On paper the plans for our full day of travel seemed possible however it was with much trepidation that we set off from our comfy base that had been Kyoto.
On the agenda was a trip to Himeji Castle and then uncertainty of travel to Mount Koya to stay with Buddhist monks in their retreat Kumagaiji. Could we fit this long day in and still have time to enjoy the sights and savour the experiences along the way? Would we be really frazzled by the time we got to the mountain top and the UNESCO World Hertiage area Koyasan? Would we even get there? …. All needless worry as it turned out.
We departed Kyoto at 8.23am on the Shinkansen Hikari 495 bags and all and arrived at Himeji at 9.18am. At the station we stowed our cases in a locker and stepped outside for a taxi. We were met with a fantastic blue sky, perfect for viewing the resplendent World Cultural Hertiage gem that is Himeji Castle. Our driver quickly delivered us to the front entrance of the castle grounds.
This beautifully restored castle was being used as a film set for a super fast action movie with a full cast of Japanese warriors. This gave us a unique chance for some special photographs with cast members.
We were able to extensively tour the mighty castle, which included a climb of the timber stairways up to the sixth floor, opportunity to gaze out of various shooting holes or Sama in the castle walls and to view the city and surrounding countryside. Magnificent.
The walk back to the train station was easy with the movie making action proving a distraction along the way. This was definitely worth the three hour detour. If only there had been enough time to also visit the beautiful gardens next to the castle grounds.
Just as well the stop was so enjoyable because the next segment of our day had me a bit nervous. Armed with maps and information flyers we headed off to the Koya Peninsular.
Our onward journey then took us from Himeji at 11.57am to Osaka by 12.58pm on the JR Special Rapid Service. We then caught the Osaka Loop Line (inner loop) to Shin-Imaymiya. This journey was a quick seventeen minute trip after which we had to locate the Nanki Electric Railway ticket office to purchase our Koyasan World Heritage Ticket. This section of our travel was not covered by the JR Pass. The Nankai Electric Ticket covered return train fare on the Nainkai Koya line, the cable car to Koyasan and a two day bus pass. This cost ¥3,400 each but covered the rest of our rather complicated journey.
At 1.30pm we were sitting comfortably on the Limited Express Koya 7 truely ready for the serenity awaiting at Kumagaiji. The journey through the countryside and into the treetops and mountainside was very special. The trees were resplendent in the fall foliage.
We arrived at the Buddist Temple, Kumagaiji alighting from the bus at around 5.15pm. After a warm greeting, we were shown to our two-roomed accomodation and our host monk who poured us green tea, gave us bean cookies and a snug welcome at our heated table. He also explained that we were expected to attend prayers the next morning at 5.00 am! We walked in the afternoon to Okunoin and wandered along the cedar lined pathway to the mausoleum of Kobo Dashi. This was a very serene and peaceful place and it was with interest that we located a monument to Australian soldiers from World War II.
Our evening meal was provided by the temple and was a very tasty vegetarian selection, served to us in our private dining room. After an eerie night time stroll back through Okunoin which allowed us to further enjoy this unique and sacred Japanese setting, we had an onsen and then retired for the night, warm and comfy as our futons and magically appeared in our room. The pillows were pretty sad… A bit like sandbags.
Well the day had been a true adventure!