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Published: November 28th 2012
Day 9- Breakfast was a mostly Japanese affair, with a little fruit, but no yogurt. There were some rolls you could toast, and the butter and jam came in a squeezy packet removing the need for a knife, but meaning you had to have both parts. As we left the hotel, the sun had not come up on this side of the gorge, and the cloud was down. We went through a tunnel to the other side of the mountain, and it was bathed in sunshine.
Our first stop was the bridge at Kazura-bashi which dates from 12th century during a time when they were made from mountain vines and bamboo so they could get cut down to block an enemy attack. It is 45m long, and the vines are replaced every 3 years. It does sway when you walk on it, despite it now being reinforced with steel. We managed to get some good pictures with the better light, and stopped at a small layby where there were a number of trees in their autumn colours.
We spent the next couple of hours on the way to the temple at Kotohira marvelling at the scenery. The route took
us up to the top of the mountains and through the trees, and down into gorges. We didn't tire of seeing the colours of the trees, and certainly didn't realise how much of the landscape would be trees and mountains.
At Kotohira, there is a Shinto shrine known as Kompira-san, which actually used to be a shared shrine with the Buddhists, but then the Shinto took precedence. There are nearly 1000 to the top of the shrine, and small shops all the way up. Once we had parked, we went to one of the stalls and borrowed bamboo sticks to assist us climbing the steps. It was quite a steep climb up, and we made it to the 421st step, before turning round and starting back down again. At this step was a number of slightly unusal things - a giant gold anchor, donated by a local shipbuilder, and 2 horses. Originally the shrines' name comes from the spiritual guardian of seafarers, and in Shinto belief, horses carry messages from the gods - that explains it then! Once we had made our way back to the bottom, the 3rd floor of one of the shops was our lunch stop.
Once again it was a mostly fishy affair, but the tempura was cold, and the udon noodles that we had been looking forward to had a fish base rather than meat which was a bit disappointing. However, as we were leaving, we spotted a stall selling do-nuts, so we bought some of those for dessert.
Our next stop was Ritsurin-koen park, which is Japan's largest formal garden, and lies at the foot of a mountain. We had an hour to walk round, and there was a route we could follow that took you to all the main sites of the gardens. We didn't follow the same route as everyone else, and went the opposite way round to start with. Once again, the colours of the trees with the settings of the bridges and formal gardens was stunning. There was a pretty tea house, and on one of the ponds, some of the vistors were taking trips in boats. There were a couple of trees there were supposed to resemble birds, but once again it was a matter of opinion! It was certainly a busy location, with a lot of Japanese elderly visitors walking round the gardens. As we
neared the exit, our Guide came rushing to us to ask us to make our way to the bus - the bridge at Naruto was closing half and hour earlier than he had expected, and we were due there to see the whirlpool phenomenom.
Our driver made good time, and we were able to reach the bridge at the optimum time to see the whirlpool - high tide. This is made as a result of the Pacific Ocean meeting the inland sea. There is a bridge serving as an observation platform that takes you out to 45m and there are clear glass panels sunken into the walkway so you dont miss anything. We walked to the official observatory, and spent a good 15 minutes looking hopefully at the water for a whirlpool. Despite the high tide, to observe the whirpols. you usually also need a lunar new moon - not today. There were a few small efforts, but nothing resembling that shown on the free postcard we had been given. After a while, even the boats of visitors that had paid to go out gave up and headed for land. We did too, as the promise of Wagyu beef
was on everyone's mind.
On our way to dinner, we drove over the Akashi Straits Suspension bridge, which is the longest suspension bridge in the world at 3.91km in length. The bridge was still under construction when the 1995 earthquake hit, causing the bridge to legthen by one extra metre.
The coach drove onto Kobe - home of the famous beef, and we ended up at a train station, and the restuarant sent up a private car to collect us, as the road was too narrow for the bus. The Sakura Gardens restaurant was our dinner destination, and the steps had been lit by candles making for a pretty entrance. We were escorted to the basement, and a long table had been set for all of us. The kimono weari ng staff then came and lit individual burners for us, and we started to cook our own beef. There was as always sashimi, which Russ decided would be better cooked too! The beef was melt in the mouth - and the only regret was that there wasn't more!!
This was our last night with our guide and couple of our fellow travellers, as we would be starting
a new phase of the trip in the morning. As a result, our hotel for the night was back at the airport, so we made our way back and were debating whether we would have any new people joining the tour. No change in the wake up call from the new guide though - 6.30am!
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