2019 Classic Japan Autumn Tour
Japan is well known for its castles with their unique architecture and historical significance. There used to be thousands of castles in Japan, with many of being built during the Sengoku Period (戦国時代, Sengoku Jidai, “Age of Warring States”, 1467-1603).
Japanese castles were built on areas of strategic importance and served both military and political purposes. They acted as fortresses for military defence and would often feature numerous features to improve their defensive capability – it was very difficult to take down a castle. They also served as centres of governance and often ended up being the homes of daimyos (feudal lords) as they used them to impress and intimidate rivals with their size and architecture.
Though castles were built to last longer than most Japanese buildings, they were still constructed primarily of wood, and the vast majority of castles were destroyed over the years. There are 12 recognised original castles in Japan, with Himeji Castle being the most well known of these.
Himeji Castle is widely considered to be Japan’s most beautiful castle and has survived for over 400 years. It is also the largest and most visited castle in Japan. We visited Himeji Castle again this year and it was as impressive as ever.
- The front view of Himeji Castle is best viewed from afar as it gives a better sense of the scale of the castle. Within the castle complex as shown here, the main keep doesn’t look that big nor too far away. However it is deceptively close – it actually takes a good 15min walk from here to the main keep thanks to the uphill and convoluted path – typical features of good castle defence design! The stone in the foreground here features an engraved UNESCO logo, recognising Himeji Castle as a World Heritage Site.
Mount Shosha (書写山)
Moving on from our visit to Himeji Castle, we then headed to Mount Shosha located in northwest Himeji. This is a new destination for our tour this year and features the wonderful Engyoji Temple complex.
Mount Shosha is at an elevation of 371m and provides panoramic views of Himeji City below. It is accessed by cable car and from there, a mountain trail leads to Engyoji.
- Mount Shosha Ropeway was opened in 1958 and takes you up most of the way to the top of the mountain.
- From the top of the ropeway, there is a trail leading up to the top of Mount Shosha where Engyoji Temple is located. There are wonderful panoramic views of Himeji from the trail. The mountain in the left middleground is Hachijoganzan and Himeji Castle is just visible behind it on the left side.
- Our tour members at the Mitsunodo (“Three Temple Halls”) in the Engyoji temple complex. The three buildings have different purposes and are (L-R): the Jogyodo (gymnasium), Jikido (lodging and dining hall, now exhibiting temple treasures), and Daikodo (main hall).
- Mount Shosha and Engyoji are frequently used as filming locations for historical movies and TV dramas due to the beautiful surroundings and minimal presence of modern infrastructure. The film The Last Samurai was partially shot at the Mitsunodo – click above to see the scene!
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park （広島平和記念公園）
On 6th August 1945, Hiroshima became the first city in the world to experience an atomic bomb attack. It is estimated that between 90,000 to 140,000 people in Hiroshima (up to 39% of the population) died in 1945 either as a direct or indirect result of the atomic bombing; the number which died in the immediate aftermath of the bomb is unknown.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park commemorates the victims of the atomic bomb attack on 6th August, 1945, and is located around the bomb’s hypocentre. Prior to the bombing, the Park’s area was the location of the city’s busiest downtown commercial and residential district.
A visit to the Peace Memorial Park is an important opportunity to learn about Hiroshima’s atomic bombing and to reflect on what happened and the lessons the world learned from it. There are numerous memorials in the park, and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, dedicated to educating visitors about the bomb.
- The A-Bomb Dome was originally the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Hall and was the only structure left standing near the atomic bomb’s hypocenter – Little Boy was dropped from the sky over Hiroshima and exploded 150m horizontally from, and 600m vertically above the dome.
- The Children’s Peace Monument is one of the most popular memorials in the Peace Park. It commemorates Sadako Sasaki and the thousands of child victims of the atomic bombing. Sadako’s story is well known throughout Japan. Children on school trips here will often stop to sing and pay their respects at this memorial. The memorial also features thousands of paper cranes sent in from all over Japan and around the world, wishing for peace and a world free of nuclear weapons.
- A school group paying their respects at the Memorial Cenotaph. The arch represents a shelter for the souls of the victims of the bomb. Directly under the arch is a cenotaph containing the names of all the victims of the atomic bomb. This monument has been designed to frame the Peace Flame and the A-Bomb Dome, and also aligns with the Peace Memorial Museum located at some distance behind the students here.
- Our tour member Shelly here is at the Hall of Remembrance. This memorial features a large panorama image of the Peace Park area during the aftermath of the bombing. The image is made up of 140,000 tiles, representing the number of victims of the atomic bombing.
We would normally visit the famous “floating torii” at Itsukushima Shrine after our time at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. However due to renovations on the floating torii we headed to Iwakuni City instead, where we find the beautiful Kintai Bridge (錦帯橋, Kintaikyo).
Kintaikyo is a wooden arch bridge dating back to 1673. It spans the Nishiki River with five arches. Over the years many bridges have existed and been destroyed, usually due to flood. From 1673 to 1950, the bridge remained intact (276 years!) thanks to regular maintenance which involved replacement of the various arches. That version of the bridge was notable for not using any metal nails in its construction.
In 1950, Typhoon Kijia destroyed the bridge with a replacement completed in 1953. This is the bridge we see today; while it was reconstructed similar to the previous one it does feature nails now.
- We spent the late afternoon through to twilight at Kintaikyo. The cloud formations together with the still water provided great elements to our bridge images. The river was quite shallow here when we visited; you can only imagine how bad the flooding must have been when Typhoon Kijia destroyed the previous version of this bridge.