At last I am able to get more pictures up! Thanks to Tinker for helping me out, as the problem seems to be somewhere between my hotel connection and our server, but he was able to lift the pictures just fine.

After the lovely lunch above, Yuri, Masako and I had the afternoon free, so we went sightseeing at the ancient castle right in the center of Kumamoto. It was built between 1601 and 1608 by a feudal lord named Kiyomasa Kato. It's huge - about eight miles around the circumference - and consists of very steeply curved walls, turrets and a main fortress building in the center which you could climb all the way to the top of - six stories - for a spectacular 360 degree view of the Kumamoto area. The lord had the river diverted to provide a moat around the base of the case.

Here's one of the turrets. I took the picture from down near the river.

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I was particularly fascinated by the stairs inside the castle. Because it is so large and constructed on this knoll overlooking the city, there are these wonderful ancient stairs everywhere made of local stone.

I found this staircase beautifully atmospheric:

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And here are one of the many sets of main stairs the warriors would have climbed to get into the main fortress area. What isn't apparent is how big these stairs are. You can't actually step easily from stair to stair. You have to go down one at a time, stepping on each stair with both feet, like a child does.

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Here's a picture of the main fortress building. It was hard to take a decent photograph, as the sun was right behind it and it is very high. But this gives you the idea. Masako, Yuri and I then climbed right to the very tippy top to see the wonderful view.

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One of my favourite pictures of the whole trip is this one Yuri took of Masako and me at the castle. I was spending such a wonderful, fun, relaxing day and I think this picture shows it. It is just a plain "tourist picture" of friends having a good time together.

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Very near the base of the castle is a Shinto shrine, so we next went there.

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The gate at the from is called a 'torii' and this is the entrance to the shrine. My name has the same pronunciation in Japan as these holy gates, so I have been given several little gifts with this word on it.

This is an Inari shrine, which we can tell because it is guarded by two foxes on either side of the entrance. (You can just barely see the edge of the one fox on the left of the picture above.)

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