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July 5, 2004

Castles, shrines and a bad hotel

The Travel Channel

Japan day 3 and 4 - Himeji, Kyoto and Tokyo
After a good nights sleep at at Toyoko Inn were they even had free internet in all the rooms(!) we boarded the Shinkansen again headed back towards Tokyo. Our first stop en-route was Himeji, one of Japans old castle-towns from the middle ages. Here we visited Himeji-castle which differs from the other places we visisted by still retaining its original interiour as well as the exteriour. It was very interesting to see a japanese castle in its original form and the view from the top-floor would have been amazing had it not been for limited visibility caused by the thin fog that appeared to cover all of Japan constantly.

Besides the castle and its surrounding park there wasn't much other we were interested in seeing around Himeji, so we got back on the train heading towards the previous residence of the Emperor, and Japans former capital, Kyoto.

Arriving there we had the tourist-information center book us a hotel-room straight across the road from the station. It seems that we got a really nice discount for same day-booking or something, for the listed price for our room in some brochures was four times what we paid for it. I won't complain about that :-) It was getting late in the evening before we were settled in, so after having dinner and having a look around the area we called it a night.

Kyoto city is quite a bit larger than both Himeji and Hiroshima, so the next morning we got a day-pass on the local buslines, and it turned out to be a great way of getting around. After initially spending some time in the vast underground shopping-malls around the station, we took a bus up to the Emperors Palace. Unfortunatly the Palace was closed for public access, so we ended up walking around the entire palace (it's large!) in the soaring mid-day heat. This was quite a dissapointment to us, so we headed on to see the Golden Pavillion, a buddhist temple from the thirteenth century coloured by gold-leaves. It is a real sight to behold where it sits on the edge of a large pond in the midst of a small park, surrounded by shrines and statues. On our way out from the temple we discovered a small souvenir shop that actually had a good selection of interesting souvenirs, as well as some really nice postcards. Most of the other shops we have seen have not had any good souvenirs of interest, and postcards appear to be very rare in Japan, which was surprising considering their wide availabilty in rest the world. On the other hand, the good thing about postcards beeing rare is that the few you find are very pretty, high quality, luxury cards compared to the cheap stuff with bad photos you find elsewhere.

As the hours pass too quickly and we had a fair bit to travel, we headed back to the station and got on the Shinkansen again. We had considered stopping at Mt. Fuji but discovered that we could in no way fit it into our schedule without sacrificing one full day for it, and we'd rather spend our last few days to see the differnt parts of Tokyo.
When we after some hours on the train arrived in Tokyo, we had more trouble finding a Hotel than expected. Due to a festival happening on the 8th of July, all the hotels we wanted were fully booked, so we had to check into a horrible place just across the road from the station. It's not that the place was all that bad by itself as it was clean and we had our own bathroom, but the rooms were really small, there was a strange smell in the narrow hallways and moisture from the airconditioner dripped right on my face while sleeping. All of this and the fact that we paid more for it than any of the other really good places we'd been staying at really annoyed us, and ruined the rest of our evening.

For more annoyance, this morning we discovered that there are no internet cafès, international ATM's in english, or shops accepting credit cards within 3 blocks of Tokyo central railway station... also very few people, including employees at tourist information offices, are able to speak english, so if you need something more than directions to a well known place or answers to very simple questions you will have a hard time getting what you need. Japan is definitivly not a tourist friendly place if you don't speak Japanese, so if you are going here you should take into account that even simple things like finding a working ATM can take a lot more time than expected. If you are not prepared it will be very annoying and tiresome to discover this if you are short on time.

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