My children’s favourite type of a Saturday/Sunday is when we all just stay in our pyjamas, read books, play Monopoly or Scrabble, build Lego, watch a family film and don’t leave the apartment all day. And I love those types of days as well. But a couple of weeks ago, I got my ass in gear and I thought it would be nice to explore our local area a bit and visit one of the oldest and well known castles in Japan – Himeji Castle, about an hour on the train from Osaka.
So, to remove the kids from their Lego boxes, I resorted to exaggerating the interest and excitement value of Himeji castle (by about 100 fold) and told them that we might see Samurais, Ninjas and/or Geishas there, but with my two, that strategy did not work at all. In fact, the suggestion that they would have to change their pyjamas for some outdoor wear made them grip onto their Lego boxes like a miniature Schnauzer tightens their vice-like grip onto a hand that tries to stroke it.
But I have the ultimate top trump up my sleeve, the negotiation winner that us parents use in all kinds of situations to ‘persuade’ our children to do what we want them to do. This was a top trump-moment and so I said:
We can take the iPad along for the journey.
And off we went.
Some of you might wonder why we would want to make an hour one-way trek to Himeji when we have our own castle here in Osaka (i.e. Osaka castle). Well, Himeji castle is not just a castle, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an attractive and historically important piece of architecture, comprising of over 80 buildings. While Osaka castle is really a recreation of the old castle, Himeji castle is a castle whose wooden structures has survived approx. 500 years of earthquakes, thunderstorms (and subsequent fires), ordinary house (or castle) fires and wars. During WWII, for instance, Himeji castle was apparently covered with fabric to camouflage it with its surroundings, so that enemy planes could not see it (and destroy it).
Of course the castle has been renovated (several times) but essentially it’s an old castle, and thus, in my opinion, it’s fascinating to think what that castle’s ‘seen’: Court ladies with their blacked teeth (as the social conventions in Japan used to necessitate), lovers meeting up secretly, many fierce battles, ninja assassinations, ritual suicides, and several generations growing up as well as getting to the end of their lives. And the castle still stands there, now observing the steady flow of tourists inspecting it grounds, exterior and interior.
Well, my children didn’t think that blackened ladies’ teeth or secret lovers’ meetings were all that interesting. Instead, they thought that a flea market on the way from Himeji train station to the castle (about 10 min walk) was much more exciting. This opportunity to bribe the children with something was too good to be missed, so I told them that if they were good, they could choose a little something from the flea market after we had been to the castle. And all of a sudden visiting the castle became rather attractive to my children.
The castle was lovely. It was recently re-painted (white) and looked glorious against the spring’s blue sky (see photos below).
The kids were exceptionally well behaved. The flea market + iPad combo seemed work as well as the mechanisms of Japanese watches.
The kids even got quite excited about
(1) the castle’s defence systems (see the ‘shooting holes’ in the photos below – different shapes are for different weapons),
(2) the fact that Japanese people used to be even smaller than they are today (see photo below)
(3) a wishing well into which my son wanted to empty pretty much the entire contents of my purse.
The kids endured the hour and a half tour of the castle, climbing up several floors in an endless queue of people inside the castle, to reach the altar on the top floor (see photo below) and make our way back down.
On our way back to the train station, I felt they truly deserved a reward at the flea market. In line with the historic theme of the day, they chose a ‘treasure’ – a stone that they bought for £2.50 (3 EUR) and thought it was worth millions. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that it was worth….well…£2.50.
But the good thing about the stone was that my son now wants to go back to Himeji to buy another stone. And therefore, next time I want to lure them onto a day trip to cultural sites that interest adults more than children, instead of ninjas and court ladies, or even iPads, I’ll just drop in the words ‘flea market’ and my two miniature Schnauzers will turn into Cocker Spaniels in desperate need of a walk.