Monthly Archives: June 2024

Himeji to Kansai Airport, Osaka, Japan

Wednesday 5th June 2024
Well, our last day has arrived. David’s back is still sore and he doesn’t feel up to a big fast walk around the castle. So after driving to the parking lot, he walked with me to the entrance and I went in to the enormous grounds and went through the huge castle. It was impressive. It was seven storeys tall and made with timber internal structure throughout. At one stage in its life, one of the central support beams had displaced by 3.7cm. The view fromt he top was magnificent as always and helps you see exactly how far it is to the outer wall. They were always a big city within the outer walls, with a couple of moats as well for protection. The walls in to the castle were so high, it is amazing to think the challenges they would have experienced to build it in the first place. I then did a quick walk around the perimeter of the outer castle wall which David had taken at a leisurely strolling pace. 

We then went to the souvenir shop for the grandkids which averted an extra drive to Nara where I had seen some things I liked very early in the piece. I was successful which was great, it meant for a much easier day. I then had time to walk through the Castle Gardens which were as always, a beautiful Japanese Garden with lovely manicured trees, little bridges over lovely ponds. 

Lucky us, we didn’t need to drive to Nara. After our last 7-eleven sushi lunch, we left Himaji and enjoyed a not so leisurely (lots of traffic) towards the airport. We were still amazed at the courtesy on the road, the 3 or 4 storey bridges going in every which way direction. We arrived at  Kansai, Osaka at about 4pm and found a little park in an industrial area. We enjoyed a little rest, finalised our packing and changed into clean travel clothes. At about 5pm we drove to the recommended re-fuelling station, got petrol and drove to the airport for a seamless drop-off of the rental car. We enjoyed our 13 days travel in the car, it got us to places far and wide we couldn’t have managed easily by train albeit with a cost of 44,900Y later in tolls. Lots more than the petrol and parking costs. All worth it to enjoy the countryside you miss in the trains.

Well, with our small bags and no under carriage luggage we passed through the non-checkin stages with ease. Hope you enjoyed our trip from home and I hope to post the last few days pictures in the next couple of weeks.

“Himeji Castle – Japan’s best preserved feudal castle
Himeji Castle (姫路城, Himejijō), also known as White Heron Castle (Shirasagijo) due to its elegant, white appearance, is widely considered Japan’s most spectacular castle for its imposing size and beauty and its well preserved, complex castle grounds. The castle is both a national treasure and a world heritage site. Unlike many other Japanese castles, it was never destroyed by war, earthquake or fire and survives to this day as one of the country’s twelve original castles.
Himeji Castle lies at a strategic point along the western approach to the former capital city of Kyoto. The first fortifications built on the site were completed in the 1400s, and were gradually enlarged over the centuries by the various clans who ruled over the region. The castle complex as it survives today was completed in 1609. It is made up of over eighty buildings spread across multiple baileys, which are connected by a series of gates and winding paths.
Most visitors to Himeji Castle enter the castle via the Otemon Gate into the admission-free third bailey (Sannomaru). The Sannomaru contains of a large, cherry tree-lined lawn, and is a popular spot for viewing cherry blossoms usually in early April.
The labyrinth-like approach from there to the main keep leads along walled paths and through multiple gates and baileys with the purpose to slow down and expose attacking forces. At the heart of the complex stands the main keep, a six storey wooden structure. It is one of only a handful castle keeps in Japan that feature wing buildings, adding complexity to its appearance.
Visitors enter the main keep through an entrance in the lower floor of the building and climb upwards via a series of steep, narrow staircases. Each level gets progressively smaller as you ascend. The floors are generally unfurnished and display just a few multilingual signs explaining architectural features such as portholes, rock chutes and concealed spaces as well as renovation efforts made over the years to preserve the structure.
The topmost floor houses a small shrine and lets visitors peer out in all directions, down over the roofs, the maze-like defenses and out across the city of Himeji. You can also admire an up close view of the fish-shaped roof ornaments that are believed to protect from fire.”

Hiroshima to Himeji via Daisen, Honshu

Tuesday 4th June 2024
Today we had an amazing but unfortunately a little disappointing day.
We left the hotel early as we had a big drive, a climb and another big drive planned.

Firstly we enjoyed a beautiful drive through the lush, green countryside. We drove through farmland with rice paddies, forests of pine trees, through long tunnels onto bridges which spanned long distances, back into more tunnels. It was a pleasant although expensive toll drive. About 4000Y. We were again amazed at the lack of traffic on the roads. The weather wasn’t as forecast, it was supposed to be a beautiful, cloudless, sunny day. It started with a little cloud which increased until it was raining. It was only 216km but it took us 3 hrs to drive at the Daisen National Park.

The day was bleak and our full sunny day now only had a window of sun at 2-4pm. What to do. The planned hike was a 7km return hike up 900m elevation to the top of Mt Daisen. We went to the visitors Centre and checked some maps and mucked around for an hour deciding whether to hike or not as it was still raining a little. At this stage the peak was in the clouds. With the 2 hour Window of sunshine, I suggested we climb for an hour and see how it was going, at worst we got a little wet and had done exercise. So off we went.
The trail started on some steps that went straight up, so the climbing had begun. Up, up and up. To start with we were on the first, each lookout we came to was bleaker than the last. We passed the 2st, 2nd and 3rd station, up 100m, 200m and then we were up 300m. We just kept going up those little steps, one by one. As we continued for the first hour we had by then climbed about 600m in elevation, the steps were still believing and the view had been little more than fog, lots of trees and a couple of flowers. The potential for a beautiful view was there, is only the clouds would lift. As expected we decided to continue to the top, we had only had a short time of rain which was only a sprinkle. I didn’t even get out my umbrella.

The next section the steps became rocks, the trees became shrubs and the ascent a bit steeper. We only had 300m elevation to go. We chatted with some climbers from Osaka, Hiroshima, Otamaya, the local area of Daisen and Kansai, Osaka. It was fun trying to communicate, and helped break the climb. As we reached the top we walked along the Ridge across a rickety, patched boardwalk, it was very worn and looked a little unstable and rickety in a lot of spots. We looked like we were walking up to heaven. A destination in the clouds that you could not see. We finally made it to the top, passed a closed shop and unfortunately there was nothing to see except the clouds. Oh well, another Mt Marion lookout, New Zealand feat. A great climb with zero views.

The trip back down was a lot quicker. We walked briskly down the ramps. It was a bit slow going down the trickier, steeper section and David started getting a sore back, we think from standing all day in the Peace Museum yesterday. His back got considerably worse and was quite painful the rest of the way down, although not as bad on the smaller steps. Just before about the 6th ??? station, the two hour window of sunshine shed its light on us for about 30 seconds. Long enough for a momentary glimpse at the view we could have enjoyed for most of the day. Oh well., maybe next time. The little steps seemed to go on forever, but it was easy going and we ran down most of them. We arrived back at the car in just under 1hr 20mins compared to the 2 hours it took to go up to the top. It was amazing that the whole hike except for maybe two stations was little coppers log steps.

So we arrived at the bottom at about 4.20pm and were on our way quickly as we still had a 2-3 hour drive depending where we put our heads down for the night. It was a choice of driving to Himeji (2 hrs) or Nara (3hrs), we decided on Himeji as the castle there was apparently the best in Japan. So that being decided upon, I quickly booked a cheap hotel. Unbeknown to me at the time, as I just checked the rating, not the comments, I had booked a “Love Hotel”. We had avoided these throughout the trip. My naivety, I just thought they were like honeymooners hotels  but they were entirely different. In short, trhey were hotels that could be booked by the hour, two hours, 5 hours or 24 hours. These days as the Love Hotels aren’t as popular anymore, thankfully they are now also being used for tourism as well. Although, we did have a couple of condoms on the bedside table and we didn’t check to see if the TV had X-rated material. The big spa bath was a great asset for David as by the time we got to the hotel, his back had seized and he struggled to get out of the car and walk. The room/s (bedroom, king size bed, large bathroom with spa, entry hall and toilet) were bigger than we had experienced in any other hotel our entire trip.

We had anotrher fail tonight, I chose a Ramen Restaurant for our last dinner, silly me didn’t think about parking. We spent the next hour driving round in squares trying to work out where to park or whether we should just get a quick reheat dinner from a  convenience store. After parking at a Lawson, David read up about parking and we decided to give this a go. We found a small parking lot and were standing at the machine translating and trying to work out how to do it, when a kindly Japanese man stopped to assist. This done, we were on our way. The reason there was no parking at the restaurant was that it was in the long mall. Annoyingly, the restaurant I had chosen was closing, so we then needed to find another one. More walking for David, which didn’t make me too popular. And as we all know, I don’t cope when he is not happy. That said and done, we found a restaurant and enjoyed our last meal of ramen. Nothing has beaten the one at Wakayama with sesame and garlic, but it was nice all the same. They are always quick and easy. It was a mammoth day.

Love hotels (ラブホテル, also known as boutique or fashion hotels) are hotels that offer double rooms for short periods of time. Typically you can rent a room for a minimum of one to three hours during the day, called a “rest”, or for the whole night, called a “stay”, which usually starts after 10 pm. As the name suggests, the main purpose of love hotels is to provide couples with a room to spend some undisturbed time together.

The rooms are equipped according to their purpose with large double beds, a television offering erotic programs, a nice bathroom, etc. Some love hotels are themed and may come properly equipped or with items such as costumes available to rent or buy.

Love hotels are found all over Japan, and they can usually be recognized because of their extravagant looks and/or their signs advertising “rest” and “stay” rates. In large cities there are love hotel districts, such as Tokyo’s Love Hotel Hill in Shibuya, where many different hotels can be found together. In smaller cities they are often found near major roads on the city outskirts.

An overnight stay costs around 8,000 to 14,000 yen, while a rest during the day costs around 4,000 to 8,000 yen. On weekends, the prices can be much higher. The reception at a love hotel is very anonymous. The guests usually choose a room on a board by pressing a button and then pay at a little window where the receptionist behind cannot be seen.

Hiroshima, Honshu, Japan

Monday 3rd June 2024
We spent the morning taking it easy, getting moving slowly. We are showing the signs of holiday fatigue. When we finally got going it was to a day of sadness and witnessing the tragedy of war.

Our first stop was at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. This was very well displayed with everything written in English for us, it was a lot of reading and so thought provoking and mentally disturbing. The tragedy that unfolded on 6th August 1945 at 8.15am was unimaginable. The accounts of that time and the ensuing years depicted in the images, drawings and written word was incredible. We spent 3 hours walking through the museum reading about the history of the first atomic bomb blast. We saw remains of tattered clothes, pictures of burned people, others with the effects of black rain and radiation as they died. It was incredibly sad and difficult to understand how they would have endured such suffering. Others survived the trauma of the bombing only to die 5, 10, 20 years later of cancers, leukaemia and many suffered psychologically.

After we visited the Museum, we then walked through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, saw many memorial statues, the Atomic Bomb Dome and the actual spot where 600m above the bomb exploded. It was a very moving day and one that will remain in our minds any time war and nuclear weapons are discussed.

We then went for a walk to the Hiroshima Castle, another magnificent Castle but unfortunately we were too exhausted to explore it. We just had a quick walk around the grounds, took a photo of its entrance and headed back to the hotel.

We decided to try for an early dinner of Okonomiyake again tonight, the restaurant we were hoping to eat at last night and tonight appears to not be open again. So after choosing another one, we headed there and made another mistake. We ended up at Miyamae Izakaya Restaurant, which unbeknown to us was a bar style restaurant. We thought we were at the Okonomiyake restaurant but it turns out that it was a like a tapas style restaurant. Once we ordered and received our meals, we realised that we would need to order more. We enjoyed a variety of foods, some not so much but at least we tried some traditional food in a restaurant with only Japanese patrons tonight, instead of the tourist restaurant of last night.

After dinner we went for a walk through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park under lights. Another long and tiring day, we walked about 15km around the city today. Only a couple more to go before we head home. I am not sure what is in store for tomorrow but only time will tell.

“Communicating the reality of the atomic bombing to people with the aim of abolishing nuclear weapons and achieving lasting world peace. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was opened in 1955 with the aim of communicating the reality of the damage caused by the atomic bomb to people all over the world and contributing to the abolition of nuclear weapons and the realization of permanent world peace, which is the heart of Hiroshima. At 8:15 am on August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was the first in the world to be damaged by an atomic bomb. Most of the town was destroyed and many people lost their lives. Even those who barely survived suffered great physical and psychological damage, and many A-bomb survivors are still suffering. The Peace Memorial Museum collects and displays photographs and materials showing the remains of the A-bomb survivors and the devastation of the A-bomb, as well as the history of Hiroshima before and after the A-bomb and the situation during the nuclear age. In addition to holding lectures on A-bomb experience by A-bomb survivors, we also lend out materials for peace learning.”

“A tranquil spot to contemplate the preciousness of all life. Extending southwards from the Atomic Bomb Dome and located mostly on a narrow stretch of land between two rivers, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is like a green island in the middle of the city. A serene space covering over 120,000 square meters, it serves to memorialize the great many lives lost in the world’s first nuclear attack, while making use of nature to reaffirm the preciousness of all life.
Prior to the 1945 bombing, this district was the administrative and commercial heart of Hiroshima. In 1949, the recovering city decided the area should become a place of remembrance and contemplation, rather than simply being rebuilt.”

Kumamoto, Kyushu to Hiroshima, Honshu, Japan

Sorry for the delay. I have posted the last 4 days of our trip without photos at this stage, I will hopefully get to do this in the next couple of weeks. I will let you know when it is done. Thanks for sharing our journey from home. We look forward to talking to you about it when we see you all. Love Fiona and David

Sunday 2nd June 2024
After our big day yesterday we were feeling a little tired today. Firstly we decided on a quick walk to the Kumamoto Castle which was right near our hotel. A little walk along the river and around the castle was all we really had time for before we checked out. The castle was damaged in the earthquakes of 2016 and a lot of damaged was sustained. They are still reconstructing walls and buildings, although it is open to the public. It was very busy as we walked around the area.

We then decided on a drive around the Aso caldera area along a route called the Milk Road, a popular road for motorcyclists and fast cars, even though some of the speed limit was only 30-40-50kmh in some areas. Our first stop was the Kabutoiwa Scenic Overlook which has a spectacular view of Aso, it’s 5 peaks and the caldera. It was a very large area with a town, farms, houses and rice paddies all within the caldera. (A caldera is a large depression formed when a volcano erupts and collapses.) We drove around the rim which was so beautiful and green. There were so many people out and about today. David had hoped to walk on the volcano of Mt Aso, but it wasn’t open to the public due to its volcanic activity.

As we were driving along we came to Semmbazurushika Park, which is an incredible display of topiary (artistic trees). Then on to Aso-Kuju National Park’s where we did a quick walk on the boardwalk of the wetlands, this had a spectacular view of Mt Aso. From here we decided to head directly to Hiroshima via the expressway as we still had 352km to drive this afternoon. I don’t know how David stays awake to drive, I had many little and long blackouts along the way. I drove another 110km today. We arrived at Hiroshima at about 7pm. We have a hotel which is only 9,780Y for 2 nights plus 2800Y for parking. This is an amazing price and the hotel is lovely. We are directly opposite the Peace Park and most of the other tourist attractions.

We went out for dinner and there were English speaking tourists everywhere. David wants to go back to the country as all of the people we have been for the last 10 days are Japanese. We have only seen 2 Americans in Nagoro Scarecrow Village and 2 Australians at Wakayama. It has been very quiet in the places we have been visiting and often we are the only people in a restaurant. Oh well, we are back on the tourist trail again, so we will have to get used to it for the last couple of days.

“Kumamoto Castle (熊本城, Kumamotojō) is one of the most impressive castles in Japan. With large castle grounds and a variety of buildings, Kumamoto Castle offers its visitors one of the most complete castle experiences in Japan. Only a few structures have survived the centuries since the castle’s construction in 1607 intact. The castle keep and most other buildings are modern reconstructions, but the reconstructions are mostly of a high quality and new buildings are continually being added. With about 800 cherry trees, the castle becomes a popular cherry blossom spot usually in late March and early April.
Kumamoto Castle suffered serious damage in the earthquakes of April 2016. Many roof tiles fell, foundations were damaged, walls crumbled and entire structures collapsed. Five years later, on June 28, 2021, the interior of the castle’s main keep was finally reopened to the public, but several other parts of the grounds, including the castle palace, remain off-limit. Repair works on the castle grounds are expected to continue until around 2038.”

“Mount Aso (阿蘇山, Asosan) is an active volcano in the centre of Kyushu which most recently erupted in 2021 and 2016. Aso’s ancient caldera ranks among the world’s largest, with a diameter of up to 25 kilometres and a circumference of over 100 kilometres. In the centre of the caldera stand the mountain’s active volcanic peaks, including Mount Nakadake, whose spectacular crater is accessible to tourists. Note, however, that the crater area is often partially and sometimes completely closed off to visitors due to poisonous volcanic gases, bad weather or the risk of volcanic activity. So, make sure to check the volcano’s current state before traveling there. Even when the area around the summit is open, gases can be intense, and people with respiratory problems should refrain from approaching the crater.
There are five mountains, Mt.Nekodake, Mt.Takadake, Mt.Nakadake, Mt.Eboshidake, Mt.Kishimadake  called “Aso Gogaku” at the centre of the caldera. Mt.Nakadake is still active and its crater is 600m in diameter, 130m in depth and 4km in circumference. You can see the huge crater emitting white smoke and the magnificent scenery up close. When the level of volcanic activity is high, you may not be able to approach the crater.”

Miyazaki to Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan

Saturday 1st June 2024
Well we are wearing down, we are exhausted, running on low battery power and almost ready to come home for a rest, but not quite. Just a couple more adventures to be had first.

Today we got going about 9am, forgot we had to get petrol before we started and struggled to get lunch. We had to try 2 x 7-elevens before we had out lunch sorted. Anyway, today we have a 1.5hr hour drive to the start of our hike. It was only 73km, but travel is so slow here by car even when you pay to go on the expressway.

We arrived at the Kirishima National Park, unfortunately the 12km one way hike from the Visitor Centre to Ebino Plateau was off limits due to volcano activity at Mt Shinmoedake. Instead we chose to climb up the Takachihonomine Ridge to the summit. This is a short but steep hike to the summit via the ridge of the Ohachi crater. The scenery and views were amazing, the colours magnificent. In the end we were more than happy with our days hike. It was 5.84 km return, with an ascent and descent of 593 m and we took a total time of 3hr 14mins. I had a few chats with some Japanese along the trail from Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Miyazaki.

Takachihonomine ridge (1574m) is the place where the gods descended to the earth in the legend of the “Tenson Korin” (Descent of the Heavenly Child). Whether it is due to its rich history or its distinct appearance, the Takachihonomine ridge is undoubtedly the main peak of the Kirishima Mountain Range. The trail begins near the Takachihogawara Visitor Center and goes through a Torii gate (Japanese shrine gate) past the Furumiya-Ato (site of old Kirishima Shrine) and the Ohachi (or Mihachi) volcano before taking one atop the Takachihonomine ridge. The trail becomes rather steep as it emerges from the forested area. As one ascends the brown slope, one will eventually reach Ohachi Peak’s crater, otherwise known as Uma-no-Se, or The Horse- back. The trail on The Horseback is narrow and one should exercise caution duringstrongwindsorthickfog. FromtheHorseback,thetraildescendsinto The Saddleback before continuing up to the summit of the Takachihonomine Ridge. On the summit, one can find the Ama-no-Sakahoko from the Tenson Korin legend. There are many steep slopes on the way to the summit of Takachihonomine Ridge, so please exercise caution as the trail may be slippery.