Himeji - The biggest castle in Japan

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Dec 29, 2008

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Our last day staying in in Kyoto and we decide to visit Himeji Castle, </b> 55 minutes by Shinkasen from Kyoto. Again, the train departs and arrives exactly on time.  Being used to the U.K. train system, it seems bizarre watching the white gloved train marshals on the platforms, constantly checking the second hands on their watches before pressing the button and blowing their whistles to send the train on its way.

Himeji is a relatively small city, dominated by its castle which is absolutely huge, and was used in the James Bond film "Never Say Die". After walking around the castle  grounds and outer ramparts, we climb the 7 storeys of the main Tower . Fortunately we left Kyoto early and so arrived before the crowds.  The castle is a masterpiece of defensive design which was effectively built to house the Shogun and his family plus the thousands needed to support him.  There are many secret rooms where Samurai hid in order to protect the Shogun and many square, circular and triangular holes in the wall from which teh Samurai would fire their guns and shoot arrows at invading Samurai.  Nastiest of all were the slanting holes through which they poured boiling oil on anyone trying to scale the walls!  On balance, we felt it best to pay the entrance  fee like everyone else and enter by the conventional route!

Moving on from the castle we visited Kokoen gardens, almost next door and again very beautiful,  but different from others we had seen,  as they were divided up into smaller gardens each in a different style and period. We were followed around the gardens by three ladies dressed in their Sunday best Kimonos which made for some great photo opportunities!

After lunch consisting of yakitori from a street stall we made are way by bus and cable car to Mount Shosha, where there are a number of temples on the mountain top including Engyoji</b> temple which was use for some scenes in The Last Samurai.  There were lots of smaller temples, but it was a little difficult to find our way around as none of them seemed to correspond with the map we were given!  We walked for miles around the mountain top and took in some great views of Himeji city an the surrounding mountains. This made us realise that every city we have visited, seems to be situated on a plain surrounded by mountains.

A cable car, bus and Shinkasen and we are soon back in Kyoto where we end up in a Spanish restaurant owned by a Japanese guy who, in a previous life had run the Barcelona operations for Panasonic.  We chatted with him for quite some time and ended up having a terrific Paella, accompanied by a bottle of Rose!

Checking out from the hotel, yet another surprise.  When Clive entered his pin no. the  credit card reading machine spoke to him.  Weird!
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