Thursday, November 26, 2015

Japan, Part 6: Himeji and Hikone Castles

11/16/15 Himeji castle
Kyoto was a convenient base camp for making day trips to Himeji and Hikone castles, each less than an hour away by train. On one gorgeous day that looked and felt like spring (the temp in the afternoon got up to 70!), we went to see Himeji-jo, which was only recently unveiled after five years of restoration. In fact, five years ago on our last Japan visit, we made a stop at Himeji on our way to Kyoto only to discover it fully veiled in tarps and scaffolding. It was fully worth the return trip this time to see the 800-year-old castle in all its splendor (and what a joy to sketch it on such a beautiful day!).

What was not worthwhile was joining the cattle call of thousands of people to climb to the top of the castle – in our stocking feet (shoes aren’t allowed) on ancient wood stairs I could hardly reach with my short legs. Compressed like a pyramid of produce ready to topple if any one of us missed a step, we dutifully climbed to the top, sometimes waiting on stair landings for the previous batch of tourists to move off of a higher level. I truly regretted the journey – I would rather have stayed below and sketched the castle a few more times!

11/16/15 Himeji castle sketched with a brush pen.
Speaking of which – my sketches of Himeji-jo were an interesting lesson in media choice. For my first sketch from the far side of the castle grounds (above), I used my finest point Pilot posting nib pen because I was compelled to capture as many fine details of the splendid castle as possible. The sketch you see here is actually the second attempt; I saw almost immediately that the first try wasn’t proportioned accurately, so I abandoned it quickly. But even this second attempt feels a bit rigid and constrained.

After the tour inside the castle, feeling frustrated by the claustrophobic ordeal, I decided to try a second sketch closer to the castle itself. This time I pulled out the Zebra double-sided brush pen that I had discovered during a recent life-drawing session. The opposite of the posting nib’s finest point, the brush pen wouldn’t allow me to get into any details, so I was free to capture more of the castle’s elegant spirit (if not particularly accurately). I enjoyed making that sketch so much more, and I think it conveys more of the sweeping joy and awe we all felt that day viewing its beauty.

With that mental note tucked away, a couple of days later we took the train to see Hikone castle, but this time the weather was completely different – torrential rain with a side serving of high winds. (Leaving our Airbnb-rented townhouse, we noted the vast supply of loaner umbrellas near the door, but being Seattleites, we said, “We don’t need no stinkin’ umbrellas” – a statement we grew to regret as the day wore on. We were the only ones in the entire town of Hikone without umbrellas.)

11/18/15 Hikone castle
I had already decided I wouldn’t climb this castle, but how could I sketch it in the rain? I found a small kiosk holding brochures that had just enough of an overhang to keep me and my sketchbook dry for the duration, which wasn’t long. With the lesson learned at Himeji, I went straight in with the Zebra brush pen on Hikone-jo, which was shaped very similarly to Himeji except much smaller.

I ended up using that brush pen on a lot more sketches than I had expected – and to think I had almost left it at home! (More comments on that in my post-travel follow-up post coming up.)

Himeji castle
The view from the top of Himeji-jo, which
wasn't worth the climb.

Himeji castle's mascot.
Mandatory Himeji castle selfie.
Mandatory (and hooded) Hikone castle selfie.
People smarter than we were who brought their umbrellas.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful sketches of the castles. Looks like the brush pen was the way to go for the drawings. It looks more spontaneous and filled with life. You look pretty dry...


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