Finally my long awaited trip started! After months of anticipating my upcoming holiday, it is happening.
The first thing that I have to do when I arrived at the Singapore Changi Airport was to collect my JR Pass. I purchased the JR West Sanyo San’in Area 7 Days Pass. The cost of the pass is 19,000 JPY and depending on where you purchased it, the price in local currency differs. I made a few comparison before deciding to get it from Changi Recommends at S$230. The Sanyo San’in Area Pass is very useful for those who intend to travel around the Chugoku Region. The pass covers from Fukuoka to Osaka and you can actually take all the Shinkansen within this area, including Nozomi and Mizuho. Nozomi and Mizuho are special trains that are not covered by the JR Region Pass and they are really fast! Here’s a look at which are the areas covered by the pass:
How does a JR Pass Works?
You will need to collect an exchange order for the JR Pass locally and bring it to Japan to exchange for the real pass.
With Changi recommends, I can choose to collect my exchange order at any Terminal on the day of departure. For someone like me who is quite forgetful, this helps to avoid misplacing it before my trip. The collection is quick and convenient. Just look out for their counter and showed them my email confirmation and I collected my pass in less than 5 minutes!
Upon arriving in Japan, look out for the JR Office. It was my first time getting a JR Pass so I wasn’t very familiar with it. My purchase was for JR West Company but I went into the JR Main Company office. It took me a while to finally find the JR West Station in Hakata Station.
Exchanging for the Pass is very simple as I just handed the exchange order to the staff over the counter.
With the Pass in hand, I was able to reserve seat at no additional cost. I managed to ride on the Mizuho and it was pretty impressive.
Here’s a peak into the reserved car for Mizuho. The seats are lined up 2 by 2 and most of the time you get to have 2 seats to yourself if you are a solo traveller.
The journey from Hakata to Okayama takes about 2.5 hours. My base for the next 5 days will be in Okayama as there are many trains departing from the Okayama station directly to the places that I wanted to visit.
Okayama Koraku Hotel 後楽ホテル
It took me a while to find a suitable hotel in Okayama. As I will be staying for 4 nights, I want my room to be as comfortable as possible and yet within my budget. Initially I booked for ANA Crowne Plaza but I didn’t pay an upfront fee and the price increased by S$50 per night when the dates were closer. I had to quickly look for an alternative. That’s when Koraku Hotel came up on the Trip Advisor website. At an average of 6,685 JPY per night (~S$90), it was pretty reasonable for me.
The hotel is a 10mins walk away from the Okayama Train Station. It was a bit hard to find the hotel on the first day as it’s not along the main street but hidden behind another building. I took more than 10mins trying to locate the hotel as the map I have found online showed the hotel to be nearer to the station that I have thought.
First impression of the hotel was that it is a business hotel. There are many Japanese in suits loitering outside the hotel and in the lobby. I didn’t actually saw many tourist checking in.
The room is very clean and I find that it is spacious enough for me to open my luggage and I can still move comfortably in the room. TV is lacking english channels (only CNN & BBC) so most of the time I just watched the local program (thank god I can understand Japanese).
There aren’t many shops around the hotel except for a convenience store in the hotel that opens until midnight. Most of the shops around are restaurants and they are a bit on the expensive side. The hotel gave me a map of the restaurants and cafe around it. While I found some cafe to be interesting, I can’t seems to find them or they are not open. The area is a little bit quiet regardless of the hours.
When someone mentioned Himeji, the first thing that comes to my mind is always the Himeji Castle 姫路城.
Since it was already past lunch time, I decided to grab some food before heading towards the castle. Prior to my trip, I had read various great review about 讃岐うどん めんめ Menme which sells handmade udon. As a big fan of udon, it is a must for me to visit this restaurant. The restaurant is situated along the road from Himeji Station to the Castle. It is easy to find it by recognising the Japanese name of the shop.
Inside the shop, the staff can understand simple English and they have menu in various languages. I order a bowl of Tempura Udon and it was very yummy! They are famous for their dipping udon too and there was a tourist who didn’t know how to eat it and the shop owner was very kind and patient to teach and show him how to enjoy his udon. Thumbs up for the service!
After filling my stomach, I can actually see the majestic Himeji Castle right before me. I was very lucky to catch the sakura right before the end of the season. The whole place was super pretty with the blooming sakura.
I was seriously wowed by the castle. The entrance fee to the castle ground is 1,000 JPY and it is really worth the price because not only will you get to climb all the way to the top of the main keep, there are various small towers to explore and the best view of the castle is inside the premise. It is not easy to climb the main castle as the stairs are very steep (a common feature of all the old castles in Japan). For ladies, please avoid wearing skirt when visiting the castle. Remember to take your time to explore the castle because there are various hidden feature to look out for. Take the brochure at the entrance and try to see if you can find them in the castle.
After exploring the castle, head over to nishi-no-maru 西の丸, the west side of the castle. Over there, there is a Sen Tower (also known as cosmetic tower). There are various display of artefacts in the Sen Tower and you will get to learn the history of Princess Sen 千姫.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the Himeji Castle and I can understand why it is known as one of the grandest castle in Japan.
Before heading back to Okayama, I decided to drop by Tacopier to grab the Himeji version of Takoyaki (known as Akashiyaki). Instead of flour, the Akashiyaki seems to be made of scrambled egg! Give it a try if you happened to visit Himeji.