To save time and travel today, we opted to eat at our hotel. There aren’t many options for breakfast around our neighborhood in Osaka, as most people in this city eat breakfast at home. The options that do exist have more of a western slant (eggs, pancakes, etc.) There are more grab-and-go type breakfast options at the major railway and subway stations, but we weren’t particularly close to any of those.
One Train Away: Himeji
The wonderful thing about Japan is that one can take a train to another major city with the same amount of planning involved in taking a bus to downtown Seattle from the suburbs.
The Special Rapid Service train to Himeji leaves from Osaka station (which again you can get to easily by subway). For JR Rapid Service trains, tickets work similar to those for subways. First, go to where the ticket vending machines are located and find your destination on the map. Many maps do not have English names for destinations, so it helps to know the characters for your destination. The map will tell you the price you need to pay, and then you can purchase that fare from a ticket machine. Some types of trains, such as the Shinkansen (bullet trains) require a seat ticket (reserved or unreserved) in addition to the fare. The special rapid service trains do not, but I haven’t figured out the hard and fast rule for how you know. (These is also a Shinkansen route to Himeji, but it was much more expensive for relatively little difference in time given the distance to Himeji).
If you ever have any confusion over the right type of ticket to buy, you can always purchased JR tickets in person at a ticket office. As long as you know your destination, the helpful staff will ensure you leave with the right tickets. There is also an official app, “HYPERDIA”, which can plot the route and determine the fare between any two stations in Japan.
Anyway, as with the subway once you have your ticket you board by inserting your ticket into the turnstile. Then, find the right platform and board your train. On a train without seat tickets, you may have to stand if it is especially busy.
Arriving at Himeji
The train to Himeji was about 1 hour. From Himeji station, the castle is about 1 km away. This is easily walkable, or you can follow signs to the bus terminal located adjacent to the train station. Given the popularity of Himeji Castle as a destination, there are signs in English which will help you located a bus that stops there.
A word on Japanese busses: fares are traditionally paid when you get off. Board at the back of the bus. When you board, unless you are boarding at the start of a route, there will be a dispenser near the rear door which dispenses a small paper ticket with a number on it. When you get off, match the number on this ticket with a digital sign at the front of the bus which will tell you the correct fare to pay. Place the paper ticket and your fare in the fare box as you get off. The fare box is usually a clear box on the pedestal next to the driver. Below that there may be slots for exchanging bills or coins for change.
The fare from Himeji station to the castle is 100 JPY.
Admission to Himeji castle is 1000 JPY.
The castle is aesthetically similar to the Osaka castle (at least to my untrained eye). However, there is one important difference: Himeji castle was never destroyed, so the structure you see before you is more or less original. (It has undergone restoration and preservation work at various times, but those projects have strived to retain as much of the original structure as possible). Unlike Osaka Castle, which has a completely modern interior with a museum, the interior of Himeji castle is much as it was when originally constructed.
As such, you won’t find anything in the way of exhibits or expository signs once you are inside the castle. Instead you should treat the castle itself as the exhibit. Pay attention to the details of construction, the size of the timbers used, while keeping in mind the age of the structure you are exploring.
After exploring the castle and surrounding grounds, exit back through the main gate, over the moat, and turn right to head toward the gardens.
The admission to the gardens is 300 JPY, but a combination ticket which gives access to the castle and gardens is available for 1040 JPY.
If time allows, make sure to stop at the tea house to participate in the ritual of receiving matcha tea and a sweet bite to eat. The cost is 500 JPY. Once paying, you’ll proceed to a traditional room with tatami floors and kneel along the edge with other guests. The hostess will bring you a tray with a small, sweet pastry and a cup of matcha tea. Be sure to bow when the hostess bows and say “otemae chodai itashimasu” as thank you for the tea. Eat the pastry first and then drink the tea according to the instruction sheet.
Returning to Osaka for Dinner
After the gardens we took the train back to Osaka station.
Near the station, Yuling located a Japanese barbecue restaurant for dinner near the station by the name Yakitori.
The restaurant serves mainly various meat and vegetable combinations, skewered on bamboo sticks, and cooked on a charcoal fire.