Japan 2023: Day 20
Ukiyo-e museum, biking the Kibiji, and immersing in the land of Momotaro.
I woke up before 8 a.m. and packed my bag to be ready to quickly check out later at 11 a.m. But first I wanted to quickly dip into the hotel’s お風呂・public bath, get breakfast, and check out a few more sites at the historical district.
- Steps taken: 14,944
- Miles biked: 13.15
- Money spent: 10,650円 | $78.81 USD
Table of contents
- Hotel public bath
- Free hotel breakfast!
- A last stop at the Kurashiki Bikan Historical District
- Back to Kyoto by bike and more
- But, dinner before crashing
Hotel public bath
There were separate public baths for men and women. The women’s had a pass-code, while the men’s one was “not needed”. Eyeroll. The bath was pretty nice and naturally reminded me of my recent Kinosaki Onsen weekend trip from Days 14, 15, and 16. There weren’t glaring signs that said I couldn’t take pictures, and at least in the changing room I was the only person there, so I snuck in a few shots… After a quick soak, I changed and went to get breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, since it was close by and one of the only places open at the time.
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Free hotel breakfast!
To my surprise, I walked into the restaurant via the hotel entrance (not the public entrance) and no one asked me to pay. I don't actually think I was supposed to get a free breakfast – I double-checked my booking plan – but hey… It wasn't as good as my first hotel breakfast at Haneda airport, but it was still much better and more nutritious than most or all U.S. hotel breakfasts I've had. I thought to myself, have I ever had vegetables at a U.S. hotel breakfast? Maybe one time there was a mediocre vegetable omelette station… and that's it. In any case, no complaints – a breakfast buffet where I didn’t have to waste time waiting for the food to cook, and it was free!
It was kinda neat to also see the other hotel guests, who were a mix of couples, families with kids, and businessmen. From what I could tell, they were all Japanese and I was the one foreigner.
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A last stop at the Kurashiki Bikan Historical District
Not as many attractions as I expected were open at ~9 a.m. when I wrapped up breakfast and got to the canal. Nonetheless, I busied myself by getting my goshuin (an extra pretty one for 1,500円) at Aichi shrine and entering the Ukiyo-e museum right when it opened at 10 a.m. (1300円 entry for adults). The museum was super cool. There were 8 sections of ukiyo-e exhibits in various tatami rooms. I unfortunately only got to about half of them by the time I needed to leave for my hotel check-out time.
Checking out right at 11 a.m. on the dot (!), I made a final stop back at the historical district at one of the denim stores I eyed. I picked out my denim souvenir, which was a multicolored minibag I ended up using for my electronics (pocket wifi, cables, portable charger) when on the go.
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Back to Kyoto by bike and more
I got back to Kurashiki station at around 11:20 a.m. I wanted to bike the Kibiji or Kibi Path, a supposedly mostly-flat and easy-going trail of 21km that passes many landmarks important to the Momotaro (“Peach Boy”) Japanese legend based on a real person. With that plan in mind, I realized I would probably miss my reserved shinkansen from Okayama to Shin-Osaka at 1:48 p.m. I intended to cancel my reservation and change it to a later time, but the ticket line to do that was a bit long, so I wagered my chances at getting a non-reserved seat later in the day to keep my schedule flexible.
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Starting the Kibiji bike trail
The Kibiji would replace my commute from Kurashiki to Okayama stations. I needed to catch a local train to Soja station to pick up a rental bike from a shop called Araki that had partnerships with other shops along the Kibiji – in particular, one by the Bijen-Ichinomiya station that’s close to Okayama station.
Figuring all that out, I paid 2,000 yen for a rental bike that had a built-in lock, basket, headlight, and bell. I laughed, thinking about my first apparently super expensive rental on Day 9, which had a separate, very-ok bike lock for 2.5 times the price of Araki’s… Furthermore, my bike rentals on Days 15 and 16 at Kinosaki Onsen were 〜1460円 that came with a phone holder! Oh, Lake Biwa!
The staff person at Araki gave me a map of the trail and described in detail a lot of the tricky parts that have confused past riders. Reflecting on all his advice, he (or the shop) truly knew all the gotchas! Every time I wasn’t sure where to go, I remembered his advice, and it kept me on the right path. He told me that it should take me 2-3 hours if I just biked straight, and 3-4 hours if I stopped at landmarks. I felt confident I could do it straight in less than 2 hours, but turns out I was indeed drawn by some of the landmarks, and my total trip was about 3 hours, 20 minutes. That person knew what he was talking about!
Many guides online say that starting the Kibiji at Bijen-Ichinomiya station is better than at Soja station. There was no reason for this in the guides, but I later figured out that the information panels along the path were written assuming you did the online recommendation. It honestly didn't make much difference to me narrative-wise; I actually suspect it's easier to do the path the way I did it, since (in a mostly-flat path) I think I went downhill more often than up.
I started my journey at around 12:25 p.m. I felt uncertain navigating through town to get to the official start of the path (from the direction I was going), but of course the only Araki staff person's tips got me there just fine. I had to follow a street up to a set of pyramids (??), turn right, go straight until I saw a large sports center building with a blue curved roof (well, it was more like a faded green at this point), then turn left and see the start sign. Just in front of that were the vast rice fields, the signature scenery of the Kibiji.
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Amazake at Bichu Kokubunji
After taking a few pictures of the fields and a smaller landmark, I fully stopped at this grand pagoda at Bichu Kokubun-ji temple surrounded by (I think) sakura trees. There I got amazake for only 250円 at a cafe in the temple grounds using my 100-yen off coupon I got from Araki. The amazake was made from the rice harvested from the rice fields outside! It was a little too sweet for me to get it again, but I still liked it.
After that, I snapped a few pictures, gave my partner a call, and then continued onward. It was a bit after 1 p.m.
I later learned there was some interesting burial site that I missed. Aw.
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Kibitsu-jinja and Kibitsuhibo-jinja
I didn't (hard) stop again for quite awhile, until I was more than halfway done. My confidence in finishing at a not-terrible time was still there. But then, in the distance were some impressive-looking shrine rooftops popping out from among the tall trees. I learned this was Kibitsu-jinja, supposedly one of the most impressive shrines in Japan and most important landmarks regarding Momotaro. Well, then, how could I not stop by…
I got another goshuin there and explored the grounds for about 15 minutes. It was huge! Lots of unique displays I hadn't seen at other shrines. I wanted to explore more but had to be mindful of my time and energy, though.
Not far from this large shrine was one with a similar name that was much smaller and less popular called Kibitsuhibo-jinja. It had a few things going for it, though, including Japan's largest stone lantern and a prettier selection of goshuin.
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Along the whole path but maybe especially towards the end (or the beginning, depending on your starting position) were these large hills that were apparently burial sites. Kinda creepy to think about. At least one was for an emperor and their servants.
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A little lost… but finished the trail!
The Araki staff person's advice guided me until the very end… when I forgot that Kibitsuhibo-jinja was within meters of Bijen-Ichinomimya station where I would finish my rental and Kibiji journey. I instead kept following the Kibiji District bike arrows, until I realized that, a few minutes into doing that, my Google Maps said I was getting farther and farther away from the station. I back-tracked, eventually making it to the station at 3:27! only to learn that I missed the local train I needed at 3:20… If I hadn't gotten lost… :( Alas, I had to wait until 3:51 p.m. for the next train to Okayama station.
Reflecting, that staff person's directions were so vital to my sanity and success. Google Maps alone would've been awful because a lot of the bike trail was not in the GPS database. Thank you, very kind and capable staff person, for keeping me on track! When I wasn't, it was purely my fault.
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Lining up for shinkansen non-reserved seats
At Okayama station, I had my first experience pressing my luck for a non-reserved seat on the shinkansen. There were several people in the shortest line I could find for the Nozomi to Tokyo, car 3, so I was worried. The train arrived and car 3 looked like so many people were in it… Thankfully, to my surprise, when I boarded the train, people ahead of me were skipping a couple of middle seats in the front of the car, so I and the woman in front of me in line took them. Score! In the end, two people had to stand, but one was able to get a seat after a train conductor asked a young, seemingly-able-bodied passenger to not take up an extra seat with all their stuff. Eyeroll. I was surprised – she looked like and spoke Japanese, so it was presumably not a selfish foreigner; well, goes to show there are selfish Japanese people, too!
Though the Nozomi to Tokyo stopped at Kyoto, I had to transfer at Shin-Osaka again if I wanted to save money via my commuter pass than didn't cover the shinkansen to Kyoto. Thankfully that transfer was mostly seamless.
I arrived at Kyoto station at 5:41 p.m. and got back to my homey hostel shortly afterward.
But, dinner before crashing
I was starving! The last time I ate properly was breakfast at 9 a.m., and in between I had the amazake, a bottle of coffee, and a piece of coffee candy. Wow, just all stimulants or inhibitors…
I headed to Vege-Bar, a vegetable-heavy restaurant a block away from my hostel. The service was warm, and the larger salad and smaller pasta came out quickly and well.
I got back to rest a little before 7 p.m. Oh, I'm going to pay for that again tonight…
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See the rest of my posts about Japan 2023.