J2K1 – Himeji area

JAPAN, OCTOBER 1-17, 2001

After Tokyo, we hopped on the shinkansen (the bullet train) again and made our way to Himeji.  One of our purposes for stopping here was to visit the famous castle.  Another was for a matsuri, or festival.

I remember that we arrived, checked into our ryokan-style hotel, and went looking for dinner.  Most everything was closed, but we found this tiny little gyoza shop in a shopping arcade. (Or maybe it was just a shopping street, I can’t remember now.)  There was room for maybe 10 people inside and they sold beer and gyoza. Perfect!  I remember those being the best gyoza I’d had.  I still remember them to this day.  No photos, sadly, just memories.

A photo of Himeji Castle as seen from the JR train station.

A closer view.  It is an amazing building to explore.  Like most restored historic buildings in Japan, you remove your shoes while inside.  Everything is made of wood, and the “steps” from one level to another are steep ladders.  In stockinged feet as a tall person, it makes for added fun.  🙂

One of the interior hallways in the castle complex; I believe this was in one of the outer wall areas.  This remains one of my favorite photos that I’ve ever taken.  Look at all of that beautiful wood!

A view from the castle, looking out over the city of Himeji.

The next day we headed to a festival that we had heard about, the Kenka Matsuri, or fighting festival.  Like most festivals, there are portable shrines (mikoshi) that are paraded around.  Here is one mikoshi about to head out.

Unlike most festivals, however, the mikoshi are paraded to an arena where they are then bashed and smashed into each other.

This is as far as we made it into the arena, which was packed with onlookers.  Watching these huge mikoshi smash into each other, accompanied by shouts and cries from supporters of each group, was intense.

It was an amazing last adventure before we flew home a couple of days later.

I knew very little about Japan before this trip, and it challenged many of my assumptions.  While the Japanese people are generally quiet and reserved, they are also boisterous and outgoing.  While in many cities space was at a premium and rooms were tiny, I also had experienced buildings and works of art that were so immense that it boggled my mind.  Old and new live side-by-side everyday.  It’s a beautiful tension.

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