Our first day of adventures in Japan included Himeji Castle and Hiroshima, both are accessible by shinkansens or bullet trains on the Sanyo Shinkansen line. When planning our day trip the night before we came across an amazing website and smartphone app called Hyperdia. The website and smartphone app are great at giving you train times for any train or metro line in all of Japan and for some of the train lines it even gives the departure and arrival tracks at the train station.
After having a bit of breakfast, we headed off to the Shin-Osaka train station. And not to make too many plugs in one blog, but if you are ever in Osaka the Courtyard Marriott Shin-Osaka is super convenient to the train station. You can get to the shinkansen departure tracks in 10-15 minutes of walking. The hotel was also pretty new and everyone was very friendly. Not too mention the views of Osaka from the hotel lounge (in the previous blog post) were pretty amazing.
It took approximately 30 minutes on the Hikari shinkansen from Osaka to Himeji where we walked from the train station up to the castle. The word Hikari refers to the type of shinkansen you are traveling on. The Nozomi shinkansens are the fastest and make the fewest stops, but sadly you can not ride on these using the JR Rail Pass. The JR Rail Pass allows you to travel on the Hikari, Kodama and Sakura shinkansens, which are slower as they make more tops. There are tons of signs in Japanese and English to follow out of the correct train station exit and as soon as you walk out of the station you can see Himeji Castle straight ahead. We walked ~20 minutes from the train station to the entrance of the castle.
Himeji Castle also known as the White Heron Castle is one of the original twelve Japanese castles and is one of the best preserved as it was never damaged by war, fire or earthquake. The main keep is a six story building (seen in the picture above) that you can pay to tour, but it is dark and difficult to take pictures inside on a gloomy day so I don't have any to show of all of the dark wood and endless racks for weapons. The steps up to each story get progressively narrower and steeper. Jason and I couldn't get over all of the older people easily climbing the stairs up and down. We were totally impressed!
Next we hopped back onto the Hikari shinkansen and headed to Hiroshima, which took about 90 minutes. Another cool thing about the JR Rail Passes, is that you can use them to ride the Hiroshima Sightseeing Loop Buses. Just follow the signs for the bus exits. There are two lines, the orange and the green, which run slightly different routes. You can hop off and hop back on along either route to get between the major sites in the city. The buses run every 30 minutes, but are staggered so that a bus is running through the area every 15 minutes. We first headed to Genbaku Domu also known as the Atomic Bomb Dome, which serves as a memorial to the people killed in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6th August 1945.
The Atomic Bomb Dome is a hauntingly beautiful sight. While its hard to imagine the true devastation to the town and people of Hiroshima after the bomb, its a reminder of the resilience of the people here and the importance of peace and not using nuclear weapons ever again.
We then walked through the Peace Memorial Park looking at the other monuments.
We ended our time in this area of Hiroshima by going through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Its a heavy and somber museum to go through as it has a lot of imagery of the devastation to the area of Hiroshima and its people and the audio guide tells the stories of many people (mostly children) that died from the bombing. Given that, I would still highly recommend going to the museum, Jason and I really got a lot out of it.
After touring around the A-Bomb Dome area, we had a bit of time before the sightseeing loop buses stopped running for the day so we made a mad dash to see the outside of Hiroshima Castle to compare with Himeji Castle.
It was well worth the mad dash as its architecture and surroundings were completely different from Himeji Castle. We didn't have a chance to go into the castle, but it was stunning from the outside. We then took the last bus and headed back to the train station to catch a shinkansen back to Osaka. It was completely nuts as the train station was filled with Hiroshima Toyo Carp baseball fans as a game must have just gotten out. I think we may have even seen a few of the players as hoards of people were following a small group of people taking pictures as they boarded their train. It was kinda fun to see so many excited baseball fans! We then boarded our train and were back to Osaka in ~2 hours.