Sightseeing Japan’s White Fortress, Hakuro-jō in Himeji

As part of my holiday to Osaka for a week, I wanted to not only focus on only Osaka but instead the other surrounding cities in the Kansai area like Kyoto, Nara, Kobe and Himeji. But why did I choose to include a stop in Himeji as well? What is so special or eye-catching that I should devote half a day and travel 1hr and 3mins by “special rapid train service” from Osaka Station. It was simple, perhaps the grandest white fortress of them all, the Hakuro-jō castle, the symbol of Japanese samurai and castle architecture from the past centuries. I remember seeing this in the movie Samurai and was amazed by its elegance, perched high up in contrast to the rest of the city. It even dates back to the year 1333 and is still well preserved to this date, with the latest restorations completed end of March 2015.

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It didn’t take long for me to catch a first glimpse of the white castle. Once I stepped outside of train station and following the large avenue that leads to the UNESCO World Heritage site. I quickly snapped a photo, albeit from a far distance and quickly sent it to my sister to signal my arrival to another special spot in Japanese history and its imperialist identity. It was maybe a short 15 minute walk or so from Himeji JR West station to the main gate of the site where a moat sits and two guards dressed in the old traditional guards’ uniforms were standing on guard.

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The day I was there in mid June was one of the hottest days and there were periodic announcements on the P.A system to remind guests to continue consuming lots of water and that there would be limits placed on the number of visitors allowed at the top of the castle- the keep. Getting up to the top of the Keep took maybe around an hour total, waiting in a relatively hot building as tourists and locals took turns going up each level of the keep until reaching the top, and again waiting to go back down. Remember shoes are not allowed to be worn inside the structure, and you will be given a plastic bag to carry your shoes in by staff.

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The view from the top of the keep on the 6th level was quite nice, allowing a near panoramic view of the city below and parts of the castle complex as well. I really like the roofing tiling pastures and the use of dragons and birds perched on top on some of the roofing.

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After completing looking around the Himeji Castle complex, it was well worth the 1,000Yen admission cost and I explored further around the area which included a touristy area of souvenir shops and food shops as well. I decided to try a unagi rice burger which was 550Yen, and it did not turn out well. I didn’t enjoy it at all despite my love for unagi (grilled eel). I was considering to also visit the Koko-en Garden beside the Himeji Castle, but didn’t think it was worth its admission price (300Yen) and autumn season being the best time to view the fall foliage. Next stop on the way back to Osaka: Kobe (pronounced Ko-bay).

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