Japan Part 2: Castle Time

Perhaps because I’m an early riser anyway, I’ve learned to use the sun as my alarm clock – I get up when the sun just starts to rise, and I’m happy that way. Unfortunately, here in Japan, the sun rises at about 4:20AM.

Despite having gotten only about 4 hours of sleep, I felt pretty good, and I was definitely ready to get going when we checked out of Chosun and got on our shinkansen to Himeji. Despite my mother’s firm belief that I will die if I get shoved into a shikansen (bullet train; her belief is probably based on all those rush-hour videos of station guards kneading people into a shinkansen that CNN likes to show on occasion), I enjoyed our shinkansen ride. It’s so smooth that it’s difficult to even tell that the train is moving. It certainly was fast – so fast, in fact, that my ears were popping every few minutes. Although we could not take the fastest shinkansen, Nozomi, we were allowed to take the almost-as-fast Hikari. Still, it was another 2-hour ride with some snacks and some friends to get to Himeji.

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Once we were in Himeji station, we quickly found some coin lockers to stash our luggage in and headed out into the city toward the famous Himeji Castle. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately after all), the castle is being repaired from 2009-2015, so most of it is within a huge scaffold box.

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But it was impressive nonetheless, and when we got inside we got to see the parts that they were repairing.

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Inside the castle were old samurai helmets and stone-throwing holes as well as two women playing a haiku game and a great view of the city.

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On our way out, we saw a whole gang of cats that everyone seemed strangely interested in.

The sun was hot and the air humid, so Schau-sensei paid for some ice cream for us after we left the castle. I considered getting a vanilla-green tea swirl, but I chose a strawberry-apple-mango swirl instead, and it was great!

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We still had a bit of time before we had to catch our next shinkansen, so we wandered through a mall in the station for a while and then settled down onto the train to wait for our next station – Hiroshima.

Our trip to Hiroshima was uneventful and short – only about an hour by shinkansen. Immediately after getting off we hopped on a (thankfully empty) tram, though it filled up quickly and all of the businessmen were giving us glares for taking up so much space with our luggage. We squeezed out at our stop and checked in at our ryokan (a Japanese-style inn), though on the way we met a rather…interesting, I suppose, Japanese man. He and our group were walking side-by-side next to the road, though he didn’t acknowledge our presence. Then, he suddenly let out the loudest, longest fart I think I’ve ever heard, followed by a huge, “Ahhhhh.” He then disappeared into a building.

Was I the only one who just saw/heard that?

Anyway, after we arrived at the ryokan, my mind still just a little scarred by the farting Japanese man, we got about half an hour of down-time before dinner. I smiled when I saw our ryokan room – tatami mats, sleeping on the floor, it’s all a more real Japanese experience.

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When we met for dinner, Schau-sensei led us into Hiroshima and we found a small, comfy restaurant to try a popular local dish – okonomiyaki. I was surprised by the cute little box of chopsticks! When our food came, we shared it among ourselves and got some good chopstick practice. The okonomiyaki was great; it was like a bed of noodles topped with egg and meat and sauce. I’d like to try some more flavors of it.

Things I wonder: I discovered today that there is no phrase in Japanese to use after people have sneezed. I wonder why this is? It seems to me that Japan has a culture full of concern for others and even some superstition (though that is true of any culture), so this strikes me as a little strange.

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