Yoko-san suggested that my father, brother and I visit Himeji castle while she took my mother shopping in Kobe. It sounded like an excellent idea to me as well, since not only is it an extremely beautiful and historic attraction, but after 7 months I still haven’t been.
“Scemo will accompany you,” said Yoko-san. Scemo, her son, shrugged.
“It’s the most beautiful castle in all of Japan,” said my father to my mother. “And you’re going to miss it!”
“Take a picture then,” said my mother and the 6 of us parted ways – Yoko-san and my mother to Daimaru department store, and Scemo, Diego, my father and myself to the broiling pavement with instructions to meet back at the train station at 6 o’clock.
“I think,” said Scemo after our mama-sans were out of earshot, “that it will be very hot at Himeji castle.”
Scemo was most certainly correct – summer in my region of Japan is brutally hot and unbearably humid, topping 35 degrees Celsius on some days. Our earlier day trips to Nara and Osaka had been visually gorgeous, yet scathingly uncomfortable due to the rivers of sweat running down our swollen, panting necks and straining backs. My apartment-tini in Abeno – despite its working a/c – offers little relief.
“You’re right,” agreed my father. Already, after 2 minutes of walking to the train station, our shirts had melded to our backs yet again.
“There’re probably a lot of stairs, too,” Diego pointed out.
“Maybe,” I said, opening up the Kobe guide book I had gotten for free in a Sayonara Sale months earlier. Himeji castle was on page 63; beautiful, majestic, with its infamous swooping eaves and, yes – several stories high.
“Hmm,” we said.
We followed our “hmms” to Miyako Hotel, near the coast with its vast cherry red bridge and its deep blue seas. We followed them to the bar at the top of the hotel, with its view of the natural beauty that lay below.
“Macha aisu kureemu oneigaishimasu,” said my brother politely, using the bits of Japanese he’s picked up since arriving. Soon, the green tea ice cream he had asked for appeared and we were all pleased. We ordered another bowl, in chocolate this time, and my brother enjoyed a bubbling, glinting nama biru while my father and Scemo sipped campari and soda cocktails as we all gazed at the sea.
At length, it was my brother who pointed out the time.
“It’s five-fifteen,”he said. “There’s no way we can get to the castle and back and meet the mama-sans at 6, is there?”
“You are right,”said Scemo.
“Hmm,” we said.
“Give me your tour guide book, sis,”said Diego. I handed it over.
“Where’s the castle?”
“Page 63,”I said. He began to flip through the various Must-See sites in Kobe and, upon finding Himeji castle, handed the book back to me.
“Hold this,”he said. I did. He picked up his camera and, after adjusting the zoom lens, took a picture of the book’s picture of Himeji castle. When he was satisfied, he showed us his handiwork. There; a perfectly framed – if slightly soft focus – shot of Himeji castle that could have passed for a landscape shot of the real thing.
He showed it to the mama-sans when we met at the train station.
“It’s beautiful,”said my mother.
“Oh, it was so beautiful,” we said.
“Were there many people?”asked my mother.
“A few,” said Diego.
“Was it very hot?” my mother asked.
“It was actually pretty cool,” he replied.
“You should have gone,” said my father. “The most beautiful castle in Japan …!”
“Yes, yes, I missed it.”said my mother. “But now I have beautiful ceramic bowls. And you saw it for me, so there!”