Japan, October 10 - 12: Himenji and Kyoto

Our plans were to stop in Himenji on the way to Kyoto. The extremely fast and efficient Japanese rail system, for which we had unlimited use passes, allowed us to easily stop for a few hours to visit Himenji castle, which was about halfway between Sasayama on the north of the island and Kyoto on the south.


Here's Bryan with Himeji castle in the distance.


Before we went to the castle we made a brief stop at the zoo on the castle grounds. Our travel guide book warned us that it was depressing due to the living conditions of the animals, but we didn't find it to be so.

The most interesting thing about the zoo was the hordes of well-behaved Japanese schoolchildren. When lunchtime was announced they all fished mats out of their backpacks, took their shoes off, and sat down to packed lunches. Cute!


Of course, the zoo had animals too. Here are some fish and flamingos.


Afterwards, we made our way to the castle itself. Himenji castle is the biggest and best example of Japanese castle architecture.

Here's the central structure as seen from an approach up the ramparts inside the castle walls.


The interior of the castle is nicely restored and maintained. Notice the slippers.


More photos of the castle.


The central structure of the castle has 6 tall floors. Here are photos looking out of the top floor from each direction.

Nancy takes a break from the action.


After our long walking tour of the castle, we went to look for the garden next to the castle.


First we became lost looking for the garden but managed this photo of the one of the castle's structures from behind.


Finally we found the garden. It was awesome!!!! Somehow this small garden was much more impressive than the huge garden we had seen in Kanazawa. The garden consists of at least a dozen mini-gardens separated by stone walls. Each mini-garden is unique and quite different in layout and form from the rest.

The entrance to the garden tea house was via this beautiful bridge.


Streams and ponds welcome visitors to the garden on the approach to the tea house.


The tea house is straight ahead.


Behind the tea house is a beautiful pond with waterfall.


Here's a 180-degree panoramic of the pond behind the tea house.


What follows are a series of details from the gardens at Himenji.


After a quick lunch we got back on the train and were in Kyoto by late afternoon. We checked into our hotel and then went exploring. One very interesting part of Kyoto that we unfortunately didn't get any pictures of is the central rail station, which is combined with what must be the biggest partially-open mall in the world. This mall is about half open to the elements and half enclosed. An impressively long chain of escalators can take you from the first to the 12th floor with the sky above you the entire time.


Here's our hotel room at Heianbo for our first night in Kyoto. Our second night was at a very inexpensive backpacker's hotel, but we don't have any photos of that.


All we had time for that evening was some streetwalking in Kyoto. The streets were filled and we found ourselves in an entertainment district replete with arcades, pachinko parlors, shops, and backstreets filled with bars and cafes. Here's a shot from the basement food court level of the local department store. Nancy picked up some scrumptious hamachi nigiri and the best darned crab sushi rolls she's ever had. She still dreams about the crab today.


The next day we were determined to hit a few of Kyoto's famous temples, shrines, and gardens. Our first stop was the Golden Pavilion, which is gilded with real gold. As you would imagine, visitors are not allowed to get too close. Can you just imagine the damage that could be done with a sharp object?

Kyoto's Golden Pavilion.


Our next stop was one of Kyoto's gardens. It was about a 45 minute walk from the Golden Pavilion park.

Visitors to the gardens get lots of beverage choices at the entrance vending machines.
Entering the garden ...


This is a famous Zen rock garden within the outer garden. The placement, size, and shape of the rocks is supposed to be somehow "perfect".


Here are some scenes from the garden.


At the center of the garden is a famous tofu restaurant. We were hungry so we decided to have lunch there.

The tofu soup was yummy. It was very simple, plain and had great soy flavor.
And the scenery was first-rate.


When Nancy was a little girl her mother discouraged her from sitting on her feet. But it is a tradition for the Japanese, still practiced today, as these photos of a group of teenage girls sitting near us demonstrates. This sitting position probably explains why so many Japanese women walk pigeon-toed (i.e. with the feet turned inwards), and why Nancy's mother didn't want her to sit like this.


After leaving the tranquility of the park we emerged back in the bustling street life of a Japanese city.

Here's a Honda VTR250 motorcycle. These are not sold in the USA (the displacement is too small for the American market), but it sure is a beautiful bike.


Here's Nancy by a bridge over a river which runs through Kyoto. We were on our way to another temple grounds on the outskirts of the city.


Here are lots of photos of the temple and the grounds surrounding it.


We exited the temple grounds in a maze of back streets - the perfect place for an afternoon stroll.


Nancy made a new friend.


We walked along a small stream.


This ought to give you some idea of just how twisty these back streets were.


We're lost. Is this the right way?

Whoops, it's someone's driveway!


That evening we decided to check out another grocery store. The sushi was much cheaper than at a sushi bar, but of course it was pre-packaged. Even pre-packaged Japanese sushi is good, though!


The next morning we decided to visit one more temple before leaving Kyoto. It was the thousand-buddha temple, where literally 1,000 buddha statues are on display. It was a very interesting place but unfortunately none of the photos came out.

Next we went to a famous walking street in Kyoto featuring, you guessed it, another temple. But on the way we became very, very lost.

The once again twisty back streets of Kyoto just kept getting narrower and narrower as we tried to find our way out.


Finally we escaped the back alleys and found the famous walking street. It is set in a hilly area, with old streets lined with traditional houses. Of course souvenir vendors are inescapable in this area. There were many many tourists, almost exclusively Japanese school children on field trips, making the rounds, but we manage to get these photos when there were breaks in the traffic.

The last photo shows the temple in the background. We were left with just enough time to get to the train station to catch our train out of Kyoto. Before hopping on the train, we loaded up with grocery store sushi so that we could eat our lunch on the train. It was so much fun! All in all, Kyoto was nice. The city has many temples, shrines, parks, and gardens on offer, but Bryan took the "once you've seen one, you've seen them all" attitude, and the city itself, although lively, was not the most exciting nor inviting Japanese city that we went to (those honors would go to Kanazawa).



Back to: Japan, October 8 - 10: Sasayama

On to: Japan, October 12 - 14: From Kyoto to Tokyo

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