As fun as Tokyo was, I was ready to leave the city behind and see something different. Something beautiful. So when we arrived to our friend’s home in Kobe and she suggested seeing a nearby castle, we were definitely in. I didn’t know that this castle would be Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest and most-visited castle in Japan.
Himeji Castle is also known as the “White Heron Castle” or the “White Egret Castle”, mainly because this beautiful castle can look like a bird taking flight. The origins of this castle dates back to 1333 where a fort was first built on this site by a Japanese samurai turned governor. It was turned from a fort into a castle, then remodeled and added to, until the early 1600’s, where it pretty much took the form that stands today despite major earthquakes, abandonment, and the bombings of World War II.
Fun fact: I just learned (through Wikipedia) that the sister castle to Himeji Castle is the Château de Chantilly, which is right in my neighborhood! (Post of that French castle coming soon!)
Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to visit the castle itself (according to our friends, it takes a whole day), but I hope to visit one day in the future. Although the castle itself was beautiful and definitely the highlight of our visit to Himeji, the city itself was also fun to explore.
Of course, this being Japan, there had to be a cute mascot for this castle. The castle mascot, which can be found all over Himeji, is Shiromaru Hime, which means “White Round Princess”. She even has her own website (link in Japanese). Our new friends that we met in Himeji were so sweet – when they found out that I liked the mascot, they bought me this adorable box of cookies. The cookies were almost too cute to eat. Almost.
Besides its castle, Himeji is also known for its oden (not to be confused with udon). Oden is a fun dish to try, with different ingredients such as egg, daikon (Japanese radish), tofu, fish cake, and konnyaku (made from konjac potatoes) sitting in a bit of soy sauce broth. It’s a perfect winter dish (which I really wish I had right now), but not so great in the 85-degree weather that we were visiting in. Thank goodness for A/C.
Good friends, good food and beautiful sights – what more can one ask from a visit to Himeji (besides cooler weather)? For a city and a castle that wasn’t on our radar in the first place, we really enjoyed our brief time in Himeji. We hope to return one day to explore this beautiful white palace a little more.
Next stop on our Asian detour: Kobe & Osaka…