World Heritage Site
I woke up in yet another new city and after showering, packing my small bag, and storing it at the front desk once more, I set off to go see another World Heritage Site: Himeji Castle. As recently as the day before, I hadn’t even planned on stopping at Himeji, but decided to so that I would be that much closer to Hiroshima the next morning and so that I could see the castle.
As I neared the castle, I saw someone who seemed to belong more in Southwest Colorado than in Southwest Japan. He was Japanese and a bit rough looking, but came complete with the cowboy hat, boots, loose-fitting pink shirt, handlebar mustache, dog, and a lady friend who also looked like she’d also seen better days. I knew it was going to be a good day in Himeji.
Himeji Castle (姫路城)
I wandered around the exterior of the gated area for a bit taking pictures. The entrance line was finally opened and I entered Himeji Castle as the second or third guest for the day (the line had already grown long behind me). Luckily, being first into the castle, I was able to wander most of the castle by myself. I didn’t have to face the massive crowds that can sometimes be a part of a visit to Himeji Castle.
The main difference between Nagoya Castle and Himeji Castle—which are quite similar in style from the outside—is that where Nagoya Castle is completely re-built in modern materials, Himeji Castle retains the original wooden structure throughout. I’m sure that it has been worked on, restored, and reinforced over the years, but it is remarkable the extent to which it looks and feels entirely original.
As I wound my way up to the top of the castle, I was not only impressed by the remarkable state of preservation, but also struck by the size and complexity of the underlying structure. Some of the beams supporting the castle are massive and must certainly come from some of the very largest trees in the region. The interlocking woodwork for which Japan is famous is found throughout the castle.
After wandering the main keep, I walked through the rest of the complex and saw the outlying buildings which housed various members of the staff and important officials. It is in this other area, the Nishi-no-maru that the best views of Himeji Castle are seen.
Onwards to Hiroshima
After leaving the castle, I wandered back through Himeji to my hotel to fetch my bag and then to the Shinkansen station to get a train to Hiroshima. On the way, I stopped by a cafe to grab a quick breakfast and coffee. At the Shinkansen station, for the first time so far, I was finally let down by the JR system. Instead of a direct train in 5 minutes, I had to wait 9 minutes for a train service requiring a switch at Okayama, which is still far better than the 45-60 minutes one expects to wait in the US for a train within a city, let alone a service running across the country…
The countryside to the South of Himeji was beautiful and eventually, the flatter plains near Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and Himeji gave way to coastal hills all around. After a switch at Okayama from the slower Kodama (こだま: echo) Shinkansen to the rapid Nozomi (のぞみ: wish) Shinkansen, I found the train quickly approaching Hiroshima. I would spend the afternoon visiting a very different and much more recent World Heritage Site.