Tuesday: Hikone Castle and on to Tokyo

Another early morning—our goal was to catch the 8:15 train.  It always takes longer to get organized to leave than we think it will. As we were leaving Business Ryokan Suisa, the proprietor asked us for a picture.  That made sense—the walls up the stairs were lined with pictures of guests.  Unfortunately, the late start combined with the picture combined with the longer-early-morning-streetcar ride conspired against us to miss the 8:15 shinkansen.  We took a later train, which was almost a full hour longer than the one we’d initially planned on.

We successfully arrived in Mairaba, where we adjusted  Bethy’s Shinkansen tickets, which were for a direct train from Hiroshima to Tokyo, and didn’t include the stopover in Mairaba.  We didn’t stay long in Mairaba—just caught the next available train to Hikone.  It was just a short 5 minute ride, so we didn’t even both to find seats and put our luggage in racks—we just stood in the door area so we could quickly get off at the next stop.

Unlike in Shinamimaiya in Osaka, we were able to find large lockers.  Two very large lockers held Bethy’s big case, all 3 of our carry-on size cases, Bethy’s small case, and her backpack.  All we had were 3 day bags, and we headed off on our castle adventure.  There was an information booth as we exited the JR station and we stopped in and acquired an English map of the route to the castle, a Japanese map annotated with restaurant locations, and English information about the Hikone castle.

The Hikone castle, unlike many other in Japan, is not a reconstruction.  It is the orginal castle, built in the 17thcentury.  We walked the 15 minutes to the castle and found there were facilities before entering the castle grounds.  The last stall on the right was western style—I haven’t gotten (and don’t particularly want to get) the hang of Japanese toilets.

We treated ourselves to ice cream and headed across the moat to the castle.  The stairs.  Oh my gosh, the stairs.  The stairs were steep, high, and had an uneven stride.  We guessed at reasons why the stairs were constructed the way they are, and I think I’ve settled on the need to be able to bring horses and carts up to the castle itself.

The castle itself was beautiful, but before we got far enough up to see that, Jennica saw men in armor marching through the keep.  We encountered them shortly afterwards—old style armor.  My guess was that some of the men were dressed as high-end or noble soldiers, and others looked like peasant soldiers.  I don’t know enough about Japanese history or army uniforms to be sure, though.

We climbed yet more stairs of doom.  Then more.  We eventually found ourselves at the same level as the castle—and it was incredible.  There are some castles (such as Ludwig’s castle) that look like one thinks of a castle.  The Hikone castle is white and majestic and looked like something out of a Japanese fairy tale.  We all took some wonderful pictures of the castle itself, but because of the base of the castle being made out of stone (easier to defend, I guess), we weren’t as successful at pictures of people in front of the castle.

We followed the path (with more stairs of varying degrees of doom) around to the back, and it turned out that the men in armour were doing a movie shoot.  Bethy talked to a woman who was also watching and says that she thinks they’re doing a two hour television drama.  We didn’t get to see much of the action, but I’ve read that movie making isn’t as exciting to watch as one would guess it would be.  We did get to see the crew help horses up the stairs—they were definitely traversable by horse.

We found our way back around and discovered the entrance to the castle (more stairs).  The castle itself was empty, so although we could see the room layouts, there wasn’t anything more to see.  Stan, Bethy, and Jennica went up two more levels than I did—the last round of stairs that I saw looked more like a ladder than steps!

On the way out of the castle, we saw a barrel full of walking sticks—going down all those stairs of doom was a lot easier with a walking stick.  My left knee and the back of my left ankle were objecting to all of those stairs, though!

There were conveniently taxis waiting as we crossed back over the moat, so we rode back to the JR station in comfort, leaving us plenty of time for a convenience store visit for bandaids, beverages, and snacks, before catching the train back to Maibara and then the Shinkansen to Tokyo.

The Shinkansen was pretty full (we couldn’t sit together), but after the first stop, many people got off and Jennica, Stan, and I moved to a row that had three across.  Stan read, Jennica watched Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and I updated my blog.  At one point, we went through an incredible downpour and it looked as if we were traveling through water, heading upstream.  As we were approaching Tokyo, I noticed that there was a cherry tomato on the floor by my foot.  We did bring snacks onto the train, but none of them were tomatoes, and anyway, tomatoes aren’t dangerous.

The red Marou… line was quite a distance from the main part of the Tokyo Station, but then, the Tokyo Station is huge.  We kept following signs, which led us outside and then down a lot of stairs to the subway.  We came in on the side that didn’t have ticket machines, but then we found the sign pointing to the machines.  Bethy had shown us how to read the maps that tell how much the fare is to the place you want to go, and we bought 4 subway tickets to the Suitemajae stop.  It wasn’t far, but it involved a transfer.  It’s fortunate that the trains come as often as they do since most trips seem to require at least one transfer.

We found our hotel without incident, checked in, and then thought we had figured out the air conditioner.  As in our Kyoto hotel, there was a slot for our room key (although in this case, it was a key card rather than a physical key), and the air conditioning and the lights only worked if the key card was in the slot.

After settling in (Bethy even got to take a shower), we went off to find dinner.  The hotel had a map with places to eat marked, and we attempted to find okikoniyake restaurant that was listed.  We found our way to what seemed to be the right corner, which was a multi-storied building with (we think) restaurants on each floor.  As we were trying to figure out what to do, three men on the street approached us and asked if they could help.  They walked us about a block and then when we didn’t find the restaurant, one of the men called and discovered it was already closed.  They then led us to another restaurant (going out of their way to do so and calling first to make sure it was open).  The proprietor was very nice.  She suggested we go to the Italian restaurant a floor up, but we assured her we wanted Japanese food.  She then emphatically told her husband that we wanted Japanese food, and crossed her arms in a “no” signal and said “No Italian”.  I told her that we could eat Italian food at home, but I’m not sure she understood me.

We had sashimi, tempura, and a pan of meat and vegetables that were cooked at the table on a portable burner. The restaurant turned out to be more expensive than we anticipated but it was a wonderful experience and we really enjoyed our meal and our interactions with the proprietor.  Upon learning that Bethy and Jennica were our daughters, she brought her husband (who was cooking) out to introduce him and told us that they also had two daughters.  When I told her we also had a son, she told me we were very lucky to have a wonderful family, and that our girls were very pretty.  She called Stan “Papa” and me “Mama”, and was just delightful.

We walked back to the hotel via a Lawson’s convenience store, where we purchased beverages (but didn’t find the Benadryl we were hoping to find). With an agreement to meet at 9:15 for breakfast (which ended at 9:30), we headed to our rooms.