Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Last Saturday I went to Himeji.

I went for Himeji Castle, specifically. I did it mostly because I haven't left Kobe very often since I have been here, and with the train system being what it was, I thought going to see one of the closest landmarks would be a good thing.

The day began somewhat early for a Saturday, and I saw a festival on the way to the train station:

It's a pretty good portrait of urban Japan, actually.

First, we went to a yoshoku (western-style) restaurant. It was good but like all yoshoku a little confusing. The food was part japanese, part american, and quite a bit of japanese-style italian mixed in. The walls were covered in pictures and old signs like a typical American bar-and-grill, but it was sort of... off. Our (Me, Yuka, and her boyfriend, Andrew) waiter was very friendly and engaging, though my Japanese was dodgy and broken as always so I did as best I could to entertain his fascination.

Himeji castle was fantastic, and my first real bit of old Japan outside of the shrines that I have found throughout Kobe city proper. The doorways were short for me, even for some of the Japanese, and after walking through it I am quite sure it would have been hard for someone to take the castle by force (though this was never tested). The trek to the Samurai's castle through the castle groups zigzagged back and forth uphill, so that attackers could easily be sniped at close range by archers.

This next picture was in the genkan slipper area. The genkan is the part of the japanese traditional household where one steps out of their shoes and puts on slippers so as to not track dust and dirt in the house and generally show respect and awareness.

Here are some pictures from inside the castle:

Woohoo! You know, the Jesuits inadvertently helped bring these to Japan. Typically Christian missionaries brought gun technology or it followed them through trade soon thereafter, their conversion intent be damned.

Typical samurai armor... but its real. I should be so used to images such as these, but they still amaze me because chances are these were really USED.

This was a little shrine, called Osakabe, at the top. I don't know why there was sake here, but I am sure there is a good reason. Anyone care to explain? Apparently a swordsman named Musashi Miyamoto haunts this place.

View from the shrine at the top. 6th floor, I think.

I don't know. I couldn't stay to read the plaque, since the place was starting to shut down for the day (we got there rather late).

This was the Hari-kiri place- harikiri is ritualized suicide to preserve honor in old japan- but Yuka told me it was never actually used. Still spooky that so large a place was dedicated to such things.

This was a well where a famous ghost story takes place, called "Banshu Sara-Yashiki." A servant named Okiku thwarted a conspiracy against the current samurai lord by a chief retainer. When the retainer found out that it was her fault, he stole one of the "ten treasure dishes" of the lord and she was tortured to death on the charge of missing the dish. The retainer threw her body into the well, and she is supposed to haunt it also.

Beautiful Japanese scenery. I have to say, Himeji has given me a taste of traditional Japan that I want to explore further, particularly what is there for me in the local area. I definitely want to go to Kyoto but from what I understand I may not have much longer before it just gets too cold.

I am signing up for a host family, so that should be good. I would visit them about 2-3 times a month and go places that only a resident would know about. It should be awesome.