a Family Mart and I bought a sand. there. Back to Kyoto station and got instructions for the subway to the Imperial Palace. The info center said there were some trees in full bloom at the Palace. 450 yen for the subway, out the exit and walked a kilometer to the Palace. It is a huge park and hoards of people were walking around like I was. Several of the trees were blossoming and I took quite a few photos as I walked the park. I came across the entrance to the Imperial Palace and lined up with the others to have our bags checked. I rested awhile in the cafeteria area then walked the Palace. There were few trees in bloom but several of the buildings were worth a photo. I ran out of legs and headed back to the subway.
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Back to Kyoto Station, train to Katata Station, walk to Fumi's apt. I stopped at a grocery store on the way, bought my eggs, bread, soup, bananas. No answer to my ringing the door bell, I let myself in with the key she had provided. I fixed some toast, tea and brought my journal up to date. Showered and got into my jammies. At 7:30 I fixed my eggs, toast, tea and waited for someone to come home. At 9 pm they arrived and we had a chat before I headed for bed. I did my stretching, sit-its, read a bit and it was lights out at 10:30.

I was up at 7 am the next morning and decided to do my stretching, sit-ups while everyone was still sleeping. I fixed my eggs, toast, tea as quietly as I could. I got my day bag ready and walked to the train station. Back into Kyoto Station, I decided to hit the tourist office again. I could not see everything I wanted by taking trains, buses and walking. I just did not have enough energy to do it all like yesterday. There are several options on tours and I picked one that had the 3 most popular temples included. It was 5,700 yen, but just put it on my credit card and forgot about it. The buses leave right outside of the train station. Once everyone is aboard, the tour guide tells us in several languages about our day. The first temple on our list is Kiyomizu-dera Temple. I can see that like everything in Japan, it is going to be crowded. Our bus was one among a sea of tour buses. I wrote down the bus number and noted the color and cartoon character by the front door. I followed our guide up to the a restaurant and then she announced that we meet again here in 30 minutes. Lunch stop I think they have a deal with the restaurant they leave us at. I had my own snacks so I walked off to see what photo ops were close-by. I found some steep stairs that had some nice cherry trees in view. The streets were just packed with people and did what I could before meeting the group. I quickly lost the group as I stayed longer taking photos of some ladies in kimono's. They handed me their cameras and wanted me to take several of them. I saw more ladies in kimonos at this temple than any other place in Japan. I could not find my group but just followed the crowd to the top and then back down to the shops and restaurants that line the street leading to the bus parking area. I was one of the first back on the bus and chatted with the guide until all were aboard. It was like Disneyland it was so crowded. Just hoards of people arriving and departing the temple area.
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Off we go to Kinkaku-ji Temple or 'Golden Pavilion'. It is a Zen Temple and the top 2 floors are covered in gold leaf. Same routine as Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The guide posts what time to be back on the bus and they are not kidding. They will leave w/o you we are told. This temple is not quite as crowded, but still difficult to walk w/o running into people as they stop for photos. Plenty of selfies or group shot selfies. The world seems to be addicted to smartphone selfies and texting constantly. We finish with this temple and on to the last temple, Ginkauku-ji, or 'Silver Pavilion'. More crowds, jostling for position when taking a photo and then meet the bus before departure.
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We pass some Torii Gates that have plenty of cherry blossoms in full bloom. I wish we would have stopped there but it was not on the agenda. I did get the name of the temple and found out it was Hirano Shrine. I found it on my map and decided I would hit it tomorrow. Once back at the station I found the right train and back to Fumi's apt. I had some toast, tea and told Fumi about my day. Another guy arrived at 6 pm. He would be staying in another room they have to rent. Obviously they are using Airbnb money to help pay for their apt. I don't know what the rent is but it must be substantial in this building. I had to wait for fix my eggs as Fumi was using the kitchen for their meal. I brought my journal up to date and chatted while she cooked. Once she was finished, I fixed my eggs, toast, and tea. The new renter was Japanese but living in Thailand. Since I have been to Thailand many times, we had a good conversation. He has a wife and children in Thailand but his parents are in Japan. I retired to my room to e-mail, read and get ready for bed.

I was up by 7 am, stretch, sit-ups, out for BF. I was very quiet as nobody else was up yet. Eggs, toast, tea, clean up and get ready for my day. I walked to the train at 9:30. I did not want to fight the rush hour crowd. Once at Kyoto station, I stood in line to get into the TO. Kyoto is just packed with locals and visitors. Not as bad as Tokyo, but very busy. The lady behind the desk gave me a map and told me what city bus to take to the Hirano Shrine. The bus was standing room only and I rode it until my stop. The impressive Torii Gate lets all know that a Shinto Shrine is inside. There are over 400 Cherry trees at Hirano and most were at full bloom. I got plenty of cherry tree shots and then walked to the shrine. There is a 400 year old Camphor tree here plus an o-mamori booth. Many Japanese are buying the paper or wooden plaques to write their prayers and wishes and then hang them on the racks provided. Some were in English and I got some photos of them as well. I watched the Japanese go through the cleansing ritual at the shrine. Right hand pours water over the left, left over the right, then rinse your mouth with the flowing water at all Shinto Shrines. I was running out of energy and started sitting at some of the benches around the shrine. I saw on my map that Kitano Termansu Shrine was on my way back to the bus stop. Got some photos and then sat while I had some bread and an apple I had in my day bag. Hit the bathroom and was ready to hike to the nearest bus stop. Another 230 yen for the bus, into the train station and another 410 yen back to my room. I stopped at the store for more noodles, bread. I had toast and tea while chatting with Fumi. Brought my journal up to date, shower and then the other guy showed up. We had a nice chat about living in Thailand and his travels. We are both leaving tomorrow. he is going to his parents home up by Matsumoto and I am heading for Nara. Socialize, my dinner, got on the computer, read until sleepy, bed.
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Posted by vegasmike6 22:12 Archived in Japan

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