Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Experiencing Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is one of Japan's most famous landmarks. It's located in Kansai, one of my favorite parts of Japan. With cities like Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara, there's a lot to see and do there, in a fairly compact area. Himeji station is an easy 40 minute train ride from Kobe.

Mind you, in recent years I haven't been much of a postcard seeking sightseer. I'd rather walk through streets and supermarkets than museums or monuments. But I was in Himeji, and, with the castle in eyeshot of the train station, I figured it would be worth a visit.

I titled this post "Experiencing Himeji Castle" since seeing the storied place feels more like something you're pushed through than a place you visit to soak in. From start to finish, you line up, go up a hill, and go through the empty castle in a line of people that twists, winds, and goes up and down stairs. This is inevitable with a property that is on so many visitors' itineraries, but the experience is a far cry from the open, self-directed experience you'll have visiting other historical places, such as Windsor Castle in England.

Here's a bit of a photolog that will give you a sense of the experience:
The outer gate is about 10 minutes from the castle. You start by going over a moat.
 More after the jump:

See the cones in front of the outer gate? They're there to keep you on the left-hand side. Very early on, crowd control is in effect.  But the grounds inside are open and spacious, and you can walk around freely enough up until the point where you buy your ticket to tour the castle. This shot was taken at around 4:15 PM, so the crowds were thin, especially in the outer grounds. The existence of these cones tells me the complex must get fairly packed earlier in the day.

The closer you get, the better the views of the main structures are.

Quoth the raven, "Lineupmore!"

Love the old stone work. Complete side note back to England: If you're into history and are vacationing in the UK, consider visiting some of the monastic ruins. The remaining stones, walls, and structures are well preserved by the National Trust. You can wander the grounds and imagine what life was like hundreds of years ago.

Once inside the castle, you have to take your shoes off and carry them with you.

There are 6 levels, if I remember correctly, and you go up steep stairs to go from level to level.

The rooms are mostly empty.

At the very top, you can visit this little shrine. Sorry for the blurry photo. Because of the crowds, you're hurried along when you reach this point,

Man, this was something else. The summer heat can get intense, and at the top level, you're moving around at a snail's pace.

Fortunately, the views are excellent, and you're sometimes rewarded with a breeze.

On the way down, I discovered something very interesting. The castle lets people in until 5:00 PM. If you get there close to that point, on the way down, it will be empty, offering excellent chances to photograph the beautiful woodwork.

A far cry from the crowds on the way up! You can start to imagine what life may have been like for the aristocrats and warriors who once walked these halls.

Massive iron door on the way out.

Back view. There's a little courtyard you can wander around, viewing the castle, walls, and Himeji city. The open space is a welcome contrast after the tour.

This interesting display shows how some of the decorative stonework was done during different periods of the castle's restoration. Over the last 75 years or so, starting early in the Showa era, quite a lot of work has been done to bring the place back to its original state. In fact, the information pamphlet says restoration was just completed this year.

At 6:00 PM, visitors are reveled with a lovely version of "Auld Lang Syne" through the public announcement system. Naturally, I wished the first Westerner I saw a Happy New Year. (Cultural note: In Japan, a lot of places play this song to tell you it's closing time.)

After experiencing Himeji, an ice cream is a fine way to top the day off!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice. I visited Himeji twice in 2008. I loved it.

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