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Thursday, April 06, 2006
Himeji City and the Great Castle
The second day in Kobe, we made a trip to Himeji city which is 45 minutes by local train. Actually, we didn't know much about the city except that it is well known for the Great Castle of Himeji.
Once we arrived at Himeji Eki, we went directly to the Tourist Information Center. A lady asked me what I needed and the only thing I could say was 'I wanted to see Himeji Castle'. She laid a map in front of me and explained to me what I had to do, in fluent English. Fiuuuhh...

Himeji Castle (and city) turned out to be 'tourist friendly'. The lady drew a line between the station and a big space in the middle of the map. She told me to 'walk for 15 minutes through the shopping arcade between the station and the castle, and I'd soon arrive at the castle'. While doing so (walking through the shopping arcade), I'd be able to see traditional shops, a flowers exhibition in a park, and many others.
We walked leisurely through the shopping arcade that was very long (from station to the castle). The day was fine, although the wind was a bit cold. After 15 minutes walk, we arrived at the gate of the castle. The gate is very big, right on the opposite side of a wide river. The great castle itself was standing tall before us. It was a magnificent sight!

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The castle was first built in 1346, but it hadn't looked like the present castle. 230 years later, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (one of my heroes in the book: Taiko) rebuilt the castle. This castle has a magnificent construction and a very rich history. It still impresses me till now.

The tower and Sakura:
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Himeji Castle, known also as a White Heron Castle, is very big. Visitors need about 3 hours to explore the entire castle. You want to know why? Check this:
1> The castle is built on the top of a hill called Himeyama, which is 45.6 meters above sea level.
2> The main tower, which is the center and the symbol of the castle, is 46.4 meters high; namely, it stands 92 meters above sea level.
3> The size of the entire complex is 140 meters on the east-west axis and 125 meters on the north-south axis.
4> The main tower is connected by corridors and passages (wateriyagura) to the other three towers, forming an inner court.
5> At the base of the main tower once stood a palace, which was later destroyed by fire.
6> In the southeast corner of the court is an area called harakiri-maru, which was where a samurai would commit suicide. (It is still there. Untouched. It gave us an eerie feeling.)
7> The main donjon (tower) consists of seven floors, five of which are visible. (we gave up climbing up the steep stairs when we were in the third floor)

Below: The main tower, seen from the castle corridor. These corridors connect one room to another. The corridors form a circle-like construction. This kind of window also functioned as a defense wall. Guards could see enemies coming from below. They aimed arrows at the enemies through the window. The entire castle is completed with windows of this function.
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Observation deck in the front yard of the tower. We can see the whole city from here:
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The area of the castle is very big and complete. It has a small zoo where children can play while parents can watch the beauty of the castle and its surrounding.
The river in the zoo area:
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Too bad Sakura hadn't bloomed yet when we were there. Because if it had, the entire complex would be colored by pink sight. People usually hold a ceremony to welcome the blossom of Sakura.

Kokoen Garden:
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Next, we went to Kokoen Garden, located just outside of Himeji castle, a short walk west of the castle's main gate (Otemon Gate). Kokoen is a recently constructed Japanese style garden, which was opened in 1992 on the former site of of the feudal lords' west residence (Nishi-Oyashiki). It consists of nine separate gardens designed in various garden styles of the Edo period. Among the gardens are the garden of the lord's residence which features a pond with waterfall, a tea garden where visitors can enjoy green tea in a tea ceremony house, a pine tree garden, bamboo garden and flower garden.

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Actually, there is another famous tourist spot in Himeji. It's Mount Shosa, a temple mountain that became very famous in the world after it was featured in "The Last Samurai'. Unfortunately, we only have less than one day in Himeji, and Mount Shosa is quite far from Himeji Castle.
Nevertheless, I really really enjoyed the trip to Himeji. And Himeji Castle itself has taken my breath away.
Can we visit it again, Pap?

written by: Mariskova
posted by Mariskova @ 9:03 PM  
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  • A master student of the Graduate School of Global Information and Telecommunication Studies at Waseda University, Japan.
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