Sunday, May 06, 2007

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Thursday, March 22, was our first full day in Japan, and our first touristy-sightseeing event: Nagoya Castle ... in Nagoya!! Perhaps because it was the first, it was also my favorite.

Nagoya Castle was built in 1612, burnt down by a US air raid in 1945, and rebuilt in 1959. It is now a cultural and historical museum.
We climbed, as Katie says, "a million flights of stairs" to get to the top.

From the top we had a view of the city but we couldn't see the 2 golden tiger-headed fish that adorn the top of the castle. Lucky for us, there was a lovely replica inside for our photo-taking enjoyment:
The castle is surrounded by the beautiful Meijo Park, full of strange trees and rocks. I think the blooming tree behind us is a plum tree.

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Because the Americans decided not to bomb Kyoto during World War II - its historical heritage was considered too valuable - we were able to visit our second castle: Nijo-jo in Kyoto on Monday, March 26.

Check out the detail over the entrance gates!
Nijo Castle was begun in 1569 by warlord Oda Nobunaga (remember that name; there will be a quiz later!) but it was completed by the shogun who built Nagoya Castle. We were able to tour the castle but weren't allowed to take photos inside. The coolest thing was the "nightingale" floors. The wooden floors were made to "squeak" when walked on as a way to warn of intruders, so we tried to make them sing as much as possible. The walls of the audience halls are covered with gold leaf! We couldn't take pictures, so you'll have to take my word on that.

Everything was of castle-esque stature. duh!
And moats! The castles have real moats!

We wandered through the lord's strolling gardens where hundreds of camellias were blooming. Some of the flower pics I posted earlier (see "Beautiful Japan" below) were taken here. Unfortunately, the 140 cherry trees were not in bloom :-(
Katie climbed all these stairs to see the view from the castle walls.

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Our final castle (Friday, March 30) was Kanazawa-jo in Ishikawa Province, about 20 minutes inland by train from the Sea of Japan. I think this was the coldest day we had - my little notes say, FREEZING COLD!!! But ... on to the castle!
Kanazawa was spared the air raids of WWII but not a slew of fires during its history! The castle suffered a couple fires in the 1600s, was almost completely destroyed by a big fire in 1759, another one in 1808, and all the castle walls were destroyed by fire in 1881. Only Ishikawa-mon Gate survived, through which we began our exploration.
The various buildings have been rebuilt (1998-2001) based on how they looked in the 1850s but we weren't able to go inside any of the structures.
Of all castles in Japan, Kanazawa-jo has the biggest variety of stone walls. This gate has big stones placed horizontally and vertically and here you can see natural uncut stones fitted roughly together. Cool, huh?!

As with the other 2 castles, there is a fabulous garden (Kenroku-en) associated with Kanazawa-jo, but I will devote a separate blog entry to it.