On the last day of our autumn holiday in the Kansai region, we headed west to visit one of the largest, and arguably one of the most splendid, castles in all of Japan.
Shin-Ōsaka Station might be a dry, boring, soulless shell of steel and concrete in a depressingly bland neighbourhood, but it’s got one thing that hipper, livelier Ōsaka Station (which our hotel was right next to) doesn’t have: access to Japan’s high-speed shinkansen network.
Fortunately, getting from one to the other requires nothing more than a quick train ride, so we easily made the short transfer between the two stations and waited at the shinkansen platforms for the next available service to Himeji.
Whilst on the train, we tucked into a delicious breakfast of ekiben purchased at the station just before we departed. Mine was a beef sukiyaki bentō…
…followed by canned coffee and my favourite brand of vanilla ice cream (which, interestingly, I’ve only ever seen sold on shinkansen services).
Let’s have a look at the route.
A little over half an hour later, we arrived at Himeji Station and set off on a pleasant walk towards one of Japan’s most iconic landmarks: the white-walled fortress of Himeji Castle. At the time of our visit, a five-year restoration programme was approaching its end and the splendid main tower was finally free from most of the scaffolding that had covered it for so long, although its interiors were still off-limits to the public.
This was the first time my family would get to see this stunning World Heritage Site (one of the earliest to be so designated in Japan), but in my case, it was a bit like saying hello to an old friend. I first visited Himeji Castle in 2009, the year before restoration work began; and I swung by for a second time in 2013, when the main tower was completely covered up and special exhibits related to the ongoing project were laid on to compensate. I would eventually see the castle a fourth time, in 2015 – just a few weeks ago as I type this – and managed a far better look than during the November 2014 visit I’m currently documenting in this post, so you’ll be reading and seeing more about the place in the not-too-distant future.
After passing through the Hishi-no-mon, the castle’s formidable main gate…
…there’s a great spot from which to view the tenshu, or main tower, and its surrounding fortifications.
Here, we were faced with the choice to head one way, towards the tenshu – or another, in the direction of the residential structures where the famed Sen-hime once lived. In all of my other visits – including the fourth which came after this one – I’ve always chosen the route that led to the main tower, but on this occasion we elected to move the other way and start our tour of the castle by walking through the long wooden corridors surrounding the nishi-no-maru compound.
This part of the castle isn’t nearly as tall as the main tower, and the views are consequently not as sweeping, but it’s still a decent place from which to see the city below.
We would have been able to see far more of the city had we been able to climb to the top of the main tower…but alas, with interior restoration work not quite finished, the path was blocked and we could only gaze upon it from a distance.
To make up (in part) for the temporary closure, one of the castle’s old ancillary structures was thrown open to the public, with a nice thematic exhibit – including sets of traditional Japanese armour – laid on inside.
It was definitely a pity to see large sections of the compound – not just the main tower – still off-limits, though it helped that we knew this in advance and managed our expectations accordingly. (If memory serves, the entrance fee was also slightly reduced during that time.) In any case, I did manage to see pretty much the entire compound on my 2015 visit, so I’ll be sure to post more images and text when I get around to blogging that trip; alternatively, I invite my gentle readers to look through the account of my 2009 visit (note that it’s split into several pages due to its length, click on the page numbers near the lower part of that post to navigate between sections).
And there we are! Our 2014 family holiday in Japan’s Kansai region is at an end, and there’s nothing left but to say farewell to this magnificent castle…
…collect our bags and travel to Kansai Airport, dealing with a rare case (rare in Japan, anyway) of substantial train delay along the way…
…tuck into a farewell dinner of curry (yum yum yum) at the airport whilst waiting for our flight…
…and head home.
Thanks for reading, and please drop by again to follow my other adventures. Next on my blogging agenda (I might choose to skip ahead or rearrange posting schedules as the circumstances warrant):
– a December 2014 winter holiday in and around Seoul, South Korea;
– a March 2015 spring vacation on the island of Kyūshū, Japan; and
– a June/July 2015 summer excursion across several regions of Honshū and Shikoku, Japan.
Till next time … cheerio.