I am re-posting my diary from my September 2013 trip to Japan. This is the report from September 13 with my girlfriend (now fiance) Jordan which recounts our visit to Hikone and Kyoto Tower.
Today we rested somewhat after spending the last two days bouncing around at a breakneck pace. This morning I walked the very short distance to (a very small) McDonalds to bring back some breakfast… a sausage McMuffin for Jordan and a sausage, egg and cheese mcgriddle for me. The noticeable difference from the US is that most McDonalds breakfast sandwiches in Japan have the same egg white/yolk one would normally find on a McMuffin.
We went to Kyoto station and departed for our trip to one of Japan’s national treasures, Hikone Castle. It was a surprise for me as the visit was wonderful. Hikone Castle is one of only 12 castles in Japan whose original keep has been undamaged and preserved through the centuries, and one of 4 castles designated as a national treasure. Jordan made a great call on visiting Hikone… the other alternative is the more famous Himeji, although Himeji is currently housed under large scaffolding for reconstruction works.
We opted to take the short ride on the bullet train from Kyoto to Maibara in both directions in order to relax… it was only a 20 minute ride between the two stations; Maibara is connected to Hikone by a 3 minute ride.
After returning to Kyoto station and partaking of some pork buns (again!), it was off to Kyoto Tower, the observation deck that is adjacent to Kyoto station. Apparently it was refurbished AGAIN, so I can now say that I have been to Kyoto Tower three times with three different scenarios: Before renovations (2004), after the first renovation (2008) and this year after the second renovation.
We then decided to go back to hotel and call it a day, but not before making seat reservations for our bullet train trip to Tokyo on Sunday.
Jordan and I just came back from a noodle restaurant called Yoshimura, which is between the McDonald’s and our hotel. It is a small place but very charming. It’s a two story restaurant.. chefs prepare the noodles from scratch in an open viewing room on the first floor, and then the chefs cook them upstairs where we sat. The set meal included hot or cold soba (we went for hot), prawn and vegetable tempura, a sashimi appetizer and a drink – we went for the specialty drink known in the country as “Nihonshu”… which us Americans call SAKE. We were a bit nervous at first when ordering, but one of the waitresses had a fairly good command of English which was a big plus.
Tomorrow we forward part of our luggage to our Tokyo hotel for Sunday arrival, and then spend a good part of the day visiting the Hanshin Racecourse near Osaka.
What a treat it was to seem to be away from the bustle of Kyoto and discover the charm of Hikone. Of course, Himeji is a must on the typical itinerary of a visitor to Japan. Since 2010, though, Himeji’s castle has been covered by large scaffolding for a big renovation project. Many parts of the Himeji keep were closed to visitors at the time of our visit to Japan, and it is estimated that the entire renovation will not be completed until March, 2015.
It is a bit of a hike to get from the Hikone train station to Hikone castle… but it really is a pleasant walk to get there. Hopefully videos documenting this, and many other aspects of our trip, will be shared soon 😦
If going from Kyoto to Hikone, the easier option is to just take a JR commuter train (50 minutes, 1110 yen) that will take you the entire way. We opted for an alternative: we took the bullet train a short hop to Maibara, which actually goes past Hikone station a bit, then retraced and took a JR commuter train the opposite direction and went just one stop to Hikone station.
The bullet train selected for Kyoto-Maibara was the Kodama, which is the all stations bullet train service. A good majority of the seats on the Kodama are un-reserved – and cheaper – so the un-reserved tickets let us sit in any un-reserved seat on the train. This surcharge on top of the regular 1,110 yen fare is only 950 yen – so we paid 2,060 yen each for these tickets to Maibara. Then we purchased separate tickets (180 yen each) to go from Maibara to Hikone on the regular train. This was repeated for the journey back to Kyoto.
We opted for this alternative not just for the faster speed, but for the comfortable seating – not to mention the tray tables that allowed us a quick snack while on the 20 minute bullet train trip. These were things that we would not have gotten if just sticking on a commuter train for the entire trip.