My fiancee made the (very valid) point that my post are too text heavy. I do prefer the feel of some of my older posts, so I’m going to try to apply more graphics to each article. I also have a dearth of photos from my time in the land of the rising sun. This will be first of several post where I display said photos, and tell whatever stories may be attached to them.
There is something about castles that rouses a child-like excitement in me. Youthful fantasies of knights, dragons, samurai, and ninja clashing in grand battles dance in my head. The dreams are something akin to Game of Thrones on LSD. I am constantly amazed at how amidst bustling, modern Japanese cities grand traditional structures like these castles rise out. The old and the new complementing each other more than contrasting. They balance each other out, and give each other space in a land where space is at a premium.
I visited Osaka Castle and Nijo Castle on my initial stay in Japan. When I returned, every one of my Japan faring friends asked if I visited Himeji Castle. I had not. Osaka Castle and Nijo Castle are marvelous in their own right, but it is difficult to compare them with Himeji Castle. One of the few castles to remain unscathed by the ravages of natural disaster or war (especially the second world one.) The interior is maintained just as it was in the castle’s prime, contrary to many castle that were converted into museums. It is also the largest and arguably most beautiful castle remaining in Japan.
On my next experience in Japan I set Himeji Castle at the top of my bucket list. On a warm summer’s day I set out from Kobe to the Himeji by rail. Exiting the station, I set off down the main road. At the road’s end stood Himeji Castle, ascending like some glorious statuesque mountain of white marble. The backdrop of the brilliant azure summer sky seemed almost dull in comparison. This is why they call the castle the White Crane.
Even on a week day this monument drew admirers. Passing through the outer gate I noted the children, the bohemians, and the fellow tourists. Greetings were made by an actor styled as a ninja. Photos were taken depicting my untimely demise. I entered the outer courtyard, ringed with cherry trees. Even out of bloom the trees painted a tranquil landscape in emerald and auburn. The courtyard was dotted with couples and pet owners. Dogs frolicked in the grass while one unique sight caught my eye.
A tall, young, Japanese man with a thin goatee, in khaki shorts, white polo, and fisherman’s hat stood excitedly encouraging his pet. “Banzai!” he would shout, throwing his arms in the air. “Ganbare!” he exclaimed as his little pet turtle trotted along carefree.
I don’t know why this man chose to bring his turtle to Himeji Castle. At the same time, I don’t know any reason he shouldn’t. Perhaps his turtle was lethargic at home. Maybe he feared his turtle grew depressed and needed inspiration. I like to believe that is the case. I like to believe he brought his turtle to the castle and said “Look at this my hard shelled friend. This castle has stood for hundreds of years. It is the jewel of our city. Just because you have a hard shell, does not mean you must have a hard heart.” Seeing this, the turtle elated. He saw a kindred spirit and a senpai in the castle.
He saw something to aspire toward.
Tuesday I met with Hisashi for dinner and a bit of language exchange. I want to know more about his work as a landscape architect, and he needed someone to help with a presentation he is giving on a recently completed project. His team built a community park in Oita prefecture that will serve as a new habitat for the local killifish. I was able to learn a lot about the type of work he does and how he does it while helping with his grammar. A win for all.
Hisashi also helped me navigate the Kato City webpage, and pointed out a number of interesting things to me. For instance, there is a Muromachi period samurai graveyard, a number of temples, and some decent camping. There is also an aquarium and amusement park, but these are more geared towards children. Kato City is famous for its natural beauty. There are plenty of places to take photographs of, so it seems like I won’t be too bored there.
I’ve been catching up on some of my e-mails, though I am still behind. One of my expat friends is returning to Japan around the same time I am going. He lives in Kyoto, so he won’t be too far away. Hisashi and Masayuki both have family close by, and work conferences in Kobe in the fall. So I’ll get to see them too. My friend Shogo, who recently moved back to Japan, told me he lives in Akashi in Hyogo now. Akashi is closer than Kobe to Kato City, so maybe I’ll be able to see him a lot. I’m starting to like Kato City more and more.
I was also invited by the Hyogo JETs to a Hanami at Himeji-jo (cherry blossom viewing party at Himeji castle) in early April. Not only will this be incredibly fun at an amazing place, but it will also be a good way to build a group of friends in the area early on.
Since two of my expat friends are also returning back to Japan soon, they are having a going away party on Sunday that I am invited to. I have my own party coming up a week from Saturday.
And my tax refund from the state of California came today.
I’m marking today a win.