The white heron has landed

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April 6th 2016
Published: April 7th 2016
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Himeji Castle is often described as the prettiest castle in Japan and, although we haven't seen all the others, it's not difficult to believe. We are so lucky to have seen it. Nicknamed 'White Heron' or 'White Crane' because of its gleaming exterior and delicate architecture, it has been closed for restoration for several years and only reopened a couple of weeks ago, in time for cherry blossom season. So significant is this fact that the finale of the Miyako Odori dances we attended celebrated the blossoming of the 1000 cherry trees at Himeji. The survival of the castle is in itself quite miraculous. It was sold to a private buyer in the Meiji era (late 19-early 20 C) for the equivalent of $2500 in today's money and was slated for redevelopment but the project was abandoned because of the demolition cost. Then, during WW II, 63% of Himeji was destroyed and a firebomb actually landed on the castle but failed to explode. During the 1990s an earthquake destroyed much of the area but the castle was untouched, so much so that even the bottle of sake on the altar didn't spill. What a fairy tale!
It was a beautiful sunny day, the best weather we have had in Japan, so a lovely day to join the throngs viewing Himeji from under the blossoms. It's one of those place where every time I turn a corner I exclaim in wonder and feel compelled to take yet another photo.
We also visited the very lovely Kokoen Garden next to the castle, a traditional Japanese garden composed of nine delightful garden rooms. It was so relaxing wandering over little bridges and stepping stones listening to quiet streams and looking at the artful landscaping with its carefully pruned plants, shapely rocks and fat colorful fish.
Then this evening we did a guided night walk around Gion, the traditional entertainment quarter of Kyoto where we spotted a few geisha. They move incredibly quickly in those high clogs and avoid tourists so spotting them is a real challenge, especially as they are nocturnal creatures. Gion is very pretty with lots of old wooden houses,classy restaurants and tea houses and lit cherry blossoms.

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