I was poorly the night before and we asked for an extension of the check out time in the morning. The gave it to us because I scared the crap out of them the night before after they “fixing” our air condition to blow only hot air, I asked Linda to wheel me down to the lobby and had the phrases from Disability Japan saying in Japanese, “I have a degenerative neurological condition.” The manager had quite good English but didn’t get that so I showed her in our dictionary the word for “dying” and then described in detail what would happen and what did happen in the famous Keio hotel of Tokyo for the same reason. They shut down the heat for the whole building, never fixed the air but I got ice to sleep with.
The amount of time I felt “okay” had been reducing day by day but I felt enough to go to Himeji Castle particularly as it wasn’t raining (as predicted by the online Weather Network – those guys using the Magic 8 ball again). So we wheeled the couple blocks to Himeji Castle. I mean that is all that there is of Himeji: the castle and a bunch of people selling kimono’s. It seems the allies did everything they could to firebomb, to direct bomb, to cascade bomb the Castle (which has stood as icon of an impregnable fortress). They managed to hit just about everything BUT the castle (which the people attribute to an ancient shrine in the castle MAKING it impregnable – that and giant walls, a moat, a labyrinth approach, outbuilding and five floors of inch by inch fighting spaces). Actually, it is an illusion, as it LOOKS like five floors of 10 foot high internal fighting spaces in which the walls were lined with guns and swords or defence, but in reality it was six stories and a basement. Cheery news to an invader!
It was overcast but that didn’t stop the Himeji castle from being fucking impressive, I mean the thing just reaches up into the sky with all the nice roof curls (which you use to fire arrows down on people and pour oil on them) and dominates the skyline. Built in 1333, or at least started then the final castle was done three centuries later. The sucker not only has one but THREE moats (the outer one bounds the town). The thing is the finest example of a Japanese killing machine around, but PRETTY too! Only to get to the Main Tower you need to get past 1000 meters of walls, 27 ‘Yagura’ (defence buildings), and 15 gates. I guess back when I was into castles as a little nerdling I would be getting wet reading all this. As I saw the sucker I thought two things, “Ohhh, pretty cherry blossoms” and “Oh fuck, more uphill in the wheelchair!”
As this was THE attraction in town ALL the tourists headed to the castle, we got there rather early (due to the checkout times of our hotel). And we went over the wooden bridge across the middle moat into the open ground which had been filled with rows of cherry blossoms, just in full bloom. Linda went off to get her book stamped (I tell everyone she is the “book stamp Otaku” and they just show her where to get MORE stamps, today she even got a Himeji stamp at the JR station!). There was stamping station and Linda filled a few more pages of her book.
Then we started the assent, or rather we paid to start the ascent. A woman rushed out to give us a guide of “Only wheelchairs here” and seemed dubious about letting us proceed because “Only one attendant” but we finally convinced her. If we had known what lay ahead we would have looked for the “Hire your load bearing attendant here!” line (There wasn’t one!). Remember how I said that when it comes to historic things that the Japanese won’t make an iota of accessible accommodation: Himeji was a classic example.
I was able to ascend the path the horse riders would take through the gates, which means, giant cobblestones, slopes so steep that the ADA would be having heart palpitations and then ever few feet ridges of bricks (to stop the water?). We made it up the more than dozen slopes due to me telling Linda to let me “Try myself” – since nothing is more inducing to a male of ANY country to jump in and help than a female facing a 4 to 1 slope ratio in a chair valiantly failing while making squeaking noises (looking slim and maybe light helps too). So I was helped up by Honk Kong visitors, Australians, Austrians, and maybe even a few Japanese. Here is one of the MILD slopes to give you an idea of the fun involved.
We were assured once we reached the “top plateau” directly under the castle there would be a bathroom and shelter to wait while my “Assistant” viewed the six floors of the castle. First off, the plateau, while very nice and flat is better know as, “The Kill Zone” as six floors of archers get to wipe the slate clean for a few hundred yards. It also had a little toilet for men and women, but not for wheelchairs (we are a different gender, or so I have concluded from all the “men/woman/wheelchair” toilet signs). Linda left me here and proceeded on to the castle. It was cold and I did what I do when left in a kill zone with not even a bathroom….I contemplated the beauty of the flowers.
Once I did that (What, I’m not a Zen Buddhist, 10 minutes for flower beauty is good for me!), I worked on getting the postcards ready which meant: finding the right postcard for each person and putting on their sticker, putting on our small return address sticker, then finding a “Hello Sticker” that seemed right that second for each person. After that is separating and licking the stamps, and then putting on the air mail stickers. Finally the Punikura and AT LAST, writing a message. I did the prep for all remaining postcards, about 35 in all (hey, I got friends….virtual friends!).
Linda meanwhile was ascending these very narrow stairs to see the levels. This level still has the brackets for all the Samurai swords that would have covered both walls, ready to be grabbed for defending the castle. This castle had everything including a giantantic storehouse in the inner court for storing salt in case of a siege. It also had many wells, I got to see the haunted one. See there was a nice girl named Okiku serving at the temple that learned that the chief retainer was planning to kill the lord, and so informed and saved the lord. Happy story? No. The chief retainer found out and took one of the 10 “treasure plates” of the castle and blamed Okiku who was tortured death before the retainer threw her down the well (where she haunts it TO THIS DAY!). I thought that was a pretty good plot for another version of the film The Ring. Linda meanwhile was looking over the inner courtyard, which was impressive, artistic and yet martial at the same time.
On the outside, in wheelchair world the news was not good. Whatever reserves I had were gone, it was cold, windy and raining. I had retreated to one of the gates. My right hand, the finger I hurt in boxing several weeks ago turned white which I knew was the start of frost bite but then I couldn’t control it or feel it and the finger tip turned purple (no, not the fingernail…the FINGER). Then I couldn’t use any of my right hand except my thumb and first finger which meant that I couldn’t wheel with it (As I couldn’t feel if the other fingers were in the spokes). So that part kind of sucked. The castle was beautiful and a deserved world heritage shrine but I was glad to get assistance going down as I felt very nauseous and we needed to pick up the luggage and get to the train.
Only, I was so sick that I was on oxygen and couldn’t wheel for a while and couldn’t sit up. The problem is that our travel REQUIRES I carry 40 percent of the weight, which includes the main medical backpack, the liquids under the chair, as well as the rain jacket, the laptop and travel books as well as anything else stuffed into the case on my lap and the personal backpack. So, I did. It comes to about 40-50 lbs altogether, maybe more and Linda has her own luggage to haul so I am doing solo up slopes and getting from A to B which in a wheelchair in an adapted station is always farther than anticipated. Most of the time I concentrated on staying conscious. A plan which worked SOME of the time. On board the 60 minute trip on the Shinkenshin I just focused on fluids and staying conscious. Well, then it was another 20 minute ride to our hotel and Linda helping me by holding me from falling out of my chair. If I had been in Victoria, the last three hours I would have been in bed.
We arrived at the hotel to our “fully accessible room” which was impressively accessible, with full accessible toilet and special hinged doorway for people with little arm strength – they did however have this “one step” (try 12 inches) into the shower, but have BARS there. Because, like all Japanese people there seems to be this odd belief that ALL people in wheelchairs CAN walk. It would have been a great room and I was looking for a bed except for the construction going on outside (including two diggers), like 10 feet away. We asked at the desk as we asked at EVERY desk, 1) Is it quiet, it is on the quiet side, 2) does it have AIR conditioning (no, not a heater, air conditioning!) and 3) Is there an internet connection. We ended up having to move rooms here, as we have in half the hotels; ALL the hotels have required some interaction or prolonged interaction with management. Often it is to explain that a machine blowing 95 degree heat into your room isn’t air conditioning and please stop before I die.
This room is across from the ferry terminal, which means we get a 10 second “leaving ferry” alarm every 15 minutes or so – but this is the BETTER room. I slept for three straight hours and then have moved very little since then (partially because I can only see a little out of my left eye and I am very weak). BUT…..But, I hope to go to Miyajima island tomorrow and see the monkeys for Linda tomorrow. Another nine hours of sleep and I have hopes I will bounce back enough to endure for another day. This is NOT the end of the road, we just need to make it to Beppu and then to Kyoto. Yes, a lot of today was either me being very ill or recovering from that but I did see Himeji castle (I’ve got frostbite and loss of hand function at Himeji castle!) and while I would like nothing more than to be let in bed on oxy….the show much go on! I am ready for my close up now
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