Japan Trip 2019: Himeji

Just as steady droplets of water can eventually wear down solid stone, after two and a half years of “let’s go back to Japan” from the wife, I eventually caved. I thought it was a bit soon to repeat such an expensive trip, but I would be a liar if I said I didn’t want to, and before long we were packing for a 13-day trip across Japan.

This trip is a bit of a do-over to make up for the horrendous weather from the previous trip. Being the first destination after settling in at the hotel in Osaka, Himeji would set the tone for the rest of the trip, and I’m glad to report it definitely beat being drenched in the streets of Tokyo like last time.

Being under 30 minutes away via bullet train from Shin-Osaka station, it was very accessible. The castle is about a half an hour walk from the train station, so there’s really no excuse to not visit Himeji if you’re in the region.

As luck would have it, not only was the weather good, the cherry blossoms were close to full bloom when we visited. The sight of so many spread over such a large area was overwhelming. Up until that point I had been stressing out over the fickle timing of the cherry blossoms, so naturally I was incredibly relieved.

There are many feudal castles scattered across Japan, but most of them did not survive the ages, having fallen victim to earthquakes, fires, and/or bombing. Not Himeji, which has been standing for over 400 years.

The main keep is accessed via a series of ascending pathways punctuated by heavy gates, zig-zagging back and forth. Each pathway is overlooked though a wall with small slots built into them. Arrows would have been shot through those windows towards any unfortunate invaders beneath trying to breach the castle.

Visitors can participate in a crowded (yet well-organized) walking tour of the main keep. The inside of the keep is largely unfurnished, but from inside one gains an appreciation of the impressive engineering that has kept the castle standing for so long.

From the top, one cannot help but to marvel at the how vast the site is. From the towering keep, to the walls and pathways, to the manicured trees and moats beyond, Himeji is truly the whole package.

There’s more to Himeji than just the castle — there is also the adjacent Koko-en gardens that showcases nine gardens in a variety of styles.

I found out later that these gardens are a relatively recent addition built in the 90’s. For a mere extra 40 yen on top of the regular 1000 yen admission fee to the castle, you can check out these lovely gardens next door.

There’s even a tea ceremony room where you take in the sights over a bowl of matcha and a piece of confection…while you break your ankles trying to sit Japanese-style.

That’s it for this first report of my 2019 trip to Japan. We visited nine cities during the trip in all, and I hope you’ll join me for the rest of the journey through these blog posts.

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