We woke up fairly early, though it is not far from Kyoto
, but not too early. We grabbed some drinks at the station and got on the train. Lexi had fortunately read that there was a free bike hire in Himeji which is great, my only concern was that Japanese bikes are very feminine, with baskets on the front and such. We were a little apprehensive about asking for the bike but eventually I weaseled Lexi into asking the tourism desk for one. They gave us a key and told us the location of where to pick up the bikes. It was not far away, on the short straight road from the station to Himeji castle.
About half way down we headed down a bunch of stairs similar to a subway into an undergound parking area. A man ushered us in and took our keys and led us to our bikes, after demonstrating how to lock it and open it he gave our keys back and sent us off, though I think Lexi still difficulty mastering her lock. We rode up the stairs and towards Himeji castle. Before entering we thought we would make good use of our bikes and ride around the castle. The castle has a moat filled with kois and ducks, the moat surrounded by small parks and pathways. We could not cycle all the way around so turned back half way.
At the front gate of the castle we were not sure whether to dismount our bikes or ride them in, but as another guy on a bike shot past us we decided to ride.
Once inside we walked the slight uphill road to the ticket office of the castle, not before stopping off so Lexi could pet some cats. Entrance fee was pretty cheap and certainly well worth it, we locked our bikes up and headed in. for most of the journey up we stood near a couple who had a tour guide. This included one memorable moment in the castle half way on our ascent where the guide was explaining about a painting of a koi swimming up a waterfall, to which the intelligent American woman's response was "You mean it's not a salmon!?". Climbing the castle is great, it's like walking up several attics, I managed to whack my head only about three times. Once you reach the peak you get an amazing 360 view of Himeji, there was also a rubber stamp to mark that you had made it all the way up.
My ultimate aim became to have the best and most clear stamp, and with determination and skill I succeeded in producing a magnificent stamp print. Lexi however failed at achieving the same level of perfection, to which I spent a good few minutes gloating. We then descended down the castle, I only hit my head a few more times and my back once.
We got to our bikes and were about to head out when Lexi's lack of ability to master her lock early on ended up slowing her. Fortunately I was there to open her lock for her. We decided to ride our bikes down the hill not really minding whether it was allowed or not. We stopped off again to pet the cats and then set off. Upon coming to the stair/slope to the underground bike park I decided to attempt to ride down the foot wide slope while Lexi exclaimed behind me "Stop, you'll hurt yourself!" behind me.
Naturally I made it all the way down without accident, very pleased with my performance I locked my bike up and waited for Lexi to catch up. After both bikes had been put back we headed off to the station. Not before stopping off in a 100 yen store to buy a sweat rag and some cheap nasty looking sweets.
We got back to our hostel, now two days without showering and decided to go to our very first sento. After gathering all our stuff we headed out. It was not far to the sento, only about a 2 minute walk. The main problem was we had no idea what the protocal was. A man on the way in seperated us to show Lexi goes in the female side and I go in the male. Once we entered there was a big room seperated by a wall and a gap at one end for the reception. We paid about 240 yen and headed in.
The receptionist, who was male, had full view of both sides but out of professional courtesy I guess was not allowed to look at either, especially the female. I stood in the room which had one side full of lockers, a small tiled sink area and a door to the baths. The problem with being in a sento is you can not look at others to see what to do. Rather cautiously I derobed and stood there feeling rather awkward, the receptionist pointed to a bucket which I put my wash stuff in. I put my clothes in another bucket and shoved them in a drawer. There were about 6 other men in the bath house. I went over to the sink and gave myself a quick wash then headed through the door into the baths. The room had about 20 faucets lining the walls and 4 baths and a sauna. A few men were washing themselves on the sides.
I grabbed a small stool and sat in the corner. The water from the taps was a good temperature, after a quick wash I sat up and all the open baths were free. I moved towards one near the far side wall which was ice cold, not wanting to go in that oen I moved to one in the center which was boiling hot, moving on again the other side center was boiling again, and finally the other side was freezing cold. Not much choice. I opted for a boiling one in the center and gently lowered my boys in. It was seriously hot, I almost wondr the point of washing just to sweat in the water again. After empathising with lobsters for a while I got out and had another wash by the side. After this I felt truely thoroughly clean, probably cleaner than I have ever felt in my life. I headed out through the door and to the sink where I gave myself a little dry and cooling off.
I then went to my clothes, discovering I should have put them in a locker and got changed. When I was done Lexi conveniently finished on the other side at the same time. We headed back to our hostel feeling so fresh so clean and ready to sleep.
Lexi's point of view:
When we went in I noticed that the receptionist had a perfect view from his area into half of the changing area sob I headed straight for his blindspot. Being unaccustomed to nudity in public I took a deep breath and stripped off. I noticed that people had put their clothes in a basket on the shelf so I did the same. Despite having read about bath etiquette, my mind went blank and I couldn't really remember what to do. I grabbed my wash stuff and headed towards the sink outside the bathing area.
I knew we had to wash before entering the bath but I thought it was odd that there was only a sink. A woman was leaving the bathroom and I gave her a confused look and she pointed me inside where I found the baths, and taps and showers on the walls above the mirrors. There were small plastic stools to sit on so I grabbed one and sat down. I rinsed down and lathered up, figuring occupying myself would distract me from the fact that there were 5 naked women in the same room as me. It was actually not as bad as first anticipated; no-one looked, no-one giggled and I felt comfortable very quickly.
After rinsing all the suds off I walked over to the baths. There were 2 baths in the far end of the small room, one in the centre and one on the left next to the sauna.
I knew that the baths were varying temperatures but I was just not ready for what I discovered. I put my foot into one of the baths and it was BOILING. I winced and pulled my foot out but fearing I'd look silly I took another deep breath and inched my way in. That's when I noticed a sign on the wall saying something about the temperature being 43C (although it was all in Japanese so it could have been the temperature of something else). It was so so hot I had goosebumps and my head started throbbing. I jumped out and rinsed off at the cool water taps, then lathered up again (as is customary at baths) and rinsed off. Then hopped into the centre pool, expecting that to be cooler than the first, but no, it was just as hot. I didn't spend long in there but jumped out and went over to the bath next to the sauna and copied what the other women had done - pour a bucket of water over themselves.
As I grabbed the bucket and dipped it into the bath, I realised this was the cold water bath and braced myself for a complete temperature shock, but it was quite refreshing.
I decided that was quite enough and headed outside to the sinks again. I squeezed out my loofah and squeezed the excess water from my hair then rushed over to my towel and clothes and dressed again. Just as I was leaving, Fab left his section too, which was good timing.
We headed back to the hostel for the evening.