Japan

himeji castle: one of japan’s oldest castles

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Reading just the other day about Cherry Blossom season  made us think of our time in Japan. Flicking through our photos we came across photos of Himeji Castle.

Himeji Castle survived World War II bombings and earthquakes and is an example of Japanese castle architecture dating back to the 17th century. However, the history of the castle spans back to the 1300s, where it started as a fort and then a castle before becoming the castle that we see today. It is one of 12 oldest castles still standing out of about 25 000 (yes, 25 thousand) castles ever built in Japanese history. It is 6 levels high with very steep stairwells and with each floor, the stairwell get narrower and steeper.

We had to take our shoes off so were climbing the stairs light-footedly like ninjas. The depth of each step, the higher we got, was so narrow, we were only able to place half our foot on. Basically we were tippy-toeing to the top, making us feel even more ninja-like 🙂  And the view when we got to the top was worth the sore calf muscles! It really was quite a fortress!

The castle sits atop a hill and looks so wondrous and white and is referred to sometimes as the White Heron Castle. The day we were there, the sky was so blue – it was simply picture perfect. 

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Himeji Castle was listed as a UNESCO Heritage site in 1993.

To see the other UNESCO sites we have visited, visit our unofficial bucket list

 

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weekly photo challenge: selfie

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This is a SELFIE from our honeymoon in Japan back in 2008.

For other entries in the Weekly Photo Challenge – visit

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/weekly-photo-challenge-selfie/

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seeking the calm within

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Entrance to the sanctuary
Entrance to the sanctuary

We drove up Mount Hiei to visit the renowned monastery and temple, it was a trip to find inner peace. Entering the Buddhist Sanctuary, there is a sense of calm and serenity, the air is fresh and crisp! The Sanctuary is surrounded by lush green trees, and there is not a sound in the air except the voices of the monks during prayer time.

Up amongst the trees
Up amongst the trees

We underwent brief training with one of the monks before we meditated. We were taught breathing techniques and the meditation stance. With each breath in, we were to count and if along the way we lost count or our brain wandered, we were to start back at one. Obviously the aim was to focus on our breathing and nothing else!  And whilst we were meditating, the monk came round and hit us on our back with a stick. Not sure what the purpose was but definitely part of the ritual of meditating.

Away from meditating, we saw the eternal flame which has been burning for approximately 1200 years. There is a monk dedicated to keep the flame alight. We also were able to ring the bell of good fortune before enjoying a vegetarian feast overlooking Lake Bewa which is the largest lake in Japan.

Vegetarian feast
Vegetarian feast

Visiting Mount Hiei was a soulful experience that we will never forget. The meditation taught us to be mindful, especially in this fast paced society where we forget to take timeout for ourselves and be aware of what is around us.

udons and geishas

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Along the Philosopher's path
Along the Philosopher’s path

You guessed it- we are now in Kyoto. There is a lot to see here but mainly does revolve around temples and shrines. We spent loads of time just walking, visiting the Imperial Palace, the Silver Pavilion and the Philosopher’s path. The main streets of Kyoto are busy but when you get to the temples and shrines, although teeming with tourists, there is still a very calming and spiritual atmosphere.

  • There are two stand-out moments for us in Kyoto:
  1. Eating udon in Japan
    Finally got to eat udons
    Finally got to eat udons

    – Sydney is a culinary haven (or at least we think so), in the fact that there are so many different options available for different countries. Pretty much there are a large variety of countries represented in some shape or form. Hence, our love affair with eating different cuisines but more specifically eating our favourite country’s dishes in THE actual country. So being in Japan for almost 2 weeks and not eating udon seemed like a rort until we stumbled across a noodle shop in Kyoto. We hit the jackpot!

  2. And more notable than eating udons: coming face to face with a geisha in the streets of Gion – we were in Gion one evening, strolling the streets and admiring the area, when we reached the end of a block, a geisha was turning the corner and we literally would have collided with her had we were walking any faster. She had her face down scurrying towards a doorway. Her face beautifully white, her make-up immaculate and her outfit was  exquisite, it was so surreal and truly beyond our wildest dream to ever encounter a geisha so close up. Within moments of seeing the first geisha, we saw another one, trying to cover herself with a Japanese oil-paper umbrella as she too scurried onwards to another doorway. The only thing that spoiled the experience was witnessing hordes of tourists chasing the geishas down the road to take photographs.