Return to Japan: Day 5

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It’s difficult to believe that I’ve already been in Japan for six days, but it’s true. Anyway, because yesterday was a slow day, I decided to make the most out of today with an early start at the Toji Flea Market, then a day trip to Hikone.

I woke up around 6 am but as a lot of people know about me, I’m not a morning person, so I stayed in bed for another 20 minutes after waking up. Last night, I was talking with a few other people in my dorm, as well, so I actually didn’t go to bed until almost midnight. Anyway, once I was up, I got ready quickly and was out of the hostel by 7:30 am or so, and at Toji Temple properly just a bit after 8 am.

 

Clockwise from top-left: Toji Temple; my matcha taiyaki; my oden meal; I believe a statue of Kobo Daishi in Toji.

 
The Toji Flea Market occurs on the 21st of every month, and honestly, I enjoy flea markets. It’s always interesting to see the different things people sell. I picked up some taiyaki (a kind of fish-shaped pastry with filling inside; mine was filled with matcha pudding-type stuff) and dried persimmons to snack on, as I hadn’t had breakfast, and walked all around. I ended up buying an adorable kimono with ladybugs on it (not a motif that’s common, as far as I know).

I stopped for some oden (a variety of ingredients stewed for a long time in a savoury broth) so I had something a little more substantial in my stomach. Oden does not look very good, but trust me, it’s delicious.

After, I walked over to Kyoto Station and hopped on a train to Hikone, about an hour-long journey, although it took a bit longer as I had to unexpectedly change trains.

 

The exterior of Hikone Castle. The bridge in the bottom right was designed to be easily destroyed to prevent any potential invaders from entering thr castle.

 
Hikone isn’t a terribly exciting place, but it does have Hikone Castle, which, like Himeji Castle, is one of the twelve original castles. It’s definitely on the smaller side, but it has a beautiful exterior and it sits on a hill overlooking the city and Lake Biwa. Like all the other original castles I’ve been to, climbing up to the top of the main keep involves climbing a series of narrow, steep stairs. Hikone’s felt unusually harrowing, but thank goodness they replaced the slippery wooden stair with modern ones with little grippy strips on each step!

 

Top: the interior of the main castle keep. Bottom: one view of the city and Lake Biwa from the top of the main castle keep.

 
The top of the main keep is actually quite small, so I stayed only long enough to get a quick view in all four directions. After the main tower, I moved on to the surrounding grounds, namely one of the watchtowers and a small plum blossom grove. There is apparently a larger one on one side of the castle, but I opted to see the Genyu-en Garden on the opposite side. It’s a nice garden with about 5 small bridges crossing little ponds. Because it’s still winter, the garden is still pretty bare, but even so, it was a nice little walk. There was also a white heron (stork? I can’t tell the difference, haha) hanging out by the main pond.

 

Genkyu-en Garden and plum blossoms.

 
After, I made my way out of the castle ground for Yume-Kyobashi Street, which is the old castle road leading up to Hikone Castle. It’s a small street with restaurants and souvenir shops. I stopped for some lunch – beef over rice, miso soup, salad, and some kind of pickled vegetable – around 2 pm, which was also a nice time to rest my feet.

With not much to do after, I made my way back to Hikone Station. I was craving something sweet, so I stopped at a little cafe specializing in Japanese  pounded rice sweets, like dango  and mochi. I opted for some mitarashi dango and green tea. As I ate, I had a nice view of the castle, as well as some little kids (they looked to be brothers) playing with a rice pounding contraption on display. As the kids played, the older one was going a bit too fast for the younger boy, who then let go and got whacked in the face, haha (don’t worry, he was totally fine and barely flinched!)

Anyway, after the dango and green tea, the cafe owner’s wife took my payment and gave me a tiny origami flower as a gift. It’s about the size of my index fingernail!  I also chatted with the owner a little since his English was pretty good and I told him I was from Canada when he asked.  He said that, in his youth, he traveled all around the world, including Vancouver and Banff.

 

Yume-Kyobashi Street, and my mitarashi dango and green tea.

 
With that done, I headed back to Kyoto by train and took the bus back to the hostel. My walk from the bus stop to the hostel takes me across the Kamo River via the bridge on Gojo Street. The river always seems to have multitudes of ducks and herons whenever I walk by. As I walked past this evening, there was an older man feeding a bunch of ducks, herons, and pigeons (which, I swear, are the same in every country I’ve been to), plus what looked like a muskrat?? Are there even muskrats in Japan?

I stopped to snap a couple of pictures, as did a number of other people, and then I headed back to my hostel for good this time. I did think about wandering through Gion tonight, but my lack of sleep is starting to catch up to me!

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