The morning came early, and we had decisions to make. Unfortunately, it was raining. This was because of the typhoon that was currently hitting the island, which was supposed to head north to Tokyo after hitting the middle part of the island where we were. This was our last day in Kyoto, and our Japan Rail pass was running out on Sunday, and we wouldn’t be getting back down this way, but had planned on going to Nagashima Spa Land today, one of the few parks that I felt was a must visit. But I didn’t want to go with a typhoon literally right over us and torrential downpours. I’d have liked to have spent some time on the Ryokan grounds as well, but the rain wasn’t conducive to that either.
So instead we had a traditional Japanese breakfast at the inn and decided to head to Mount Inari in Kyoto, where the Fushimi Inari shrine is. If you’ve ever seen any photos from Japan of people walking through what seems like endless paths of red tori gates, this is where probably it was taken. It was pouring rain by the time we arrived but we’d stored our luggage again in Kyoto Station. We got in line to walk thru the gates and once we got to the first level, we headed off on a smaller, less traveled path up the mountain.
The rain came and went as we made our way up. First, we found a small shrine with sitting areas where we sat along with a young Japanese woman and a German couple. Then when the rain let up we headed up and through a bamboo forest and found an old shrine with cat statues (and a very large spider that I was not fond of meeting). We got a little turned around having gone down behind the cat shrine and found a random high school and street, and after a few rest breaks, decided to head back up to the cat shrine and finish the original path down the mountain. The typhoon was messing with our plans so we had to wing it with our plans.
The next morning we woke up and had a really amazing breakfast at the hotel, which almost made up for the problem the nite before, then walked to the nearest station to catch a train. I can’t remember the entire transit pattern, but I believe we headed to Osaka station, stored our bags, then headed to one of the must do and truly remarkable sites in all of Japan, south of Osaka, Himeji Castle. We arrived in the late morning at Himeji Station and the castle was visible at the end of the street. And it looked amazing. This was the Japan I wanted. An ancient castle at the end of a metropolitan city’s main thoroughfare.
And what an amazing sight it was. Himeji Castle is considered one of the best examples of the surviving original 12 Japanese castles that haven’t been rebuilt or are replicas. Across the street from the castle was a shopping area for food and souvenirs, but before we headed there to eat, we walked down to a viewing spot of the castle at Shiromidai Park. Once we arrived we took photos. There was a newly married couple there also taking photos, dressed in traditional Japanese kimono, and it was beautiful. So was the castle. They realized I was trying to (respectfully) sneak photos of them, and they started posing. I think they wanted to take pictures with us, but we were heading back to the shopping area.
There was a small amusement park & zoo by here, but we decided to forgo a visit and head to the castle. As we made our way back we stumbled upon another random shrine, the Gokoku Shrine, so we went in to check it out and take some photos, then headed to the castle area. At the shopping center across the street I had my first taste of matcha ice cream. It was great.
We woke up early (thanks, jet lag) and looked at the forecast. The original plan was to head south to Space World in Fukuoka Prefecture since it was closing at the end of the year and this would be my only shot at a park I’d been wanting to get to for a long time. Unfortunately, the weather outlook was terrible. There are already horror stories on the net about the park closing rides early, only sending 1 train out every 15 minutes, and a barely running, barely functioning park, so we decided not to risk it in the rain especially since the following day was forecast to be much nicer. This meant switching our free day to Monday and hanging out in Kyoto instead.
Isaac & I headed down for breakfast at the hotel. The hotel buffet was pretty amazing. I had a cheese breakfast thing, salad (common for breakfast in Japan), and some other good stuff. Once we were finished with breakfast we headed to the closest thing on the list of things to do, Kyoto’s Imperial Palace complex.
With our Railpass and Pasmo, it was a quick commute after walking to the station. On our walk to the transit station, though we were in raincoats, we decided to be more like the locals (especially since it wasn’t very cool weather-wise), and get umbrellas at a Family Mart, a chain of convenience stores in Japan. I made our cashier so happy when I thanked her in Japanese. It made her day, and mine too.
I slept pretty well from about 8 PM to about 5 AM Tokyo time. Once I woke up I cleaned up, and made a video to record my thoughts on our arrival. I got ready and went out the door to go up a couple floors to get some decent shots of the Tokyo SkyTree from the top floor of the hotel, but as I was going out the door, Isaac, who also woke up around the same time, was coming out with his stuff to walk to a nearby park. Neither of us wanted to wake each other up, but when he heard me open my door, he rushed out to see where I was going. I made my way up to the top floor to take some photos, then headed back down while he was getting ready before we headed out to Sumida Park park a few blocks away.
The city was so quiet early in the morning. At this point, it was after 6 am. At some point I finally found a vending machine with Pocari Sweat, a drink I’d wanted to try for many years. It was good. We walked along the riverwalk area, which is beautiful, and arrived at the park after a few minutes walk. It was very nice. There was a beautiful pond that we walked around, and even explored the Ushijima Shrine located in the park. There were plenty of views of the surrounding city, as well as Tokyo SkyTree, as the morning woke the city up for the day. Since it was so early, it was mostly just a few older people walking around.
Then at about 6:30, they all started doing exercises around the shrine in the garden. There were a good 100 people all doing exercise in unison. It was really great to see. Everyone was so friendly walking around. Many had dogs. Walking back to the river walk was beautiful, with one side filled with the buildings of the area’s business district. We ventured to find some food, but that turned into a walk to the Senso-ji Temple complex that we stumbled upon, a Buddhist temple established in the 1500s, making it Tokyo’s oldest. We walked around and took pictures of the buildings and Koi pond for quite a while as some locals came to pray and worship.