Sunday, February 21, 2016

Himeji-jo ~ The White Egret Castle

Our trip to Hiroshima came to an end Wednesday morning (December 23rd - I'm a bit late...but, not as tardy with this one as I have been with others :).  So, we packed all of our junk into the car around 0820 and made our way back toward home.  

One of the big things on my list of things to see in Japan has been Himeji Castle.  When Mackenzie was about four, she was watching Little Einsteins and stated that she wanted to visit the castle that Leo stood in front of at the beginning of the show...I Googled and Googled and discovered that it was Himeji Castle.  Now, fast forward five years and we are actually doing it!  

It took us about 3 1/2 hours to get to Himeji.  Traffic was NOT great, it was rainy, and we had to find a new SD card for my camera before we got to the castle, so it may only be about a 3 hour drive.  What was surprising...the distance at which this castle comes into view!  WOW!  We could see it towering above the city from so far away!  


We parked in the castle's lot and walked toward the castle grounds.  And when I say 'castle grounds' I mean "Holy-moly! This place is massive!!!"  We haven't been to many of Japan's castles, about half a dozen so far, but, this was, by far, the largest in area.  The walls wound this way and that way.  We could easily see how dangerous it would have been for an enemy to try and make their way from the outer most wall to the main keep.  There were gates, gates, and more gates.  Arrow-shooting slits.  Rock-dropping holes.  So so so big!

Crossing the moat on the way to the entrance.

These pictures don't do the size justice.  Standing right up against the walls you had to lean your head back so far, just to see the top.  The castle was first constructed in the 1400's.  Throughout the years each lord enlarged the keep and the grounds.  The castle, as it is today, has been standing for 400 years.  It is one of Japan's 12 original castles and National Treasure, as well as a World Heritage Site.

The Connecting Gallery - we edged our way along this wall until we came to the entrance.  At the entrance we got an idea of just how busy this castle can get at times.  There were big areas of cones and barriers to snake people around and around as they waited in line to get into the castle (in the second picture you can see the cones and then the ropes behind the buy in the blue jacket).

Hishi-no-Mon (Hishi Gate)

This is just inside the entrance.  From here we started making our twists and turns through the grounds.  The path was like a spiral leading from one level of defense to another.

This is the front side of the gate.

This is the back side.  I have several pictures of gates, the only problem is that there are 21 gates in this castle....I had a hard time keeping track of which gate was which.  I think I know what path we took up and then which way we came down.  But, my sense of direction isn't the best.

The grounds are so big that this massive castle still looks a good distance away.

Himeji Castle is also known as the White Egret Castle because it is supposed to look like an egret in flight.

I-no-Mon (I Gate)

Here is a good shot of the layers of defense within this castle.

The holes in the wall on the right are shooting holes.  There are 997 of them around the walls and in the keeps.  Guns and arrows were pointed out of these holes to shoot intruders.  The rectangular openings are for  bows.  The round, triangular and square openings were for guns.  The openings are also placed at different heights in the walls.  The higher placement is for standing, then there is a middle position for kneeling, and a low position for a prone shooting position.

In order to find enough stone to build all the walls many stone pieces around the grounds were repurposed.  In this photo you see a hexagonal base from a stone lantern that was broken down to help build the wall around the Ha-no-Mon (Ha Gate).

This is the curved, right wing of the Ha Gate

Ni-no-Mon (Ni Gate)


There are 8 family crests throughout the castle.

The castle looks like it's a five story building, but it actually has seven floors.

This wall is a Fan Curve wall because of its resemblance to a folding fan.  The curve of the wall makes it hard for intruders to scale the wall.

We took our shoes off and then made our way through the inside of the castle.  There were many displays, most of which had some sort of English explanation with it.  I'm glad we were able to take pictures inside the castle today!  

A model of the city with the castle.

The white latticed windows were constructed to prevent enemies from getting in as well as stopping arrows from getting into the castle.  

Each floor had a map explaining the use and special features of the floor.  For example, the fifth floor shows the east and west pillars.  When they were first put in they were two single fir trees that went from the basement up to the 5th floor.

Steps from one level to the next.  They were steep in a few areas, but not as steep as Matsumoto.

Weapon racks were all over the place....on each floor and on almost every side of the floors.

Shooting platforms were built so warriors could get up high enough to utilize all windows for lookouts and to shoot.

Here's a good shot of the castle grounds.  You can also see the white tiles on the roof.

This roof ornament has done it's job...this castle has not been burned down by fire.  
Good job, fishy-thing.

On the top floor is a shrine.  There were so many people lined up to pray here.

This is a mushakakushi ~ a warrior hiding room.  Samurai would hide in here in order to ambush any enemies that may make it inside the castle.

The inside of the castle is so spacious!  

Once we made it to the top floor and then back down, we put our shoes on and then stepped back outside and into a bit of a sprinkle.  Darn.  But...WOW!  This place is so enormous!  

Me and my lil chickies <3

One quick shot with the samurai before we make our way back around the grounds and to our car.

The Kenz and the castle from Little Einsteins!

Unfortunately, there was a bit of construction going on, but the rest of the castle is still beautiful!

At about this point the rain started coming down fast enough that we decided it was time to make it to the car...put down the camera, Mommy, we are all getting wet!  But...but....but...CASTLE!

Himeji-jo ~ The White Egret Castle

This was a great little side trip on our way home.  It did turn our ten hour drive into a 14 hour drive!  It was well worth it though.  If I could have spent another four hours there, I would have.  :)  It was probably a good thing the rain started coming down, because I may have wandered around a bit more if I wasn't forced out of there.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Fuji Peace Park

This post is a little late.  Somehow it was hidden amongst all the other posts I've made in the last few months...we've been busy!  In late November 2015, we packed our lunches and made our way toward that beauty....Fuji-San!

The drive was surprisingly quiet on the way.  We spent an hour playing peek-a-boo with Mt. would peek around one turn, hide around the next, then sneak into view around the next bend.  

Gate marking the entry to the parking lot
We arrived at Fuji Peace Park and parked the car just inside the fairly empty lot, then made our way up the hill.

Just inside the park is a pretty little garden and pond.  

It's not very often that we find these protective gods without some sort of screen or wooden bars in front of them.

The kids had so much fun running around the garden and finding the fish in the ponds.

WOW!  What a view!

The park was pretty empty while we were there.  A few buses came and went filled with tourists, but for the most part it was quiet and peaceful.

I'm not sure I've ever really looked at the back side of many statues, but I'm glad I managed to get behind this one to catch the details of her gown.

Bell Tower

When we arrived we had a perfect view of the top.  The longer we were there the more the clouds seemed to blossom around the peak.

At the back of the park is a stupa with the ashes of Buddha, donated from an Indian Prime Minister.

Once at the bottom of the steps you take off your shoes, put on slippers, and then take a leisurely stroll around the circle.

The kids loved the lion statues that lined the walkway to the stupa.

I found a few maples that were turning red around the grounds.  

There are four golden images of Buddha around the stupa.

This building behind the stupa has relief images on all six sides.  

Around the corner was a little open area.  I'm not sure what was going on back here, but there were little statues around the perimeter.  I think there are a lot of sakura trees back here and the views of the area are stunning!

As we were leaving I saw a stairway off to the left and decided to make my way down and see what was going on down there.  Well....quiet....quiet.........quiet...........

It was a walkway that lead back into the woods a bit.  I counted how many statues were along the walkway, but I've forgotten the number now.  There were well over 30.

One last shot before we make our way home! <3 

Okay...maybe one more last shot before we leave! :)

Not the greatest shot, but every time we drive through Gotemba we see this windmill.  I was so excited to see it up close I just had to get a shot. 

Then, as one last goodbye for this trip, Fuji-San put on a sunset display for us as we made our way home on the seaside road between Enoshima and Hayama.