On Sunday morning after yet another fantastic breakfast of fresh grilled scallops and giant crab legs we took the new Shinkansen from Hakodate all the way 1200km to Kobe.
The journey was extremely comfortable, despite us travelling with too much luggage. We had already send my ski boots and all our ski gear clothes to our hotel in Tokyo. Sending luggage ahead is an amazing service available all over Japan.
Looking out of the train window, I was however quite shocked by the urbanisation of Japan. From Tokyo onwards until Osaka and beyond the coastline is completely built up with a lot of not so attractive apartment blocks standing in very close proximity to each other. It is difficult to imagine that the inhabitants have any views at all. One of the problems is that Japan is extremely mountainous so most of the people crowd into the 27% of land that is flat. It is absolutely true trains and buses run on time! Tony and I continue to commit a series of Faux PAS like not take our shoes off when required in restaurants and Onsen.
We did not do much in Kobe bar sample the famous Kobe Wagyu beef and visit a Sake factory called Hamafukutsuru. At the end of the tour we sampled their nonpasteurised Sake, which really is very strong at around 15% alcohol in the morning. It is made out of premium rice which gets reduced by around 50-60% and then goes through several processes and fermentation as described below. Being slightly drunk and disorganised made us almost miss our next Shinkansen to Okayama.
Our main reason for the stop in Kobe was to see Himeji castle only 40 min away by train, a spectacular as well as extraordinary imposing and solid structure. It is white, was originally build around 1600 to defend the realm of the local feudal lord with little loop holes to shoot from.
It has been used in numerous movies including James Bond- “you only live twice” and the Tom Cruise film – “the last Samurai”.
It is mainly a wooden structure inside, and has in addition a west wing with a 240m long corridor with 20 rooms where the ladies in waiting lived. It’s most famous occupant was Princess Sen, whose story you can read below.
Afterwards we visited the castle gardens – lovely with the plum blossom just starting to appear. For lunch we ate the local delicacy-conger eel in the garden’s restaurant.