Himeji castle

Got out of the Shinkansen train. Left the Himeji railway station. And we saw it. A white castle on a hill. The view was impressive, but at first we did not realise how big this castle was. We were standing at the station exit gate, in front of a wide alley, two or three kilometers away. On the approach way already at the gate to the castle premises we had to take turns and go complicated paths between fortification walls. We crossed a series of smaller gates and baileys. At first I did not give it much thought.


But already in one of the chambers inside, as I looked through a window I realised, the castle was a widespread complex of fortifications and premises around its main keep, which we saw as we left the railway station building.

Himeji castle, although never inhabited by a shogun (in Japan: a military commander, appointed by the Emperor, with the actual power in the country till late XIX century), was in possession of the militaries. So, it was constructed to serve defensive purposes. The maze of paths between fortifications, baileys, gates and walls one has to take to get to the main keep was indeed a part of the castle defense strategy. Altogether, the castle complex consists of 83 buildings. It was  originally built in XIV century, but later rebuilt and extended several times. It got its final shape in the early XVII century. Through history its construction turned also out to be earthquake resistant.


A bit of a surprise was that every visitor was asked to take off shoes. Not surprising in Japan, as in most places you are asked to do so. But it was the first time in my life as I spent two hours in a castle walking barefoot. The system was quite simple. At the entrance (that was quite distant from the exit) we were given plastic bags, which we were supposed to carry during the whole visit. At the exit we put back shoes on and returned the bags.


The other surprise was that there was absolutely no furniture or other stuff of historical value displayed in the premises. Thus, to our disappointment we had no insights into the way how daily life looked like in the castle. Still, the castle underwent restoration work for several years and reopened to the public only in 2015. Maybe in the future some of its chambers will be equipped with furniture and objects of daily use. We shall see.

The whole fun was however about walking long corridors, climbing steps that got steeper and steeper the higher it was. The most difficult was the paths and steep stairs in the main keep. And we were not alone – there were hundreds of Japanese taking the same path. (Making photos I tried to find a spot that was not crowded, so that what you see on pictures may be misguiding).


The carpentry in the main part of the castle was very impressive. There were few separate chambers inside, only open space (contrary to the lower parts of the castle premises where there were chambers neighbouring the long corridors)We could only have imagined that while inhabited the space was divided in the traditional Japanese way – by movable panels. In some parts you even could have seen wooden rails in the floor and in the ceiling marking the chambers.


The other surprise was that what we saw in the top chamber. It was a shrine, at which many of the Japanese visitors paid their respect to a deity (or deities). (OK., we knew already that the Japanese attitude to confession was totally different from that what we were accustomed in Europe, and bigger or smaller shrines may be found anywhere >>>).


Below some other photo impressions of the Himeji castle interiors and exteriors.

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Seven minutes

Musei Vaticani. One of the richest art collections in the world. After the first hour of a continues walk through rooms, halls and corridors, I was just simply tired. There was a moment I was just shooting without any deeper thought.

As we got to the Sistine Chapel, spent something like half an hour there, we wanted to leave through the Basilica. But the door was closed. Rehearsals took place for an event in the evening. So we had to go back to the Museum.

This time however we were diverted to go through the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana.

Musei Vaticani. Vatican Museums. Bibliotheca Vaticana.

We did not enter the interior. But we went slowly along a long but long corridor full of book collections. Basically as in the whole Musei Vaticani we did not know at what to look at. The furniture, the walls or the ceilings. On photos a glimpse of the interiors caught within a time span of seven minutes.  The corridors in the Bibliotheca only.

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The path of torii

When sightseeing, we quite often visit sacred places, churches, monasteries or shrines. After visiting many in a short time span in our recollections we usually confuse one with another. Unless we see something really unusual. If I had to make a recommendation of a place worth to visit, this one would be high on the short list. Oinari San, a sacred mountain you climb walking paths made of torii.

Oinari San or officially Fushimi Inari Taisha located in Fushimi-ku in Kyoto (Japan) is the head shrine of Inari. He is the patron of prosperity, harvest, business, merchants, manufacturers, and so on.


At one of the side gates (called torii) to the Oinari San. Torii in Japan are gates to sacred sites (>>>)

The shrine consists of two parts: the lower one – pretty much similar to other shrines in layout and colours (mainly vermilion that is said to protect against bad forces), and the upper one – long corridors made of torii (vermilion, too) climbing a mountain, that in itself is a seat of deity.

There are approximately ten thousand large and small torii in Oinari San. They were donated through ages by worshipers as a thank to Inari for successful businesses or transactions, or other life achievements the deity could have taken care for.

The large torii form long corridors. The corridors of torii are broken from time to time either by smaller shrines or spots that look like cemeteries with many smaller torii spread all over them. A walk through all of torii corridors takes almost two hours of climbing up and down the mountain. If you want to make photographs and walk all the side paths you will need twice as much time.


The map looks quite imple. But the rows of 10-20 torii on it are in reality paths made of hundreds of them.

Oinari San was one of the most interesting places we saw in Japan. We arrived there late around six local time, and left around eight. It was too late to climb to the top. But as I now recall it, the most exciting part of this visit was going down the mountain under the torii in the dark, with only few lights in the area. At this hour only seldom you meet other tourists or worshipers. The experience was great, in particular that the place is very silent. It was just as many people to not feel secluded, but simultaneously not too many to not contemplate this place. I wish only we have arrived earlier. Only then it would be possible to reach the top and simultaneously be able to stop and make more photos. The place is very photogenic, no matter whether day or night-time.


The mountain path starts on the left. A the right hand side there is a sink where one can perform the purifying ritual. Behind it, there is the main entrance to the shrine complex, where people may pay respect to deities.  (More about rituals in Japanese shrines >>>).

So the path begins. It is 18:20 local time.


The first torii on the mountain path. When entering you barely suspect, how many torii you have ahead of you.



Sometimes the path gets very dense. But as said above, the paths are broken with smaller shrines, like the one below. For a while I was following a young couple that stopped at each shrine and performed rituals of showing respect to Inari.




Another small shrine on the path with miniature torii on a small altar. The pictures above and below were taken from the same spot. I just turned around.


It is 18:30.

Although the path seems to head down, I am still climbing the mountain.



Another shrine, but this time with hundreds of smaller and bigger torii as well as other symbolic tributes. Here the majority of torii were made of stone.



On my way I crossed two or three sacred places as those on pictures above. Unfortunately it was already dark. I was able to do only closeups. I think I reversed somewhere in the middle of the mountain.

It is 18:45.

It is getting darker. Only a shot of the way upstairs (now enhanced to see the perspective).


The walk downstairs was breathtaking. At this hour you barely meet people. As there are a couple of parallel torii paths, and sometimes the way down is in fact the way up, I was afraid of getting lost. For more than 20 minutes it was just me, the torii barely enlightened and the darkness around. If I had not to meet my colleagues at an agreed hour, I would probably go with slower pace. The photos below were made while standing below a light bulb. I still needed to enhance them. In reality it was a bit darker inside.



I reached the lower shrine. It is 19:10.



The main torii to the shrine complex. The picture above shows a shrine that is located behind that on the lower one.

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