top of page

Japan Journal Day 2: Himeji Historical Romance feat. Princess Sen & Her Two Husbands

Updated: Jan 4

I never thought I could walk 25,000 steps or 13km in a day. My feet surely hurt like crazy now, and I had to make an early strategic retreat to the hotel while my brother spent the evening exploring Kobe. However, it was worth every second of my exercise. Here's how the day went after a poor night of sleep because my brother snored so much. I'm so sleep-deprived that I feel dizzy when walking. If not for the powerful coffee for breakfast from a vending machine, it would have been impossible to finish the tour.

That was my first hot canned drink, and the coffee was actually amazing! After the coffee kicked in, we decided to spy on Himeji Castle from the same rooftop balcony during the day before we checked out of Hotel Wing.

After dropping off our luggage at the reception and checking out, we spent about fifteen minutes walking towards the famous white heron castle. Many things that I thought about the castle turned out very differently the more we explored it. The mysteries of this place are astounding, and it completely blew my mind how Japanese people were able to accomplish this seemingly impossible feat.

Crossing the street to take a shortcut to the castle above. They have a park large enough to build 5 HDBs in Singapore. It was lovely seeing the locals doing what they did for a regular routine. Below is a picture I snapped when I saw children on a field trip.

Aren't they adorable?! In any case, the signs have English on them so tourists like us won't get lost. We went early in the morning, about 10 am, but they open at 9 am and close at 5 pm. Depending on the season, it could be earlier. Please note that the last entry accepted is at 4.30 pm. Also, I would recommend buying the combo ticket that also allows you to go for the interior castle tour and the garden with all-year seasonal plants.

Below is a moat from the Himeji castle. There are a total of three moats, and this should be the second.

Presently all the trees are bald because it is winter. However, if you arrive at the right time in spring, this is one of the best places in Japan for sakura viewing. The outer courtyard of Himeji Castle is free for everyone to enter and use. A great date spot and family picnic location. I saw locals jogging along this path too!

While glancing at the huge courtyard, my brother and I heard the sound of live music coming from yonder. Lo and behold, there was a marching band performing!

I've seen several concerts and was previously part of the Chinese Orchestra in school. This band played really good music, better than some of the free concerts back in Singapore. Perhaps it was the difference in open-area acoustics. If not for the lack of time during our vacation, my brother and I would have listened to them play for hours until they left. Unfortunately, there was a lot we wanted to do, so we had to pass on them.

According to many online reviews, the Himeji castle tour could be easily completed within an hour or two. After looking at this map, I knew it wouldn't be possible with my curiosity for everything.

I mean, for the longest time, I was staring at a stone lamp and comparing my height to it! This thing is actually taller than me. My engineer brother and I debated for the longest time about its purpose and aesthetics. It was designed to be taller because the light was meant to illuminate an eye-level for a supposedly average-height person that we concluded I wasn't.

Before buying the tickets, I got interested in the tour that they had set up in a small booth before the ticketing counter. Apparently, there is an AR tour, not quite VR. I thought that was very interesting, but we didn't get that because if we did, I would be there for 6 hours.

The price for the castyle tour is 1,000 jpy but the combined tour was 1,050 jpy. The decision was made instantly.

Just note that the garden was a renovated samurai's residence. It isn't actually part of the castle, and purchasing an individual ticket for the garden alone is about 300 jpy. If you're spending the whole day in Himeji around the castle area, just pay for a little extra. I promise it's worth it!

Some cabbage-like flowers I found. I don't know their name, but they bloom well in winter. If you know their name, please comment!

The entrance to the paid part of Himeji castle and my brother looking back with the most judgemental look because of my slow-ass. He's actually carrying my backpack because I was having issues even walking.

After grabbing every available pamphlet and guided map in English, the cute old man told us in broken English that this was the best picture spot with the Himeji castle, so I took one. However, I wasn't the only one he told, so there were many others in here too.

Most people would pass by this peony garden in winter as there aren't flowers to see. However, my brother and I decided to go anyway. On the way, he spotted something interesting in the architecture. This was the beginning of us going down the rabbit hole. Apparently, the soldiers had secret paths like this, many of which were closed to the public and used for quick travel and patrolling the vast perimeters.

No, you're not looking at a window. My brother spent a good 10 minutes explaining to me the groundbreaking military design of this window. Apparently, there are three different shapes of these holes in the castle wall designed for troops to defend against a siege. The rectangular hole you see here is for archers. The window is built with angles in a way to minimise enemy firing and maximize viewing and firing angles for the sentry holding this spot. It's a very Math and Physics nerd thing, so I won't go into details. I'll mention more as we progress along unravelling the castle's grand mystery.

The lore thickens after this sign. We're visiting Princess Sen's quarters here to read about her tragic history. I bet the Himeji castle was named the way it was because of her. Unbeknownst to us, this castle's history is very thick because of the many homeowners it passed through.

After removing our shoes, we entered the princess quarters. It has many rooms and long corridors, all in wood. My toes were frozen from how long I took to finish the tour, but let's take a look at all the pictures. There were many signs with explanations of the history, but I'm not uploading everything. You'd have to visit yourself to get the full experience!

Some stairs that definitely killed my knees.

A before and after comparison of the castle. It originally wasn't that grand.

A list of Himeji castle's previous owners.

According to the explanation, the symbols on these roof tiles represented the clan each owner had during the time it was built. These are the original copies of tiles fired in a kiln with the symbols. As there were many owners, there were many different types of symbols, indicating the parts new owners built or expanded upon.

I was honestly impressed by the quality of paper preserved in this glass case. Also, just admire that crisp calligraphy! I can't manage more than chicken scratch on the whiteboard, and my students are always complaining about my handwriting.

Peeking out one of the windows, this is the view I saw of the castle from the west bailey. It was facing the main palace.

However, when I peeked at the other side, a strange sight greeted me. After reading more explanation signs, my brother and I finally put two and two together. This passageway was the secret of ninjas! For troops to travel quickly, many secret passageways like this were built everywhere.

Another mystery we solved came from this sign. We noticed earlier that there were circle, triangle, and rectangle holes in the wall. Here, it explains the different hole shapes and their uses. Triangular holes were mostly for spying outside. We noticed many metal rings on the floors beneath windows and figured this must be where the ladies-in-waiting would store weapons and rocks that they would drop on intruders from their quarters to buy time for the warriors to arrive.

If you thought the samurais refused to let the ladies fight, you're wrong. However, they were still protective of their wives. As such, many heavily fortified doors were built in the ladies quarters. It was so heavy that it required a few men to close it every night and open it every morning. If that isn't dedication, I don't know what is.

In this room, my brother spent a lot of time taking photos and videos as these were related to his school project. However, we learned a lot about how the castle was designed to withstand weathering as much as it could with the olden technology. On the left, those are wooden blocks cut into shapes with interlocking parts like a precisely cut jigsaw puzzle for assembly. This technique is used throughout Himeji castle as olden craftsmen did not have bolts or nails. Metal wasn't as withstanding, and it was expensive. The owners of this castle spent a lot of time and money training craftsmen back in the day just to maintain this huge palace. The craftsmen were also taught to maintain the castle base walls, as seen in the middle booth. Last but not least, the white walls were actually plastered using shellfish shells. Plaster was great for preventing weathering against rain and fireproofing.

I was jump scared a little when I turned a corner and headed into a room with this sign and statue of Princess Sen. She had quite the tragic story.

At the age of seven, she was married to her first husband in a political marriage. When he committed seppuku, Princess Sen was then married to her second husband at the age of 20. They had two children, a son and a daughter. However, her son died at the age of three. Moreover, Princess Sen suffered a series of tragedies from having her second husband die, and her mother die, and unable to cope with the loss, she became a nun in the end.

After a very heavy historical romance lesson, we decided to continue and finish the last leg of her quarters.

This panel contained a spoiler for the main castle that we visited later. According to my engineer brother, he speculated that the window panels were shut in a wall because of the wind draft. The engineers back then must have complained about the chill when winds from all four unobstructed directions flooded the room. However, we can't ask the dead to confirm the truth, so nobody really knows why they were sealed off.

Before we walked to the main castle, we passed by some smaller courtyards. In one of them, we found a well that was 15 meters deep. It reminded me of the well Kagome from Inuyasha had to climb in each time she travelled between worlds.

After we reached the main castle, I had to once again bear my feet to the cold while climbing six flights of steep stairs with low headroom. The view from the third floor of the castle is amazing. There was a clear view of whatever happened within the castle grounds all the way to beyond the castle walls.

The stairs that killed me climbing up and broke my knees coming down.

A small detail to note, these are actually trapdoors above the flight of stairs. The railings were a modern addition to prevent tourists from dying. My brother pointed out just how easy it was to defend the castle from intruders. Imagine kicking down enemies trying to climb up this flight of steep stairs. It would be like rolling a snowball off a cliff. There was no way the enemies would succeed here. However, the servants working here needed strong knees.

On every floor, there would be a blueprint indicating the main points of that floor. However, for the more observant people, you'd notice that there are seven floors (including the basement) but only five roofs. This is the biggest optical illusion, if there ever was one.

At the top of the castle, there is a small prayer shrine which many Japanese donate and pray to. We didn't know what God this was, but I had a feeling it was a Shinto deity, so we politely bowed our heads, took pictures, and left.

On the way down, we saw where the barracks were. It should have stored a variety of weapons in the past, but I was more amazed to see long rifles. My brother claimed that these prototype rifles were created by Japanese craftsmen and not imported by the Europeans who visited. The long rifle barrel was to increase the accuracy of a bullet fired, or so he claims. I have no idea.

This was the most confusing and mysterious part of the castle. There was a connecting part of the castle and a short corridor with a few connecting flights of stairs with a view to the courtyard here. At first, we speculated this was where laundry was done. However, after reading more signs, we learned that this was the room to connect all small fortresses to the main castle. Why was this a thing? We had no idea.

The structure here would make our architect friend dizzy with joy. This is a structure of the skeleton of Himeji Castle. We were wondering how they knew, but that question was soon answered.

The answer: It was completely rebuilt from 2009 to 2015. Not much of what we saw was original. My brother's biggest mystery as to how wood could stand since the 1700s finally came to light. Who could have ever expected that everything we saw in the castle was actually a replica!

Still reeling from shock, we saw this detailed model of what the castle was like back in those days. As you can see, there are three rings of defence and several moats. Thanks to my brother, I had a small history lesson. Unlike the Three Kingdoms in the warring period of China, the Japanese population wasn't as large. Hence, this entire structure could house the samurai lord, his retainers in the inner courtyard and the merchants closer to the second moat. The peasants and farmers lived closer towards the outermost walls. I was impressed when he explained how the castle was built tall enough to see past the outermost wall and prepare troops for any attacks.

This is the view after we visited Himeji Castle. There is a telescope you can pay 100 jpy to see the town, but I guess seeing it without it is fine too.

Of all the pictures I took of the white castle, this has to be the best!

On our way out, we saw this interesting sign. My brother made a cancellable joke about the grave that was repurposed for construction that I can't mention here.

To make matters worse, there was a well on our way out with quite the haunted history. We looked into the well to see if the dead wife would show us a sign like Sadako, but it didn't happen. If anything, I was disappointed to see a paltry amount of coins people tossed inside after mistaking the haunted well for a wishing well. My brother and I thought that it would have been more impressive if the well was filled up with coins instead of water so that the banks and economy would demand them back for note exchanges. However, if that were to happen, there was a high chance most coins would have eroded too badly.

Here is a small museum that we visited describing the needless luxury and flex of manpower for a lord's procession ceremony. I guess the one that tickled me the most was the thought of a manservant participating in the parade carrying just shoe boxes. I mean, I could understand the porter carrying gold and jewels. But shoes?

As we were about to leave the main castle, I spotted these pretty women in supposedly rented kimonos. I didn't dare ask for a picture, so I just told my brother to move so I could openly take one of them in their element.

Remember the wall holes? There are more. My brother suddenly had a thought about a design flaw. He claimed that with a widened outer angle, enemies could easily shoot at the edge and have the projectile ricochet into the hole.

In any case, we argued all the way until we reached the garden outside of the castle. This is the layout and what it entailed. As it was winter, we weren't expecting to see much greenery. However, I insisted on seeing the koi fishes, which prompted my brother to ask if I wanted to eat them. Of course, he earned himself a smack from me. However, we decided to get lunch right after we finished touring the garden.

After a quick trip to the loo that had a bidet, this was the first garden we visited.

After a scenic welcome, we followed the signs that led us to a restaurant with a great view.

The line was building up, and I didn't see anything special on the menu, so we passed on lunch. Those who prefer enjoying the scenery more than food could most definitely reserve their spot for a meal here. We were just looking for eats so we passed.

After that restaurant, we saw a room with tatami that I think was fake because it was so hard! However, that wasn't the important part.

That's right! Right across this room, we found the koi garden!

This is my absolute expression of joy. I'm not eating these koi fishes, though.

So this is a traditional Japanese room used for receiving guests. We didn't manage to get to see the tea ceremony room because it was closed during the December period, but this made up for the vibe.

More koi fishes because they're so pretty!

I didn't jump on these rocks because I didn't trust my knees after visiting Himeji castle. However, you most definitely can cross this safely.

The garden had many of these trees and bushes bearing red berries. My brother and I were debating about stealing a few for a taste but didn't know if they would be poisonous. If anybody knows what they are, please let us know!

Apart from the cabbage-like flower, this was the other flower we saw in full bloom during winter! Also, don't know what this is, so do let me know.

You can tell how obsessed I am with the maps. This one here is short and stout. I call it the teapot!

Moving to a new section of the garden, I noticed how this doorway was made to my height exactly! Due to how unglamorous my brother took the photo of me holding up the doorway, you'd have to make do with this instead.

Again, we had no idea if eating this would kill us so we didn't pick any.

The seedling garden was full of plots like this.

However my favourite was the lotus section!

My brother had a call from his boss who fucked up his pay for the month, so while he hashed that out, I took this random picture of a drain near the tea ceremony house that was closed. If it were open, you could experience making green tea the traditional way yourself and enjoy some snacks for 500 jpy!

We think this might be blueberry, but we don't know if it's correct, so we didn't eat this either. Honestly, you can't blame us for wanting to eat anything that looked like food. We haven't eaten lunch.

Another lamp because I swear it looks different!

The one thing we noticed was this bunch of twigs used for walls and roofs. Does this really keep the rain out?

Pop quiz! Is this a bonsai tree or a pine tree? I can't remember, honestly. At this point, all plants are starting to look alike to me.

Anyway, we were getting close to the end of the garden trip when this interested me more than inedible berries and bald trees. These were excavated from the plot of land that belonged to the samurai retainer while they were transforming the estate into a garden. Look at these ancient relics!

The excavated site for comparison, just so you know how much work went into this garden. It's definitely worth that additional 50 jpy.

This garden had a zen vibe to it with the pond and pavilion. I honestly think this is the place where poems were made.

Later on in our trip, we will be visiting a bamboo forest. However, I think I got a sneak peek here.

To complete the vibe of a bamboo forest, they added this meditative device that's obviously not engineered for functionality, as pointed out by my brother.

The well is also created as a demonstration of what would complete a bamboo grove. I knew it was fake because I peeked beneath that bamboo mat. It's as deep as a basin in there.

Finally, we left the garden and hunted for lunch.

I spy with my eye, something that sells ice cream! That's where we ended up eating because I saw something on the menu that I wanted.

It was a homey place with waiters who barely spoke English, but my little Japanese worked out.

The menu was cute, but I was hungry. My brother ordered the pork cutlet curry because he wanted to know if Japanese curry in Japan was different from the ones in Monster Curry in Singapore. I got the special winter Oden set because I loved the white radish!

My meal consisted of oden knick-knacks and way too much food my brother helped to finish. The miso soup was a tad too salty for me, but the oden was great!

Here's a juicy and chewy fried octopus that we ordered as a side. I'd honestly have ordered another portion if I didn't have such a tiny stomach!

My brother's food arrived. The curry wasn't spicy and had a hint of ketchup in it?

After lunch, we walked back to Himeji Castle because I whined about wanting to go to the Himeji zoo when I heard there would be penguins. My brother rolled his eyes so many times, but I promise it will be worth it!

More souvenir-type items. Those desserts are likely handmade.

I had the shock of my life learning that preserved oysters were a thing?

Finally at the zoo!

It was very cloudy so we had to check if it was posisble to finish touring the zoo.

The zoo entrance fee for an adult was 210 jpy. For seeing over 100 animals, that was quite an affordable fee.

I never thought I'd see a capybara in real life. It was bigger than I thought it would be in videos! However, after seeing flowers in front of the cage and a handwritten sign in Japanese, I learned that there were originally two of them. One of them happened to pass away after living for ten years. It was sad, so we left the poor creature alone. However, we were angered when leaving the zoo because we witnessed an asshole foreigner banging on the cage to get the capybara to move so he could get a better shot. I wish that person dies early!

I can't show all the animals we saw so I'll only show the ones that surprised me the most. I didn't know armadillos were tiny!

Here is another animal I never saw before. I didn't camels would be this big or tall. Or stinky! They are also rather furry.

This is my favourite animal. Meet the red panda! As it was hiding, I didn't get a picture of it. However, using him as the mascot for the Himeji castle seemed apt.

Here's an interesting shrine dedicated to the hippo we're about to see.

Meet the female hippo that weighs about a ton! Her name is Hiboko?

My mistake. It's Kiboko. Also, she made quite a splash, literally. Thankfully my boots were waterproof.

After struggling for me, this is the picture of a ball python my brother helped me to take.

I'm not a huge fan of slithery things.

If anything, I like cuddly things more, like this heap of lemurs! It is winter, so I think they cuddled for warmth.

Here, we paused because of the sound. There is a fun fair for children in the zoo!

And an arcade.

But what caught my eye had to be him! I choose you, Pikachu!

One of the best highlights in this zoo had to be the sea lions. We came at feeding time, so it was funny to watch them swim around as food was thrown into the water. Too bad the sea lion wasn't in the mood to perform tricks although the grunting noises it made startled me a little. I thought they would sound more refined.

The zebra was bigger than I thought and looked almost photoshopped with the clean patterns on its body.

I've never met my zodiac mates. I didn't know pigs had fur!

Look at the handsome birds that made me want to come to the zoo! Too bad they weren't walking. Many of them were swimming instead.

The hand-drawn illustration mentioning the chick was too adorable. I had to take this picture!

Look at this cutie patootie owl! I thought he was asleep, but that wasn't the case. It just had a case of Asian eyes syndrome when its eyes were closed like a credit card line.

After the owls, the size of this eagle surprised me. It was definitely bigger than my forearm!

This game brought back nostalgia of the childhood my parents deprived me of. I didn't play it because it would have made my slightly dislocated left shoulder worse.

This is a badger. I don't know what it is, but it looks like a crossbreed between a rat and a bear, if that makes any sense?

I know what a porcupine is but I've never seen them puff their quills like this before.

I've also never seen a handsome fox before and he was posing like a supermodel so I had to capture his moment. Also, some Japanese guys prayed when seeing a fox. I don't know if that's normal.

This is the first time I've seen the legendary raccoon dog (tanuki) that Chopper from One Piece is usually mistaken for. They look nothing alike!

This here is why I think Japan is a time machine for both the past and future all in one place. It's so magical seeing this when most children in Singapore don't know what it does.

On the way back from our long trip to collect the luggage from our hotel, we saw this shop selling fabric to custom-make kimonos! Honestly, I was tempted to buy one, but I know I'd never wear it, so we said goodbye sadly.

The number of weird shops never fail to amaze me.

This is a shop that specialises in selling school uniforms. Can you believe it? There is a list of schools that they sell uniforms for.

After grabbing the luggage, we bounded for the train back to Kobe-Sandomiya, where the next hotel was. The reason for coming back to this place is because there was one thing I wanted to omnomnom.

However, the setting sun at 4 pm was amazingly beautiful. This is probably why Ghibli movies are so magical. I'm just sad that I can't visit the Ghibli Museum on this trip because all the tickets were sold out.

The sun was setting quicker than I thought.

We're checking into Brenza Hotel. The reception was on the second floor, so we had a little trouble finding it. Like the first hotel, amenities were optional, so I grabbed the toothbrush and a packet of bath salt that I forgot to use :(

We're sharing a room again so I don't expect decent quality sleep.

The bath had a smaller but deeper tub for soaking. Absolutely love this! Might consider adding this to the master room toilet in the house with my mom when it is ready.

The view outside the room.

After resting a while, we travelled out by one station by train to Motomachi's Chinatown because there was one thing I had to do.

Can you guess what it is? Hint: EiKiChi

It's wagyu beef tasting! We ended up getting the recommended sirloin and red meat. It was about SGD260 for two people. I didn't eat much, and my brother was barely full. However, the taste alone was something I could never get elsewhere. It had so much flavour that it rivalled MSG, which I am allergic to.

The fine-dining-like experience was part of the price as the teppanyaki chef, Mr Maeda, cooked our meal in front of us on a grill that my brother accidentally scalded his hand on.

We weren't the only customers but we had to be the least fussy.

Mr Maeda told us to cheer him on as he cooked. When he said "Let's", we had to cheer "Cooking" with him. My brother didn't participate, but I made up for his lack of enthusiasm.

The best way to cook the meat is medium rare, according to Mr Maeda. We trusted his judgement and left it in his hands. If I were to cook this, it would be $200 worth of charred or raw meat.

I've never had such an artistic plate before. Allow me to explain how this should be eaten. On the top left are vegetables that go well with the brown miso sauce on the bottom right. The meat should first be eaten without any condiments. However, the best combination for sirloin was wasabi with soy sauce. I didn't like the salt and vinegar combo, but my brother loved the red meat and garlic combo.

After an expensive dinner and an experience of a lifetime, we passed by this store selling panda buns. I was exhausted, so I headed back to the hotel first while my brother explored Kobe City with only Google Translator as his aide.

Needless to say, I spent a good 2 hours simply finding a way to transfer over 300 pictures taken today while writing this blog. My brother is doing our laundry at the moment after his shower and gave me some alcohol-free Asahi beer to drink while munching on chocolates. He claims that my dizziness could be attributed to dehydration and low blood sugar levels. I think all I need is rest, so I'll end the blog here and sleep before he disrupts my rest with snoring.

Tomorrow we're heading to the biggest aquarium in the world in Osaka that has whale sharks! Be prepared for another 500 or so pictures that I will fail to upload.

33 views0 comments


bottom of page