Aizu-Wakamatsu (会津若松) 4

Just outside of Aizu-Wakamatsu is Ouchi-juku, a post town on the former highway between Aizu and Nikko to the north of Tokyo (or Edo as it was then). In order to control the Daimyo lords, the central Shogunate government required then to spend every other year in the capital, Edo. As all travel was done at that time by foot the post towns would have played an important role in breaking up the journey, and providing vital accommodation and supplies. The town has done a wonderful job of preserving the area just as it would have looked at the time by burying all electrical cables and mercifully restricting the use of concrete. As such, there is a long street with splendidly preserved thatch buildings lining each side:

Ouchijuku 1

Ouchijuku 2

Ouchijuku 3

Ouchijuku 7

You can really catch glimpses of how the town must have looked like at the time and a lost way of life:

Ouchijuku 6

Ouchijuku 8

Ouchijuku 9

We were lucky to catch the tail end of the cherry blossoms:

Ouchijuku 4

Ouchijuku 5

It really is a unique step back into the past:

Ouchijuku 10


Aizu-Wakamatsu (会津若松) 3

That night we stayed at a small onsen district, which was wonderfully atmospheric if a little run-down (and over-concreted as usual). It was very relaxing though and with a fantastic traditional dinner laid on for us.

Mukaitaki 1

Mukaitaki 4

Mukaitaki 2

Mukaitaki 3

Aizu-Wakamatsu (会津若松) 1

We went with family up to Aizu-Wakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture for Golden Week holiday period in May. We wanted to get there for the cherry blossoms but unfortunately we were just a little bit too late. Oh well. Next time. Wakamatsu is a lovely city and the whole area is really nice – this time we rented a car and it really does give a different picture of Japan when you can get away from the usual tourist haunts and explore some different areas which, just because they are not on the main Shinkansen route, tend to get overlooked.

‘Aizu’ is a clan name for the samurai who headed the domain around what is now Fukushima before the Meiji Restoration in 1868, to which they were opposed. We first went to an old samurai house, or bukeyashiki (武家屋敷), which has been preserved and is now a small museum. This is the entrance to the compound:



And to the main house:


And inside there were some (kind of creepy) life-size dolls portraying the samurai family and home life:






There were also some reminders of spring:



Behind the house was a small family shrine:


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

Meigetsu-in 06

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

Meigetsu-in 14

Dressing up for the occasion:

Meigetsu-in 10

And then it’s time for tea:

Meigetsu-in 12

Meigetsu-in 11

Himeji #8 – Himeji Castle (姫路城)

Himeji Castle is really a castle that doesn’t mess around. It was built in part to rival Osaka castle and keep Central and Western Japan under control:

Himeji Castle - Keep walls

In the Meiji Period (1868 to 1912) Himeji Castle was to be torn down under the government policy but it was saved by a Colonel Nakamura Shigeto of the Army:

Himeji Castle - Catsle keep

During WWII a bomb was dropped on the main tower, but miraculously, the bomb did not go off and the castle was not damaged:

Himeji Castle - Keep with tree

And it also features these guys:


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:


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: