Himeji, frustration and New Years!
Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
21Trip End Jan 29, 2010
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The 30th of December was therefore a day of great frustration. First, we took a 90 minute train ride to Himeji, to see Himeji castle, 'the best castle in Japan', another traveller told us. However once we arrived, we discovered the 30th December is on of the two days of the year the castle is closed! (29th and 30th December, not 31st Dec and 1st Jan, strangely).
Determined to see the castle, we decided to go back the next day, and to see other sights in Osaka. But place after place was closed for the New Year period - the museum of living, the street that sells plastic food... even the restaurant we wanted to go to that night was closed (an awesome teppenyaki place we had tried the previous night) - and we were also turned away from another restaurant (not sure if it was because they were full, or because they didn't allow gaijin (foreigners))
On the 31st, we caught the train again to Himeji and it was open this time! The castle is cool indeed (see photos), but very wooden. We spent a lot of time discussing how impractical it was and how to get it to burn down quickly :p
We didn't really have any plans for new years. Osaka city doesn't hold fireworks like Sydney does, and alot of places (clubs, pubs etc) charged quite high prices to enter. So, we were sitting around with some other Australians and a few Canadians in our hostel, poking a chopstick at the resident hamster (called 'Free', but i'm not sure his owner got the irony?), when we decided we would go out to look at a street lit up with lights, then have an early night as we would be on the move again the next day.
Walking along the street however, we came across a buddhist shrine thing. New years is tied in with buddhism in Japan, and it is a very important spiritaul/religious? event for the Japanese. It was about 11pm, so we thought we woud go in and have a look. The ceremony started at about 11:15 - there was a lot of chanting and bell ringing - pretty much what you would expect with a buddhist ceremony. At about 11:40, they started making announcements in Japanese..having no idea what was happening, we went outside and were handed white helium balloons! We weresupposed to write a message on a piece of paper... and at 12:00am on 1/1/10, everyone would release them! So we stuck around and did that... very cool... very... asian...