Wakayama Castle does not appear in any of the guides to Japan that I have seen online. I don’t even realise that there’s going to be a castle in the city when I decide to stay. But there it is, smack bang in the middle of the city. I see it as I cycle to the hostel so, after a shower and change of clothes I head out to see it.
The castle has a few gates from which you can approach. The one nearest my hostel is across a moat and opens onto a gorgeous leaf-littered walkway lined with soft-leaved trees.
As I climb to the castle I feel like I might be in a Japanese fairy tale. Such is the beauty of this place. There are red leaves covering the stone walkway while bright green moss grows on the castle’s high rock walls. Everything is vibrant with colour and I can’t help but wonder whether the grey sky and rainy weather is making the whole scene pop just that little bit more.
The castle itself is white washed and stunning. It’s everything I ever imagined a Japanese castle would be. It has all the shapes that I associate with medieval Japan, pink flowering plants and bonsai. Inside the castle is a small museum containing suits of armor, weapons and written scrolls. I would have hated to face the warriors wearing the armor, the face masks in particular were pretty scary. The museum contains almost no foreign language translations so I don’t know exactly what the story behind the items was but I’m more a look and see person anyway.
I climb up through the museum to the top floor of the castle from which there is a great view over Wakayama and to the mountains beyond. Visually it is lovely to see mountains. As a cycle tourist just getting back to fitness, the mountains look daunting. But I know from Korea that I can ride them if I just take my time. And that the rewards are worth the effort.
The castle grounds are amazing. I love gardens and am particularly drawn to the Japanese garden style. I find it so calm and restful. This one is no exception. It is comprised of different rooms. Some areas are planted with tall trees. One area of the grounds is a Shinto shrine. Another area contains a small zoo. My favourite area is a walled section that contains stone pathways.
An arched bridge crosses a creek while a small white washed pavilion overlooks a pond. There is no way a person can rush here. The garden demands you to slow down and pay attention. Not because you might fall but because it is too beautiful to rush.
A good two hours has passed by the time I leave through another of the castle’s gates. Even these are visually appealing; not just barriers to prevent intruders from coming in. Each gate is different in size, colour and style. Thought has gone into the aesthetics of this castle and attention to detail has obviously been critical.
By now I am hungry. I have noticed a Mos Burger on Google Maps near the castle. Paul has been telling me all about Mos Burger since he ate some at home in Australia so I decide I need to check it out. So today I ate lunch at a Japanese burger place under looking out the window at a Japanese Castle. Pretty sweet really.
After lunch I walk about 50m down the road to this Shinto shrine that overlooks Wakayama Castle.
I don’t know anything about the Shinto religion so definitely need to do some reading. But what I have already learned is that, like all the religious places I have visited so far on my travels, Shinto shrines are peaceful places.
And so I have come to the end of my first day in Japan. I am feeling a little lost with the culture and language but that is to be expected. People here don’t speak English and I haven’t yet picked up much Japanese (despite two years of study in high school I can’t get much beyond konichiwa (hello) and arigato (thank you). But I know that by the end of the week I will start to feel better about the language barrier. As for the culture, that is going to take some getting used to. I mean, what do I do when the lady serving me at a restaurant bows and what is the appropriate response to the great stream of words that come from the shop keeper’s mouth after I pay for my goods. I mean, I saw a group of people parting ways today outside a business and I have never witnesses so much formal bowing. It just went on, even as one party walked away down the street they kept turning back to bow deeply with both hands stiffly by their sides and their backs perfectly straight as they bent from the hips. Yes, this is going to take some decyphering and maybe more than a little time getting lessons from Professor YouTube. But not today. Now it is time to rest and prepare for the next few days of riding. I probably should make some sort of rough route plan and mark out points of interest along the way so I don’t unknowingly ride past.