Himeji, The White Heron Castle 姫路城
Days 87, 88 and 89, December 2016,
After 3 days in Kyoto visiting old friends and some of our favourite places – Kiyomizudera, Maruyama Park, Tetsugaku no michi and Manshuin to name a few – we headed out of Kyoto and followed R. 9 as the weather deteriorated. Finally we stopped at Yoka Tajima no kura michi no eki for a hot bath and to sleep for the night.
We wake to weak sunshine, mist in the hollows and steam rising everywhere as we set off for Himeji. The views are wonderful with the mist rising and the sun trying to assert its supremacy; sumie scenes all around.
We take a side trip hoping to grab a glimpse of a famous view, Takeda Castle ruins floating on a sea of mist. Unfortunately, just before we gain the viewing spot we can clearly see the ruins firmly planted on the solid mountain so, we cut back to the main road and continue on our way.
This is an area of good agricultural land. There are low mountains all around but the valleys are wide, providing plenty of room for cultivation. The unnecessary, fanciful gables that adorn the roofs of the large houses in the villages are statements of prosperity.
Arriving in Himeji, we visit the castle (known as White Heron castle). This is a very pretty sight from a distance and very large from close up. It seems to me too ornate to have ever been a functional, military fortification and suspect it is more a symbol of wealth and power; to overawe rather than overcome. It must have bestowed a huge degree of prestige on anyone in possession of it.
In its present form it is over 400 years old and one of the 12 remaining original castles in Japan. After extensive renovation it was re-opened to the public in 2015, so it is in splendid condition. Dazzling white.
Entering the castle via a labyrinth of corridors with stone or shining, white plaster walls, we climb to the uppermost tower admiring the enormous beams and noting the lack, or relative lack, of diagonal supports. The interior is largely empty but ,although restored, is not a concrete replica like so many other castles. Here again, one is struck by the fanciful roofing and the decorative tiles though on a far grander scale than the farm houses. Each tile is stamped with a design, a flower, a house mark and this in Himeji’s case is, unusually, a butterfly.
As I mentioned, the castle is large and we spend two and a half interesting hours wandering about but we still did not view all the grounds or buildings. There is a long building that housed the women’s quarters. Touring this it is possible to get an impression of how the place functioned not only as a military base but also as a human habitation.
I am not a great fan of castles but Himeji I recommend. It is striking, elegant and interesting.
＊Himeji castle ; 1000 yen / adult
Leaving the castle and Himeji city, we head out along the Setonaikai. This coast road means processional driving as it is very busy and only one lane in each direction. The coastline of the Inland Sea here is very industrial and we pass a number of very large factories with trucks as our constant companions.
Michi no eki Ipponmatsu Tenboen
It is by now after 5pm, but still not quite dark as we are further south. We drop into a local supermarket hoping to find some variety for our take-out meal. The selection is a little different, though limited, and the store turns out to be Aeon in disguise.
Thus supplied we make for our michi no eki. Ipponmatsu Tenboen is off the main road and, although large, it is very quiet and very dark. The toilets are primitive and also very dark but it will have to do. A michi no eki can be relied on to provide a handicapped facility so all is not lost. There are a lot of trucks here and only one camping car. I am coming down with a cold picked up I suspect from our friend’s grandchildren in Fushimi, they, I recall, were dripping snot.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.