Dreams come true. Over the years, on business trip, I frequented the â€˜Land of the Rising Sunâ€™ with hope that it would coincide with this spectacular season. It never materialized as I was there either at the very early stage or after the petals dropped for good. But in April 2009, lucky strikes me, I was fortunate enough to be in Japan during the peak season of Cherry (Sakura) Blossoms ï¿½ï¿½" National Flower of Japan. Several locations to view Sakura flooded my mind ï¿½ï¿½" either in Osaka , Kobe, Kyoto or Nara. All of these places are unique on its own showcasing its pure Japanese arts and culture. However I recalled my previous trip to Hiroshima, sat inside the Shinkansen (Bullet train) heading west from Osaka, the Train passed by several cities and quaint little villages.
Suddenly while gazing through the window something interesting caught my eyes, I saw from a distance an interesting monument white in color perched on a hill. As we get closer, it becomes clearer that it is an ancient castle, stunning architecture & larger than Osaka Castle. Later, I searched from the internet and found that it is called â€˜Himeji Castleâ€™ located in Hyogo Prefecture at the edge of Kansai region. With over 1000 sakura trees on the grounds, it is known as a very popular spot in Japan for viewing. I made up my mind, purchased a 1 day JR-West Rail Pass for Kansai area for 2000yen at the Kansai Airport JR office and with a change of train at Shin-Osaka headed to Himeji.
It is very much cheaper for foreigner to travel in Kansai area with this Pass as it allows unlimited travel in the limited express â€˜Harukaâ€™ and ordinary cars of West Japan Railway Company lines within Osaka-Kyoto-Nara-Kobe Area.
Himeji Castle is well-known as â€˜Shirasagijoâ€™ or the White Heron Castle because of resemblance to a heron in its tall and white elegance. It was originally constructed in the mid 14th Century by a powerful clan and later enlarged by successive lords to its present form. It is registered as the first Japanese National Cultural Treasure by Unesco World Heritage Site.
Buildings and gardens of Himeji Castle are very elegant and graceful.Strolling around the park with Sakura blooming to its best is something I'll never forget. Everywhere I turn I can see myriad of white and pink color. Most importantly happy faces of the visitor and local alike. They have a kind of tradition so called 'Hanami' where they will gather and sit beneath the Sakura trees during daytime or at night. Its kind of a picnic outing for families and friends, to get together to enjoy the beauty of Sakura and having good times. Himeji Castle consists of several floors made of wood and I just followed flow of the crowd. We have to remove our shoes put it in a plastic bag and wear provided sandals while inside the castle. Some of the staircase are very steep with low ceiling level and for 6 footer it would be quite a challenge. Inside there were some exhibition on the history of rulers, constructions details, drawings, costumes, weapons and others. Nice view from the upper level of the castle, I saw Himeji city and oceans of Sakura. Surrounding the castle there are several pretty Japanese gardens which are worth a visit as you can get to see the castle from a different angle of views.