Seishun 18

Adventure 18 Day Six | Himeji Hanami

Friday

We woke up to grey skies and rain. The hostel I stayed at had put me in a small female building that almost felt like an apartment – with a big open space with bunkbeds, a second story and a small living room area and kitchen. I chatted with the two girls that were there, both who were doing working holidays in Japan. They were very sweet and it was great to meet them!

I got the castle around nine, umbrella in hand. The grounds were full of food and game stands being set up but the mood was a little dampened due to the rain. The castle itself is usually the main attraction, but during cherry blossom season the approach itself was half of the excitement. As I got closer through a series of small buildings and long walls more and more blossoms appeared, making the castle prettier with each step. Forgive me for gushing, but it was nothing short of magical.  It feels like a dream world to walk around the white castle in a sea of pink blossoms.

It’s no wonder that Himeji castle gets so much attention – it really is beautiful. It’s tall and majestic looking with bright white walls, a dark roof, and a large expanse of smaller buildings and walls around it. It’s really nice to walk around inside too – the huge rooms let in light and the dark wood feels nice to walk on in socks. Himeji castle plus the connected buildings also has the most amount of information on display that I’ve seen in a castle – you could easily spend an hour just wandering around and reading.

I left the castle around 11:30 went looking for the restaurant I wanted to try – Menme (Tripadvisor, you did not disappoint!). I got there just as they were opening and was able to sit right at the counter to watch them process. The staff is so friendly and a seamless noodle making team. When my noodles arrived they were just as great as I hoped they’d be – fresh, thick, and the perfect texture.

After the meal I headed over to the station which was my final tourist stop on my Seishun 18 trip. I had been really strict with spending during my trip but I shelled out for some really nice omiyage. Everyone always appreciates any type of omiyage but it feels good to give something really nice (and probably better tasting). So with my omiyage and luggage I caught yet another local train to spend a few days in Shiga.

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Adventure 18 Day Five | Naoshima Now

Thursday

I woke up really early (apologies once again, hostel buddies) and caught the 7:37 train from Hiroshima, using my trusty Seishun 18 Kippu. I stopped at Hiro station and left my luggage there, running to catch the next local train to the ferry port.

Naoshima is an island so sleepily inaka you would never guess it plays host to such big name works and museums. The streets of the town around the edge of the island are quiet except for visitors and volunteer guides. The streets that cut across the island are empty and lined by trees and rice paddies.  I rented a bike for 500 yen to make my way across the island. It was a wonderful day biking through the streets and seeing the water – both exhilarating and calming.

My favourite place I visited was Minamidera, part of the Art House Project. People are allowed to enter in fifteen minutes intervals and I waited in line watching the group ahead of me leave the building looking dazed. When it was our group’s turn to enter the guide gave us some brief instructions, telling us that it is dark inside and we wouldn’t be able to see anything. We followed her voice, our hands running against the wall to our left. After entering the building we took a few turns until eventually we were in complete blackness. Eventually we were instructed to sit down on a bench and slide until we reached a wall.  The group had been giggly and talkative before at first but everyone fell silent as our eyes struggled to see. I’ve never experienced so much darkness, being able to see absolutely nothing. After about five minutes of searching my eyes started to pick up some light at the end of the room. My brain strained to process the shape and make it clear. Slowly my eyes adjusted to the light and I could see the vague presence of my hands. Not what they looked like, but that they were slightly different looking than the area around them. After a few minutes the guide asked us if we could see a light and everyone said YES practically yelling. Ok, you can stand up she said, and we all stood up excitedly and shuffled towards the light. I still couldn’t see well but I could see the forms of people around me, feel their movement and hear them talking excitedly to each other. It was a really unique sensory experience and unlike anything I’ve done before. After a few minutes I made my way out of the building, blinking in a daze just like the people before me.

I finished the day off at I ♥ Yu (you can see pictures here!) which combines three of my favourite things – puns, onsen, and art. The pun is that in Japanese, yu means hot water – a joke I wish I had coined. After biking and walking all day it felt wonderful to shower and sit in the hot water of the onsen. Bonus was the giant elephant statue above my head. I called it a day in the late afternoon, catching a ferry around 5:00 and making the trek from Tadanoumi to Hiro station, and eventually all the way to Himeji at 10:00.

Adventure 18 Day Three | Miyajima Magic

Tuesday

I love hostels but getting up early is always so awkward knowing you’re bothering people. Climbing down from the top bunk on a noisy ladder is going to wake someone up, no matter how hard you try. Luckily I’m a really deep sleeper so this never bothers me, but for others all I can do is be as quiet as possible.

I walked to the station and caught the 7:50 train from that got me to Iwakuni station at 8:43. I didn’t use my Seishun 18 Kippu this day because it the fare to these places was pretty cheap and I needed to save my days on the ticket for later. From there I took a bus and got to the Kintai bridge around 9:15 or so. The bridge is really cool! The big wooden arches look beautiful against the river. It’s actually really hard to walk across, because the steps get bigger and smaller and all blend into each other.

Iwakuni itself was absolutely beautiful! I was there just on the verge of the cherry blossoms opening, so I didn’t get to see them in all their glory. But the half-opened buds were still pretty. The gardens are large and peaceful, particularly so because early in the morning there was hardly anyone there. I walked around for a little, feeling very calm and at ease in my surroundings.

I took the tiny lift up that brought us to a forest walkway and the castle on the top of the mountain. The top of the castle looks out over the bridge, river, and town. I walked around the castle a little bit and ate some breakfast sitting at one of the little stone picnic tables.

Instead of putting effort into figuring out the return buses to Iwakuni station, I just walked about fifteen minutes to a tiny closer station that was oddly positioned on the top of steep hill. I got the 10:50 and arrived in at Miyajimaguchi station at 11:33. I wasn’t sure if I would have to wait long in line for the ferry but since Miyajima is such a popular destination the ferries are huge and run every ten or fifteen minutes. I just bought my ticket and walked on! Easier than catching any bus I’ve ever caught, haha. I got there at the perfect time to see Itsukushima shrine at high tide, around 12:30!

I walked around taking pictures, offering to take pictures of other people, and asking people to take pictures of me. At one point I was taking a picture of something and an older man came up to me and told me I was in the wrong spot to take pictures and that he had a better spot to take pictures from. So he brought me over to another area and took my picture, which is the photo below.

I wandered around a bit up towards the gardens where I found a nice little spot by the river to eat the food I brought. I didn’t realize Miyajima had so many deer, but there were a bunch winding their way around tourists and looking for food. As I was eating a deer came up to me and started nudging me trying to get food, but all I had left was a banana. I wasn’t sure if deer like banana but I broke off a piece and held it out, which the deer picked up and then dropped on the ground. So there was my answer.

I wandered up through the trees and ended up at the lift to the top of Mount Misen. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go all way to the top but I figured it was a good way to spend the afternoon. There’s two lifts, the first is like a ski lift but much smaller and the second was a standing lift with windows all around that lets you see the mountains and sea as it ascends.

At the top of the lift it was a half hour climb to the very top of the mountain. The climb itself wasn’t difficult but a little tricky because of the uneven ground and trying to pass people in tight spaces as they came down the mountain. There’s an observation building at the top that I hung out for in a bit, sitting on big raised platform on the first level contemplating a nap. Afterwards when I made my way back down to the lift I was really tired, partly because of the climb but mostly from not sleeping. I had planned to walk down but I realized that although it was doable it would take almost two hours and I decided to just take the lift back.

When I reached the bottom it was around 5:00 and I searched around to find somewhere to eat. Sadly this is apparently the time when everything is closed, but I found an open Okonomiyaki shop that looked good. I’d like to say I loved the okonomiyaki but it pales in comparison to the night before. But, all in all, a nice restaurant and a nice break from the day.

I took the ferry and then the train back to Hiroshima station, getting back to my hostel around 8:00. I attempted some studying which did not go well, and finally went to bed.

 

Adventure 18 Day One | Dinopanda

Sunday

5:35 – (They journey begins!) Took the first train of the morning from Toyama Station

6:30 – Arrive in Kanazawa and buy my Seishun 18 ticket

6:57 – Depart from Kanazawa -> 8:23 – Arrive in Fukui. Learn Fukui has a whole dino-theme going on.

9:11 – Depart from Fukui -> 10:01 – Arrive in Tsuruga

10:23 – Depart Tsuruga (on the super sweet JR Special Rapid Service for Himeji!)

12:55 – Arrive in Kobe!

I slept quite a bit on the train and felt pretty good. Luckily the early hours and being one of the first people in line meant I always had a seat. I stored my suitcase in a locker in the station and went walking. Being in a new city with nothing weighing you down is a wonderful feeling. It was great to walk around the city and even better to get some good food in Chinatown.

5:27 – Depart Kobe (don’t get a seat because it’s a really busy station!)

7:31 – Arrive in Okayama

7:42 – Depart Okayama

7:53 – Arrive Hayashima station and walk to hostel

I stayed at Igusa Guest House. The hostel owners were incredibly nice and chatted with me about my trip and where I was going. There hostel is small and very homey- I really felt like I was staying at someone’s place. My original plan was to go to Naoshima the next day but luckily they told me that most things on the island were closed on the Monday.  I rearranged my schedule and decided to go to Okunoshima the next day.

How to use the Seishun 18 Kippu

I’m becoming increasingly aware of how little time left I have in Japan. And while I have done many of the things I want to there are still items on the list that have evaded me so far. Number one on the list was a visit to Hiroshima. While railway transport is very efficient and fast, the frugal me always avoided dishing out the funds it would require (about a $400.00 round trip) to get there. But fate seemed to be calling this March, because I had a lot of nenkyuu (days off) saved up and an urge to travel. So I decided to take the most cost-efficient but time-expensive method of transport there is – the Seishun 18 Kippu (青春18きっぷ)!

How it works (japan-guide.com)

  • 11,850 yen for five days of unlimited train use (the days do not have to be consecutive)
  • You can ride the trains (and leave the station) as much as you like but only local trains.
  • The ticket is valid during the school spring, winter, and fall breaks and valid almost everywhere in the country (one of the places it is not, ironically, is Toyama)seishun-ticket

You can buy the ticket at JR train stations. They’ll give you this ticket (above). Guard this with your life! It is the ticket you will use for your whole five days of travel. When you enter the station you have to show this to station worker at the gate and they will stamp it with the date and station (starting on the bottom right). After that you can exit and enter JR trains as much as you like, just show the ticket to the person working at the gate.

Fukui station

Fukui station

The pros

  • You save a lot of money. The two days it would take to go to Hiroshima and back to Toyama would cost 4,740 yen (at 2,370 per day of use) compared to the 40,000 yen on shinkansen / express trains.
  • It’s very flexible. No reservations or booked seats means you can change your schedule and leave the stations whenever you want.

The cons

  • TIME. It takes a lot of time to go anywhere, of course. Via the fastest trains it would take 5 hours from Toyama to Hiroshima vs the 12 hours on local trains.
  • No guaranteed seats. If you get in line early enough you can usually get a seat, but often at major stops there are a lot of people. It’s not a huge deal but after a day of walking around sitting down on the train is a huge relief.

 

The hyperdia app (free)

General recommendations

  • Great for if you are on a budget but you have flexible time.
  • If you are going to do a long-haul trip like I did, solo is best. Early hours, long waits, long train rides, and sometimes not sitting can make a person cranky. When you’re alone it’s fine but in a group there might be some hair-pulling.
  • Use hyperdia.com/en to plan your route. Make sure to deselect all the options except “Local Train” and “Japan Railway (JR)”. There is also a very useful app!
  • Take really early trains and get in line early to get seats.
  • Stop in different cities along your route! You can see a bit more of Japan and get a chance to stretch your legs.

I took the long solo trip up to Hiroshima using this ticket. As a person who fixates on schedules, prices, and also loves travel stories I’m putting together a bit of a travel log (for lack of a better title) –  I’m going to post a day-by-day description of my trip. I hope you enjoy it!