Himeji Castle was one of my “musts” for this trip. It also was one of the places we learned about in our Little Passports Japan kit, so I really wanted my kids to see the real thing. Himeji was also a straight shot from Kyoto with our JR pass. I had just planned to go and visit the castle then come back to Kyoto in order to attend a show of traditional Japanese performance arts. After such a long day in Osaka the day before, I figured another low key day was in order. At least that is what I thought.
Given that I only planned to visit Himeji, we took our time getting out the door. We took the shuttle to the train station and made an easy stop at the JR ticket office for our bullet train to Himeji. It was going to take about 45-50 minutes to get there. My daughter fell asleep before we got on the train and I employed reason 497 of “Why I love my Baby Jogger City Select stroller.” Since I had to fold it up and put it behind the seats, I just popped off the seat and laid it on the floor with my daughter in it so she could keep sleeping with no blocking of the aisle. That left just me and the boys to have a little snack and be silly on the train until we arrived.
Once we were at the main JR train station in Himeji, it was really easy to find the way out and to see which direction the castle was in, being how you could see it the moment you walked out the train station! So we started looking about and saw the buses. Even though you could see the castle, it was still pretty far. Japanese cities are like Paris, something looks like it is close, but really it’s 20-30 minutes away by foot. We inquired in at a local tourist information center who said to take the castle loop bus around the corner. So off we went, but we found that we had just missed it and it ran only every half hour. Walking it was, and boy I was not disappointed. Before we even got half way to the castle (which is a straight shot down the same street, directly out from the front of the train station) I was falling in love with this city. The side walks were large and wide with very separate lanes for bikes, walkers and had greenery and lovely art statues every so often. Little allies that were actually large and long shopping arcades shot off in all directions of the street. I felt so comfortable to be walking along this street, despite the completely foreign language.
As we approached the castle and picked up a brochure and map from the information center, I began to wish we had gotten an earlier start. We probably wouldn’t have enough time to visit the zoo in addition to the castle. It turns out Himeji is a place you should spend a couple days! But alas, we had one, and less than that too. It was time to get up to that castle and see what was in side this colossus. I was really glad that I brought the Ergo this time!
To go into the main part of the castle, you had to take your shoes off and put them in the plastic bag that was provided for you. What was not provided, slippers or socks. So if you were wearing sandals, like the kids and I were, you walked barefoot if you wanted to see the castle. Just a heads up, when you visit, perhaps you’ll want to wear tennis shoes with socks.
There was nothing inside the castle except the incredibly steep stairs that were practically ladders. You could see however the incredible wood build and design of the castle, Japan’s only major castle that has never been damage in a war. There was a great view of the grounds and Himeji from the top however. In all, it was a very beautiful sight to behold. It lives up to it’s nickname “The White Heron” which is a symbol for the whole city and often manhole covers are adorned with a flock of flying white Herons.
I was having such a nice time walking around the castle grounds and had seen many things on the road there that I wanted to go back to, I lost my sense of urgency to get back for the show in Kyoto that night. I knew there would be other days to do the show in Kyoto, but probably wouldn’t get back to Himeji. Unfortunately for me, because I only planned to see the castle that day, we had gotten a pretty late start and most things in the area, like the Himeji zoo next to the castle, all closed around 5:00 p.m. Even though things were all closing up by time we finished the castle tour, I decided to take a stroll through the side shopping promenades that I had seen on the way to the castle. We looked at a few shops and then came across a cupcake and pastry shop. I had to go in and we splurged a little before dinner.
As we made it back to the train station I tried to think what we could do with the rest of our evening. I checked in at the JR ticket counter about Kobe. It wasn’t a place I thought I’d make it to this trip but as I looked through my booklet for the Hyogo area (which Himeji is apart of) and it talked a bit about the Haborland of Kobe and a Ferris wheel and the Anpanman Kids Museum & Mall. It looked like a fun sight, especially at night and I had read about an all you can eat seafood buffet right on the water with a great view of the light up harbor buildings. So we hopped on a regional JR train and off we went.
Once we arrived, we asked for directions to Haborland and wandered our way through the station and the huge Umie shopping mall to get to the harbor shops and restaurants that is called the Mosaic, right on the water. We came across and escalator that the boys begged to ride it down just to go back up. Of course I had to say yes!
By chance, one of the first things we saw as we followed paths that looked like they lead to the water was the all you can eat seafood restaurant buffet called the “Fisherman’s Market.” I saw some pasta and pizza in the window and figured I’d be set for the kids. They saw us in to a table and through some patience and hand signals, we decided on how much we would be charged based on the kids’ ages, and whether or not we would eat just the food or the food buffet and the drink buffet. There was a fairly wide selection of choices but all the pasta and pizza had seafood of course. So it took a little convincing to try a few things even though they looked some what familiar to them. They also had French fries and what would be close enough to fish sticks. I made them try some new stuff and then let them have some comfort choices as well. Plus, the dessert bar with a huge chocolate fountain was a big incentive! What I liked about this place the most was that they had allergy cards at each station! So I knew which things would contain wheat. There was still a chance for gluten, but knowing which things had wheat was a big step because it also told me which things had soy sauce, which is often hard to figure out here since it is a common ingredient. In addition to the food, the view was spectacular!
We knew even before dinner that we were there too lake for the kids museum, but what we really came for was the view and the Ferris wheel. And in that, we were not disappointed!
In all, we had a great evening that was the perfect night cap to a fun day. Now, we just had to get back to the hotel. I took the risk again of having 3 sleepy children when we arrived back at Kyoto station. But I was prepared! Since I had packed my Ergo, I figured I could just put my 2 year old on my back in case my 5 year old fell asleep on the train. I could then push him in the stroller. Sure enough, my 5 year old fell asleep, but so did my 7 year old! To make matters worse, my phone froze up and was not working. I was in a bit of a panic because I can’t handle being in a foreign place without my phone, just in case. After a few failed attempts to find something I had to fit in the pin hold to pop out the sim to restart it, I asked a group of business man with my pointing and hand gestures if they had something that could fit. Thankfully one did, the pin from the back of his name badge! Good thing for me that people go to work late and come home late! At 10:00 p.m. the train was packed with business men returning home from work! With my phone fixed, my last feat was to get all 3 kids off the train. All 3 dead asleep.
I was the evening’s entertainment. Our skit was an American single white female attempting to move a sleeping toddler from the stroller bassinette position to an Ergo, followed by transforming the stroller into an upright forward facing stroller in which a sleeping 7 year old was placed, then trying to balance a sleeping 5 year old on top of said 7 year old while on a moving train, then exciting the train. There were several oohs and ahhs. From there, I had no choice but to take a taxi back to the hotel. As cheap as I am and hate paying for them, the safety of the kids still comes first and there was no way to get then onto two more subway transfers to the hotel. But we made it, and I had never been so relieved to find my way to my bed!