Sunday, 13 November 2016

Himeji Castle on a Sunday afternoon and Takoyaki!

We arrived into Himeji around 12pm and decided to go straight for lunch. Pierrick's eyes wandered in the right direction and caught onto a lovely tiny local eatery with tiny little tables outside serving little balls of gooey deliciousness.

We saw the outrageously low price (25 of them for 600¥) and without knowing what they were (the ladies serving us knew no English what-so-ever) we grabbed 25 balls with all the toppings; dried fish flakes, spicy sauce and mayonnaise and tucked in! There was a kind lady who had heard our failed attempt to find out the contents and she wonderfully translated for us; they were pieces of raw octopus, cut up into tiny pieces and mixed in a gooey dough and then grilled in ball griddles; they are known locally as Takoyaki and are a speciality of the Osaka region. I can tell you, I'm not a big fan of octapus but my god they were delicious! So delicious Pierrick went and ordered 10 more for 250¥ - to give you an idea of how cheap these were, they sell the same thing in Osaka, 6 Takoyaki for around 400¥!!

We then decided to make use of the rest of this hot and humid day and go visit the attraction we had come to see - Himeji Castle. On the way there we just had to stop by the Sunday Street food market and pick up some Manju (sweet balls of donut filled with sweet red-bean rice paste) which were delicious, we had chocolate and cream cheese flavours).

Himeji Castle has been reconstructed over the years to get it looking tip top but it's absolutely stunning. Sitting atop a hill it looks out over the small city of Himeji like a Queen on her throne. At 1000¥ to enter it was a little pricey but for Japan's top Castle it wasn't so bad. The castle has withstood the world war air raids (the whole of Himeji was flattened, but somehow the castle survived) and has taken years to refurbish.

It was originally built during the Edo period and it was built to represent a Heron in flight, blinding white with upturned roofs to resemble wings. The detail in the architecture is exquisite and the little booklet they hand you gives you a detailed account of its defence mechanisms (slits for windows so arrows and bullets couldn't get through), triangle, square and rectangular holes (Sama) in the walls to allow for weapons to be fired through and extremely high walls which were built to be fire-proof, and were built with materials to protect the castle from rain wind and snow. The Japanese were way ahead than us Europeans for their castles - I've even noticed castles in Japan have 2 moats, an outer moat and an inner moat, both with extremely high banks making it very hard for attacks. This is definitely the best Castle I have seen yet.

The castle itself has 6 floors and you get to visit all of them. Though there is not much outside the view from the top is pretty impressive however the experience of being hoarded around like cattle was pretty tough. We had chosen the worst day to do it - a Sunday when families and tourists alike were visiting. Due to the high amount of people visiting that day they were limiting the amount of people on each floor and so most of it was a waiting game, and then a tight shuffle up some stairs. Definitely not fun if you are agrophobic - I should think weekdays were a better day to visit.

The history of the castle dates back to 1333 and was built first as a fort and then constructed as a large scale Castle. The castle grounds are just as extensive as the castle itself and we spent all afternoon wandering through. There were also picture opportunities with Ninjas, Princess Sen, Samuri, so it was a great day.

That evening we checked into our hostel (very traditionally Japanese and very quaint) and went to a local Udon restaurant recommended by Pong, the girl who ran the hostel. Pierrick found his happiness - happiness has a word, its Udon.

We then went to buy some local Plum Sake as we wanted to taste some (delicious but very sweet) and went back to the hostel (after checking out the Castle lit up at night) where we drank and chatted to some of the other guests staying there. We were also offered some free wine by some of the locals drinking at the hostel bar. In all we had a great day/evening in Himeji, again, a city frequented mainly by day-trippers but it certainly has a cute charm which leaves you wanting to stay a little longer.

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