Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 4: Himeji + Kobe

So, the plan for today was to get up early, shoot to Himeji right quick, tour the castle and gardens in the morning and then kick over to Kobe and tour the city there for the afternoon.... yeah... about that. Up on time, get down to the station a little after 8:20, grab a quick McBreakfast... first JR Pass grade Shinkansen is not until 9:49 for a ~1 hour trip meaning that I didn't get there until 11:00. About this time is when I should've remembered that the regular train also goes there and checked for express times. Lesson for the future: if you're working in hour windows the standard train still moves pretty quick if you can line up a "Rapid" or "Super Rapid" express that bypasses many of the local stops.
Anyways... Himeji: a former castle town remains host to one of the last remaining castles in Japan that wasn't destroyed and rebuilt. Nicknamed the "White Heron Castle" because of its white exterior shell and height rising above the city itself, I knew the castle was under reconstruction (it has been undergoing regular service repairs every 45-50 years for the last century to keep it in good shape), but was still hoping it would be tour-able as the interior keep has not been modified like Osaka based on the pictures I've seen. Sadly, at least from a viewing standpoint, the main keep itself was also closed so that they could do earthquake reinforcement (at the moment, many historical buildings in Japan have undergone/been undergoing evaluation and reinforcement as well since the Kobe earthquake in 1995). So, the tour was limited to the exterior keeps and the scaffolding structure where you can view the exterior repairs being done to the ceramic roofing tiles (kilned to 1100 degrees), and patching of the plaster walls.
Next to Himeji Castle is the Kokoen Garden. Built on the site of the former samurai training grounds, it's a relatively recent addition to the area designed to both recreate the structure of the grounds while using the structure to subdivide and present multiple styles of Japanese gardens:
About this time, the battery on my camera starts to go just in time to kick out to Kobe so picture taking there was extremely limited.

Getting there later in the afternoon than I'd hoped I make it a priority to see the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution which is home to exhibits and research on the Kobe Earthquake in 1995 that destroyed much of the city and caused widespread devastation. There's a lot of information here; perhaps too much. I'd argue you could literally walk in with a notepad and walk out prepared to run a disaster recovery team 3 days later if you never stopped reading.

Luckily, they're likely to kick you out so they can go home first.

That said, it's all good information and, despite the fact I eventually gave up on trying to read it all, I left kinda hoping there was a dvd I could bring with me to work through at my leisure.

Anyways, it's time for dinner. It'd be kinda silly to goto Kobe and not try Kobe Beef, right? Right:
People have said Kobe Beef melts in your mouth and I see why; it's very tender and soft. Cooked Teppanyaki style right in front of me, definitely worth the 5200 yen splurge.

Finishing up the day, I tour the Kitano District of Kobe which is where the western representatives settled when Kobe was the first port officially opened to western trade and presence. It's full of classic Victorian and Gothic architecture but not so much westerners these days as it's more of a boutique district and location of western style restaurants and pubs; including a Swiss Chalet that's totally unrelated to the Canadian chicken chain and instead more Bavarian style food. I'm able to grab one shot of the houses there and then the battery dies.

Tomorrow's forecast: partly cloudy, chance of stars and gold.

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