Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Morning in Himeji

While the heavy rain pretty much washed out my entire holiday in the Kyoto/Kansai region in early July, at least there were a few (relatively) dry spells so I could spend some time doing some sightseeing, including a morning at Himeji, a town in Hyogo Prefecture not far away from Kobe and Osaka.

My flight landed in early morning so I took the earliest express train from airport to Osaka, then I jumped on to another train that brought me to Himeji in less than 2 hours (including time for breakfast in between at the train station). Himeji looks like those charming small town easily accessible on foot. The area surrounding the train station seems to be the busiest, with a few shopping malls and department stores, plus a few undercover or underground “shopping streets” filled with small shops and restaurants, and the main attraction, the Himeji Castle, was just down the road on the other side of the main street (Otemae-dori)

One could easily take a bus to reach the castle, but I decided to take a walk since it’s not (yet) raining and it’s hardly 1km long. It’s nice to step back from the busy city life to be able to enjoy a leisure stroll on a quiet street. Himeji Castle is spectacular even if you looked at it from afar – the white castle set on top of the foundation built with stone on the high ground can easily be seen anywhere from the city with not much tall buildings, and now it’s part of the complex which included a zen garden, a park and a zoo. And getting up close I realized the castle was much bigger than I thought.

Walking through the Otemon Gate like everyone does, I made my slow climb up to the daitenshu, or the castle keep which is the “main” castle building. Himeji Castle is probably one of the biggest of its kind, with 6 stories (while some smaller ones might only have 3 or 4). On each level there’s different exhibits showing the life inside the castle – there’s a long hallway with racks that serves as the arsenal for guns and spears, and then there’s a tiny room for soldiers hiding and preparing for a surprise ambush if needed. Once you reach the top level, you are awarded with the panoramic view of the entire town. From a heritage point of view, the Himeji Castle is significant as this is one of the only 12 original castle structures still standing in the country (many others were destroyed and restored based on original design), and it’s a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. And most considered this as one of the most beautiful Japanese feudal castle, which I had to agree. I am glad that I am finally able to come visit, and check this one off on the list of “Top 100 Japanese Castles” that I have been to.

It’s around lunch time when I walked back to the train station, so I decided to get a quick bite at the small shopping street right nearby. Sumiyaki Anago Yamayoshi is a small restaurant specialized in anago, or conger eel, with a same simple menu for both lunch and dinner – one could either order the una-don (eel served on top of rice in a box) or the set (with a choice of size) which came with a small appetizer, plus rice, soup and pickles. There were only a handful of tables and busy with mainly locals, but luckily, I didn’t have to wait for too long for my table.

I ordered the deluxe set and it arrived in less than 5 minutes from the open kitchen right behind me where the eel was grilled on charcoal. I thought the portion was generous with the entire eel, head to “tail”, served on top of the rice and on a plate. The rice was cooked with dashi with sprinkles of nori on top, giving it extra flavor. I particularly loved the texture of the eel which is soft and delicate with just a light dip of glaze. Sansho pepper is the usual condiment for the eel, but I thought this one is so well-seasoned that I was happy to eat without. Overall this is a simple yet satisfying quick lunch (and of great value too – this is less than 2000 yen) plus it's often said that anago is best enjoyed during the summer time.

When? July 3 2018
Where? Sumiyaki Anago Yamayoshi, 301 Ekimaecho Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan
炭焼あなご やま義 兵庫県 姫路市 駅前町 301
Menu Highlights? Sumiyaki Anago (Charcoal-grilled freshwater eel)
Web: (Tabelog)

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