Japan’s most beautiful & the largest castle complex of Himeji Castle is located atop a hillock in the town of ‘Himeji’, Hyogo Prefecture! The castle is an epitome of Japanese castle architecture & is renowned for its top class, highly effective defense systems & brilliant protection devices which kept it impregnable throughout its functional period!
The architectural masterpiece of ‘Himeji Castle’ was constructed mostly using wood. Its walls have been sheathed using white plaster which provides much needed protection against the fire as a substantial amount of wood has been used in the construction of the castle. The castle, more often than not, is called as ‘Hakuro-Jo’ (White Egret Castle) or ‘Shirasagi- Jo’ (White heron castle) due to its striking white exterior & unique roof structure that makes it look like a bird taking flight!
The ‘Himeji Castle’ is the most spectacular & the most visited castle in Japan. The castle was designated as the ‘World Heritage Site’ by UNESCO in 1993. Its area within the middle moat was designated as a Special Historic Site, whereas, five buildings within the castle complex were honored as National Treasures. ‘Himeji Castle’, unlike many other Japanese castles, was never destroyed in warfares, earthquakes or accidents such as fire & it retains much of its original appearance. This fabulous structure is one of the three premier castles in Japan, other two being ‘Matsumoto Castle’ & ‘Kumamoto Castle’.
How To Reach:
From Tokyo: The town of ‘Himeji’ is located 650 km west of ‘Tokyo’ & can be approached by a bullet train which normally covers the distance within 3-4 hours.
From Osaka: The train service run by ‘JR Sanyo Line’ (special rapid service) can take you to ‘Himeji’ from ‘Osaka’ within an hour.
In 1333, the castle’s construction was started by the ‘Ruler of Harima District’- Norimura Akamatsu. ‘Hideyoshi Toyotomi’ added a three-storied castle in the original structure in 1581. Later on in 1601, Terumasa Ikeda, son-in-law of the ‘Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa’, started building a five-storied main tower by demolishing earlier three-storey tower & also built three smaller towers. The complete reconstruction work lasted for eight years & the castle complex was substantially increased during the work.
During ‘World War II’, the town of ‘Himeji’ received heavy bombing, due to which, the major portion of the town was burned into ashes. However, the castle was surprisingly escaped unhurt amidst raining bombs. It did receive a bomb, which, fortunately, did not explode, saving this grandeur from flattening up.
The castle is located atop the ‘Himeyama hill’ in the center of ‘Himeji’ town. The castle complex is spread across 233 hectares (576 acres), while the circumference of its outer wall measures 4,200 meters. The complex encloses some 83 structures, including storehouses, gates, turrets & corridors. All the structures are protected using a series of curved walls fashioned in an intricate manner to create a maze-like structure in order to deceive the intruders. Stone & wood are the principal materials used for the construction.
The six-storey high tower that stands right in the heart of the castle complex is the most significant building. The tower stands 46.4 m (152 ft) high & it includes a bevy of special facilities which are seldom found in most of the Japanese castles, including a drain board, lavatories & a kitchen corridor. The basement of the tower garners an area of 385 m2. The tower has been meticulously designed to provide high-class protection to the inmates from intruders & also to lead surprise attacks without getting exposed. The topmost floor of the tower offers picturesque panoramic views of the Himeshi town that surrounds the castle.
An advanced security system used in the castle is one of the major attractions of this castle. Confusing labyrinth of paths fortified by baileys & sturdy walls having loopholes intended for archers to shower the intruders with arrows, 3 moats & multitudes of gates comprise the formidable security system of the castle, which played a heroic role in keeping this castle impregnable throughout its life.
The castle hosts many events such as ‘The Himeji Castle Cherry Blossom Viewing Fair’ & ‘Princess Sen-Hime Peony Festival’ during spring, ‘Himeji Ceramic Market’ & ‘Moon Viewing Fair’ during autumn & ‘Himeji Castle festival’ during summer.
- The Koko-en Garden, which was created in 1992 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of ‘Himeji city’, is something that one shouldn’t miss.
- ‘Hygro Prefestural Museum of History’ is also worth visiting.
- The 1000 years old temple, located on Mt. Shosha near the castle is also a famous tourist attraction. 2003 Hollywood movie- ‘The Last Samurai’ was filmed in the vicinity of this magnificent temple.
This outstanding, emblematic Japanese castle is currently going through an extensive restoration regime, which was started in 2010 & is expected to be completed by May 2015!