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19 July 2016 @ 11:39 pm
Himeji and Hiroshima: Tuesday  
Woke up early again, though not as early as softlykarou, who woke up in a panic at 1 a.m. worrying that she had somehow screwed up the hotel reservations and then couldn't get back to sleep. I woke up at 5:30 when she came back in from her morning run and then likewise couldn't get back to sleep, so after trying a failing for a while, I got up and met the others at breakfast. After toast and a bit of tropicanaomega's leftover chicken curry, everyone went back to their rooms to pack up and get ready for the trip to Himeji to see the castle.

We got a later start than I liked and went the slightly longer way around the Yamanote Line to stick with one of our friends, who was getting off at Shibuya in preparation for going on to Matsumoto and walking through the mountains there. When we did get to Tokyo Station and the Shinkansen stop, we took the second train out west because it went straight through to Himeji rather than requiring us to change trains in Shin-Ōsaka, so we waited for a bit, bought train station bentō, and boarded the 11:03 for Okayama.


Riding the Shinkansen again reminds me how much of an embarrassing pile of trash every single American attempt at mass transit is. It's true that Amtrak was designed to kill passenger rail, but even with all its failures it's still running because mass transit is part of a civilized society and it's something that Japan has absolutely got down. The average Shinkansen arrives within six seconds of the posted time and is roomier, and far more pleasant to ride than an airplane, so it's all we took for intra-country travel when we lived in Japan.

Also, Japan is clearly gearing up for the olympics, or perhaps they realized that Malaysia is very close, majority Muslim, and has 500 million people. I doubt I could find kosher food anywhere in Japan, but I found a halal bentō for the train ride:

"Kebab Bentō." Super good.

The ride from Tokyo to Himeji is almost three hours long, and while there are a few interesting views along the way, large portions of it take place in tunnels because Japan is full of mountains. I spent the time listening to podcasts and catching up on my RSS feeds while softlykarou tried to sleep, and around 2:45, we arrived at Himeji.

The weather in Himeji was typical Japanese summer--33°C, why, how do people live like this--but we were able to walk on the shady side of the street on the road to the castle and once inside the walls, it was actually pretty cool. The baileys were shaded with enough windows that there was almost always a cool breeze blowing through, and the main problem became that we hadn't actually officially stopped for lunch coupled with climbing a bunch of stairs and walking through wooden halls, as well as the occasional foray out into the sun and the heat.

Autocorrect almost wrote "the sauna and the heat" there, which is pretty accurate.

The last time I was here, Himeji-jō was under renovation, but this time the main keep was finished and the renovations had moved on to one of the walls not that far from the front gate, well out of the way of the view from the castle keep or most of the outbuildings. And what a view:

Also called 白鷺城, "white heron castle."

Matsue-jō, the other intact castle I've been to, has more interesting inside, with the armor displays and full storerooms and so on, while Himeji is mostly empty rooms with the occasional small display. Despite that, I like Himeji-jō better because it's more awe-inspiring. From seeing it when you exit the train station at the end of the road ahead, to climbing up all the wooden stairs and through the walls, to the way the darkened interior halls look and smell, it has a grandeur that Matsue-jō lacks.

Hiroshima-jō looks impressive from the outside, but it's a replica built of concrete, for obvious reasons.

It took a little over an hour to see the castle, and afterwards we stopping in the gift shop where I bought a sake cup to supplement our collection, some of ours having broken over the years. It was there that we learned the real name for the round mascot of Himeji that we've been calling Himeji-tan: しろまるひめ (shiromaruhime, "white round princess"). Then we went back outside the castle and down the street, stopping briefly, at a shop for softlykarou, another friend, and I to get ほうじ茶 (houjicha, "barley tea") soft serve ice cream. It was amazingly tasty, though of course, the heat may have had something to do with that.

Then we bought Shinkansen tickets with our JR Rail Passes and got on a bullet train ten minutes later. I love Japan's transit system.

I forgot how many tunnels there are close to Hiroshima, so I mostly just read during the trip since the Internet was constantly cutting out. And then we arrived.


It was really like...coming home, when I stepped out of the station and saw the train cars, and walked down Aioi-dōri and saw all the stores I remembered and the skyline. Hondōri with Parco at the end, looking down Chūōdōri and remembering Tōkasans past... I'm not from here, and at this point I've spent longer in Chicago than I did in Chiyoda, but even so, this almost feels more like home to me.

We walked from the train station to Hotel Active, our old haunt, and checked in. Yumi-san isn't working here anymore, or at least wasn't working today, though I did recognize one of the staff who checked our friends in. He didn't seem to recognize us, though, and we had never really talked with him before so I didn't bother to do so now. All the reservations checked out okay, and after we paid and dropped our stuff off in our rooms, we reassembled in the lobby for dinner. I had suggested kaitenzushi, specifically Nonta-sushi, over in the Pacela building next to the bus terminal. One person wasn't too interested in fish and headed off to find different food, but the rest of us made the trek only to find that it was near closing time and there wasn't actually any sushi on the conveyer. We ordered by hand, though, and people seemed to enjoy the food. I talked up fatty tuna and bunch and that came through for me, at least!

After that, we went down into Shareo and over to Stick Sweets for dessert, where I think I surprised the shop attendant. She was cleaning and I came in and asked if they were still open, and she kind of nervously nodded, and asked if we wanted to eat in. I asked if it was okay and she said yes, but I'm not sure if it was just Japanese customer service or not...

Regardless, we ate our sweets (gateau chocolate and strawberry mousse for me!), and headed back. softlykarou and I split off about halfway through to go check out if one of the bars we liked was still there while the others went back to the hotel, and on the way we found a fooddrink truck:

Sponsored by Bacardi. All mojitos, all the time.

The bar we remembered did exist and was open, but we were pretty tired, sore, and sweaty, so we bought mojitos and drank them while reminiscing about days gone by as we watched the crowds on Hondōri. Then, tired, sore, and sweaty, we went back to the hotel.

Steps taken: 18856
Current Mood: exhaustedexhausted
Current Music: Ace of the Blood God podcast
q99q99 on July 20th, 2016 08:04 am (UTC)
Kebab bento looks great! :D

-Riding the Shinkansen again reminds me how much of an embarrassing pile of trash every single American attempt at mass transit is. It's true that Amtrak was designed to kill passenger rail, but even with all its failures it's still running because mass transit is part of a civilized society and it's something that Japan has absolutely got down. -

I wouldn't quite say that- some may have wished Amtrak a quick death, but the people behind it's founding wanted it to work. Of which my dad was one of the people behind it ^^ It was definitely designed so that freight railroads wouldn't have to do it, though, and it has had to put up with people trying to choke it ever since (and I'm gonna have to disagree with the linked article pretty hard- it's still a very cost-effective means of travel and has been growing in partnership *despite* attempts to kill it. It's the little engine that could, even with people trying to throw logs in the tracks. If it got proper funding, it really could be more like Japan's systems).
dorchadas: Dreams are olderdorchadas on July 20th, 2016 08:45 am (UTC)
I'd always hear that Nixon intended Amtrak to fail (or at least, his behavior is indistinguishable from someone who intended Amtrak to fail), but that it failed to fail and has continued doing so for 40 years.

I honestly don't think more funding would make anything like a Japanese system, though. Even ignoring the distance and population density, Japanese infrastructure is built around trains in a way that America would require a ton of rebuilding to duplicate. Just funding the trains more wouldn't put the stations in more convenient locations or route the tracks through populated areas, though it would improve a bunch of stuff. I'd love if Amtrak could pay people to roam around serving food local to the places it passed through.

(I also admit that I'm more disposed to Japanese cultural norms on mass transit, like most people sitting in silence!)
q99q99 on July 20th, 2016 02:09 pm (UTC)
Nixon wasn't the designer though. I don't know his thoughts, but I know the freight railroads wanted off the burden of doing it, so it may have simply been indulging them.

It wouldn't be exactly like the Japanese system, no, but there *are* high-speed rail lines in the works, and better funding would improve reliability, quality of service, etc..
dorchadas: Dreams are olderdorchadas on July 20th, 2016 02:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, yeah, I would gladly pay more taxes for better mass transit, even though I live in part of the country that wouldn't get that much use from trains (high-speed rail from Chicago to Madison, maybe? I'm not an urban planner). I like the kind of society that results from use of mass transit over heavy reliance on cars.
q99q99 on July 20th, 2016 09:25 pm (UTC)
-(high-speed rail from Chicago to Madison, maybe? I'm not an urban planner).-

That was the one Scott Walker canceled. Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago.
dorchadas: Dreams are olderdorchadas on July 20th, 2016 10:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, that's right! Sigh...  photo emot-911.gif

Obviously just saving us from ourselves. Like George Will said:
...the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.
I've been found out.  photo emot-v.gif
q99q99 on July 21st, 2016 03:14 am (UTC)
Darn that collectivism, always wanting people to 'be able to get places fast and affordably'.