Himeji Castle

Posted By: Kimberly

Ah, the belated blogpost, made possible only by the honesty of the Internet Cafe in Himeji that returned my memory card :)  http://www.icafe-maganet.com/

So back to the story... we arrived in JR Himeji station, to see this very prominent signboard...

First thought: AAAAARGH! 40mins? Just how exclusive is this castle?
I mean, none of the other castles before this had this kind of crowd. I thought Osaka Castle was crazy crowded as it was, but at least there was no wait to get in, everyone just kind of jammed in steadily and flowed right out again when they were done.

When I saw the castle for the first time, I knew we had reached a High Point in our journey. The sakuras were blooming, the green was sprightly, the sun was shining... and the castle did look gorgeous, seriously.
And we proceeded. The initial approach was very smooth. The ticketing counter area was crowded, and people were let into the section in batches, but no 40min wait was in sight at that point. I allowed myself to feel some relief as I walked into the main gate, and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the castle lawn area. It wasn't until we tried to approach the main building that THIS hove into view...

The approach. See the line of people behind the signboard? *dawning horror*

So of course we had to get to the end of the line... and sadly headed away from the direction of the castle building.


And walking...

Still walking... the line just keeps going... around the bend...

Must... go... on...

Past another gate??

And at last, the end of the line. Like a couple hundred metres from where we started O.o
**fast forward**
We reached the main building sooner than 40mins... but then realised why there was such a long queue in the first place. Crowds aside, the top levels of the building could only take a certain weight. And the crowds were such that the officials were kept busy stopping people from going up when there were too many upstairs. It was really a test of social responsibility that people did not take too long looking around upstairs (even though they served their time in the queue below) and went off so a new batch of people could go up.

But the view from the top was quite worth the climb!

Day time was one thing. But we were lucky enough to hit the first day of the hanami festival light up! That very evening, Nishinomaru Garden was to be open to the public for free enjoyment, complete with pretty lights and all.

So we returned after dinner, to find this sight going on!

They were giving out sticky transparencies to mostly children, for them to draw pictures themed on either the castle, sakura, or flower viewing. Coloured markers and all that were provided. And afterward, the transparencies were stuck onto lanterns that were provided and displayed along the street (for the period of the light up festival).

Hearing our foreign accents, the ever-obliging volunteers whipped out a couple of these blank transparencies at us and encouraged us to join in. So we did our best, and had our handiwork shining out there on the street beside all the others! The Japanese are terribly polite, and I really appreciated this when they accepted our kindergarten-standard pictures with grace and didn't even sneak a laugh.

Here is ZsupCreator's work of art... mine is a tad too ugly to put up... but as you can see, he accidentally set the castle on fire...

The castle ablaze...

Entering the castle grounds once more, though... the sight really took my breath away. It is not like you can't see Himeji Castle from the main road. But somehow, standing there surrounded by the blossoms and festive sounds, all the people sitting on mats and playing and laughing and taking photos... that really added to the glow of this light up!

The garden was, of course, gorgeous. It is difficult to show the play of lights on the trees, even with photographs. One of those experiences that I think lives better in the memories for having seen it with your own eyes.

The colours kept changing, but here is red and purple... just because I like them!

There were also lots of people trying to capture photographs like these, with a reflection of the pretty flowers in the pond. Actually, there was a signboard saying that it was for putting out fires, but hey, water is water and at night, pretty is fantastically gorgeous, especially in a setting like this!

Our evening was rounded off with a performance by this Chinese ensemble, or at least Chinese-styled. They played a lot of Chinese springtime classics, and ZsupCreator and I had a great time just sitting there listening to them. Mind you, I paid a lot less attention to such music when I was subject to those school assemblies and etc. But again, the backdrop was White Heron Castle, and the spirit of spring was truly in the air. Perfect.

Himeji Castle has a deserved reputation for its beauty, and I do count us lucky, that we managed to see it before it gets closed for renovation.

Starting from April 12th, the main keep will be closed to all visitors until 2011 at least, and then there will be limited access and ugly looking scaffolding all over until 2014 when the freshly restored castle will be open properly once more. I think I would like to return to see it after 2014... we shall see?

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