Japan Tourism and Culture: Kansai and Stunning Himeji Castle

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Japan Tourism and Culture: Kansai and Stunning Himeji Castle

Hiroshi Saito and Tomoko Hara

Modern Tokyo Times

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The Kansai region is the heart of Japan because you have so many places which are rich in history and the diversity of this region is simply amazing.  Kobe is a lovely place to visit because this city is well designed and the surrounding area is extremely beautiful. The city of Osaka is the economic powerhouse of Kansai and this city is vibrant and ultra-modern. Osaka also links naturally with Kobe thereby providing a huge economic hub. Osaka easily ranks within the top ten commercial cities in the world (ranked 7th).  Also, Awaji Island is very near and this island adds to the stunning diversity of Kansai and is a pleasant holiday destination for people who want to escape the madding crowds of major cities.

Kyoto and Nara are famous because of being former capitals of Japan and the essence of Buddhism remains strong within the stunning architecture which blesses both cities. The city of Nara is the cradle of high culture in Japan.  Meanwhile both Himeji and Wakayama are blessed with magnificent castles and in Wakayama you have so many places to visit like Koyasan and Kumano, which are stunning and very rich in history. The power of Shinto can also be felt in many parts of Wakayama and the same applies to Buddhism.

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In Kyoto and Nara you have vast numbers of temples, shrines and gardens to visit and the contrast with both places and Osaka is amazing.  Osaka is a huge ultra-modern city and Namba and Umeda have an abundance of fashion stores. The same applies to other buzzing districts throughout Osaka and many fashion trends often begin first in Osaka or Kobe before reaching Tokyo. Indeed, Namba ticks for 24 hours because of entertainment and other features. Osaka Castle is also based in huge surroundings and you can enjoy a leisurely walk and witness the other side to this mega city. However, it is the commercial side of Osaka which dominates and without a shadow of a doubt this city is an ideal base to explore the rich diversity of Kansai.

Returning back to Nara and Kyoto then both cities have played a major role in the rich history of Japan. Nara is less famous outside of Japan than Kyoto but it was Nara which laid the foundation stone for high culture in Japan.  Both cities have famous temples and shrines in abundance and areas related to geisha in Kyoto, traditional crafts, art and other intricate aspects of Japanese culture continue to flourish.  Also, Japanese gardens are internationally famous because of the ethical nature of the layout which compliments many aspects of life. Therefore, you have many stunning gardens, holy places and other cultural aspects to visit in Nara and Kyoto.

Himeji is dominated by the stunning hilltop castle and this castle continues to pull in vast numbers of people because of the ample beauty of this part of the land of the rising sun.  Indeed, if you love castles then Wakayama Castle is also stunning and the grounds are well kept. Not surprisingly, the view from the top of Wakayama castle is amazing.

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Himeji Castle is deemed to be the jewel in the crown for castles in Japan and this is because of the surviving architectural layout which consists of 83 buildings.  The castle dates back to 1333 when Akamatsu Norimura decided on locating the castle on top of the Himeyama hill.  Since then you have had many developments in order to enhance the power and prestige of Himeji Castle.

The initial castle was dismantled within 13 years and over 200 years later Toyotomi Hideyoshi completely remodeled the castle in 1581.  Similar major changes happened between 1601 and 1609 when Ikeda Terumasa expanded the nature of the castle complex. Likewise, Honda Tadamasa between 1617 and 1618 also impacted on the growing nature of Himeji Castle because of the internal changes happening within the body politic of this nation.

Himeji Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the tourist numbers to this stunning tourist attraction rank this castle to be the number one visited in Japan.  However, if you believe that Japan cared about the richness of the numerous castles then you are wrong when applied to the modernization of Japan during the early Meiji era. After all, in the Meiji period you had plans to destroy Himeji Castle and Wakayama Castle because of the impulses of modernization during the Meiji period.

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Only by fate and hard work on the behalf of Nakamura Shigeto did this castle survive.  This tells us much about the destruction of ancient Japanese culture and architecture in this period. Yet today it is difficult to fathom such logic during this period given the power of these special places in modern Japan.

Himeji Castle was purchased in the Meiji period after the Han feudal system was dismantled and abolished in 1871. Therefore, the castle was purchased in order to destroy the castle and build on the land for commercial reasons.  However, the cost of destroying the complex was very high and some individuals campaigned to preserve the castle. This most notably applies to Nakamura Shigeto.  Therefore, because of his dedication and monetary factors related to destroying the foundations and rebuilding, then Himeji Castle survived.

In more recent times Himeji Castle was lucky because during World War Two a firebomb failed to explode after landing in the complex.  Also, the deadly Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 did great damage to Himeji and many people died throughout the region. This notably applies to Kobe.  Yet despite the devastating earthquake the castle remained strong and firm against the power of nature.

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If you adore castles then Himeji must be high on your list and Wakayama Castle should also be near the top because the surrounding area is amazing.  Himeji Castle and its structures also tell us much about the defensive nature of castles in Japan because the foundations remain intact.

Himeji Castle is a great tourist destination and the hilltop views are visually pleasing on the eye.  A visit to this castle is also a glimpse into aspects of Japan’s power structures. The architecture and layout system tells us much about the reality of war and containment policies during this period of Japanese history. Also, the stunning richness of Kansai means that tourists have a wealth of places to visit. Therefore, if people are thinking about a rich destination to visit then you can’t go wrong by choosing this part of Japan.

Lee Jay Walker gave support and background information to both writers

http://www.orientalarchitecture.com/japan/himeji/himejicastle.php (Himeji)

http://www.himeji-kanko.jp/en/spot/ss001.html   (Himeji)

Please note that major renovation is ongoing until 2014 and Himeji local government is doing everything to help tourists during this period.  Therefore, please contact applicable agencies in order to obtain important information.

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