Day 12 – Himeji
After checking out of our hotel in Kyoto, we took the train down to Himeji Castle, only about an hour away from Kyoto. I had debated skipping our stop at Himeji Castle, as it made our day quite long, but I’m glad that we saw it. Both the castle and the gardens are well worth the trip and in my mind, are a “not to miss” place in your visit to Japan.
Before I get to the photos and description of the castle, my advice would be to get there early, at 9 am if possible, and visit the main part of the castle before you visit the West Keep or the gardens. Later in the day, it can get quite crowded, and you may need to wait an hour or more to get into the central tower. Also, on the day we were there it was warm, and as heat rises, it makes the upper floors of the castle uncomfortable. It’s better to go early when it’s less crowded and cooler.
The entrance to the castle is a little over half a mile from the train station, and the castle dominates the skyline. You can easily see why it’s other name is Egret Castle – it does look like a white bird about to take flight. The white stucco, which gives the castle its distinctive appearance, was originally applied to reduce the impact of fire. The castle was also designed to make it very hard to invade – there are lots of twists and turns through narrow chutes and ladders, which made it easier for castle defenders to pick off potential invaders.
One of the legendary figures associated with Himeji castle is Princess Sen. She was the granddaughter of the Shogun, and was married to Toyotomi Hideyori when she was only 7 years old. Later, her husband fell afoul of the Shogun, who attacked and defeated him, and Toyotomi Hideyori committed suicide. Princess Sen was rescued by a man called Naomori, whose face was badly burned during the fire associated with the siege of the castle. He wanted to marry Princess Sen, but she rejected him for the much more handsome Honda Tadatoki. By all accounts, they were very happily married, however they faced much tragedy. Their only child, a son, died at only three years old, and then her husband, Honda Tadatoki, died just a few years later. She entered a buddhist convent for the remainder of her life.
The construction of the castle was very complex and very interesting. It almost reminded me of Shakespeare’s Stratford, which was built roughly around the same time period.
The climb up six stories to the top of the main keep was quite steep, more like climbing ladders on a ship than climbing stairs. It was also quite crowded and hot. They did a fairly good job of crowd control, limiting how many people could get in the upper stories and limiting the time that anyone could stay up there.
We then visited the gardens of Himeji Castle, which are a not to miss place. There are twelve gardens, and each one is different. It’s the largest, and one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan.
Ate lunch at The Farmer’s Daughter, a local place that served very good salads.
We then took the train down to Hiroshima, and then on to Miyajima Guchi. From there we took the ferry over to Miyajima island and checked into our Ryokan.
The most notable feature of Miyojima Island is the large gate or Tori that is in the water, about 200 meters offshore. It is quite spectacular, and lit up at night.
Tori at night
Again, we were served a wonderful dinner in our room and slept on our futons that night.