Way Out West

7 03 2009

Himeji Castle 1, 3/3/2009

For my Spring Break I decided to ride the rails and tour the coasts of Western Honshu, a slightly more traditional area of Japan distinguished by some fantastic cultural landmarks. I have to admit that for a vacation was surprisingly exhausting- by my rough calculations, I traveled close to seven hundred or so miles in about four days. I also was stranded in Tottori overnight (the last train is pretty damn early there, apparently) and had to pull an all-nighter, desperately wandering around the city in search of heat and shelter from the violent winds. But arriving safely home and sleeping for twelve hours has a way of smoothing some of the rough edges of an experience, and now I’m entirely glad I went. I took a lot of pictures, so I’m going to split it all into a couple of posts. First up: Himeji and Kurashiki.

Himeji city view, Himeji, 3/3/2009

Himeji is by far most famous for its eponymous castle, a spectacular white building well preserved from the destruction that has beset many other Japanese landmarks. It was a little overcast, but the castle was still surprisingly brilliant, even in the relative gloom of the day.

Like most Japanese castles, the layout of the grounds are designed to impede invaders, so it's often a considerable walk to this level of proximity.

Like most Japanese castles, the layout of the grounds are designed to impede invaders, so it's often a considerable walk to this level of proximity.

Himeji castle featured a number of at the time state of the art defensive implements, such an intricately plotted layout, numerous venues to drop rocks or fire weapons from, and a number of windows intended to supplement an archer’s view while simultaneously impeding an attacker’s.

Himeji archer window, Himeji, 3/3/2009

I was also pleasantly surprised that unlike Nijo Castle photography was permitted throughout the interior of the castle.

Himeji Castle Interior 1, Himeji, 3/3/2009Himeji Castle Interior 2, Himeji, 3/3/2009

Himeji Castle Interior 3, Himeji, 3/3/2009Himeji was without a doubt a martial installation, and evidence to that fact was on display throughout.

Guns, Himeji, 3/3/2009Armor, Himeji, 3/3/2009

As I neared the top of the castle, my height granted me a number of impressive views of the city. Little cold, though.

Himeji Castle view, Himeji, 3/3/2009Himeji Castle View 2, Himeji, 3/3/2009

A view from the very top. Despite the cold there was lots of people in the field below having picnics and playing soccer.

A view from the very top. Despite the cold there was lots of people in the field below having picnics and playing soccer.

Himeji lodged a number of powerful Japanese families, including the son of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period. Each clan that inhabited the castle had their own personal seal, record of which was collected in the exhibit below.

Uhh... don't worry about the stuff on the left.

Uhh... don't worry about the stuff on the left.

Himeji seals, Himeji, 3/3/2009

There were also a few interesting exhibits inside as well.

An old city view of Himeji. The castle grounds dominate the city.

An old city view of Himeji. The castle grounds dominate the city.

A scale replica of Himeji Castle, created by the builders to check for structural flaws (though I imagine this isn't the original).

A scale replica of Himeji Castle, created by the builders to check for structural flaws (though I imagine this isn't the original).

And what would an old castle be without a few ghost stories? Himeji had a rather morbidly distinguished area intended to serve as a site for suicides. The suicide grounds themselves were unspectacular (enough so that I apparently didn’t take any pictures) but realizing that scores of people had killed themselves in the spot was a little unsettling. It’s got nothing on Aokigahara, however. I also saw what I can only imagine was a possible source of inspiration for Sadako, the vengeful ghost in the Ring movies.

The story.

The story.

The well itself.

The well itself.

A few hours more on the train brought me to Kurashiki, a slightly smaller and more rustic city than Himeji.

Kurashiki after dark, Kurashiki, 3/3/2009

Sorry for how dark this is; it looked pretty nice when I took the picture, at least.

Sorry for how dark this is; it looked pretty nice when I took the picture, at least.

I stayed in a youth hostel that night, and despite my failed exchange with the owners (I was disturbed to find that I had become so cold I couldn’t speak properly for a few minutes) I actually carried a conversation with a Japanese high school student named Jun and a talkative college student named Takeshi who were also staying in the room that night. I had many of my usual struggles, and I didn’t understand everything, but actually having a functioning conversation was a pretty nice feeling. Next post, Miyajimaguchi- perhaps my new favorite place in Japan. Also, the merciless sea, tanuki monks, and deers rubbing their faces on their own asses. Get pumped.

A sneak preview of the next post.

A sneak preview of the next post.

Music I’m Listening to Now: Crooked Fingers, “Your Control”.

Advertisements