明月院のアジサイ (Hydrangeas at Meigetsu-in Temple, Kamakura)

Spring Japan is most famous for its cherry blossoms, but there are also several places where Hydrangeas are the feature. This is Meigetsu-in temple in Kita-Kamakura, founded in 1160.

This is the main entrance:

Meigetsu-in 01

This is a Japanese fruit called a biwa (a type of loquat, I think):

Meigetsu-in 02

The hydrandreas are mainly blue but there are other colours as well:

Meigetsu-in 03

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Meigetsu-in 04

 

The Inner Temple is only open twice a year, this being one of them, but I didn’t queue up for it:

Meigetsu-in 07

But it’s still nice to wander around all the other temple buildings:

Meigetsu-in 09

Meigetsu-in 08

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Dressing up for the occasion:

Meigetsu-in 10

And then it’s time for tea:

Meigetsu-in 12

Meigetsu-in 11

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Himeji #7 – Himeji Castle (姫路城)

Construction on the main castle as seen today was completed in 1609, following the establishment of the central Edo shogunate, and it really is built to impress. This is the main entrance, built on a steep slope to deter attack:

Himeji Castle - Entrance

The castle also features thick walls and winding labyrinthine paths to make it easier to defend. The fish ornaments on the roof were believed to protect against fire:

Himeji Castle - Walls and Ornaments

Some of the builders were obviously Christian and the lord of the castle at one time was Christian:

Himeji Castle - Christian motif

The walls also feature the crests of the various families that have owned Himeji Castle over the centuries:

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Himeji Castle - Motifs

The inside doesn’t really offer much in the way of exhibits – this was the gun rack:

Himeji Castle - Gun rack

It is really the most impressive castle in Japan and certain one of the most striking and beautiful in the world:

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Himeji #4 – Kōkoen Garden (好古園)

The eight smaller gardens are surrounded by formal walls and linked by passages. This one has also been featured on several TV dramas:

Kokoen - passage

Every now and then you get a glimpse of the white walls of the main castle:

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Edo-style gardens (1603-1867) are characterized as ‘strolling’ gardens which featured ponds, islands and small hills with meandering paths. This was one of the smaller ponds:

Kokoen - small garden pond

Kokoen - smaller garden stream

The garden offered certain viewpoints which often featured ‘borrowed landscape’ such as the castle:

Kokoen - smaller garden castle view

Keeping an eye on us:

Kokoen - smaller garden crow

Cherry blossoms:

Kokoen - smaller garden cherry blossom

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Kokoen - cherry blossom

Himeji #3 – Kōkoen Garden (好古園)

Kokoen Garden is actually a collection of nine gardens laid on the site of the feudal lord’s west residence. Each garden is designed in a different Edo-era style.

This is the entrance to the smaller gardens:

Kokoen - entrance to smaller garden

Detail:

Kokoen - Lord's seal

This garden had a collection of scores of different varieties of cherry trees, some of which were blossoming. We were actually unlucky – two weeks later and the whole castle would have been blossoming.

Kokoen - cherry tree garden

The range of cherry blossoms is amazing – Japan has the most varieties in the world:

Kokoen - cherry blossom 1

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Kokoen - cherry blossom 3

Kokoen - cherry blossom 4

Kokoen - cherry blossom 5

 

Himeji #1

On a short break we took the Shinkansen down to Himeji, in Hyogo just outside Osaka, to see the castle which had recently been cleaned and so was back to a bright white colour – hence its nickname “White Egret Castle”. The castle, a World Heritage site and the largest castle in Japan, dates back to a hill-fort built in 1333 and the castle seen today was built in 1601-1609. In 1871 it was bought at auction for 23 yen (about US$2,258 today)!

This is the castle seen along the main drag from the station:

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Sculpture along the street:

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The castle with the bridge across the moat and main gate:

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Selling ice-cream near the souvenir shops:

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