Another early morning saw us out checking out of the hotel. With bags in tow Hannah and I walked the five minutes north to the Peace Park. There was already a line forming outside of the memorial, so we opted to join before it got too crowded. We only paid a mere 50 yen for the entrance, but paid an extra 300 for the audio guides. These proved to be largely unnecessary, though there were some heart-wrenching stories to accompany the gut-wrenching photos and clothes of bomb victims in the West Building.
I think that going to the museum on a holiday took a little of its impact away. I did come out of the museum understanding just why nuclear warfare is so horrifying, and that as a Christian I need to be a more active advocate for peace. I don’t think that anyone who sees the evidence of devastation so close can emerge unaffected. However, I spent a lot of time trying to keep an eye on my wallet, and another on Hannah in the crowd, trying not to bump into people, and waiting for a turn to get close to a display. If anyone who reads this goes after me, I suggest trying to get to the memorial on a working day.Hannah and I walked through the Peace Park, already tired. We stopped to eat breakfast, rung a bell and prayed for peace at the Children’s Memorial, and went around to see the A-Bomb dome. There wasn’t a lot to talk about; there was an air of solemnity cast over the whole experience. The memorial park. The A-bomb Dome is in the background.
Looking at the park from the other end. The Peace Flame burns in the center. The memorial/museum is the long building at the end.
The Children's Memorial with all the origami cranes sent from various countries.
The A-Bomb Dome
After the Peace Park we caught a bus back to the train station. We purchased unreserved tickets for the shinkansen—7560 to Himeji (pronounced HEE-may-gee) on the slowest shinkansen, 4620 from Himeji to Kyoto. The train from Kyoto back to Kameoka would be an inexpensive 400 yen. I asked an employee which platform we needed to find and at what time. “San-juu noriba,” she said, pointing to a timetable. “Saateen.” I thanked her and we left. The train to Himeji left us only an hour to get to the castle before closing.
We went to the conbini for lunch and omiyage. Omiyage, for those out of the know, is usually purchased when one travels far away or on a regular working day. Though I was in Hiroshima on a holiday it was the farthest we went on our trip, and I was causing very mild trouble for my coworkers at the board of education by taking vacation the coming Thursday and Friday. I haven’t traveled much before, so I was unprepared for the cost of omiyage. In the states I can buy a bag or two of Dove chocolates and call it omiyage. Six bucks and I’m done. Here I pay nearly 2000 yen for 24 individually wrapped manjuu shaped like maple leaves. Apparently Hiroshima and Miyajima are famous for their maple trees. You know where else is famous for maple leaves? Everywhere. That'd be like Oklahoma claiming fame for oak. I shook my head, but I couldn’t return empty-handed.
When Hannah and I were ready we headed over to our platform to wait. It was odd to see regular trains running near us. “Is this the right one?” Hannah asked doubtfully.“Platform three, she said,” I replied, nodding suredly.
We waited and ate while watching trains that didn’t look like ours pull in and out. Then, as we grew more and more doubtful of the employee’s word, I saw a shinkansen pulling into an upper platform. The following interaction is paraphrased in Cowboy.
“I think we need to go up there,” says I, a’pointing.
“You reckon?” Hannah drawls.
“Yep,” I says, getting my grub and tack tagither.
Hannah and I hightail it up the stairs, down some more, and then shimmy on over to them fancy stairs that go up by theirself. I approach a conductor and tip my hat respectful-like.
“Scuse me,” I says, “Where’bouts your figger the train to Himeji Castle git in?”
“Roundbouts of platforms twelve and thirteen,” he says. “Right yonder.”
“Thankee kindly,” me ‘n’ Hannah says, and barrel back down the fancy steps faster’n a preacher outta a bawdy house. We’re a’getting as fast as we can go, but we still see a bullet train pull out jist as we get there.
“Well, horse apples and a barrel of poison whisky!” I exclaims. “I reckon we done missed it.”
“Shoot fire and tarnation,” Hannah agreed ‘round a mouthful of chaw. “But maybe we should ask agin, jist in case-like.” She spit right onna them tracks.
I repeat the tipping of my hat and inquire about the next train. The conductor tells us it’s a’comin in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
Hannah and I boarded our train with a profound sense of relief. It was scheduled to get to Himeji at about 3:15 p.m. Entry to the castle closed at 4 and the complex closed an hour later. We were cutting it close, but we could make it. We celebrated with pictures. I proposed that we create picture stories for each of our sightseeing days. Hannah agreed. We decided that today would be Hannah Winks.
We napped on the train, enjoying the time spent on our butts rather than our feet. For reasons unbeknownst to us the train pilled into Himeji station at about 3:30. We had already spent money on getting there, so there was no debate on whether it was worth it to race to the castle and try to see it before it closed. I had been warned that the restoration of the castle might mean we could only see the gardens, but I was told this was worth the trip.
The coin lockers in the station were full save for a big, expensive one, so Hannah and I pooled six of our 100 yen coins to stash the bulkier of our bags. When we exited the station we could see the castle straight ahead. The distance between ourselves and the castle made the subsequent 5-minute, 630 yen taxi ride completely worth it. Contributing to the worth of the taxi was that by the time we walked in,
His shirt says, "Nude Core," in case you can't read it.
I don’t remember what time it was when we were finally let through the gates to the magic of Himeji, but there was a mad dash to the ticket gate, which quickly became a slow traffic crawl through the inner complex. We learned that it was the gardens that were closed and the castle that was open. 600 yen to see one of the locations for a Bond flim. Lucky us, given that the restorations will last until 2011.
Hannah winks at entering Himeji
Here we enter the meat of our Short Epic Journey Sandwich. As you can see from this picture, the sun was out when we entered.
Himeji-jo is the first castle I visited since coming to Japan, so I was a fan of the details, like this door
We thought we were about to head into the castle itself when we ran into this roadblock.
and was soon copied by an adventurous child and some guy’s butt.
When the line did start moving I was happy to learn that we were close to the main tower that gives the White Heron Castle its moniker.
See how close we were?
See the weirdness of modern flood/spotlights in this historical treasure?
Hannah and I were convince by now that there were at least 5,000 people in line for this dumb castle. Who cares about you, Himeji-jo? Castle. Pfft. I’m only in line because I’m not a quitter.
We really had to pee at about this time.
And then, after what seemed like forever, we made it past the last threshold.
We entered the castle with shoes in bag in hand, excited about seeing HISTORY at close range. Enter these pictures.
Another 4-tries picture.
When we left the castle we stopped for souvenirs. I paid 600 yen for a set of really cool art postcards. I will send those to some people, someday. Grandma’s first on my list. Much to our (my) dismay we discovered that the ice cream machines were closed. We were fatigued and in the mood for a sweet treat. Still, we felt great about having had the opportunity to see Himeji-jo, and to have been two of the fortunate few (5,000 people?) to see the castle at night. Hannah celebrates.
After a brief stop in a conbini to get ice cream Hannah and I hurried to the station. We found our train much more easily this time and even managed to fit in some delicious curry and rice before hopping on. I close with our final celebration of the night: a successful day of tourism.
We got into Kameoka late, close to the last train. Honestly, I have very little memory of that trip, other than meeting my friend Matt, who had been watching my rabbit, getting my key from him, and telling Hannah it was okay for her to sleep on my new bed. We slept like babes.
To understand why Himeji-jo is awesome, click here. If you don’t already understand why Hiroshima and the Peace Park are fantastic, I just can’t help you. I mean, did you even look at my pictures?