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  • Day45

    Himeji Castle & Osaka

    October 11, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ☁️ 28 °C

    Packed our bags early again and headed out on the train, eastwards towards the city of Himeji. We wanted another early start as Japan seems to be quite busy at the moment, and tourist sites are always pretty packed. The train was only an hour or so, and we hopped out, dropped our bags in a locker and walked up the main street to Himeji Castle.

    This is another super famous spot, one of the icons of Japan. It looked magnificent, shining brightly in the sun with its white walls and richly coloured wooden support beams. Only problem - schoolkids! Hundreds of them, crossing the moat and invading the grounds. It was going to be a long few hours!

    We got our tickets and headed inside since, what else were we going to do! Himeji Castle had been a fort of various types for centuries, but acquired its current form in the early 17th century after a new warlord took it over and strengthened all the defences. The Japanese call it White Egret Castle because it supposedly looks like a white egret taking flight, and I guess I can kind of see the resemblance.

    The walk from the main gate to the keep entrance was quite interesting, as you keep zig-zagging through narrow passageway and doubling-back etc. It's only about a hundred metres in a straight line, but you have to walk nearly 400 metres to cover the distance - an ingenious defence system since you're vulnerable to shots fired from the walls the whole time.

    Inside the keep itself it was actually quite small, smaller than I was expecting. The whole thing was built of wood and plaster which I wasn't expecting, and the footprint wasn't especially large. Obviously it got smaller as you climbed up, since the castle tapers towards the top. Very crowded in places, mostly with noisy schoolkids but there were a few big tour groups of westerners too (mostly Italian and Spanish I think for some reason). But there were ebbs and flows so you occasionally got a bit of time and space to yourself.

    Back down where we explored a few other more remote areas of the castle which were mercifully free of schoolkids. Wandered through an interesting display about a princess who'd lived in the castle for most of her life, and the modifications she'd made to certain areas. But we were done by lunchtime, so headed back down the main street to the station and collected our bags. Back on the train to Osaka, and then another train further south to Sakai City where we had another WHS to check out - ancient burial mounds!

    Unlike the last bunch we'd seen in Korea, these were at least impressive to look at. The tombs are mostly keyhole shaped, which is quite unusual, and surrounded by moats. They date from the 4th to 6th centuries, and the largest one is absolutely colossal - over 800 metres on the long sides. That makes it the largest known tomb in the world, bigger than the Great Pyramid or the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang (Terracotta Warriors guy). Unfortunately we couldn't actually get that close to it, and from across the moat it just looked like a bunch of greenery on a hill.

    The museum nearby was closing but we managed to sneak in just in time. They had a quite well produced video about the tombs (there's about 160,000 keyhole shaped burial mounds in Japan but none elsewhere in the world!), and then a display of artefacts recovered from the mounds. Weapons, armour, pots, jewellery and the like. Since the only spot you could really see the mounds properly was from the air, we headed for the observation deck on the 21st floor of the city hall. But it was about 20 minutes walk and a couple of kilometres away, and by the time we got there it was approaching dusk, so you couldn't really see much. Oh well.

    Another long walk to the train station, mainly because a lot of the trains in Osaka are privately operated and our JapanRail pass only gives us free access to JR trains. Another long walk at the other end for our hotel, but we were finally checked in and done. Headed out in the evening to grab some Osaka specialities for dinner: okonomiyaki (pancake) and takoyaki (squid balls). Very tasty.
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