1. Typhoon No. 20 ('Cimaron') left flooded rivers, disrupted train services and several thousands of households without electricity in its wake, but caused no further havoc to Himeji. The post-typhoon high-pressure guaranteed perfect photo conditions (the photos below were taken with a smartphone though).

    We first visited Himeji in 2012 when the castle was still being renovated. Temporary structures around the scaffolding allowed visitors to watch the renovation works closely and to see artifacts that were not usually on display. Himeji Castle, often called "White Heron Castle" because of the unusual shape of its roofs that resemble birds taking flight, was reopened in 2015 in its original magnificent beauty.

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    Himeji Castle is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan. In 2015, the year the 5-year-and-a-half renovation was finished the number of foreign visitors surged to almost 2.9m and has since increased. We were quite lucky, as it was a weekday after a strong typhoon. We did not even have to wait to climb the main keep.

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    After visiting Kōko-en Garden, constructed in 1992 on the grounds of the former residence of the daimyō, we decided to pay a visit the Himeji Zoo which is located right next to the castle. What a horrific experience! The zoo is old and has seen better days: the cages and shelters are too small and in many cases inappropriate to keep animals under humane conditions. Many of them were exposed to the plain sunlight and dehydrated. I cannot get rid of the images of the panting snow owl, the polar bear pacing its cage and smashing his head into each corner he passed, and the mangy badger. Other highly social animals were kept solitary, like the beautiful cockatoo who was excited about the 10 minutes of company we'd given him. Sad. :emoji_frowning2:

    Kobe was the last station of our journey that had started in Kanazawa and brought us all the way to Izumo on the Sea of Japan. A selection of Kobe beef (A5 wagyu) and a few Asahi Super Dry ended one of the most exciting and attraction-packed trips we'd ever taken in Japan. We'd not seen everything but a lot and already have a short list with complementary destinations for our follow-up trip.
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    Stats: 9 days / eight nights; distance: 1,985km.

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