Day 6: Osaka and Himeji
Today’s plan was to find something to do in the morning in Osaka, then catch an afternoon train to Himeji to look at the castle there, then continue on the train to Okayama for the night.
The Shinkansen trains go to a station named Shin-Osaka outside of the central part of Osaka. My hotel was by Shin-Osaka, so first order of business was to catch a train to Osaka station. From there, the Osaka Loop Line is like the Yamanote in Tokyo: it makes a loop around the city so you can easily get to a variety of stations in different parts of town. Here’s a shot looking down at one of the platforms at Shin-Osaka, then following the signs to the Osaka Loop Line at Osaka Station.
Modern Transportation Museum
I decided that I’d use the morning to go to the Modern Transportation Museum (which is primarily a rail museum). A quick ride on the Osaka Loop Line to Bentencho and I was there.
It’s an interesting museum that covers the long history of rail transport in Japan. It was interesting to see old pictures and drawings of some of the train stations I’ve been at—some dating back to before 1900. All have since been rebuilt (often several times) since then as ridership, rail lines, and technology increased. There were several large groups of kids there (school field trips?).
Among the several train cars they have on display, they have the first Shinkansen, later designated the 0 series. The train they have on display is the actual first one that went into service. Max speed 130 mph (not bad for 1964!)
They also have a really big model railroad.
Back on the Osaka Loop Line to go to Osaka Station, then transfer to the JR Kyoto Line to get back to Shin-Osaka. I found the luggage locker where I deposited my luggage in the morning (no small feat, given how big the station is), then booked a ticket on the Shinkansen Hikari 467 to Himeji.
Before the train left I grabbed a bento box for lunch to eat on the train.
Fourty minutes later I was in Himeji.
The castle is about a 15 minute walk from the station. Like Matsumoto Castle, it is relatively rare that it has not been bombed, burned down, etc. and consists of a significant amount of original construction dating back to the 1600s.
Behold Himeji Castle:
It’s a really interesting story. In 1581 the lord that built the castle was short on cash so he instead built a big square building and painted a picture of a castle keep on it to intimidate enemies into thinking it was defended like a castle and—
Okay, no, I made that up. The castle is undergoing restoration and conservation work at the moment so you can’t actually see it in its full glory. I bought a postcard so I know what it looks like without the scaffolding.
But you can still walk around the grounds.
They did do something neat, though, which ends up providing a unique experience you’ll only be able to get during the restoration work: they built a visitor center into the scaffolding that’s up around the main keep. You go up eight stories and can essentially stand right outside the top of the thing. Probably the only way most people will ever get to see a castle from that perspective. There is information about how the restoration work is being done and the construction methods used back when the castle was built. It also provides some nice views of the surrounding area and the rest of the castle grounds.
Back closer to the ground you can also walk through the West Bailey, where (among others) a princess and her handmaidens lived.
And some pictures of the walk back to the station, for good measure. It was just starting to drizzle when I got back to the station; otherwise it was dry today. It was a bit of a wet walk from Okayama Station to my hotel about 15 minutes away. My trusty umbrella is still with me. A lot of buildings have racks outside to leave your umbrella when you go inside so you don’t drip water on everything. When you go back outside the umbrella is always still there.
Then it was back on the Hikari, 473 this time, to Okayama. After my “highly efficient” hotel rooms for the last couple of nights, this room is practically palatial!
I walked back out to grab dinner and decided to try Vie de France. It appears to be a major chain here: I’ve seen it in pretty much every city I’ve been, both in and away from train stations. The food was fine, but it wasn’t nearly as tasty or interesting as any of the Japanese food I’ve had here. (I just looked online and apparently there are a few of them in the States too. Although looking at the menu there doesn’t really seem to be much overlap.)
Tomorrow…I don’t know what I’m supposed to do in Okayama. Will have to consult my guide book in the morning. All I know is that, as usual, I need to be out of the hotel by 10 and therefore must entertain myself until I can get to the next city and check into another hotel.
Tourism within Japan seems to be popular amongst the old folks. Almost everywhere I go there are tour groups of 20–30 old Japanese people following around a (younger) tour guide who walks around holding up a flag so the group don’t lose their guide in busy places like train stations.
It’s day six…and I’m ready for a weekend! I didn’t really account for that in my planning process…making one of my hotel reservations for two nights instead of one in the middle of my stay would have been a good idea so I could have a bit of a rest day and stay off my feet for part of the day. Oh well, something to remember for next time I plan an international adventure.
Now that I've been here long enough I have seen one instance of graffiti and occasional litter.
Waiting on a train platform and having a train go by at over 100 mph is pretty wild.