East Coast Wine Trail

East Coast Wine Trail
East Coast Wine Trail

Sunday, 4 April 2021

Meet the Japanese castle that many locals believe is divinely protected

There are few countries more fascinating to visit than Japan; with its history, vibrant culture, exciting cuisine and welcoming vibe. 

Japan is certainly high on my list of places to re-visit as soon as the world returns to normal - and I find its small towns, many off the beaten track, particularly fascinating. 

Take Himeji, a smallish city located in the Hyogo Prefecture that is twinned with Adelaide in South Australia. 

Himeji is probably best known for Himeji Castle, which is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical wooden Japanese castle architecture, comprising a network of 83 rooms with advanced defensive systems from the feudal period. 

The castle is frequently known as Hakuro-jō or Shirasagi-jō ("White Egret Castle" or "White Heron Castle") because of its brilliant white exterior and supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight.

Himeji Castle dates to 1333, when it was a fort. The fort was dismantled and rebuilt as Himeyama Castle in 1346, and then remodeled into Himeji Castle two centuries later. 

It is the largest and most visited castle in Japan, and it was registered in 1993 as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country. 

Himeji was heavily bombed in 1945, at the end of World War II, and although most of the surrounding area was burned to the ground, the castle survived intact. 

In 1995, the city of Himeji was substantially damaged by the Great Hanshin Earthquake but Himeji Castle again survived virtually undamaged. It has also survived several typhoons.

Many Himeji residents believe that the castle is divinely protected. 

From 2010 it underwent restoration work for several years and reopened to the public in 2015. I visited in 2018. Tours in English are available.

The city of Himeji, with a population of just over half a million people, is in the Kansai region of Honshu - between Kyoto and Osaka - and easily reachable via JR Rail (a JR Rail Pass is one of the easiest ways to travel around Japan).

Kokoen garden (above) was opened in 1992 and consists of nine large and small gardens using divides of the ruins of Himeji Castle west mansion, It is often used for filming historical dramas because it looks like you have time traveled to the Edo period. The tea ceremony experience in the tea room is popular.

Also check out  Himeji City Museum of Art and the Harimanokunisosha temple.

Be sure to make time for lunch or dinner at Omotenashi Dining Fukutei, which specialises in regional seafood, including sashimi, charcoal-grilled fish and rice dishes cooked in an earthen pot. Conger eel (anago) is a speciality here. 

Nadagiku Kappa-tei is a local sake brewery runs that serves dishes that pair well with sake.

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