Thursday, April 16, 2009

Storming the Castle

Sometimes the only way to visit a 400-year-old international treasure like Himeji Castle is to go in a big group, so the kids are so busy playing out some sort of ninja fantasy that they forget to whine about being bored and tired.

Charge! (I think Tilly lying there is part of the game. Right?)

Cool stone wall

Samurai defending the castle would shoot arrows or guns through those little windows. That's half our group (including Dylan, doing Rocky-fists in the air) milling about down there.

Terry, standing outside the main tower, enjoys a rare moment when the boys are not climbing all over him or demanding ice cream. The yellow rope chains around him marked a very long, very snake-like path that we would've had to travel had there been a queue to get in, but no waiting today!

Once inside, it was difficult to keep up with the little ninjas

Scrambling down some very steep steps

If you squint you will see Dylan and his pals Charlie and Rupert posing in front of this small gate just outside the main tower

Roof detail

The Hishi Gate (I think), one of the main ones

Some sort of sacred ground, no doubt, just outside the exit gate. Unsure whether the romp was kosher -- but not willing to intercede, because when sight-seeing kids aren't whining, you let 'em be! -- we ultimately decided to go with the easier-to-beg-forgiveness-than-to-ask-permission approach. (That's Conor in blue, leaping.) P.S. The guards took note and didn't care.

Dylan, left, chases the girls (in a game of tag)

To paraphrase myself: If you want gum, you will go over there, turn around, and then run toward me while I take your picture.

Fun facts about the Himeji Castle: First there was just a fort on that hill, built in 1333 by Norimura Akamatsu, then ruler of the Himeji region. A three-story castle was built on the site in 1581; it was rebuilt in 1601 by Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa's son-in-law, who added two stories to the main tower and three small towers to beef up its defenses. The castle has never been destroyed by war, which makes it exceptional for a landmark structure in Japan.

It's made of wood, covered in white plaster (a fire-proofing reinforcement).

Named UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.

You can walk there from the Himeji JR train station in about 15 minutes. The bullet train from Tokyo takes 3 and a half hours. You could do it in a day!

The main tower will undergo a 5-year-plus restoration beginning fall 2009 and will be boarded up during this time. Hurry!

7 out of the 8 kids who stormed the castle that day (the majority of them in Crocs)

While eating lunch on a blue tarp we commandeered in Sannomaru Square, a big open space ringed with cherry trees (pictured above) where people gather to gaze up at the castle, we spotted a young bride and groom, having their photographer snap a few with the same view we were all there to see.

Baby's first hanami

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