Our goal for the day was to hop onto a train towards Osaka and visit Himeji Castle. We stopped into Sazuya for another round of breakfast breads (1039¥); a pair of US tourists were also breakfasting there. Headed off to the train station via subway (1200¥ round trip) and quickly found the proper ticket queue. Proving the Disney song correct, the same couple from Sazuya were also in line to purchase tickets, albeit to a different destination. The cute ticket seller and I stumbled through a pidgin English and Japanese exchange and figured out what train tickets I needed (8840¥). The hardest bit was determining if the train worked like the shinkansen and had timed tickets. Nope, just an ordinary train you can hop on whenever you get to the station.
We ended up on the wrong track initially; I swear that the lady said track four. Track four was wrong though; after puzzling over the incoming arrival postings and train map, I decided to ask a helpful attendant, maybe a security guard, hard to tell. They all wear official looking uniforms. He pointed and simply said “roku-ban”. Roku-ban? Why wasn’t my brain processing that phrase? He kept gesturing and repeating the phrase. Oh… roku-ban… Track six! I sheepishly thanked the man and mentally kicked my brain for not picking up on a trivial phrase.
The train was almost identical to a normal subway train, but it featured some fold-away seats to make room for… I’m not sure. I never saw any bikes on the trains, and I can’t imagine why someone wouldn’t always be sitting in them. Surprisingly, the train was packed leaving us to stand for most of the hour ride. Once we arrived, Jm wanted to find a post office to buy post card stamps and mail off a few she already filled out. Our Lonely Planet guide had one on a map, and I managed to get us only slightly lost on the way to it. Was interesting to see how a Japanese post office works and more amusing standing in one trying to figure out how it works.
Osaka had plenty of signs pointing the way to Himeji Castle, though you don’t need them unless you make a detour for a post office. You can walk straight up the road from the train station entrance to the castle entrance. Himeji Castle is an immense, sprawling compound; be prepared to do a bit of walking just to get to the entrance and ticket window of the castle proper. We stopped first to snap some photos in the courtyard (more like a park); two guys biked up to us with one gabbering at us in rapid Japanese, pointing at our camera, and reeking of liquor. He seemed to be asking us if we wanted him to take our picture; he was quite insistent and grabby. However, our polite refusals and his friend tugging him away left us to enjoy the scenery and give our tripod a work-out.
Made the long walk up to the ticket window and bought passes (1440¥) that were good for the castle and a garden next door. And then we began to walk… and walk… and walk some more. They have signs and placards leading you through the perimeter of the castle structure. Eventually, you reach a smaller courtyard and begin your climb up the main castle edifice. Can’t remember how many floors the castle had, but I remember walking up a lot of narrow stairs. Many displays and artifacts were laid out on each floor showing the history of the castle and what life was like there. The top floor holds a Shinto shrine and provides some decent views of the city, decent only because the windows were small and didn’t afford much leeway to position a camera.
Back down the stairs then, and time for sit in the small courtyard to rest the weary feet. Was windy and a bit chilly due to the altitude. Rested up a bit and headed down to the gift shop where Jm picked up a bookmark (530¥). We didn’t know much about the garden our pass would get us into, but we decided we still had enough energy despite walking for two hours straight to check it out.