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Himeji, Kyoto temples

Tunnel of torii gates

8 July 2008

As we did not have a breakfast in the hotel, we again bought the coffee and sandwiches from Kyoto Station and went to bullet train which took us in one hour to Himeji. The main attraction in Himeji is a castle - a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is about 15 minutes straight walk from Himeji station. The castle is magnificent building on the top of the hill, survived in the original form. The high surrounding white walls make for an extremely impressive view from the tow. Himeji Castle has five-story main donjon and three smaller donjons. Himeji serves as an excellent example of the typical Japanese castle, containing many of the defensive and architectural features most associated with Japanese castles.

This day was cloudy again, at when we were in the castle, it even rained. Despite the rain we were pleased that we chose to visit Himeji Castle. It is unic as original castle still stands today. Many other castles in Japan are modern reconstructions with ferro-concrete walls and interior elevators, as the majority of Japan's wooden castles were destroyed in air raids in World War II. In Himeji we stepped up on old wooden stairs. The stairs were surprisingly high although local people are short and so were shoguns.
Himeji castle

As we have purchased the combo ticket to visit Himeji Castle and Nishi-Oyashiki-Ato garden. We visited the neighboring garden afterwards - plenty of trees and shady spaces covered with moss, pools and bridges. I was surprised to learn that the gardens had only been constructed in 1992 using the gardening techniques in the Edo period (ca 1600-1860). Walking there it is easy to think that the garden has been there as long as the castle. Compared to other gardens we saw in Japan this particular is nothing special and may be not worth of special visit.

In shinkansen we wrote the postcards to send (writing was possible only in stops or near that). The souvenir shops do not sell stamps. In Himeji the post office was very close to attractions (only 5 minutes from castle first bridge), so we bought the stamps (80 Yen for Europe) and put the cards in the mailbox. First card was received only after three days, very quick service.

After 55 minutes ride we were back in Kyoto and time was 4PM. We walked in South Higashiyama area. First we went in to Sanjusangen-do temple. This temple is famous for 1001 statues of Buddhist deity, Juichimen-senjusengen Kanzoen, often called by the simplified name "Kannon". One thousand standing statues of Kannon and one gigantic seated statue in the center - this was very special view. Taking photo inside the main hall was not allowed. The statues look like they are made from bronze but in fact they are made of Japanese cypress and leafed with gold. 124 kannons are made in 12th century and 876 in the 13th century. They all are called either Important Cultural Properties or National Treasures.

Now the time was already 5PM and therefore most temples were closed. We still wanted to walk in the area and found one temple, which was open and nobody asked entrance fee. This temple had beautiful garden and enjoyable houses. When we walked there, it started to rain and quite heavily. We went to cover ourselves under the roof of bellhouse. It was quite cosy to sit there with enjoyable warm weather with warm rain and share the thoughts of the day.
Miyajima lion

When rain stopped we walked to our hotel, took a shower and went to find a best sushi restaurant in Kyoto in accordance to Lonely Planet guidebook - Den Shichi. The sushi-bar is a little bit away from usual tourist routes, but you can go there easily with bus number 205 or 28 from Kyoto station, the ride to Nishioji Shijo takes about 15 minutes. The bar stands at the main road but as this is not very touristic place, the sign outside is not in English. We asked from local people where it is, one lady showed us: "See, it's there" and she indicated to the signboard. Unfortunately there were many signboards with Japanese hieroglyphs. At least we got the direction. I do not know do they change them, but at least on that day Den Shichi had green curtains at the door. Den Shichi is very popular place. There was no place for us, the lady at the door asked us to come back after 20 minutes. We came back, got the place, but by that time (7:20PM) there was even a cue outside. We can only agree that Den Shichi is excellent sushi bar, may be the best during our Japan trip. Sushi dinner for two including Miso soups and beers cost here 4500 Yen.