We arrived in Kobe, safe and sound after we spent the best part of the flight worrying about the recent typhoon that was sweeping across our path, but apparently, it had vanished out to sea before we landed. The skies were cloudy and somewhat stormy, but overall it was a nice relief to be out of the dry desert climate of Las Vegas. We were so void of moisture from two years in the desert that I was almost afraid we'd explode like those little foam toys you drop in water and watch them grow.
After meandering through an hour of immigration and customs lines, we made it to the welcoming sign that had my name spelled out on it, held by a friendly-faced representative. Thank God we had decided to hire a shuttle service instead of taking the trains. The trip to Kobe took a long, long time. I want to say two hours, but I honestly didn't look. Our flight arrived at 2:40 pm (Japan time) and we didn't get to the hotel until dark.
View From the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Kobe, Japan
The Crowne Plaza hotel is beautiful. It sits high in the sky on top of one of Kobe's hills. We we placed on the 31st floor which afforded us incredible views during the night and daytime.
Our first adventure took us out scouring the train system of Japan. I had researched routes and tickets, trying to decipher what to take and when. I was in shock at the $75 round trip prices that were normally charged for a simple 30 minute trip from one place to another. It would have costed a fortune for us to go to the cities we wanted to cover over the next few days.
Luckly, after researching enough I found that, as tourist, we could buy 1-day passes (or more days) for the astonishing low price of $25 each. This pass would allow us unlimited rides on the "JR" lines, which would take us to our desired areas. So, this begun our first day.
Hemiji, is a small town were the Hemiji Castle sits. This castle comprises 83 wooden buildings and was built in 1346. It looms quite large over the landscape and you can see that it was simply beautiful. You can read more about it's history here, or by additional research. The castle is about a 10-15 minute walk from the train station and can be seen from the station (as in the photo above). The walk is very pleasant and of course, safe.
Hemiji Castle in Japan
We spent a while walking through the gardens and the town of Hemiji, but unfortunately, did not enter the castle. We had arrived so early in the morning, that we would have had to wait a while. It was actually nice that there were very few people around and the park area was a perfect place to sit and each some baked goods that we bought on the walk there. It's easy to feel at peace in Japan when you're in these types of environments. After a while, we headed back to the train station.
Hemiji Castle in Japan
Kyoto, was our next stop. This was a good 1.5 hour train ride, but the scenery was wonderful along the way. I took quite a bit of video and uploaded a simple edit to youtube. The quality isn't great, but it's a combination of the train ride clips, looking out the window, and you can watch it in the higher resolution with sound.
Kyoto was bustling when we exited the train station. There is a mall that is attached to the station exit, with many shops and places to eat. The mall, itself, it quite interesting and worth a look. The architecture inside was very modern.
Mall in Kyoto Japan
The weather was a bit overcast by then, but it didn't effect our enjoyment. Instead of being right in the thick of things, we decided to begin walking away from the station and see where it took us. Within a few blocks, we were away from the shops and heading into a neighborhood.
There were many typical Japanese homes that lined narrow streets, and plenty of little Japanese women tending to their potted plants. It was fun watching the school children in their traditional uniforms, scamper around the town as the teachers guided them to their destinations.
After walking for a while, we ran across this amazing, ancient temple (Higahsi Hoganji). Because of the darkness of the wood and the brightness of the sky, it was difficult to photograph. The wall to the temple stretched many city blocks and the entrance was as grand as ever.
Kyoto Japan, Part of the temple complex
There was no entrance fee, but we were required to take off our shoes to be able to quietly enter the temple, itself. They wouldn't allow any photography inside, because it was a functioning temple.
Kyoto Japan Temple
I have to say, that people in Japan are wonderful. They are kind, polite and very helpful...except maybe this little girl who apparently has seen one too many Godzilla movies (yes, the pigeon did survive!).
Kyoto Japan Temple Complex
We took a train ride to Osaka from Kyoto, which took a little while, but the ride was pleasant enough and not crowded. There were building every where and it felt that a big modern city, compared to some of the smaller towns that we've been to. We were quite hungry at this point and set off to find a good place to eat. We had to look up and down a few streets before we found an alley way full of places. It was only about four three long blocks from the train station, walking north.
After looking through a few outside menus, we finally sat down for a meal in a great restaurant. The sweet lady who waited on us was wonderful and we ate Chicken Katsu, along with some pickled veggies, tofu and rice. Not a word of english was spoken, but we still managed with the little Japanese that we do know. Oh, and surprisingly, the meal was only 630 Yen per person (about $8)...this is shocking considering that Japan can be very, very expensive.
Osaka was a large, modern city that was thriving with people. Of course everywhere in Japan is thriving with people. You should never feel unsafe walking around the city or most of Japan for that matter. Osaka is big enough that you could never do it all by foot. There are many things to do, and it even has a "Universal Studios" theme park. A large Ferris Wheel sets on the waterfront, but you can't see it from the train station. There are a number of trains stops in Osaka, so you must decide where you want to start. Keep in mind that Osaka is not really the cultural, Historical scene as you would find in Kyoto, but it is a great place to start.
Oh yeah...the toilets. Scary. I first noticed them in the airport...didn't dare take a picture in the men's room though...would hate to have to explain that in broken Japanese. These toilets...including the one in our hotel, are like something out of the Jetsons. Many knobs, buttons, blinking lights and whirring sounds complete the experience. I can't imagine what they are all for, and was simply afraid of what would happen if I pushed..that button, or this one...would room service show up??...WHAT does it know?? Will we get a detailed print-out on our last day at the hotel..with a list of suggestions?? I can't even fathom what Japanese business man sat in a board room at his technology company and said.."I'm thinking...toilets"...while everyone made a list of "compatible" electronic devices for our restroom experience.
Outside of Osaka Japan
Anyway, we're not done with Japan. We will be spending about six days total, traveling around here before we head off to another country. Also, I have posted all my snapshots in flick so far. I have to say, they are marginal quality. I can't see worth a darn on this small laptop, so if they are blurry or have poor color balance, I can't fix that yet. I threw in everything...so even the bad shots. Hope you enjoy, and once I wake up in a couple of days, I'll post something a little more coherent. :-) Don't forget...there are more pictures of these places in my flickr photo stream HERE. By the way...this is what I'm having to blog with right now...LOL Good thing it looks familiar.