A Japanese mansion, pronounced manshon, is not a large and expensive house the name would suggest. Mansion is used in Japanese to describe a typical apartment complex. Interestingly, individual apartments at mansions are usually accessed from outside through a balcony running along the building. Although everyone has access to this balcony, it lacks privacy and seems rarely used to enjoy nice weather or eat outside. The latter is not popular in Japan and terraces at restaurants are practically nonexistent. The mansion is well adapted to the Japanese climate, which rarely justifies the necessity of access corridors to protect inhabitants from the cold.
Himeji Castle is one of the most famous castles of Japan along Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto castle recently damaged by the Kyushu earthquake. It is by far the largest castle and attracts a remarkable amount of tourists every year. The castle has undergone recent and extensive restorative work that necessitated five years to complete.
The Himeji Castle is situated on a small hill. It comprises six floors and is surrounded by an intricate defense system. The many defensive walls are pierced by loopholes of different shapes that could be used to fire rifle shots at the enemy. Those defensive walls were designed in such a way to force the enemy to take many detours before reaching the main keep, giving the defenders more time and chances to locate and shoot the enemy. Nowadays, tourists wander across this complex and confusing walkway to reach Himeji Castle. As most Japanese castles are, it is surrounded by a moat: a water channel that encircles the fortress further deterring attacks.
The Kokoen garden is a Japanese style garden established at the former residence of the lord of Himeji. Kokoen actually features many small gardens of different themes, each enclosed by the original fortified walls that divided the residence in many sections. The central landmark of the garden is the lord’s residence which features a magnificent pond surrounded by a classic Japanese garden.
The Kurashiki Museum of Folkcraft is located in a historical rice warehouse of the Bikan district. Many potteries, clothes and pieces of furniture are exposed at the museum, specialized in utilitarian objects. As such most of the pieces of the exhibit are of unknown origin as they were crafted by ordinary artisans for use in everyday life.
Kurashiki Bikan is a lovely historical district in the town of Kurashiki. The area is known for the historic canals that once served the important rice shipping business of the region. Many of the original storehouses of the Bikan area were preserved and now house trendy cafes, boutiques and restaurants. Nowadays the canals are used to carry tourists around in the traditional wooden boats and serve occasionally for wedding celebrations. The area also features the Ivy Square: the historical brick buildings that were part of the cotton mill are now hosting hotels restaurants, cafes and museums.
The island of Miyajima is most famous for the Itsukushima Shrine. Not too far north of the shrine is located the town’s commercial center where many restaurants and hotels are located. The sector features many stores selling Momiji Manjyu, a special pastry originating from the island. They come with various fillings inside a maple-shaped outer dough.
The island is also known for the World’s largest rice spoon, made from a single tree, which is located on the Omotesando shopping street. Smaller replicas are sold in the many gift shops on the island.
Downtown Miyajima also features a nicely landscaped waterfront beach offering a nice view of the city of Momiji on the opposite coast. Many deers that are accustomed to humans inhabit the sector and may be hungry for some tourist’s shirt. Be careful!
The Senjokaku Hall, also officially named Hokoku Shrine, is a Shrine located on a hill just north of the famous Itsukushima Shrine. It is known for its spaciousness, and was originally built in 1587 in memory of fallen soldiers but was never completed following the original plans.