The next instalment of my Japanese trip reviews is finally here after I didn’t have access to my photos since my laptop was being repaired!
We had the Saturday as free time all day in Kobe during our programme because, naturally, there weren’t any classes that day. I had been thinking of going to Kyoto, but after speaking to one of the other mentors on the programme, decided to join her and her host sister on a trip to Himeji Castle as it would be more fun in a group. Another mentor was planning to join later on.
Naturally this trip was the only day on our trip that it rained… Me and one of the other mentors in the hotel somewhat optimistically didn’t bring umbrellas, nor did the two that we met because rain isn’t so bad in Japan surely? We were wrong, and had to ask our latecomers to buy some as our student only had two. Getting to Himeji was very easy, on one of the super-rapid trains it took around 30-40 minutes and those trains have really nice seats! And naturally when you get to Himeji there are signs, not that these are necessary as you can literally see the castle from the station.
Himeji castle, as we found, was home to Princess Sen, who married at the age of just seven to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who a lot of the information neglected to mention was also only ten at the time, and a lot of the historical exhibits mentioned her, her life, and the role of the castle at that time. It also miraculously survived the bombing of the city in the world wars, probably because it was covered by netting to conceal it.
The castle is huge, but access to it and the adjacent park was just 1080 yen so it was great value. We initially came over the bridge to a large square with sakura trees mostly in bloom and, after buying our tickets, proceeded to the bailey beside the main castle. Like in many historic areas in Japan, we had to take our shoes off as we entered. The corridors were long and spacious, and the windows looked out to the city behind us!
After waiting under the main gate for our friend and his cousin to arrive with the additional umbrellas, we proceeded to the main castle. If you have heard of a castle where they had it built to appear that it had less floors than it did, this is it! There is an additional floor that cannot be seen and was used to house secret armies and ambush invaders who breached it.
The castle itself is spectacular, having been restored when necessary by the government so that it looks pristine, and the interior of the castle, while often quite dark, does look authentic with beautifully kept wood. At the top of the castle is a shrine! But obviously, the best part of it was the view from the top floor. It was quite a misty day, but even so, we had a very good view of the city! It makes me wonder just how good it would have been had it been a clear, sunny day.
We wandered around the castle grounds a bit more, with a very well-placed sakura tree on the way out that was a great photo opportunity.
After Himeji castle, we then went to a great ramen place which did by far the best value karaage I have ever had. It was absolutely massive and, while not having the distinctive karaage coating, it was delicious and just 500 yen. We then stopped by a crepe place at the station and they were doing some special sakura items! I had a sakura and matcha one.
Himeji castle was really good value, and there is so much of it to explore that one can easily spend hours there, learning about the history of the castle, seeing the beautiful grounds, and admiring the view from the top, especially on a sunny day!