Storming The Castle
Monday December 5th
Given we had lost close to a day of holiday due to being jerked around, we had to become a bit more strategic about time spent. One thing on our list was to visit Himeji castle, as Kate had not visited, and it was under partial restoration when I had visited 6 years ago. So at the earlyish time of 8am we were back on Shinkansen, this time heading further south.
At about 9am we arrived in the city of Himeji. Himeji is most famous for the castle and nearby gardens, and as the castle had just reopened after 6 years of restoration, much under complete coverup, crowds were streaming into visit the castle. This early on a Monday though and it was very reasonable.
Himeji castle was one of my highlight as from my first trips to Japan, and I was super keen to revisit. The “white heron” is gorgeous, beaming atop its perch looking over the city. We grabbed our tickets and in we went.
One important thing I knew was that English speaking guides were available for visitors, and that my guide last visit was a trip highlight, so I asked if any were available. In no time at all, our guide Yoko emerged ready to help us out. Free volunteer guides at one of the coolest places in the world… Japan I love you.
Yoko was probably in her 60’s and was eager to start telling us about Japanese history and leading us around. Knowing we had at least a couple of hours made her happy that we could explore the castle complex more and learn more about the history, so off we went.
After a great history recap, it was into the women’s quarters, inside one of the wings attached to the castle. Yoko continued her history lesson for us, and told us of life in Himeji and the castle as we made our way around. She would point out many of the castle safe guards that were set up (but never actually used in the end) and tell us how the castle occupants would go about their day.
We emerged from that wing and then began to make our way up into the main castle building, around the curved paths. All along Yoko would point out the designs of the castle, what was set up to confuse potential invaders, stones embedded in the walls that contained centuries of history, and all kinds of fascinating minutiae of detail. The it was into the main building, and weaving our way up the many flights of stairs into the top floor. On my previous visit I wasn’t able to do this, so it was so cool to get all the way up in the castle and explore all its hidden treasures.
We came all the way back down and back into the castle grounds, our 2.5 hours disappearing way too quickly. Yoko was amazingly kind and generous, even giving us some small cranes as thank you gifts. Reason #7834 that I love this place so much.
Before heading back to Kyoto we decided to visit the nearby Kokoen gardens. This was a lovely space with small paths wandering around some extensive grounds. Small rooms, pools, waterfalls, fish and again lovely foliage greeted us as we made our way around. Aahhh.
We decided it was time to wander back to Kyoto, so back to the station, on a Shinkansen, and back to our hometown. One reason to get back was that Kate had booked in a experience she was keen to do while here, and that was to get made up like a geisha and have some fun looking the part. We had a 4pm booking, so it was a wander back to Gion for Kate to have some fun. I had to leave her for a bit to get made up, so wandered about, chasing some Pokemon (where are you Farfetch’d?!) before heading back to see my wife unrecognisable for a split second as she emerged in full costume and face paint. So cool! Kate was loving it too.
We got to have fun taking a bunch of pics with Kate in costume looking the part.
Sadly, it was time to return back to 2016 and become normal Kate again and so we wandered back out into Kyoto to explore some more. We headed back into the old town part we had wandered the previous night, and visited one of my favourite shops… the Ghibli dedicated store with all sorts of awesome Ghibli treats. Kate was losing her mind at all the cool stuff (just a taste of what is to come in Tokyo) and couldn’t decide. She settled on some figurines as knowing we had more Ghibli in our futures, and so as the shop closed we wandered back out.
We spent the next couple of hours wandering the Gion area, with a little shopping and some Mos Burger for Kate for the first time (I’m still not that sold on Mos Burger to be honest) until we hit our limits and headed back to K’s House. Another action packed day had come to end with castles and geishas and Ghibli. Too cool.