The queue was long, but the castle was spectacular, and there was no great hardship standing in the warm Japanese sunshine, gradually edging forward towards the small entrance to the main keep of Himeji Castle (Himeji-jō). The castle grounds were beautiful; the cherry blossom was out; each twist and turn of the queue brought me closer to the tall, white castle itself.
Originally dating to the 14th century, and extensively built and rebuilt every century since, Himeji Castle––sometimes referred to as White Egret (Hakuro-jō) or White Heron Castle (Shirasagi-jō)––is one of Japan’s foremost attractions. You don’t get to feature as a backdrop in a James Bond movie––You Only Live Twice––without having serious aesthetic kudos.
The queue shuffles on. I look forward to getting inside; cutting loose; having the freedom to explore on my own.
Another courtyard; another corner; the attrition struggle of every tourist-metre gained is a metre closer to the goal of the castle keep’s interior. And there it is. Finally, I am inside the magnificent building. Shoes off.
And still in a queue.
The queue traverses the ground floor of the castle. Climbs stairs. Traverses the first floor of the castle. Second; third; fourth; fifth. Onwards progresses the queue. There is no escaping from it.
The interior of the castle is as austere and devoid of decoration as the exterior is monumental. There may be things to see, but the queue holds sway; defies rebellious acts of private contemplation or appreciation in deference to the great move, en masse, ever forward. Forward, forward; progress, progress.
With each successive floor the queue is compressed into an increasingly more confined space; by the fifth floor the compression is getting oppressive. I take my refuge by looking out, rather than looking in. The view from the high windows is breath-taking, including the sloping, grey tiles of the castle roof; the castle grounds; and the expansive landscape of the city of Himeji beyond.
It is a frank relief when the queue finally begins to descend; positive bliss when I can put on my shoes again and step out onto terra firma and admire––in blessed isolation––a structure, which, from the outside, is genuinely a wonder.