Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hannah Comes to Town part 3


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.
Hannah winks at making our train on time. Off to a creepy start!

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,


decided to hit up the ice cream vending machines after we saw the castle and finally got in the short line to the entrance it was 3:40. The gates were closed, but the Japanese folk in line weren’t budging, so neither were we. Still, we were nervous.
This, guy, however, seemed unperturbed.

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.

However, due to this:
(Many people)
Hannah and I restricted ourselves to reading the information from our pamphlets and only peeking at the well in which that servant girl was thrown after being tortured to death because the corrupt politician who she ratted out framed her for stealing. Something something ghost, blah blah legend. It looked like the Pit of Despair.

Himeji-jo is the first castle I visited since coming to Japan, so I was a fan of the details, like this door

and this archer’s window (with that dang kid who got in the way, which turned the picture from cool to kind of creepy of me).

Let’s not forget the roofs, which always have some cool details.

We thought we were about to head into the castle itself when we ran into this roadblock.

Hannah winks at a crowd.
Clearly we were unphased. I took a moment to lean on history

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?

Now I turn to modern media to aid me in telling this tale.

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.

Hannah winks at the long-booty line.

And then, after what seemed like forever, we made it past the last threshold.

Hannah winks at the stairs which will take us…

We entered the castle with shoes in bag in hand, excited about seeing HISTORY at close range. Enter these pictures.

The castle from the inside.
Hannah likes a window.
Hannah winks at history.
Just so you can see the fabulous sunset.
Thanks, Portugal.
Yep, the mustache comes attached.
Hannah winks at getting stuck on the stairs, waiting to walk around a darkening room and stair at the fancy nail covers.
Windows are exciting.

View from the 4th floor.

Shrine on the top floor.

Roof details. Cool.

This picture is to prove that I have the guts to ask strangers to take my picture.
It was dark enough that this picture took about 4 tries to get. Thanks, security guard, for laughing with us.

More roof details. See how night-y it got?

I won’t bore you with erroneous details about the castle’s construction and heritage. See the bottom of the post for a link to that. Just know that it was definitely past 4:00 by the time we got into the castle, and the building is not equipped to serve visitors after dark. When the sun has set there’s enough light to see the stairs and maybe where the next set of stairs begins. Hannah and I (and a Japanese couple) got a little lost on the way out. Sometimes it felt like we were the only ones left in the castle, and then a few people would come down the stairs or wander around the corner. It was a bit surreal, as though we were would fall into a fairy tale if left alone for long enough.
Hannah winks at irony.

That is a shiny backpack.
Himeji-jo at night. Not day. That is how long we were there.

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.

Obviously, it is way past 16:00. Booyahchakakhan.

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?


  1. May I remind everyone that this was all done in 1 day. Which is why the next post will say we did nothing and were still in our pajamas as 4 p.m. Laurel, it's nice to know I looked mentally challenged that day.

  2. I would like to say two things. One: your cowboy conversation is the funniest thing I've read in many a moon. Two: call me "Mom," but if you use the word "butt" one more time I'm going to kick you in yours.

    P.S. Hannah winks at history...Hannah winks at irony...BWAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Hilarious.