Japan 2015 - Himeji

This morning I left a very different homestay in Sakai, just south of Osaka (I chose it because it was the only place available anywhere near Osaka in my price range on the Saturday evening). It as a funny house down a narrow ramshackle street owned by a fairly young couple, who have four rooms dedicated to hosting guests like me. I was sleeping in a traditional Japanese style bedroom, with cushions to sit on and a bed you lay out yourself when you go to sleep then pack away again. The hosting couple had very little English but were really happy to hear my crappy Japanese (everyone has been actually! "Jouzu desu!" - yeah right but thanks for the compliment :P), and they were happy to pick me up from and run me back to the nearby station. I went back to the station with a German guy called Sebastian who is working in Japan for 3 months.
From Sakai I went on quite a long journey north and west through Osaka to Himeji. This town is the location of the highly recommended Himeji Castle, which has only last month been unveiled following a several-year renovation. It was impressive-looking, though nearly identical to Osaka Castle. You could go in, but it was crazy-busy with an hour and a half queue, and I'd gotten into Himeji late in the day and had other plans, so I just walked around it and went on my way. I later found out from another tourist that it's actually the original castle, unlike Osaka Castle, and the inside is very interesting, so I regret that I didn't have the time.
I had to get the bus from the centre of Himeji to reach the second reason I came, so that was another new experience. It's all very organised - you enter through the rear door and leave through the front, paying the fare in a little coin machine next to the driver. There's even a change machine too so you can shove a note in one slot, receive a handful of coins and drop what you need to pay in another slot.
My destination was Mount Shosha - a temple complex of several buildings on a mountainside and the location of several important scenes from the Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe film 'The Last Samurai', which I love and happened to watch a couple of months ago before this holiday was even considered. To reach the temple (Engyoji), like Yoshino which I visited in Nara, you can either take the cable car or walk up. I braved the walk again and regretted it! The scenery was lovely, it was raining on and off all day so there was mist everywhere up the mountain, but it took an hour to climb up and I was well pooped by the time I got to the temple.
I really enjoyed this trip; the temple was really atmospheric in the mist, and remote and historically significant and full of interesting statues and buildings. Once I'd recovered myself a little from the climb I had a really serene time exploring the site.
To enter any of the buildings you had to take off your shoes and leave them outside. Witness, my shoes sans my feet:
By this time it was about 3 or 4 in the afternoon and I'd had only a little rice snack thing from a convenience store and had been eating the last of my haribos to get me through the climb, so I was very happy to discover a cafe in one area! They had pictures of the available food so I picked something called the Himeji Special or something, and was intrigued by what I got. It tasted lovely, and I called the waitress over to ask her what the names of the different things were. I earned another "Jouzu!" when I wrote what she said down in Japanese characters, and apparently it was 'konnyaku' (konjac), 'daikon' (radish), 'tamago' (an egg) and 'chikuwa' and 'gobouten' (weird tube things). It was tasty and a very welcome rest and recovery from all the climbing and walking. You always get free hot green tea with meals and that was greatly appreciated.
After my lunch I continued my exploration, and found the site of the scenes from The Last Samurai. It was super misty, but the pictures below should show how I saw the same location as in the shot of Tom Cruise approaching Ken Watanabe (the samurai leader)'s home.
I made my eventual way back to Himeji, meeting some nice American travellers on the bus back to Himeji. Back in Himeji I had to find my accommodation, and in a sketchy alley a ways away from the town centre I was greeted by the most hippy laid back joint I'd yet to stay in. I'm in one bed in a shared dorm and a few of us (myself the only non-Japanese) went out to a local noodle bar for dinner and sake. That was awesome, because it meant I got to see a different way of life and to have a drink! I've had lots of different sorts of opportunities to practise Japanese which has been excellent, and I'm really glad I came.

Tomorrow it's off to Kyoto early in the morning, since there's lots to do there and I have to get back to Osaka to sleep!


  1. Just caught up on your adventures. It looks and sounds absolutely amazing. I really want to go to Japan now!