Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Quest for Castles: Japan's National Treasure Castle 3

Author's note: To fully appreciate this post, I highly recommend starting with the first installment of the five-part series, which can be found here.

So, once I had heard there were four original Japanese castles on the National Treasure registry, and I had already seen two of them, I figured I could make it a point to see the other two. I'm goal-oriented, after all, and I couldn't just let the other two go... unseen. The third one I saw was Himeji, which is the most famous of Japan's Castles. It's the largest of the originals and if you have see an image of a Japanese castle, chances are, it was Himeji.

It's a huge tourist attraction, especially during the cherry blossom season, which usually hits the first week of April. We went March 30 in the hopes of missing some of the crowds. While we did miss the biggest crowds of the season, because the blooms were just starting to pop, there was still quite a mass of humanity.

As we made our way up to the castle, we were told it would take 2-3 hours to get through the inside of the castle. On a non-cherry-blossom-season day, it takes about 30-45 minutes. We weren't sure we wanted to invest that much time... but we gave it a shot. And stood in the same spot for a good 25 minutes. I tried to pass the time by photographing details...

But we decided to give up and just got the front yard of the castle to get some shots of the castle and the view from it.

Castle 3, Himeji, check!

Early on in her 3-month visit, I made the mistake of encouraging my mom to collect the different Starbucks city mugs. She got Hiroshima's and then, with my blind encouragement, was on a quest for any others she could get her hands on. I did not have the foresight to check and see what mugs were currently available, which led us on a 90-minute goose chase to two different Starbucks locations for a Himeji mug that did not exist. Oops.

As you may have noticed from previous blog posts, we like to cram as much sightseeing into a road trip as we can. So, again with the suggestion provided to us by our friend and experienced Japan traveler, Carolyn, we headed to the Engyoji Temple where the 2003 film "The Last Samurai" was filmed. Of course, after our time at Himeji Castle NOT seeing the castle, and the search for a Starbucks for my mother, we got there late in the afternoon and only had about 50 minutes to see the place. This wouldn't have been a problem if it hadn't been suggested that we take a tour bus to and from the ropeway station at the top of the hill to the actual temple site. There are a lot of hills to hike and, well, we only had 50 minutes. So this was a rush job... to not miss the last bus down the mountain, as well as to miss the threatening rain.

But, here are my less-than-stellar images to prove I was there where Tom Cruise once stood (not to mention all the famous Japanese historical figures who I cannot name, but could easily be found with a Google search):

The view of the valley from the ropeway car.
So with three castles down, there was only one more left... Matsumoto Castle near Nagano... just a mere 9 hour drive from Iwakuni. But there was a plan hatched to make that trip happen... for the next installment, click here.

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