Experts of Castles, Ice-Creams and Idioms (Day 199)
What a surprise! A day with experts of Castles, Ice-Cream and Idioms and a bargain too.
Hiroko and Hiro picked us up for another day of adventure. They were taken us to see a castle, but we agreed that if the queues were long, we would just look at it and then go on to Ebgyo-Ji Temple which was one of the locations used in the Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise. During our journey, Hiroko asked us about our route for the rest of Japan. We had the sketch we’d done in Melbourne with us. When Tim looked at it, he then realised that the Castle we were being taken to was in fact on our Lonely Planet’s 500 List! Hurrah!
While we were talking, I noticed that I use quite a lot of idioms, for example, I mentioned something being a tad small. Hiroko hadn’t heard of this before, she had heard her Australian friend say something was “wee”. Tim quickly researched google to see where ‘tad’ came from. Any guesses? We think that it originates from the word ‘tadpole’. What idioms do you use often?
We arrived in Himeji and as we drove down the main road, there in front of us towering into the sky was a beautiful impressive gleaming white castle, also known as the White Heron as it looks like one in flight. We climbed the slope up to the entrance. To our delight, there was no queue. Where was everyone on this hot sunny day? What a treat.
Everything about this castle demonstrated that it was originally intended as a defence fortification. Surrounding it were three moats; if the enemy managed to get beyond these, then they had the 15m sloping stone walls to contend with. As we entered the castle, there were a number of winding passages confusing the enemy who was unfamiliar with the layout, plus steps which could easily be tripped over. The thick heavy gates were armoured with spikes as well as very small, even for the average size of the Japanese. Small triangular and rectangular openings on the walls were used, I imagine, to fire arrows or rifles. As I was pointed all this out, Tim remarked that I was an expert on the fortification of castles. I don’t think Hiro or Hiroko believed him though. I have subsequently discovered that the castle has never actually been used in a battle! Prevention is better than cure.
We walked into the main part of the castle and were given bags to carry our shoes in. It was cool inside, with the dark wooden walls, floors and ceilings with just thin slits for light. We noticed many pegs along the top of the wall and wondered what these were used for. Tim and Hiroko found out that these were to hang hundreds of flintlock guns and bags of black powder on. (I am sure that our Airbnb friends in NZ Debra and Neil would be interested in this)
The castle was built back in 1346 and added to in 1601-1610, how this was achieved with no modern day cranes, I don’t know. With two huge wooden columns, each weighing 6 tons supporting 200 tons of castle, lots of very strong men’s muscles must have been used, that’s for sure. Apparently, some historians believe that over 25,000,000 man-days were spent on the construction of the castle. I am not surprised.
We climbed the many steep stairs right to the top where we could clearly see on the roof stunning fishlike creatures called shachihoko, with a head of a tiger, a body of a carp with the tail facing the sky. It is believed that these mythical creatures have the ability to make rainfall, hence protecting the castle from a fire.
It was lunchtime and Tim found Sanuki Udon Mênme, a noodle bar which ticked all the boxes. Score 4.5/5 with over 100 reviews and reasonably priced –Bingo! When we got there the sign said it was closed, however, Hiroko popped her head around the door and beckoned us in. The sign had flipped over – it was open. We had such a lovely meal, freshly made Udon noodles with seaweed. I could see the chef making the noodles in the background, mixing the dough then chopping it into the long strips. Fascinating to watch – sadly no photos. The owner gave us a postcard that his friend, a famous litho-artist had made for his Noodle shop which said: “Thank you for coming”. What a nice touch.
Next on the agenda was the Koko-en Garden situated inside the Himeji castle grounds. It has eight separate gardens of different designs and a very tranquil feel – just what we needed. We slowly walked through, admiring the bronze maples, the delicate bells of pink campanula and azalea bushes covered in bright pink flowers, not too many flowers out, unlike English gardens at this time of year, yet still beautiful. There were stepping stones and stone bridges without handrails crossing over the ponds with large golden Koi swimming and sometimes splashing by – health and safety beware!
Time for an ice cream – Hiro is a bit of a connoisseur – and we eventually found a shop selling a small variety of flavours, unlike yesterday’s plethora and a few other ice cream parlours that we had already walked past. Never mind, my mango ice cream was yummy.
We didn’t go to Tom Cruise’s Temple, it was getting late, and to avoid the traffic jams, Hiro kindly took us to Akashi so we could see the 1991 m suspension bridge, linking the mainland to Awaji Island and catch a bullet train to Osaka, which took 21 minutes rather than the 90 minutes car journey. We said our fond farewells, so grateful for spending two days with this wonderful generous couple. There you go, we never know what a friendly chat in another part of the world will result in.
Back to our Airbnb, a quick chat with my lovely sister Dawn whilst Tim went to find the much needed local launderette; he’s run out of clean pants. He returned with clean clothes and a big grin, trying to look nonchalant. “How much did that cost?” “For washing and drying our clothes - £5?” “No - £2.66 – bargain”