The Crow and the Egret

Swans in the moat surrounding the Matsumoto Castle at sunrise.

There are 3 premier castles in Japan — all UNESCO World Heritage sites — Kumamoto, Himeji and Matsumoto.

The Crow castle at pre-dawn with the Japanese Alps in the background

From what we had seen in Google Maps, Google Images and 500px, the two castles definitely worth visiting were the Crow and the Egret — that is, the Matsumoto and Himeji Castles, respectively. And in our opinion, the prettiest of the three was Matsumoto.

Matsumoto on a cold foggy winter night

With a black exterior and roofs arching out like a murder of crows, this castle is best visited early in the morning before sunrise, when the serenity of the pre-dawn atmosphere is shattered by the cacophony of hundreds of the namesake birds waking up angrily as their day begins.

Matsumoto on a cold foggy winter night with swans in the moat surrounding it

For us, that meant waking up (also angrily) at sub-zero temperatures and standing quietly in the biting cold as the beauty of this majestic castle engulfed us. The castle itself was a small, intimate affair and I couldn’t imagine it holding out to armed forces attacking from all sides.

Himeji (Egret) Castle

Comparatively, the Egret Castle was a much more grand affair and actually felt like a fortified castle. Imposing, convoluted, and well guarded, with sprawling grounds, hidden avenues, and larger halls with hundreds of rifle stands riveted along their wooden walls.

The fortified walls and alleys of Himeji

Walking into the grounds, we saw a battalion of Japanese self-defense forces performing training exercises in the moat surrounding the castle — lending further credence to the fort-like aura of the monument. An incoming storm with dark ominous clouds added to the drama.

The imposing structure of Himeji

Any trip to Japan would be incomplete without a visit to both of these castles, but if had to pick one, I would suggest the Crow over the Egret.

Originally published at rowdy planet.