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Sakura petals at Himeji Castle

JAPAN | Saturday, 11 April 2009 | Views [3314]

Himeji Castle in the springtime.

Himeji Castle in the springtime.

 

Today was a roaming day, and a bit far from my normal grounds: I went to Himeji in Hyogo prefecture. I left my apartment at 9:30 am to be in Himeji by 11 so I could meet my friend at the station. We headed straight into the Himeji tourist office by the JR exit and got information on what we could potentially do during the daylight hours. I must say that the staff there were super friendly, very helpful, and spoke wonderful English. A+ experience. At the counter we bought Himeji Passports where you can visit Himeji castle, Nishioyashikiato Garden, Himeji zoo, Himeji City Museum of Art, Museum of Literature, Shosha ropeway, Shosha Art and Craft Museum, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History, Japan Toy Museum, Himeji Central Park, and Taiyo Park all for a measly ¥1500 yen (~$15) and have a 6 day limit; a rather good deal if you plan on being in Himeji for more than a day. We thought it was a great deal so we bought it anyway and realized that we could barely get through 3 things in one day and since Himeji is so far away the rest of the tickets will probably go to waste sadly.

 

Anyway, passports in hand we walked to Himeji Castle which was just bursting with sakura petals everywhere we looked. It was a beautiful sight that left me awe-struck for a short moment. I recovered and we continued on our way but it always strikes me how amazingly intense the seasons are here in Japan – no wonder the Japanese aesthetic is built upon it!! It’s just simply amazing. Needless to say lots of photos ensued.

 

We meandered all over the castle and up the interior and back down again before strolling over to the neighboring Nishioyashikiato Garden, which I’ve heard was created by Japan’s top 5 gardeners so there is a uniquely beautiful Japanese feel to each area represented inside the walls. It is definitely worth checking out. Each area is built upon a different aesthetic from koi ponds to flowers to twisting tree branches and long grass; it was beautiful. I would love to check it out again in a different season – maybe autumn?

 

Sadly we had to leave the gardens sooner than we had hoped due to the grumblings of our tummies; food was needed and soon. Walking back past the castle and all the vendors hawking bentos, ice cream, and souvenirs we popped a street over into a covered shopping arcade and proceeded to hunt out a decent-looking non-touristy restaurant. We finally found one: a pretty but small family-owned noodle shop that was empty (perhaps because it was already 2pm?). As the day was fairly warm – at least compared to recent weather – cold soba noodles sounded divine so I asked our waitress what the most popular tsumetai soba dish was and we ended up with cold noodles with some sort of frothed egg whites and a raw egg yolk topped off with tiny slices of seaweed and green onion. We poured on the sauce and slurped up our noodles with goodwill. Admittedly I am not a big fan of raw egg, and it definitely had a slimey consistency a bit reminiscent of natto, but I was hungry and it didn’t taste bad so I ate most of mine happily enough.

 

Tummies full we headed back to the station and made a quick pit-stop at the information desk to find out how to get up the Shosha Ropeway to Engyoji Temple, most recently made famous by Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai but almost known as the 27th temple on the Saigoku Kannon pilgrimage for all those pilgrims out there and the Tale of Genji fans. We found the bus stop near the station and took our bus (#8) up the mountainside to the last stop – the ropeway. Our passports bought us tickets up and down the tram but sadly did not buy us passage inside the temple. We ended up shelling out the ¥500 entrance fee and another ¥500 for a bus ride up due to time constraints and the fact that it was a steep 20-minute walk up the mountainside to the temple area. Money well spent. The first main temple was quite similar to other temples we’ve seen – you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all and this once is quite reminiscent of Kyoto’s Kiyomizu Temple – but it was still stunning nonetheless full of beautifully carved wood. We had the chance to pop up to one more of the temples in this temple retreat (there seem to be more than 10 temples clustered up haphazardly on the mountain) before catching the last bus back to the ropeway at 4:45. I really wish we had more time to check out all the temples but that would be a day in-in-of-itself full of hiking the forest trails and photography of the beautiful scenery. Another day, another time.

 

The sun waning we grabbed some ice cream (sakura-flavored, naturally) and headed back to the train station to get on with our evenings. Mine involved getting back to Osaka and meeting a friend for dinner. And that is exactly what I did.

 

And now here I am, foot-weary but content. I had a lovely time in Himeji and would love to visit it again if I can ever find the time. For those tourists out there I recommend getting the Himeji Passport at the JR information counter but for those day-trippers like I was I’m not honestly sure if the passport was worth it or not. Regardless, if you’re in the Kobe-area I recommend popping over to Himeji to look at the castle if nothing else because starting later on this year (2009) there will be renovations and I’m not sure how much authentic castle will be left by the time Japan is done with it.

 

Well, anyway, happy sakura-viewing wherever you decide to go in Japan. It’s quite a lovely time to be here!!

Tags: castle, cherry blossom, culture, himeji, japan, park, sakura, spring, temple, tradition

 

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