About the Himeji Castle in Japan
The Himeji Castle, also known as Himejijo or Himeji-jo, is one of the most famous castle complexes in Japan. It is located in Himeji, Hyogo, Japan and is situated majestically on top of the Himeyama hill. It is one of the very few castles in Japan whose entire complex remains intact for centuries since it was established in the early 1300s. The Himeji Castle is also known as the White Heron Castle because its design and location signify a white bird taking flight.
This particular castle complex is a very popular tourist spot in the area because of the cultural experience that it could offer. A simple walk around the castle’s grounds can give any visitor a feel of intoxicating, ancient Japanese culture. On top of that, the location of the castle keeps its visitors very close to nature. There are beautiful cherry blossom trees during spring and warm maple leaves during the fall.
It is so popular and well-kept that it is now considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, one of the many sites the country has to offer. It is one of the most visited castles in all of Japan. It deserves to be so because a number of buildings within its complex are considered as National Treasures of the country. The moat is even considered as a Special Historic Site.
Himeji Castle History
What is special about this castle complex is that compared to other royal grounds in Japan, the Himeji Castle remained intact and well-kept through the centuries. It has survived the bombings of the Second World War and the destruction from natural calamities such as earthquakes. It is a preservation of Japan’s growing culture, that modern individual can use to get a glimpse of Japan’s history.
The entire castle complex is quite enormous as it is comprised of a total of 83 buildings. It started out simply as a fort to defend the communities below. Built by a man named Akamatsu Norimura, who was the ruler of an ancient province in the region. More than a decade later, it has been built into a small castle.
During the late 1500s, as the country was going under the Feudal rule, the castle was dominated by the Kuroda Clan. During this time, they have made a few additions to the castle and added a few structures within the area.
It was only in the early 1600s that this small castle was rebuilt and remodeled into an expanded castle complex. Three moats have been added, several buildings have been constructed. The cost of material and labor was so extensive that there are records showing that it is equivalent to about 25 million man-days.
What happened to Himeji castle after that? The Himeji Castle almost got destroyed and demolished multiple times. During the late 1800s, the entire complex was abandoned and was temporarily transformed into an army barracks. During this time it was almost demolished until one army colonel lobbied for it to be saved. Then, it was put up for auction and was almost destroyed once again. In the 1940s, it has survived extensive bombing in the area and in the 1950s it remained unscathed after the Great Hanshin Earthquake.
Interesting Himeji Castle Facts and Trivia
The white stones that have been used to make the walls of the castle gave the complex the name “White Heron Castle”. Just like a bird that perches on a high branch, the white stonewalled Himeji-jo looks like a white heron perched on top of a hill.
The entire complex took centuries to make. There is truth to this because the development of the castle complex was continuous through time. Every clan that lived in the castle seemed to have added something to the complex which is why it has expanded to its current size.
The main keep is about 152 ft high and is about 302 ft above sea level. Since the castle is located on top of a hill, the view on top is spectacular. It will give a 360-degree view of the entire city. From below, the towering majesty of the main keep is surely a sight to see.
The Himeji castle is one of the most visited tourist attractions in all of Japan. it gets over two million visitors on average per year. It is so popular and highly visited that it gained a place in one of the three “premier” historical castles in the country. This is along with the Matsumoto Castle and the Kumamoto castle.
It is considered as a prototypical Japanese castle architecture, the best representation of a feudal era castle. It has been discovered that it has almost a complete set of typically grand Japanese castle features. It has walls which are shaped like giant fans. There is a total of 15 gates and 32 earthen walls. Inside the castle is the Koko-en garden.
The castle also has features that are not found in other ancient castles. During the time of its establishment, these features are considered as intelligent marvels and high-technology. For instance, there are lavatories and kitchen corridors. There are also defense system mazes in the main keep to prevent any form of criminal from successfully entering the main keep. There are also very intricate weapon racks and secret hiding places.
The time of the year when there are most visitors is during the spring time, in the first two weeks of April. This is because of the fact that the beautiful cherry blossom in its gardens are in its full bloom and a number of tourists enjoy this beautiful view of nature. During this time, the lines are extremely long and visitors can wait up to a few hours in the queue.
How to go to the Himeji Castle
Compared to other cultural places in Japan, the Himeji Castle is quite accessible. It is only about one kilometer from the Hyogo, Himeji Station. Anyone traveling from far places to Himeji, for instance from Tokyo can take the Shinkansen or the bullet train. From Tokyo, travelers can board the JR Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen. It will take about three hours to travel from Tokyo to the Himeji Station. A ticket would normally cost around 15,500 yen.
Once in the Himeji Station, it would only take a 13 to 15-minute walk going to the Himeji castle. Or, from the station, the castle can also be reached by a five-minute bus ride which costs about 100 yen one way. Going to Himeji castle is not that difficult, for those who are afraid of getting lost, the castle is perched on top of a hill and can easily be seen from the streets below.
What to do during the Himeji Castle Tour
Himeji Castle: Inside the Fortress and the Castle Defences
The Himeji Castle was formed to become a defensive fort. Although it has been turned into a more residential complex through the centuries, the castle defenses still remain very impressive and advanced for its time.
The location itself is very strategic. At any point inside the complex, there is a good view of the surrounding city. Invaders will not be that difficult to find. If they do reach the castle, invaders have to go through deep long moats that surround the complex.
If they do have the ability to enter, there are confusing mazes with dead ends and traps going to the main keep. It is pretty much impenetrable. Inside are rooms which are perfect for hideouts – be it anything valuable, a treasure, or simply a spot to hide from enemies. To this day, architects and urban developers are still in awe and amazement at how the castle complex was developed and designed.
When is the best time to go to the Himeji Castle
Since the Himeji castle is open all year-round, travelers can visit at any time. However, the point is that if travelers are looking for something special, then there are times of the year when the Himeji Castle is at the peak of its beauty.
During the wintertime, the castle becomes so majestically white. Its roof eaves are filled with snow, the courtyard is also filled with snow. With the snow-white castle walls plus the addition of snow – the image is heavenly. This is certainly a sight to see. Although the trip may be a little cold, the view of the Himeji castle will be enough to bring warmth to the viewers’ heart.
During the Spring, everybody is waiting up for the Hanami. This is during the months of April and May when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. The Hanami castle, since it is located on top of a hill, is surrounded by hundreds of trees. During the spring time, the cherry blossoms add an elegance to the Himeji castle no other place in the world can parallel to.
For those who wish to see the castle with not many people, it might be a good idea to visit during the rainy months of June and July. These are the times of the year when the peak of visitors is at the lowest. Since the Himeji castle is most enjoyable outdoors, the rainy season will be a challenge. So if anyone wishes a more peaceful tour of the castle, this might be a great time to go.
Of course, just like how beautiful nature is during the spring, the fall season is also a sure winner. This is the time of the year when the Himeji Castle feels so romantic like it came out from a TV series. The warm colors of the surroundings is a magical contrast to the slow cooling of the autumn air.
Things to Remember when visiting the Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle Hours
The Himeji-jo is usually opened on a daily basis from 9:00 AM up to 5:00 PM. However, during the peak month of April and May, they usually close much later at 6:00 PM. The only days in the year they are closed would be during the New Year Holidays of December 29 and 30.
Getting into the castle usually costs 1000 yen for an entire tour. Just adjacent to the castle grounds would be a garden named Kokoen garden which was developed and opened to celebrate the beauty and majesty of the Himeji-jo. Entry to the Kokoen garden would be an additional 40 yen.
Himeji Castle Map
The castle is located on a hill named Himeyama which is found at the center of Himeji, Hyogo, Japan. Within the castle grounds are a number of interesting structures. The entire complex has been designed to be surrounded by moats which could protect the keep from intruders. There is a total of six towers known as the Watari, Ru, Nu, Wa, Ka and O towers which soldiers used to keep guard of the southern side of the tower.
There are also several gates leading to the inside, with the Hishi Gate as the biggest. It is the gate that protects the center most part of the castle grounds. There are also different buildings inside. One particularly famous building is the home of Princess Sen-hime the wife of the feudal lord Tadatoki Honda. They say that the house where Princess Sen-hime lived had the most beautiful view of the city.
Inside the complex is a collection of different exhibits. One of the most popular would be the display of armor and helmet that belonged to Kanbe Kuroda, the old lord of the castle. These are well-preserved armors which depict the radiance of clothing at the time. The exhibit displays a room full of ancient clothing, the quantity is quite impressive which covers the entire floor of the display room.
Himeji Castle Model
There are plastic models and wooden models of the Himeji Castle available at souvenir shops all over Japan. There is also Himeji castle shaped candy being sold at the shops around the castle. The image of the Himeji is quite iconic for the people and they take pride in sharing that beauty with travelers all over the world. Although building these models can take a lot of work, it is still an enjoyable activity.