Himeji Castle is a classic example of Japan's beautiful castle architecture. The castle's pure white appearance with white plaster coating is said to look like a dancing shirasagi (egret) with wings spread, earning it the nickname "shirasagi-jo" (egret castle).
It was spared from damage during the war and from many other disasters and is in a remarkably preserved state compared to other castles. Seventy-four structures within the castle site including a tower and gate are designated as important cultural assets of Japan.
The castle was established in 1346. Later, the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1589), who ruled over most of Japan, built a full-scale castle wall, which became the base for present-day Himeji Castle. At the start of the Edo period, the castle underwent considerable renovation over a 9-year period to create the magnificent appearance we see today.
If you are confident in the strength of your legs and back to climb up and down, you should take a look around the inside of the castle. Clearly, beauty was not the only priority of those in power throughout the ages. Its complicated structure, particularly the three tall watchtowers connected by columns and winding maze-like passages, functions well as a war fort and conceals a mechanism to halt the invasion of enemies and throw them into confusion. The design is intended to prevent access to the tallest watchtower and castle keep, situated at the heart of the castle, which functions as a center, so beware if you go there without a map, you may get lost!
Among the many gates are the remains of gate mechanisms for dropping stones on the enemy if they manage to enter, or gates with an extremely narrow passageway so that not many people could pass at once. Numerous holes to shoot from are made in the castle wall and there are windows from which to drop gigantic stones on the enemy, too. It is very interesting that there is a kitchen in the inner court in case the castle falls under siege or an attempt is made to starve out the occupants. The thick coating of white plaster on the outer surface is not just there for aesthetic purposes but also for defense, because of its excellent resistance to fire and bullets.
The castle keep rising from the peak of Mt. Hime-yama is built with a total height of 32m on a stone wall approx. 15m high, and the view from the top of the keep is spectacular. On a fine day, you can imagine the zeal of a feudal warlord with his ambitions to dominate the whole country. At night, the entire castle is lit up, so a visit after sunset is highly recommended as well.
Access: From Osaka - 1hr 9mins to Himeji Station by JR Sanyo Line (new rapid service).
From Tokyo - Take JR Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen Line for 3 hours and 10 minutes from Tokyo Station to Himeji Station, or take JR Sanyo Sinkansen Line for 40 minutes from Shin-Osaka Station to Himeji Station.
Further information: Himeji City Information