Trip to Hemiji and Osaka

by Samm Bennett
What to do on a rainy day in a foreign country? I suppose visiting a castle seems right, so I headed to Hemiji (about 2 hours outside of Kyoto) to visit Hemiji-jo. The castle was about a 15 minute walk from the train stop,, which I was quite pleased to find out. It should be noted that this is the firs castle I've visited, so I was very impressed. I spent about 3 hours walking around. Shortly after entering I noticed a little place called Harikiri-mura. I think it's a pretty interesting name. Apparently, it seems like some suicides may have occurred there; however, the close proximity to the quarters of the head of the castle suggests the name might have had nothing to do with the areas true purpose (defense).

The quarters of the castle had about 6 floors, with the top floor serving as a shrine to appease the spirits resting at the shrine located on the site before the castle's construction. The view from this floor was amazing! Of course, the quarters itself was impressive, and it was pleasant to see old, Japanese style interiors. This area also contained some nice historical treasures, and it was nice to see some art and samurai artifacts while climbing the stairs.

After finishing my tour of Hemiji-jo, I moved onto Koko-en, the samurai gardens next door. While visiting a castle in the rain created a nice aura, I can't say the same about the gardens. Fortunately, there was little rain while I was walking in the main section (there were about 12, with the first and largest being a recreation of the head of the castle's garden). There was a pond in this area that housed about 120 carp, and it was nice to get so close to them by means of a bridge over the pond. After viewing the main section, I visited a tea house and had match (the green tea used during the tea ceremony, which is different from regular green tea) and a cake. The cake was almost entirely sugar, which caught me by surprise and the tea was pretty good, but the best part of this little visit, by far, was the company. The house was being run by about 5 women in kimono, all of whom seemed to join me briefly. I ended up speaking with 2 of them around my age for close to 1.5 hours!

At about 7 pm I made my way to Osaka. Immediately went to watch the sunset 40 stories high at the Uemeda Sky Building. That was quick an entrancing site! I took a glass elevator from the 3rd floor to the 35th floor, then an escalator up to the 39th floor. The escalators were great, because they're under the hole in the roof of the building. On the 39th floor there is an observatory to view the city from inside (all walls facing the city are windows). Stairs lead to the 40th story, the main attraction, which is actually the roof. Watching Osaka in-particular is amazing from this vantage point, as the neon in the city rivals Tokyo, while a bay rests nearby.

Once the sun had settled, I rushed to Dotombori, which has been said to be something straight out of Blade Runner. How true this comparision is. However, I didn't have much time to explore the area as much as I would have liked, so I rushed around to take pictures while viewing the area (lots of arcades). Right before catching the train, I got some takuyaki (octobus balls), which I hoestly didn't care for :\