Japan is one of the most wondrous countries I’ve been to. The food is great, the people are very polite and fashionable, trains are always on time, beer is sold out of vending machines, neon signs overwhelm your eyeballs, tattoos are still taboo, and beauty is everywhere. It’s a crazy, spectacular, mind-boggling island that would take at least 30 adjectives to even come close to accurately describing it.
I was in Japan for about three weeks back in 2006, and the whole trip was a whirlwind of amazement. My jaw was probably left hanging open the entire time. I hope I wasn’t drooling. It was the first time I had been to a non-Spanish speaking country, but luckily I had taken a few months of Japanese and knew how to hold basic, probably first grade level conversation. Still, it was the first time in a long time that I experienced culture shock, and it was fabulous.
My friend and I only went to the main island of Honshu, but the variety of nature, city life, temples, animals, and culture was completely astounding. While Kyoto was filled with beautiful, ancient temples, I was most impressed by Himeji-Jo, or Himeji Castle. Dating back to 1333, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has been taken apart, rebuilt, remodeled, and expanded upon, but never destroyed. The architecture is considered prototypical for Japanese castles, and it is absolutely magical. There are six floors of winding stairs, living quarters, artillery, and sneaky modes of defense, as the castle served as a military base over the centuries. Gorgeous Japanese art, weapons, garments, and maps on display take you through the ages as different emperors changed ownership.
Himeji-Jo is located on a hilltop in the southern part of Honshu, about three hours northeast of Hiroshima. Even if you aren’t planning on visiting Hiroshima, it is very much worth the train ride from Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka.