The 29th 0f April to the 5th of May was my Golden Week this year. I opted to stay in town for the majority of it this time and enjoy the weather–it was gorgeous, going up into the 70s most days, and it was only rainy once! However, I did take a couple of day trips to get out of the city.
My first stop was a place called Amanohashidate (天橋立）, a place up along the Tango Peninsula of Kyoto Prefecture. It takes about 2 to 2.5 hours by bus or train from Kyoto Station.
Despite going up there on a holiday, I was pleasantly surprised to discover very few people were there! I was able to take my time wandering around. You arrive on one end of the land bridge shown above. The walk along it takes about an hour if you stop for pictures, longer if you decide to have a picnic (like I did). On either side of it, you can go up the mountain via cable car or chair lift (or I guess by hiking if you’re into that) to get a better view of the area.
Like many places in Japan, Amanohashidate has souvenir foods and drinks available in their shops available to try. In this case, they offer kuromame (黒豆） or Japanese black bean goods, including… tea. Yeah I will admit I passed on that one. I still think some fruit teas are strange, so can you blame me?
The one odd thing about the whole experience was while riding the chair lifts up one of the mountains. My friends and I were sitting back, enjoying the slow ascent to the top of the mountain, when we realized that the bird chirping we were hearing sounded… repetitive. And very regular. Yes, for whatever reason the local tourist companies had opted to include artificial bird chirps for our chair lift experience.
I will offer a word of advice to those of you who opt to go to Amanohashidate on a hot day and notice the lovely little beaches on the land bridge or around it–yes, it’s beautiful, and yes, you will want to stick your feet in the water. I beg you not to because Here There Be Jellyfish, and they will sting you.
Moving on from that, my next big adventure was something that I’ve been waiting to do for several years: visit Himeji Castle (姫路城) in Hyogo Prefecture.
I arrived in Japan to work at my current job shortly after the castle renovations went underway, and while it was available to visit during that time, some parts of it were off-limits to visitors. I told myself that I would wait to see if I could go when everything was complete. This was the year, and so I kidnapped a friend and off we went to have a look at it.
The outside was impressive in the bright sunlight, and I was told that the appearance is very different from before–the roof tiles were once black, and the castle is now that much lighter in appearance for the renovations.
Now, unlike Amanohashidate, there were indeed crowds to endure for the castle, but we were herded along at a fairly reasonable pace. One downside of Himeji was that while the outside was impressive, the inside was pretty empty. I thought it could use some exhibits, but the most we saw were some signs and a few posters put up that suggested we download an app on our phones to use around the castle that would explain what we were looking at. If anyone goes and tries this app, let me know if it’s any good–we didn’t think it would be worth it.
Now, what was worth it?
The Himeji castle gardens.
The castle itself costs about 1,000 yen to enter; if you opt to pay an additional 40 yen, you also get access to the nearby gardens. They were much less busy, much more green, and there were lots of neat flora to look at. Some fauna, as well, including a duck that kept hiding his face whenever my friend tried to take a picture of him.
Was it worth the wait? I think so. I got to see the castle and gardens in their entirety on a gorgeous day, after all. One word of advice though: do not expect garbage bins anywhere. Not even on the streets leading up to the castle. My friend and I both got bento lunch boxes to-go and had an awful time trying to get rid of them after we’d eaten!
The final “big” thing I did during my Golden Week was to see wisteria flowers in the botanical gardens, but I think that’s worth another post on its own, especially if you’re a flower fan.
If you had a Golden Week, how did you spend it? If you didn’t, how would you spend it?