The good husband had been waxing lyrical about Takeda Castle Ruins months before the holiday.
“The view is really lovely from up there and the trail leading up is becoming very popular with young couples. We must go!” he said endlessly, while reassuring me that the hike would be an easy one since young boys were bringing their dainty dates on it.
So that was what we did.
From Himeji we took a train on the Bantan Line to Takeda Station, and found ourselves in a quiet little town. A hand-painted map in front of the train station shows two routes to Takeda Castle Ruins – one runs 800m through a cemetery at the foothills, the other is winding path of 1-plus kilometres.
Of course we chose the shorter route!
The starting point of the route was a pretty one, rounding the back of a trio of shrines. But after passing the cemetery, as the hand-painted map had shown, we were lost. There were no signs to point us in the right direction, and the only way forward was through an area covered with bushes.
There seemed to be a worn path, which meant people had used that way before.
Close by was an old man who was gathering twigs, and we approached him for help. “Takeda Castle Ruins,” we said, while pointing to the top.
The old man seemed to understand and replied with a very long sentence. Of course, we understood not a single word.
So I pointed to the bushy area and asked again, “Takeda Castle Ruins?”
The old man sighed and after a thoughtful pause, nodded and waved us in the direction of the bushes. So off we went.
But as we climbed, the worn path disappeared and many times we had to stop and think where we ought to proceed. We had to find firm footing on loose rocks and exposed tree roots.
It was bewildering for me and many times I asked the husband how was this trail suitable for dating couples?
Despite the cool weather, I perspired heavily and had to strip down to my T-shirt. And even that was soaked through in the end. I imagine young Japanese girls who take this route would perspire just as much too, and have their heavily made-up faces melt away.
My endless complaints aside, we pressed on and eventually came face to face with a proper path. Hurrah!
But even that disappeared moments later.
Eventually large stone slabs appeared, signalling the castle ruins were close. Indeed, the stone foundations of Takeda Castle Ruins soon came into view.
What joy! The trek is over! And we took a photo to commemorate the moment.
We sat on the grass to catch our breath and to enjoy the view for a while, before climbing to the top of the stone foundations, which is truly our final destination. But minutes later I heard kids’ laughter.
Kids up at the Takeda Castle Ruins?
Kids who managed to conquer that horrible trail to arrive at Takeda Castle Ruins?
How is that possible?
So I picked myself up and climb up the stone steps, impatient to see if there were indeed children up at the ruins.
And I saw a carnival of people up there, some dressed in lacy stockings and heeled booties. What the heck?!
Then I noticed that a barricade was placed at the top of the step where I had just set foot on:
Then the truth dawned upon me. We must have taken the wrong way up, a route that was closed to the public, a route that was not meant for visitors.
No wonder the twig-gathering old man said so many things when we asked for directions to Takeda Castle Ruins. He must have been trying to tell us how to get to the correct trail.
No wonder he sighed and waved us up the overgrown path. He must have thought, stupid tourists, that’s the wrong way up but go if you insist!
We later discovered that the correct path to Takeda Castle Ruins offered a far easier stroll. The path is well paved and regular sized steps are provided. Furthermore, a large part of that 1-plus kilometre route is accessible by car, so visitors can drive more than half-way up and then walk the rest of the journey.
The deed was done, so we could only laugh at ourselves and then explore the expanse of the castle ruins. It was beautiful up there, and sprawling. And we took a million photos.
We found a quiet spot to have a little picnic of hot tea and Manneken waffles.
Having spent so much energy hiking up to Takeda Castle Ruins, we stayed up there as long as possible and only descended 90 minutes later.
It was at the actual entrance of Takeda Castle Ruins that we had another funny moment. By accessing the historical destination the wrong way, we had actually skipped paying an entrance fee of 300 yen each!
Back in Takeda town, we walked through the quiet streets and found that there were hardly any tourists – it seemed that they would come in their tour buses and leave the town as soon as they were done at the Castle Ruins.
Just as well. No screaming, excited tourists to ruins the serenity of the area.
Occasionally an elderly folk would pass us by and greet us “konnichiwa”. That’s what we love about the rural areas in Japan. Everyone still greets each other and isn’t in too much of a rush to stop and smile.
Walking on we discovered a tiny shop selling okonomiyaki, one of the husband’s favourite Japanese dish. So in we went, and was greeted by a boisterous group of old men.
They all started to say different things in Japanese to us while waving us in. The female boss of the establishment emerged from the kitchen, and bade us to sit.
Soon the old men realised we were tourists and through some words the husband recognised, we understood that they wanted to know where we were from. And when they heard that we are from Singapore, one revealed that he had his honeymoon in Singapore 50 years ago while another said he had helped built one of our expressways.
With a mix of sign language and a smattering of Japanese and English, we managed to chat and tease each other and became friends.
Travels bring such joy!