|In an attempt to alleviate temple complacency and boredom , we decided one day to leave Kyoto and headed south on the bullet train to the town of Himeji for a days excursion. The main reason to visit here was to see Japan's most impressive castle and an old samurai garden.
Himeji-Jo certainly lives up to its reputation as being the best castle in Japan. It is set high up on a hill within huge walls and gardens and surrounded by a moat. It is also known as the 'white heron' due its predominatly white colour - and it is huge! There has been a castle on the site since 1333 however the castle on the site today dates from 1580.
After entering through one of the main gates, our first stop was walking through the defensive walls which had lots of holes for firing guns, shooting arrows and pouring hot oil out of onto any unfortunate enemy who happened to be scaling the walls. However we were perplexed at how someone thought it wa a good idea to make a fortress out of wood - had they not heard of fire back then?
From there, it was into the main five-storey donjon itself (the central tower). The woodwork in this part of the building was quite something, as were the views you had of all of Himeji from the top after climbing up several very steep wooden staircases. Although the castle looks big from the outside, from the inside it is actually quite small, I guess due mainly to the amount of defensive structures and openings. The outside walls of the castle were also decorated with small circles which had verious coats of arms on them from the different ruling lords who occupied it in the past.
Himeji is certainly a popular place to visit, however as the castle takes about 1.5 hours to walk around, it did not feel too crowded.
After a quick tempura set for lunch (Shaun had katsu curry again - I think he has had it every day since arrival in Japan!), we set off to the next big site, the Koko-en gardens. This is basically a reconstruction of the former samurai quarters of the castle where there are nine separate Edo-style gardens as well as a 'tea-house'. Actually these gardens were absolutely amazing - the best we have seen as yet in Japan. The first one had a huge pond with various waterfalls falling into it as well as the ubiquitous carp and arched bridges. From there it was onto the next series of gardens which had a river winding its way through them - parts of which were smooth flowing and parts of which were rapids and braided rivers. You could walk across the rivers on the stepping stones that were everywhere and then sit and admire the views on various pagodas and pavillions dotted about the place. The last garden was a bamboo garden - I do not think I need to explain this one further. Anyway, in summary, the gardens were exquisite and I could quite happily pick them up and transport them to NZ!
It was then back on the shinkansen bullet train to temple infested Kyoto for our bento box and sushi dinner in our hostel - we do lead exciting lives!