Plan for the day
Today we had a few destinations to visit. They were:
- Mt Washu
- Uzu no Michi
- Himeji Castle
- La Shomon
before ending up at our hotel Toyoko Inn Kobe.
By the end of the day, we managed to visit all the four destinations. Mt Washu was very nice, Uzu no michi whirlpools (a natural phenomena) were a disappointment, Himeji Castle was very stunning, La Shomon wagyu beef was absolutely delicious. All in we drove about 340 km and paid a lot of toll charges which added up to a whopping ¥7740.
Breakfast at Toyoko Inn Kurashiki
Breakfast came with the room with no additional charge. It was nice and simple but very sufficient. There were rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, Japanese pickled vege, eggs, miso soup, tea and coffee.
I enjoyed eating breakfast at the hotel as we could come down early, eat a slow breakfast before returning to our room to pack up and then check out. With our stomach nicely filled we could drive directly to our next destination and start our sightseeing early.
Though our economy double room was very small, it was relatively cheaper and since we were using the hotel for just sleeping, it did not matter that the hotel did not have facilities like onsen, reading room, restaurant etc. It had washing machines, dryers, microwave etc though.
I had selected to stay at Kurashiki because this city was nearest to our first destination for the day, Mt Washu.
Mt Washu (Washu-Zan)
Mount Washu was located in Kojima district. It was a small mountain 24 km south of Kurashiki city. It took us about 30 minutes to reach an observatory near the top of the Washuzan. Before arriving at the observatory we drove past a no entry sign for car that was not carrying senior or handicap passengers. There was a huge car park just before the no entry sign, I guessed we were supposed to park and walk up to the observatory. From my map it looked like a long walk to the top and I was not up to tiring myself at the first sightseeing destination. We decided to be “naughty” and ignored the sign so we drove on. The place was rather quiet and beside our car there was no other cars on the same road. There was no guard or traffic warden to stop us from using the road up to the observatory.
After a short drive we reached a carpark, parked our car and walked up some steps to reach the observatory. The weather was nice and we got a marvelous view of the Seto Inland Sea.
The Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海, Setonaikai) lied between the Japanese main islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. It stretched over 400 Km from Kitakyushu to Osaka and had 3000 islands.
Three major series of bridges (expressways) connected Honshu and Shikoku. One was near Hiroshima (Nishiseto Expressway), another was at Kojima (Seto-Chuo Expressway) and the last one (Kobe-Awahi-Naruto Expressway) near Kobe.
Standing at the observatory deck we could see the Seto-Cho Expressway which was also called the Great Seto Bridge. This was a set of 6 bridges starting from Kojima District on Honshu, spanning over five islands in the Seto Inland sea before ending at the far end on Sakaide city of Shikoku.
The Great Seto Bridge took 40 years to build at a tremendous cost.
From Mount Washu we drove onto the Seto-chuo Expressway (Great Seto Bridge), crossed five islands. We were running late so we did not stop at any of the five islands to explore, we just drove on till the end of the bridge and reached Sakaide City on Shikoku. On Shikoku we drove for another 95 km east ward towards Onaruto Bridge. This bridge was the first of a set of three suspension bridges that made up Kobe-Awaji-Naruto Expressway that connected Shikoko back to Honshu.
Our destination was Uzu-no-michi, a viewing deck built on the underside of Onaruto Bridge. From the deck visitors would be able to see natural whirlpools twirling in the Naruto strait. Our mapcode was a carpark at the base of the bridge. Unfortunately, for the very first time the Car GPS system failed us. Instead of bringing us to the car park, it brought us onto a location on the Onaruto Bridge! This bridge was part of an expressway there was no way to stop and get out when we reached the “destination” as indicated by our car GPS system. We were forced to cross the Onaruto Bridge leaving Uzu-no-michi behind us! We exited the bridge at its end and looked for way to get back to Uzu-no-michi.
Luckily we had 24/7 data plan, so I quickly activated my google map, put in the co-ordinates and guided us back to the intended car park. To get to car park, our car GPS system should have guided us to exit the expressway a few kilometres before the Onaruto Bridge.
There were three carparks. We parked at the 2nd car park (¥500) as it was nearer to Uzu-no-michi. On hindsight we should had ignored the parking attendants and proceeded to the 3rd car park which was the nearest to Uzu-no-michi.
From carpark 2 we followed the crowd and walked up slope until we reached the underside of the Onaruto Bridge. There was a walkway leading up to Uzu-no-michi.
At the entrance of Uzu-no-michi we bought two admission tickets at ¥510 per person. The ticketing staff gave us each beautiful postcard of the whirlpools.
Wow! The whirlpool shown in the postcard was huge. The whirlpools were caused by tidal currents between the Seto Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean passing over undersea ridges under the bridge. Apparently the speed difference between the fast flowing and slow flowing currents created the whirlpools.
The place was quite crowded and everybody was walking toward a destination further down the underside of the expressway.
The underside of the bridge looked like a huge cage. The Uzu-mo-michi walkway was on the right underside of the bridge. The walkway was an enclosed channel with glass panels throughout its length. Above the the walkway was the expressway and we could hear plenty of “booming” sounds coming from above us. These were the sounds caused by the vehicles travelling over our heads.
It was quite a long way to walk, about 500 metres. I supposed we needed to walk to near the middle of strait before we could see the natural whirlpools. On the floor of the walkway, occasionally there were glass panels which allowed us peered down to below.
Finally the walkway opened into a bigger rectangular room. So we had arrived. We crowded around the lookout areas and searched the water for whirlpools. Yes we saw the whirlpools! But they looked just like a penny size from where we stood. There was not a 20 metre-diameter size whirlpools in sight. The ones we saw was probably on 3-4 metres in diameter.
I guessed it was too much to hope for a huge whirlpools but to see such tiny ones were a huge disappointment. Based on Uzu-no-michi website the best time for today was between 11.20 am to 1.20 pm. Though we were here at the right time of the day, it was not the right season or the right week.
In the water we saw a whirlpool sightseeing boat and I felt so sorry for the tourists. First, they had to pay a substantial amount, in the region of ¥1500 to ¥2200 to go on the boat, second they would not be able to see any whirlpools up close. That was because the whirlpools were so small as compared to the boat and ripples created by the boat movement actually destroyed these tiny whirlpools before the tourists got to see them.
Lunch with a view
We left Uzu-no-michi and found a restaurant nearby for lunch and icecream. We ate some fish in rice stuff and had a good view of the Onaruto Bridge and the Strait from where we were sitting.
Himeji Castle (姫路城, Himejijō)
At 3 pm we set off to our third destination of the day, Himeji castle which was about 125 km from Uzu-no-michi. We should be at the castle slightly before 5 pm. 5 pm was the last entry time into the castle keep that closed at 6 pm. We were not interested in exploring the internal of the castle so we needed not reached Himeji castle by 5pm.
It took about 1hr 45 minutes to arrive at Himeji city. The Himeji Castle was located near the southern end of the city. We had set our mapcode to a car park (parking charge was ¥600) just near the southern gate the castle.
The castle was surrounded by a rock wall and a moat. As we entered into the castle ground though the otemon gate we saw many visitors leaving.
We only had to walk a short distance before we could see the castle at the far end. The first thing that came to my mind was this castle looked bright, white and very elegant. I could understand the reason why this castle was also called the White Heron Castle.
Himeji Castle was registered as a world heritage in 1933. It was also the film site of the movie “Last Samurai”! Himeji was considered an “original castle” as it was never destroyed by war, earthquake or fire. In 2013 during my first trip to Japan I did not visit Himeji Castle as it was undergoing major renovation that stretched several years. It was fully re-opened to public in March 2015.
We walked round the castle compound to take photo of Himeji Castle at different angles. We were searching for the best spot to take a great photo of Himeji Castle under the setting sun.
We liked the photo spot southwest of the castle, so we stay there taking many beautiful shots of Himeji till the sun went down. Day or night Himeji Castle was a beautiful sight. By the time we left Himeji castle we were practically the only two visitors that were still hanging around.
Kobe Wagyu Beef at La Shomon
Since the route of our trip would bring us through Kobe we decided we must pamper ourselves with a Kobe Wagyu Beef dinner. We had always heard that eating Kobe Wagyu beef in Japan was expensive even though it was the country of origin of the beef. So I set aside ¥20000 for both of us for a Kobe Wagyu Beef dinner.
I researched on the internet on where I could eat good Kobe wagu beef and came across a youtube video of a caucasian enjoying wagyu beef at La Shomon restaurant. Apparently he was brought to La Shomon by his local Japanese friends who knew where to go for reasonably priced wagyu beef.
From Himeji castle we drove for about 48 km eastward to Kobe. We had passed Kobe earlier in the day on our way from Onaruto bridge to Himeji so this was a backtrack. I hated getting lost so I had all the details of getting to La Shomon ready on hands. I did a recce of the place on google map and knew exactly where it was located, where were its nearest carparks and how I should walk from the carparks to the restaurant. I knew that it was on the 2nd level and the ground level was a Lawson convenient store.
The entrance of La Shomon was on the side alley just behind Lawson. It had a huge Wagyu beef menu at its entrance which was very hard to miss. We walked up one floor and came to the restaurant door with its name hugely displayed.
By the time we were seated it was already near to 9 pm. It would be another late dinner. The restaurant operating hour was from 11am to 1am or was it the other way round? Either way we needed not rush through dinner.
La Shomon deco was very nice and modern. Though it was a Saturday night it was not crowded, probably because it was already late and dinner time had long passed.
Looking at the menu items, I was pretty surprised with their pricing. They looked rather inexpensive. We began to wonder if the low pricing was due to the portion being smaller than that shown in the pictures of the menu.
We decided to ask the advice of a middle-age waiter who just walked by. We discussed our preference and he suggested that we should order only two meat items from the menu and if after that we were still hungry then to order a 3rd meat item. Ohhh..and we thought we should order at least 4 meat items… Based on his recommendation we ordered two meat items from different cut of the Wagyu cow, unfortunately one had already sold out so he suggested another which too ran out so we had to pick another item. I supposed this was the disadvantage of eating dinner late.
The Wagyu beef was so tender, sweet, succulent and absolutely delicious. It definitely deserved all the praises that was given to it. We ate our wagyu beef with local vegetable and rice which proved to be the best combination for us. Eating wagyu beef alone would be too greasy for our taste buds. By the time we finished the food we found ourselves filled so we did not have to order a third meat item, instead we had ice-cream for desert. The desert was a compliment from Lauralee, a staff of La Shomon, who came round earlier to teach us the art of BBQing and eating wagyu beef.
The entire bill came up to only ¥4362 which was only a quarter of my budgeted amount! We left La Shomon very happy and contented.
At the foot of La Shomon we bumped into Lauralee and the middle-age waiter, they apparently just came back from grocery shopping and were on their way home. We struck up a conversation with them and found out that they were married to each other and were the owners of La Shomon, and had three outlets in Japan. They told us that their business motto was to bring prime wagyu beef to the public at affordable prices! Hurrays of LauraLee and Hubby!!
On the way to pick up our car we walked past the train station, the shops around the station were still buzzing with activities. Though it was passed 10 pm, everywhere was brightly lighted. We picked up our car and drove to the automated barrier to pay our parking fee and the charge was ¥800! It was so expensive for just two hours of parking.
Accommodation for the Night
We had booked Toyoko Inn Kobe for the night. The drive to the hotel was about 20 km and took about 25 minutes. This time I reserved a double room which was slightly larger than the economy double room we had the night before. The parking charge was ¥800, it seemed like parking charges were rather expensive in Kobe. Five and a half parking charges would add up to one Kobe Wagyu dinner!
When we stepped into our room we felt as though we had returned to our room the night before. Though it was slightly larger in size, the deco and the layout was very similar to our room in Toyoko Inn Kurashiki. It was kind of nice to walk into a familiar room, as we already knew where were everything and which sides of the room were my territory and which were Yat Thong’s.