Thursday, May 06, 2010

Japan/SoKor Day 16: Himeji Castle and Kobe

December 26, 2009
Japan Trip Day 16: Himeji Castle and Kobe

Today was super interesting. I got up from my suuuuper comfortable hotel bed in a quiet, non-smoking room (oh man how you start to miss that kinda thing while you're backpacking...) and went downstairs to the lobby to meet Tomiko and Hiroshi Nakamura, family friends of ours from when we lived in Oxford, England in 1994. Crazy! I hadn't seen them since around the time of my BarMitzvah day in May 1995... about 15 years! It was very exciting to see them and I managed to organize for my parents to call the reception desk so they could chat for a few short minutes.

We then exchanged gifts (I was sure to give the gift with both hands, of course!), and off we went for a whole busy planned day! I had absolutely no clue what they had in store for me, what we were doing at any given time, or where we were going, but I knew it would be fun and they'd make sure I was home by the evening! So off we went, and I just rolled with it! I knew one plan on the agenda was Himeji Castle, but other than that... only time would tell.

First stop was, in fact, Himeji Castle. We arrived at Himeji Station, about 45 min from Kobe and walked along the street toward the castle. It was gorgeous, big, black and white, and with those cool tiled Japanese roofs that I love. We walked inside and immediately were asked to take off our shoes and place them into a small carry bag. We then carried our shoes and put on small sandals. It was pretty tough to climb up the tall, steep and narrow stairs in those slippery sandals! Tomiko, as I was starting to remember form Oxford, was very speedy!! She was racing here there and everywhere, making sure I got my photo taken nicely at good photo locations, and hurrying us along when we were at something boring, it was very funny. We walked 6 floors up to the top of the castle and there were some cool gun and spear racks up there. There was also some interesting artwork and a nice view of Himeji city from the top.

Time was a-wastin', so we hurried off to try some "Oden" (or, "Japanese Hodgepodge") for lunch. This was a verrrrrry Japanese meal that I would have been way to scared to try myself, but with true Japanese tour guides that day, I knew I'd safely not consume any tasty-looking unkosherness by mistake. :) The lunch was very good, lots of tofu and some fish-based items, all bubbling in some hot soupy stuff. One of the items was a very very hard rubbbery texture, and I think it was also either a kind of fish or tofu. Very good! It was very rubbery and it was too hard to cut with the chopsticks, so I tried to eat it as politely as possible. :)

We finished lunch and then rushed to the train. We were on there for only a short while and then got off at a huge suspension bridge at Maiko Station. "Maiko?!" I joked with Tomiko and Hiroshi to see if they remembered the Jutan Family sense of humour. :) I said it was like "Michael", my name... and they laughed and said, "No, no, no, no... Mai-ko!" I said, "Oh... like a Geisha! Kyoto!" (A "Maiko" is a geisha-in-training). Hiroshi laughed as the English transliteration for Maiko station was the same ("Maiko") as the transliteration for a Geisha-in-training, but he said "Same sound, different [Japanese] characters." The Akashi Kaikyo Bridge is the world's longest suspension bridge... kinda looked like a huge San Francisco Bay Bridge. We went up to one of the platforms and they had a huge see-through floor a.la. the CN Tower. Around the glass floor was a "log bridge" beam that you could walk across if you were nervous to walk on the glass floor itself. Hiroshi joked, "Very thin glass!" and pointed at the glass floor. I started walking on it but jumped onto the log bridge when Tomiko looked nervous and I started worrying whether or not Hiroshi was being serious or actually just made a joke.

We then rushed back down to Maiko (haha) station. Then I found out why we'd been rushing since after lunch - it was so we could make it to Kobe Harbour Waterfront for 3pm for a "Concerto" Kobe Harbour boat cruise!! Amazing!!!! We got onto the boat just in time and I was glad I wore a nice shirt today. A 2-girl duet - one with a baritone/mini tuba and the other on classical piano - serenaded us all while we had some tea. They played some songs by Tchaikovsky, a Japanese TV Drama show theme song, and some others. Good stuff! We got 3 little cakes each which were very good, and there was unlimited juice, tea, hot tea and coffee. We then went up to the main deck. I got some really great photos up there of the bridge we'd just seen from the water level, and of some cool clouds and some sailboats. We then headed back to the harbour. There was a beautiful island on the way back and Hiroshi said that is where his University office is currently located!! Amazing. He also said there was an IKEA on this manmade island, the 2nd IKEA in all of Japan! There was also lots of space there as the University was building some big supercomputer.

After the great concert and cruise, we headed back to Sannomiya Stn., and stopped by a department store where I helped Tomiko and Hiroshi pick up some Totoro gifts for my family. Then we went to dinner... and it was SO good!!!! It was a Tempura restaurant where you watch the chefs cook. Entire small fish were included with the tails too... and Tomiko instructed me to "eat the whole thing." There was a Daikon radish, which you had with this sortof soy sauce. There was also something called Daigon (lotus root), with lots of cool holes in it. Hiroshi told me that, as the saying goes, "Through the holes you can see your future." I joked and said, "Well, the future sure tastes good!" and I think he liked that one. :) A common combination with Daigon with Daikon (lotus root with the radish spread over it), very good stuff! We then tried Tendon (which is a method of preparing Tempura). It was rice, soy sauce with some vegetable tempura on top... sooo good.

Finally, we walked back to my hotel and we said goodbye and re-exchanged gifts (I'd left theirs in my room all day so they didn't have to carry it around). We said our goodbyes and I then went upstairs to relax after a VERY busy day!

Overall it was a really fantastic day with Tomiko and Hiroshi, it was great to see them again, and they were very kind and hospitable (seems to be a trend in Japan!!) It was really nice of them to take me around to so many interesting places, and to explain lots of details to me and translate at restaurants so that I could try some different, very typical Japanese food.

First stop, Himeji Castle!


HUGE Castle!

As tends to be the case throughout all of Japan, the roof tiles are SO darn interesting

After this I read a plaque which described why there were so many different interesting designs on the tiles. Turns out they are a sort of "family crest", a kind of autograph for the given lords of the castle at a time in the past.

We then walked up some very tight staircases, right to the top.

Lots of cool artwork and historical objects in there, including a lot of weapons

"I don't even have A gun, let alone enough to warrant an ENTIRE rack", but, evidently, the people guarding the castle certainly did.

Darth Vader helmet? :)

Some sort of kneepad armour

Cool long spears

View from the top of the castle

Cool map of the entire city

Careful of falling rocks!

Me outside Himeji Castle

Hiroshi admiring the seasonal flower displays

Fish, the guardians of the city

Oden ("Japanese Hodgepodge") for lunch. So good!

My lunch!!

Tomiko and Hiroshi walking towards the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, near the Maiko Marine Promenade. This is the world's longest suspension bridge.

What's inside the cables

Sweet bridge

Funny crab picture saying to be careful not to get your fingers pinched by the elevator

View of the lower level of the bridge from the viewing area

Back to Kobe Harbour for a "Concerto" cruise around the Kobe Harbour!

Awesome coffee and dessert

Having a GREAT time!! :)

Me, Tomiko, Hiroshi

Absolutely glorious

Great scenery on this boat trip

We drove towards the area with the same Akashi Kaikyo Bridge

Light rays

Lights and bridge

Loved this boat!

View of Kobe city from the harbour

Cool building

Beautiful shopping area

Sweet Tron-style elevators

Insane care bear onesies for adults

Cutlery set for dinner

Chefs cooking away

Raw ingredients

Several other diners too

Some folks ordering from the chefs

Hiroshi and Me

"Say Cheese!" Great day and awesome photos!!