Touring Japan with Jeff Alexander, Dispatch 3
Editor's Note: UW-Parkside History Professor Jeff Alexander and 11 students are in Japan through Thursday, June 13. They are touring and learning in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima. Dr. Alexander is tweeting updates and photos regularly and you can join his followers on Twitter at @jeffalexander99 and follow the tour through Ranger Today and the university web site.
Japan Dispatch 3: Taking in "The Heron's Eye View"
Our students have settled into their Japanese-style rooms in Kyoto, where the pace of life is a little less frantic and the locals are warmer than busy Tokyoites. Our pace has not slowed, however. Our first day-trip from Kyoto took us west of Kobe, to Himeji Castle, which is a sprawling defensive complex of brilliant white plastered walls and gray tiled roofs completed in 1609. Reaching 45 meters above its massive stone pedestal, the main keep resembles a giant white bird taking flight, which earned it the nickname "The White Heron Castle." Our tour guide was a retired chemical engineer named Kurose-sensei, who, like many local seniors, volunteers his time to give free tours in English, which really brings the site to life.
Himeji has been undergoing renovations since 2009, during which time the main keep, or donjon, has been extensively restored. Beneath the enormous 8-story building erected over and around the central tower, workers removed every one of its 80,000 tiles for inspection, cleaning, and possible replacement. Other teams removed the plaster that was applied soon after the Second World War and plastered it anew, in several layers totaling 30 centimeters thick. Elevators whisk visitors up inside the shroud to see the restoration work up close -- the first such opportunity ever permitted at one of Japan's cultural landmarks. The spartan interior needed little attention, but the entire restoration process will take until 2015, and will need to be repeated every 50 years. Having survived both the war and the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995, Himeji Castle's future seems secure.
Today, we are journeying to Hiroshima, which is a vibrant, modern city surrounded by lush green mountains. At its heart is Hiroshima Peace Park and the "Genbaku (A-Bomb) Dome," where the events of August 6, 1945, are memorialized.
On board the Shinkansen
10 June 2013
In the top photo, Kurose-sensei gives us a free tour of Himeji Castle, the "White Heron Castle" -- Japan's finest.In the bottom photo, intercultural communication at Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto.