Sunday, July 26, 2015

Day 8 - Himeji and Arrival in Miyajima

As today our two-week circular trip of Southern Japan began, we had to buy the rail tickets for the next days at Kyoto Station - which took already a quarter of an hour because it is quite complicated. You need not only the base fare ticket for the distance in kilometers, but in addition for every leg an express surcharge ticket and maybe even additional surcharge tickets, e.g if the travel covers more than one railway company. For four persons and several legs, you might leave the ticket counter with more than 20 single tickets. Our first Shinkansen impressions were surprising because it looks quite small from the outside, but the inside is amazingly spacious and looks like you are travelling in a plane. 

On our way to Miyajima we made a brief stop in Himeji to visit Himeji Castle. I really can recommend to visit this castle - it is only a 15 minute walk from the Shinkansen station. Among the three most famous castles in Japan, it is the only one that never burnt down - all the others have been reconstructed several times because they were either destroyed in civil wars or by accidents / lightning. The entire castle was built as a complicated a beam construction around a central thick huge pillar. The main tower consists of 5-6 floors with narrow and steep stairs. Since the castle is famous and can be reached easily, you will join masses of domestic and foreign tourists that want to take the tour and climb the narrow stairs. I find very reasonable that in most places in Japan you have to take off your shoes (and useful too for sweating temperatures to air your feet a little). In situations like this, you will often see the traditional Japanese socks in which every toe gets its own place - a somewhat strange look for westerners.

Himeji Castle
After getting on the Shinkansen again, we finally ate our lunch, this time the famous bento. A bento is a box with different Japanese food items that you buy at the railway station and that everybody is eating at lunchtime in trains. The local train from Hiroshima main station to the ferry port was as full as you would expect trains and subways to be in Japan, especially during the rush hour.

After a 15 minute ferry trip and checking-in in a Ryokan (a Japanese guesthouse), we immediately had to see the main attraction of the wonderful island of Miyajima: The O'torii in the water with the Japanese mainland (even though it's actually an island) and a wonderful pink sunset in the background. The torii is the regular entrance component of every Japanese Shinto temple, and here is one of the few places where it has been built in the (shallow) sea because the shrine used to cater to fishermen. All along the boardwalk on the left and right side from the shrine, hundreds of lanterns decorate the island and support the romance.

The O' torii on Miyajima Island

Our first Ryokan experience was quite special. You basically are provided with one big room (in this case for four persons) which serves as a living room during the day and as a bedroom at night. How it works? You sleep on futon beds that are rolled out in the evening and rolled together again (and stored in a shelve) in the morning. Of course, the removable day furniture is no European furniture, but a very low table and sitting pillows. You basically spend the day like the night - on the floor, i.e. on Tatami mats made from rice straw (and smelling like that). Luckily, we only booked Ryokans with private bathrooms (although they are really tiny). Of course, every decent Ryokan provides its guests with a shared (well, one for men and one for women) hot bath in the basement. We did not try that very Japanese experience here in Miyajima, but will try it later.

Room setup for the day, futon beds in the background

What I learned? Always take a light jacket or a scarf with you. Either you're sweating or you're immediatly an icicle whenever you get into an air-conditionned waiting room (that's probably why I got sick).

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