I arrived in the Osaka area of Japan (specifically: Nishinomiya) late Thursday evening. The first thing we did on Friday was to travel west for an outing at Himeji Castle (hime = ‘princess’ + ji ‘road’). It’s the only original castle – do I have this right? – in Japan that has not been somehow destroyed and completely rebuilt. So, it’s authentic. (It has understandably undergone some restoration.)
Another name for it is Hakuro-jo ‘White Heron Castle,’ because it resembles a white heron taking flight. It took 250 years to build and was finished in the early 17th century.
Himeji Castle: Sakura Season
A key word to know in Japanese: sakura ‘cherry blossom.’
It’s mid-April, full cherry blossom season, so you are going to see a lot of them in this blog and the next. I hit the season at its peak.
So, which image of Himeji to use as the title image?
There is this:
I could only choose one! So, as you’ve seen, I chose the image with the most varied layers: foreground with moat, bridge, people and wall; middeground with sakura and castle, and background with sky.
Important aesthetic decision made. Tough!
Himeji Castle: The Interior
You enter through an impressive gate.
You encounter an impressive rock.
Okay, everything about this castle and the grounds are impressive and from every angle:
I actually tried to find an image of the castle without the sakura, so I could imagine what it was like if I hadn’t come upon it this week. I thought I found this one, above, until I posted it and saw the sakura up on the top right and bottom left.
But then I found this:
Oops, no! Even this picture has a couple of branches of sakura peeking in on the top left. In fact, there is no image I have of the castle that doesn’t include sakura.
Suffice it to say, Himeji Castle is, by times, magical:
The sakura are so plentiful, their petals make carpets:
Himeji Castle: The Interior
The castle has six floors and a basement. The interior is all wood and the height of craftsmanship. Every floor is some version of this:
Everyone is carrying a plastic bag holding their shoes. So everyone is in socks. All the visitors’ socks give the floors a good collective polishing.
The structural techniques of the skeleton of the castle are as amazing as its exterior:
Here is what you find on the top floor:
I saw people clap their hands once, pull the thick cord to ring a bell, bow and then put money in the wooden box with the slats on top. You can figure as well as I can what’s up with that.
Himeji Castle: Vistas
Everywhere you look, inside and out, is a perfect picture postcard.
Before entering the castle I looked back and saw this:
And, once you’re up in it, nearly every view looks this this:
Here is one framed with an architectural detail:
Himeji Castle: Postscript
What to do after taking in a couple hours of such magnificence?
I would haven’t predicted it, but apparently the thing to do is to eat takoyaki ‘octopus balls’ at a local restaurant.
The question is which topping to use. It will vary by region. In the Himeji area, the bowl on the tray is a soup-like dipping sauce.
See: Weird Stuff in Japan
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen