Best Sightseeing Spots in Japan
Himeji Castle (Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture)
Fondly known as “White Heron Castle”, the curved eaves and white walls of Himeji Castle remind visitors of a graceful bird. People are free to roam the ingenious layout of the entire 14th century complex, designed specifically for defense. With over 83 rooms, mostly in their original state, it’s worth taking half a day to explore.
Ancient castles seem incomplete without a ghost story or two, and Himeji does not disappoint. Legend has it that the castle well is haunted by Okiku, a beautiful maidservant falsely accused of stealing. She was killed when thrown inside the well as punishment. This tale was retold as the “Sadako and the Well” story in the movie, The Ring (very scary). Himeji castle is also featured in several other films, including You Only Live Twice and The Last Samurai, which starred Tom Cruise.
Kinkaku-ji was originally a retirement villa for the 14th century Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Although Yoshimitsu wished to coat the exterior in gold leaf, he only managed to gild the ceiling of the top floor. After he died, the building was converted into a Zen Buddhist temple, in accordance with his wishes. An arsonist destroyed the temple in 1955, but when it was reconstructed Yoshimitsu’s original wish was fulfilled: the outside of the top two storeys was finally coated in lustrous gold leaf.
Kinkaku-ji overlooks its own Mirror Pond, with striking effect. At certain times of day, a soft golden glow appears to rise from the water itself. The appearance of the temple also alters before your eyes as the sun’s position changes.
One of Yoshimitsu’s original bonsai has been allowed to grow into a full-size pine tree over the centuries. Known as the “Land Boat Pine Tree”, the ancient tree is now taller than a one-storey building and stands in the grounds across the lake and to the right of the pavilion. It has been transformed into the shape of a boat pointing back towards the water.
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