Himeji Free Bicycle Rental and Kobe Day Trip

imeji has always been a place I wanted to visit since completing its nanoblock last year.. *right* Having another day alone, I didn’t want to waste this opportunity to chiong as many places as I could, in order to generate more content for my blog =p

To get to Himeji, you will have to depart from Platform 5 in Shin-Osaka station. Do remember to check the train timings and board the right train as not all trains stop at Himeji. You can use Google Maps/Hyperdia or the printed map (e.g. below) to check on which train to board.

how to read jr train timetable

Himeji (once a capital), is situated westwards of Osaka. Although it is relatively a small city, it was made famous by its majestic Himeji Castle – the attraction people travel all the way to Himeji for.

Coming into Himeji, you will most probably alight at the JR Himeji Station.

Do note that the Himeji Tourist Information Centre (see below) provides FREE BICYCLE RENTAL for tourists!

To qualify for the free rental, you will have to fill up a simple application form in exchange for a number tag. You will have to bring the number tag and exchange it for a bicycle at an underground bicycle parking area which is located approximately 5 minutes walk away. There will be a simple map given you and the directions are quite straightforward.

The road from the JR station to the underground bicycle rental station (see below), to the Himeji Castle is all in a straight line. It is impossible to get lost.

Yes this is the sign you should look out for. Otemae Underground Bicycle Parking.

After going down the stairs, you will see many bicycle parking lots. Approach the counter and exchange your number tag for a bicycle key. Unlock your bicycle and it’s time to set off!

FYI: the bicycle lock is affixed to the wheels of the bicycle, not the usual chain type we see in Singapore. It is really useful except that the thieve can carry the whole bicycle away..

The big basket in front is very useful!

They have this really cool travelator for the bicycle. It is motion-sensored and it will lighten the load of bringing the bicycle up to ground level.

Here we go! As you can see, the Himeji castle is right in front of you! All you have to do is just cycle all the way straight.

The tourist information centre guide did highlight to me that we should not ride the bicycle across the bridge as it might be dangerous. So please remember to get off your bicycle and push it across the bridge!

After the bridge, you will see a gate. I guess this was the entry to the fortress back in the olden days?

Ahh! The all-mighty and super bleached Himeji Castle. This castle, built entirely by wood, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is more than 400 years old. The castle was re-opened to public in end March 2015 (I visited in mid March), after a 4 to 5 years massive renovation project.

Left: 2010 (Img Cr: http://www.japan-guide.com/blog/sakura10/100326_himeji.html); Right: Now (2015)

 

I guess many Japanese were as delighted as myself to see the scaffolding of the castle taken down few months back.

The symbolic rock which identifies this place as a World Heritage Monument.

One advantage of having a bicycle while visiting Himeji is that you are able to see a 360 degree view of the entire castle. Walking is possible but the premises is really huge and it would be tiring and time-consuming. On the other hand, cycling (there are slopes where I have to get down and push) makes it easier to witness the panoramic view of the castle. As you can see, there’s almost no one in most of my photos, especially when I ventured to the area behind the castle. I guess people don’t really bother to stray so far if they are traveling by foot =p

This is the back of the castle:

Random Building around the castle

Empty Playground at the garden behind the castle:

Beautiful river/moat with big fishes in it. There’s a no fishing sign by the way.

I rode into a road which brought me to the housing district. It was a pretty sight. Short terrace buildings lining up the streets.

You see the boat at the right side of the photo? I think it is for-hire! I happen to chance upon a couple in the boat later on..

After circling the premises, enjoying the luxury of having a bicycle, I parked my bicycle at a designated area outside a souvenoir shop. I like how the bicycle lock is within the bicycle itself. There’s a “catch” that blocks the wheel from turning when it is locked. Technically you can steal the bicycle by carrying it away and unpick the lock but I guess theft of bicycles ain’t a big issue in Japan.

The entrance fee I paid then (mid March 2015) was 500Y as the main castle building is still out of bounds due to restoration works. As at end March, the price has increased to 1,000Y, following the official re-opening of the Himeji castle.

There are free english guided tours available after you enter the castle. I did not get a free guide as I could only spend a limited time in the castle as I had many other places on my itinerary. Most of these guides are senior citizen and their English is really good! As there weren’t a lot of visitors, I chanced upon 3 separate English guides giving 1 to 1 tours in this castle. I guess there were many lone travelers like myself.

Yes this was the boat that I was talking about earlier. Not sure about the price though.

As the main building castle was not open, I entered a side building, known as the long corridor. You will have to enter this place barefooted. They will pass you a plastic bag for you to keep your shoes. The flooring inside is wooden, so even if you’re not wearing socks, I guess it shouldn’t be an issue.

The long corridor has many rooms, which were fully equipped to be some sort of residence back in the olden days. The view towards the left side is quite pretty.

From the windows on the right, you can see the main building of Himeji Castle. It would have been so pretty few weeks later as all the flowers would be in full bloom.. 

View from the left window. Multi-coloured roofs on short buildings.

At the end of the corridor, you will see the Cosmetic tower which was built using the dowry of a princess. And suddenly you will see two life-size figurines inside that room :/ Can look some kind of freaky somehow..

This is the exit of the long corridor. A pretty steep staircase with steps too narrow for my boots >_< I recall walking sideways down..

Can only look and stare and admire the beauty of Himeji castle’s main building from afar. I was only 2 weeks early from the date of re-opening 🙁

There’s some interesting architecture feat known as “Fan Curves” which is widely appreciated for this castle. Something about the gentle slope so that it won’t collapse, yet steep enough to prevent enemies from scaling it.

Another featured architecture would be the sculptures at the edge of the roof. Apparently the type of fish determines the era (Meji, Showa, Heisei)

Full zoom all the way in, and you can notice that it is the Showa/Heisei period. Both looks so familiar.. Maybe I’ll read up more on Japanese history in my free time.

I was happy to chance upon this set of Himeji Castle nanoblock which I already own. The deluxe set looks really awesome but.. no space to store.

I only managed to spend 1 hour inside the Himeji castle, which was really incomplete as I felt that there were more areas I could spend more time appreciating and understanding. Well, there’s always a next time when I return to visit the main castle building!

Farewell to the majestic Himeji Castle. If you have time to only visit ONE castle in Japan, this would be the one that I would recommend. Also, do bear in mind that it just re-opened in end March 2015. The castle should be really busy and packed for at least a year.

Thankful for the fantastic weather that morning. My photos look so beautiful.

<Click to read my most recent trip to Himeji (March 2017)>

After returning the bicycle to the same place I borrowed from, took the JR train (flash my rail pass) and boarded a train to Kobe. As I used google maps to source for the quickest directions, I ended up taking the Shinkansen instead of the normal JR train. As a result, I alighted at Shin-Kobe station and not the more convenient Sannomiya station.

I can’t remember the exact train speed between both trains but the difference was between 15 minutes and 30 minutes. It took me quite a while to get my bearings from Shin-Kobe station. The station was situated in this nice terminal and I could only get my sense of direction after I found the exit to the station.

The intitial plan was just to eat a Kobe Beef burger to cut cost but my friends ate Kobe beef over the weekend at Ishiyada and said it was the best meal that have eaten. Thus it was a YOLO burn money mentality and I decided to dine at a proper restaurant. As lunch time would be crowded and dinner time would be expensive, dining in the afternoon between 1 to 3pm is the next best alternative. The initial plan was to eat my Kobe beef at Steakland (1st Choice), Kobe Ishiyada (2nd Choice) and Wakkoqu (3rd Choice).

Since I took the Shinkansen train and ended up at Shin-Kobe station, the nearest restaurant was Wakkoqu, my third choice.

I reached the restaurant only at 2:30pm, after a 20 minutes walk from the station (Shin-Kobe station was really far). They gave me a seat by the chef counter and it was kind of awkward as I was alone. I ended up snapping a lot of photos due to boredom in this 5280+Y 5 course meal (soup, salad, kobe beef + vegtables, dessert, coffee).

I can’t recall anything about the soup but the salad was really delicious!

So here’s my 150grams of Kobe beef, presented in front of me. I was somewhat upset about the thin cut of meat.

There are 3 condiments to dip your beef with – Mustard, salt and pepper together with nicely roasted thin garlic slices.

The chef will start off by cutting away the fats/collagen of the beat and use it to oil the base. Then, he will cut your beef into various size and pieces, serving them to you a small portion at a time.

Nope, you do not wait for everything to be cooked before you start eating. You are supposed to eat while he cooks, savouring the flavour slowly.

Included in the set lunch were 6 kinds of vegetables (as seen below). They are probably the most expensive vegtables I’ve ever eaten.

Presentation of food is very important in Japanese dining. Everything has to be presented to you in an orderly and neat fashion.

All in all, there were less than 20 bite size pieces which couldn’t really fill my stomach. Thankfully a bowl of rice was served.

It was then followed by a scoop of lime flavoured sorbet, together with an aromatic coffee which was freshly brewed in front of you.

Well.. this meal cost me about SGD70?! I guess it definitely sets a record of one of the most expensive meal I’ve eaten while I’m overseas.. Is it worth it? I guess it depends on how much of a meat lover you are. To be honest, the Kobe beef was not as nice as the one that I’ve eaten back in Hokkaido. I even doubt whether I was given the real Kobe beef.. Then again, the thickness of the cut is different and I guess that affects the tenderness of the meat vastly. Well, If I were to get a chance to try Kobe Beef again, I’ll definitely want to pay more for a thicker cut!

Another Kobe Beef restaurant would be Ishida. It is located nearer to the Sannomiya Station, more accessible for non-JR pass people. Its set menu is pricier at 6,500Y. Do take note that they do have a last order at 14:30 for lunchtime and that they close from 15:00 to 17:00.

Oh and if you ever come across this brand of Belgium Waffles, Manneken, in Japan, please try it! It is really delicious!

And that’s it for my half day adventure to Himeji and Kobe. I headed back to Osaka at the later part in the day to visit the aquarium.

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