Japanese Scenery (IV): Himeji Castle
Of Japan's 12 remaining original castles, Himeji Castle is the largest and best-preserved. It has been designated as an official national treasure of Japan and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is a magnet for millions of travelers due to its cultural significance and beauty. Himeji Castle is a must-see for anyone with an interest in Japan.
What is Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle (Himeji-jo) is a masterpiece of wooden architecture, a combination of function and aesthetics. Himeji Castle is also known as Shirasagi-jo (White Egret Castle) for its elegant white plastered walls and lifting pagoda roofs. It is a spectacular complex that can be seen from almost any point in the city.
Himeji Castle is located in Himeji City, in Hyogo Prefecture. It consists of more than 80 buildings spanning over 107 hectares. In spring, Himeji Castle is a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing with 1,000 cherry trees on its grounds. Hundreds of local people and tourists flock to the castle to have a picnic and enjoy the view of the spring blossoms.
Himeji Castle was originally designed and built to fortify the area it surrounded. The castle is surrounded by two hori (moats filled with water) and is protected by 21 gates and 32 mud walls. It once had 84 gates, but only 21 remain. The walls have a total length of 3 miles, and in some sections, they reach a height of up to 85 feet. They were covered with fireproof white plaster and embedded with ishi otoshi mado (chutes for throwing stones or boiling liquids). There is also an ingenious system of 1,000 hasama (loopholes in the walls of various shapes) through which the defenders were able to defend the castle with arrows, spears, and firearms.
History of Himeji Castle
In 1333, a fort was constructed on Himeyama Hill where Himeji Castle stands today by Akamatsu Norimura, a samurai ruler. In 1346, Norimura’s fort was demolished and replaced by Himeji Castle by Sadanori, son of Norimura. It was used to defend the Amakatsu clan against rival lords. In the Sengoku period (1467-1568), Himeji Castle was given to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a retainer of Oda Nobunaga. He modified the castle significantly and turned it into a real fortress. The battle of Sekigahara in 1600 saw the rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate. After the war, Himeji Castle was given as a reward to Ikeda Terumasa, a supporter of the shogun. He rebuilt Himeji Castle and completed the construction in 1609.
Himeji Castle survived many wars and earthquakes and remained intact till now. During its long history, many local legends were associated with it. It is said Himeji Castle is the inhabitant of Osakabehime, an alluring, shape-shifting fox. She hated humans and it is said she was responsible for the death of daimyo Terumasa Ikeda. Another ghost story is associated with a well in the castle. A servant named Okiku was framed for theft, then beaten and drowned in a well. There are also tells about Ubagaishi and Sakurai Genbei.
Spots of Himeji Castle
Daitenshu, the main tower, is the highlight of Himeji Castle. It is the highest tower in the complex, with one basement floor and six floors above ground. There are three kotenshu (small towers) interconnected with each other and the daitenshu.
2. Hishi Gate
21 gates remain in Himeji Castle, among which the Hishi Gate is the largest one. The pillars that support the gate have a crest of "Hishi" on them. It is also the first gate of the castle.
Nishinomaru is the garden on the left of the Hishi Gate. There is a building called Kesho Yagura located in the garden, which is built for Princess Sen. It is believed that it was a kind of lounge for the Princess.