Monday travel to Himeji: 600-year-old wooden castle

Today was the first day of our few days without fellow travelers. We said our goodbyes to Laura and Denis at the gorgeous villa we had rented in Nara, and made our way to the train station.

I’ve enjoyed the view from trains. Other than landscape, Japan is like any other first-world country. There are city centers, shopping areas, historical sites, suburbs, industrial areas, small towns, agricultural areas, and countryside. The biggest difference is the terrain, which rises very abruptly up into steep mountains, which are lovely, and the obvious inspiration for generations of scenic painters.

It wasn’t a long or difficult trip to Himeji, and Hotel Dormy was near the train station. Matt had chosen it for all the facilities it has available for the price, and it was an excellent choice. We checked in, but immediately left again for the castle, as it was already mid-afternoon.

The first view is from the train station viewing platform.

When you get much closer, there is a well-organised conveyor belt system taking you to the top of the keep. It is very crowded, so we took most of the photos on the way down. 

These giant fish are a protection against fire (probably wise for giant wooden castles).

In this hall, another tourist actually waited for me to take this picture, holding up a whole line of people. I should have lined it up better, but I couldn’t very well do a second one. Check out those weapon racks!

Matt started a trend among little kids, after doing the limbo through this low gate.

Himeji castle is both very old and very new. Because it is built of wood, it is very susceptible to weather. It needs regular renovations, which are done according to ancient techniques. The most recent renovation has just been completed earlier this year, so everything is very fresh and new. 

Inside the moat but long before you reach the castle, there are some displays of flower gardens and bonsai trees. There are also a good number of cats, which people had brought food and toys to play with.

I loved the UFO flower props here!

And the artistic shadows of the bonsai trees.

We were continuously fascinated by the juxtaposition of ancient and ultra-modern all over Japan. One of the other buildings in town, as we walked back to our hotel that evening (the lights changed colors, too–it was gorgeous):

Our hotel was kind of amazing, although not much to look at. It was called Dormy Hotel, which is a chain we’ve seen around. The services are excellent. In all the time in Japan, they had the nicest hotel onsen (hot springs) I’ve seen, very beautiful. They also had pyjamas to wear around the hotel, free laundry (you had to pay for the dryer), free midnight ramen in the restaurant from 21:30-23:00 (not really midnight, but sweet), an excellent massage therapist (you bet I got a massage), free coffee all the time in the lobby, and no smaller of bedrooms than our fancier one in Kyoto, but cheaper. We were very impressed. For travellers, though, I must add: don’t expect big hotel rooms in Japan. They’re tiny. Hard to find a space for suitcases!

We used all of those services that night.