Day 3 : Tomonoura to Kyoto
We woke up early again to go to the water front. We had better luck that morning and had some blue sky. Tomonoura was an old fishing port. Up to today, it is an operating port town. It is situated at a bay facing the Seto Inland Sea. It is still an endearing old fashioned fishing townscape.The symbol of Tomonoura is Joyato Lighthouse which was built during the Edo Period. The eleven meter structure stands prominently at the waterfront directly south of the town center. Then it was back to the ryokan for breakfast. It was as usual, Japanese breakfast. I love the dry seasoned fish that they served. You heat it up over an open fire pot. Yummy! Since Tomonoura is a fishing port, they served a lot of dried and fresh seafood in their meals in Keishokan Sazanamitei. After breakfast, we took the first shuttle bus out to Fukuyama. We had reserved our Shinkansen ticket from Fukuyama to Okayama the day before. The Shinkansen ride to Okayama was about 20 mins. At Okayama station, we deposited our bags in the coin locker and took the Higashiyama tram to Korakuen. Tram ride was about 5 mins. There is a short walk from the tram stop to the entrance of the garden.
Korakuen is one of the top 3 gardens of Japan. Korakuen is a beautiful landscape garden and Okayama’s main attraction. Sakura was at its peak in the garden that day. It was a Saturday and we saw many young couples taking their wedding photos. They were very sporting and even posed for us.From Korakuen garden, you can see Okayama castle. The scene with the castle in the background and cherry blossoms in the foreground was awesome! Weather was beautiful and flowers in full bloom. Many people were picnicking in the garden that day. I chanced upon a lovely elderly couple having a picnic under the cherry blossoms. I hope that DH and I will also have such opportunities to share such quiet moments when we grow old. Aren’t they sweet?
Outside Korakuen there is a canal and the cherry blossoms along the canal were beautiful too. Many people who did not want to pay the entrance ticket to the garden were picnicking along the beautiful canal.
After the garden visit we went back to the train station to take our train to Himeji. There was a queue to reserve the seats on the Shinkansen. We should have reserved our tickets from Himeji to Kyoto later that afternoon too, but we forgot to do that and had to queue an hour later at Himeji station to do that. The trains from Okayama to Himeji were so full that DH and I had to be seated in different carriages.
The train ride from Okayama to Himeji was about 30 mins. We bought ekibento from the station and ate our lunch on the train. Every Shinkansen station in Japan sells Ekibento which you can buy to eat on the train and each station normally has a special bento that is only available in that station. Okayama was the place of the folklore of the Momotaro Peach Boy. So the special ekibento at Okayama station is in a peach shaped box.Upon arrival at Himeji, we deposited our bag at the locker in the train station. We needed to move away from the entrance of the Shinkansen exit to find an available locker. The lockers near the Shinkansen exit were all full. As we forgot to reserve our late afternoon tickets to Kyoto earlier, we had to do it here. Himeji was so busy, we waited up to an hour to do that. I kicked myself for not doing it earlier and having to waste a precious hour here. Our JR pass allowed us to take the Sanyo Shinkansen only. That line stops at Osaka. From Osaka to Kyoto, it is the Tokaido Shinkansen line. So if we wanted to go on to Kyoto on our free pass, we need to change to the local trains at Osaka. We didn’t feel like doing that, so we topped up for a Shinkansen ride from Osaka to Kyoto. It cost about SGD70 for both of us (~¥3000 each) for that short section! I felt so good to have utilized my free pass these few days and having made my monies worth. Without the JR pass, transportation cost would have been horrendous. Anyway, after we have settled our tickets, we took a taxi to Himeji castle. We did not fancy the 20mins walk up slope.
It was the first weekend that Himeji castle was opened to the public after it was closed for extensive renovation. So the whole place was very crowded and full of people. It was an amazing sight to see such a huge sea of people at the open space in front of the castle having their cherry blossom picnic that Saturday. Himeji Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The queue to go into the main castle keep was very very long. We must have spent more than in hour queuing to get in. Frankly there is nothing much inside and I don’t think it is worth the time spent. The garden of Himeji is very beautiful and I would have been better off spending more time there. There are some side halls where there are no queues. I suggest going there to have a look at the garden through the windows of those rooms. After our visit we decided to walk back to the train station. It was an easy downslope walk. Probably faster to walk than take a bus or taxi as traffic was terrible.
At the station we bought a box of strawberries wrapped with mochi for snack on our ride to Kyoto. The Shinkansen ride to Kyoto took less than 1 hour.At Kyoto station, we decided to take a taxi to our ryokan, Sanga. This was our most expensive ryokan, but not the best. We paid JPY56,0000 per night for room and dinner and breakfast. It was one of the ryokans with rooms left when we searched and is located near a subway station, review was decent so we took it. It turned out ok and good was quite good but definitely not worth JPY56,000.
And in case you are wondering, yes, our bags arrived at Sanga earlier that day before us and the ryokan owner had put it aside for us. Luggage transfer service in Japan is really fantastic. By the way, the owner of Sanga does not really speak English but makes an attempt to communicate with a translation app on his mobile. But we managed somehow. The young lady who served us during meals spoke decent English.
We probably paid for the most expensive room in the ryokan. That was probably why it was still available when we booked. It is on the second second floor and is not just one room but comes with a smaller ante room for dressing. Our meals were not served in our room, but in a private room on the ground floor overlooking the garden. Dinner was again Kaiseki. It was good, but not as refine as what we had at Kinsuikan.
After dinner we decided to head out to Maruyama Park for the night time illumination. Maruyama Park is a public park in the Higashiyama district well known for its giant weeping cherry tree. The weatherman had forecasted rain the next 2 days so we wanted to go that night when weather was still good. Maruyama Park is one of Kyoto’s most popular Hanami sites during the Sakura season. There are food stalls set up in the park where you can just get a snack and eat along the way. For those wanting a sit down meal, they even have make shift “restaurants” with tables set under the cherry trees for you to enjoy your meal or drinks. Due to the popularity of the place, there is a min spent required. The place is packed, but with some patience and watchful eye, we managed to snag a table and was able to enjoy our sake leisurely under the cherry trees. After our sake, we left Maruyama Park and took a short walk to the nearby Gion, hoping to catch some Geisha in action. But alas, no such luck! The Geishas were all probably at their parties already by then. After a short stroll,, we caught a cab back to our ryokan. We were dead tired after the long day.