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Getting around

Part 5:  Himeji, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Osaka

Map of trip to Japan

28.10: KL -> Tokyo
29.10: Tokyo
30.10: Tokyo
31.10: Tokyo
1.11: Tokyo
2.11: Tokyo -> Nikko -> Tokyo
3.11: Tokyo -> Hakone -> Tokyo
4.11: Tokyo -> Kyoto
5.11: Kyoto
6.11: Kyoto -> Nara -> Kyoto
7.11: Kyoto -> Himeji -> Hiroshima
8.11: Hiroshima -> Osaka
9.11: Osaka
10.11: Osaka -> KL

7.11: Kyoto -> Himeji -> Hiroshima
Hotel Toyoko Inn, Hiroshima, www.toyoko-inn.com. 6300 yen for a room with essentially everything: TV, safe, fridge, A/C, water boiler, hair dryer, attached toilet with shower, mirrors, books (a bible and something else), telephone, DSL Internet line (no NNTP and FTP access though). A bit bigger than the places I stayed previously. Breakfast included. Excellent value, good location (500m from the railway station). Check in time 4pm (late!) and check out 10am (early) however. By the way, 6300 yen is the walk-in rate.
Weather: sunny, wonderful, spotless blue sky the whole day. It gets warm enough at noon to walk around in a T-shirt.

I get up at 8:30am, get ready, check out and take the next Shinkansen for Himeji at 9:55am. At 10:40am the train stops in Himeji. I get out, leave the suitcase in a luggage locker (600 yen), then walk to the castle. The castle is a 10 minutes walk away from the station.

Very nice castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I spend 1 1/2 hours there. For the first time a Japanese is inpolite and rude. Before entering the tower you must take off your shoes. There is a wooden platform for that, where you get some slippers. While I'm taking off my shoes, this guy arrives and says: take off your shoes. So I reply: guess what I am doing right now. The guy replies: step off the wooden platform.

At 12:35pm I leave the castle and walk back to the train station. Along the way I buy some food, which essentially is my lunch. No time today to stop in a restaurant for lunch. I manage to catch the next Shinkansen at 1:29pm, arriving in Hiroshima at 2:33pm.

In Hiroshima station I head to the tourist information counter where I book a hotel and ask how to get to Miyajima island. Then I go to the hotel, check-in, leave the luggage in the lobby because it's just 3pm and too early to get into the room, and head back to the train station.

I manage to catch the 3:15pm train to Miyajima station. The trip (570 yen one way) takes 26 minutes, then you have to take a ferry (10 minutes). I catch the 3:55pm ferry and at 4:05 I'm finally on Miyajima island. Great late afternoon light, great views. Miyajima island alone was worth the detour to Hiroshima. What a wonderful place. What a pity that I arrive so late, because at 4:30pm the Itsukushima shrine already gets no sunlight anymore (it's in a bay facing north).

I'm on Miyajima island until after sunset, leaving at 5:45pm. Back on the mainland, I have some dinner in a Japanese restaurant (excellent grilled fish and rice). Then I head back to the hotel.

8.11: Hiroshima -> Miyajima -> Osaka
Park Hotel Rinkai, Osaka, www.rinkaihotel.co.jp. 5800 yen for a single room, with A/C, TV, telephone, fridge, attached toilet with shower, hairdryer. No DSL Internet line in the room (only in the lobby), no breakfast (available for 500 yen extra, but only from 6:30-8:30am).
Weather: in Hiroshima sunny with a very thin clouds layer. At 11am briefly overcast, then sunny again. Warm enough to walk around in a T-shirt. In the evening a bit fresh in Osaka.

I get up at 9am, check my emails and rush to get ready. At 10:15am I check out, leaving my bags in the hotel. I go to the tourist office in the Hiroshima train station, where with some effort I book a hotel in Osaka for two nights. It takes some effort because they do not have a hotel list for Osaka and calling a tourist office in the Osaka train station produces no results, as the line is always busy.
On the other hand the tourist office in the Osaka train station closes at 8pm and I'll arrive in Osaka very likely after that. Without local help I would not know how to find an affordable hotel in Osaka.

Let me mention here that the Internet booking systems most of the time give you expensive hotels and cannot be used if you decide very short term where you will be. During this Japan trip I have been setting up my schedule very much on a day-by-day basis, with no fixed advanced plan.

In any case I lose quite a lot of time (almost one hour) in this tourist office and it's already 11:30am when I get out of it. To save time I take the tramway to the Peace park (about 2km from the train station).

Until 1:45pm I'm in the Peace park area, visiting the memorials and monuments dedicated to the Atomic bomb explosion and the Peace Museum. It's an area with a lot of symbolism attached to it.

In front of the Children Peace Monument dedicated to Sadako Sasaki, the small girl who died of leukemia while making 1000 paper cranes, classes of schoolchildren stop, say something and deposit chains of paper cranes. The museum shows in gruesome detail the effects of the atomic bomb explosion on the city and the people.

At 1:45pm I start walking back to the train station. I could have taken a bus, but I want to get an idea of the city. It's a modern city with many skyscrapers, wide streets, shopping complexes - just like any other large Japanese city. I briefly stop in a noodle restaurant for a bowl of noodle soup.

Turns out that time passes fast, because I'm at the train station only at 2:45pm, but I manage to catch the 2:50pm train to Miyajimaguchi, the train station opposite Miyajima island. I was planning to spend some more time on Miyajima island, but it looks like my visit will be a short one again.

The train arrives in Miyajimaguchi at 3:15pm. I take the 3:25pm ferry, arriving on Miyajima island at 3:40pm. The sun will be shining over the Itsukushima shrine only until 4:30pm, so I have to rush a bit. Again great views and colours of the shrines and the torii at sunset.

I return with the 5:10pm ferry, stop in the same restaurant of yesterday in Miyajimaguchi for some grilled fish with rice, then get back to Hiroshima station by train. From there I walk to the hotel, retrieve the luggage, get back to the train station and take the next Shinkansen at 7:10pm.

A 8:43pm, just one hour and a half later, I'm in Shin-Osaka, the central train station of Osaka. From there I get to the hotel by subway. It's not just 3 minutes from Honmachi station - you have to walk 10 minutes and ask for directions.

Osaka appears to be a huge city with a well developed subway system consisting of several lines.

9.11: Osaka
Park Hotel Rinkai. The hotel has washing machines (200 yen) and dryers (100 yen for 30 minutes on the 12th floor). The washing quality is poor, but better than nothing. The Internet connection in the lobby through a cable is fast.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with thin clouds layer in the morning. After noon progressively overcast, after 1pm the sky is overcast. No rain. Not too cold - I alternate walking around with a T-shirt and with T-shirt + light jacket.

I get up at 9:30am, get ready and check my emails in the lobby. Still no answer to my question from agoda.com regarding the hotel I booked yesterday in Macao. I sent a notice to customer service yesterday, got an automated reply telling me to wait and nothing else. I try the online chat link they sent, in order to have a chat with a customer service rep, but get no reply to my questions. Not much of a hotel booking company.

After I enquire about the laundry in the lobby. There are washing machines on the 12th floor, but I will have to buy the washing powder somewhere as they don't have it in the hotel.

It's shortly after 11am when I finally leave the hotel. It's indeed a three minutes walk to the next subway station, but to the exit 26, not 5. I get a day pass for the subway for 600 yen.

My first stop is at Namba station at 11:40am. This is the station from which the trains and buses to Kansai international airport leave. I have a quick look around. In this part of the city there is nothing worthwile visiting. Nothing. Just a jungle of cement, streets and buildings. Surprise, surprise there are a few elder Japanese ladies doing watercolour paintings of the cement jungle.

After 10 minutes there I get back to the subway station. There I walk through the corridors to the next line and take the subway to the station near the Tennoji temple, arriving there at 12:28pm. The Tennoji temple is not visible, so I walk westwards and reach a garden (entry: 150 yen).

This garden is kind of cute, has a lake with a bridge in it, but otherwise it's unremarkable. Inside there is the Osaka municipal museum. Shortly before 1pm I leave this park and walk northwards to the Tennoji temple, arriving there at 1:20pm.

The Tennoji temple is, well, unremarkable as well. It is relatively modern, having been rebuilt in the 1960s. The entry ticket is 300 yen, but since there is nothing to see I skip this temple and walk to the next place, the Osaka castle.

I wasn't sure initially whether to visit the Osaka castle or not, because it looked on paper like a modern, rebuilt me-too version of the Himeji castle. But when I get there (have to take the subway because it is too far away), I realise that it is actually quite different and interesting.

There is a large moat surrounding the castle. Inside the walls there is a large garden and the castle itself is quite photogenic, with a green copper/bronze roof and golden decorations. The castle is full of people. In front of the castle there is Japanese wedding couple in traditional dress posing for a photo shoot.

I'm at the castle until 2:45pm, then start walking to the north exit. Near the castle there is the Osaka business park with a convention centre (the Osaka-jo hall) and several skyscrapers.

Overall Osaka appears to be a pretty unremarkable place. It may be a big city, but lacks almost completely interesting architecture, trendy neighbourhoods and elegant places. Tokyo is in this respect light years ahead of Osaka.

At 3:15pm I take the subway to Umeda station, arriving there at 3:50pm. Umeda is a downtown area of Osaka, with a train and subway station, shops, a big electronics store and department stores (for instance the Hanshin department store). Nearby there is a twin tower skyscraper, with the towers connected at the top in a greek pi shape. On top is the floating garden observatory, where you have a nice view of the city.

I go to this floating garden observatory (ticket: 700 yen) and stay there until after sunset. On the top there is a cafe and a great view of the sunset and the city. Cool view of the sun setting over the river with the bridges.

At 5:30pm I leave the observatory, get down again and start looking for a place where to have dinner. Lots of small restaurants, cafes, pubs and eateries in the area. It's apparent that competition brings prices down, as the food here is relatively inexpensive. I end up having a larger dinner in a cafe for 1700 yen (one of my more expensive dinners so far in Japan).

After dinner I look for a place where to buy green tea, thread and needle (to fix my bag) and washing powder to wash the clothes. After a few minutes I run into the Hanshin department store. It takes some effort and asking for directions to find everything, because things here are not arranged the way they are in Germany department stores, but finally I get everything. After this I get back to the hotel. In the evening I wash my clothes.

10.11: Osaka -> KL
Hotel Melia, Kuala Lumpur. 247 RM for a room with essentially everything except a DSL line. Breakfast not included (costs 25RM extra). My room is facing a noisy street. The A/C is freezing, I have to turn it off. WLAN prepaid cards (10RM, one hour, access in the lobby only) sold in the lobby. This hotel is a bit old and overpriced if compared to the Boulevard hotel although the location is not bad if you want to be in downtown KL.
The next morning I find out that the toilet bowl is defective - when I flush the water spills over and gets on the ground. The shower itself does not have enough water pressure.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with thin clouds layer in the morning in Osaka. Not cold, warm enough to walk around in a T-shirt. Tropically hot in KL, partly overcast sky, no rain.

The alarm clock wakes me up at 7:30am. I get ready and at 8:30am leave the hotel after having downloaded my emails in the lobby. Still no reply from the Macau hotels I have emailed yesterday. Hopefully Macau is not full.

I walk to the subway station, fetch the train to Namba station and from there I catch the 9:11am JR train to Kansai airport. I have to change in Tenno-ji, because I missed the 9:03am direct train. Cost the the train ticket is 1760 yen (the subway was 200 yen).

At 10am I'm at the airport - later than I had expected. I rush to the check-in counter (MAS is the north section). Luckily there is no queue, perhaps I'm one of the last passengers to check-in.

The lady is a bit puzzled because I have an EU passport and am flying with a one-way ticket (return section of my ticket) to Malaysia. She asks for a connecting flight, which I do not have. I explain that tomorrow I'm flying to Macao and in a week to Germany. The ticket to Macao is an electronic one and I have no printout.

Some discussion follows, the lady consults another lady. They explain that they only allow non-Malaysians to Malaysia who have an ongoing flight. Bla bla bla, in the end I pull out the flight number of the Airasia flight to Macao and get the boarding pass. After I proceed through security and immigration.

The flight starts with a small 10 minutes delay from Kansai airport. The meal served on-board is so-so. The plane is half-empty.

The plane lands at 4:40pm in KLIA. After things go quite speedily - I go through immigration, retrieve my luggage and at 5:20pm I'm already in the KLIA express. This leaves at 5:30pm and arrives at 6pm in KL Sentral station. Surprise, there are no taxis. Because of the traffic jam the taxi drivers are not working or request 30-40RM for the trip (about 5 times the metered rate). So I walk to the Monorail station opposite KL Sentral and take the next monorail to Jalan Imbi, where the Hotel Melia is located. By 6:30pm I have checked in.

In the evening I check the suit and the shirts. The trousers are too tight and have a too straight cut in front (not enough space in the frontal pockets). Also the shirts need some reworking.

Copyright 2007 Alfred Molon