Translated by Lester Somera
Over 400 Years Of History - Himeji Castle, The Pride of Japan
Written by Osawa Kumi
Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, underwent recent repairs and is looking now better than ever. This article will give you a glimpse of this marvelous piece of architecture.
In 1993 Himeji Castle, one of Japan’s national treasures, was registered as a World Cultural Heritage site, and in 2015, massive repairs to the main castle keep were completed. Over the course of five and a half years, the walls were re-lacquered white and the roof tiles mended, the beauty of which are enough to take anyone’s breath away. It is only natural that Japan should boast to the world about this amazing castle.
In this article, we will introduce you to Himeji Castle and see what makes it so fascinating.
Getting to the Castle from JR Himeji Station
As the name implies, the castle is located in Himeji City in Hyogo Prefecture. Himeji is part of the Kansai region, which includes Kyotoand Osaka, and is in the same prefecture as Kobe. If you are coming to Himeji from far away, it would be best to take the Shinkansen to JR Himeji Station.
When you arrive at JR Himeji, go down the escalator to the first floor and exit through the central gate. There is also a large sign for the castle there.
The cute character on the upper-left of the sign is Himeji city’s mascot character, Shiromaruhime. To get to the castle, exit this gate and turn right.
After a short distance, you will see the Himeji City Information Counter on your left. You can take a look at the big screen here to check all the sightseeing information for tourists.
Here you can also pick up pamphlets in several foreign languages; there are Himeji Castle pamphlets available in English, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Korean, French, German and Italian.
Shiromaruhime is on the left side of the door. Kanbee-kun, the mascot on the right, is associated with Kanbei Kuroda, a samurai who played an active role in the history of Himeji.
Lying at the end of the main street, Ōtemon-dōri, the White Heron Castle (Shirasagi-jō, *2) towers high above the surrounding greenery. With the main castle tower as your target, walk straight down the road.
*2 White Heron Castle: Himeji is also known as Shirasagi (White Heron) Castle. It got this second name from its outward appearance; with its pristine white walls and magnificent construction, it is said to look like a bird spreading its wings.
Arriving At The Castle
Once you cross the bridge over the moat, you will pass through the first large gate, Ōtemon.
After you come out of Ōtemon, turn left and you will see the third bailey (outer castle enclosure), where the above photo of the castle keep was taken. The actual keep consists of the central tower and three smaller towers. There are turrets which connect the central tower to the smaller towers, and apparently the cellars underneath these turrets were used to store provisions in the event of a siege.
If you keep the third bailey on your right as you walk up the path, you will see the ticket sales counter, which is called the castle entrance gate. You can buy tickets from vending machines here, too. Be advised that you cannot use credit cards in these machines.
Tickets are 1000 yen for adults and 300 yen for children under high school age. The family crests of each of Himeji Castle’s lords throughout the generations are depicted on the ticket.
After entering the castle, the large Hishinomon Gate will soon come into view.
From Hishinomon, you will pass through the I Gate, the Ro Gate, and the Ha gate before you set eyes on the castle keep itself. I-Ro-Ha is the ordering of the Japanese traditional syllabary, like the ABCs. Filming for movies and TV historical dramas has been done in this area.
Finally, The Castle Keep
At the entrance to the castle keep, take off your shoes and place them in the plastic bag you are given. Taking pictures inside the castle is allowed, but flash photography is prohibited.
The floor is uneven in places, and the flights of stairs going up are extremely steep, so watch your step. Also, take care not to hit your head at the top of the stairs.
Viewed from the outside, the castle keep appears to be five stories tall but the castle is actually six stories high (and has a basement), with the top floor housing a tiny Shintō shrine.
From the top floor, you can gaze out at the plentiful natural scenery of Himeji. The beauty of the roof tiles is also readily apparent from here.
When you come down from the tower and head outside, you will see a plaza called Bizenmaru. Taken from this spot, photos of the castle have a real impact.
Close to the Nu gate, the shachihoko decorations, which adorn the highest points of the castle towers, are on display. Shachi are imaginary beasts with the heads of lions and the bodies of fish. In Japanese castle designs, tiles with motifs featuring these creatures were often used as roof ornaments.
To the West Bailey
Go up to this slope and approach the west bailey.
The west bailey, unlike the castle keep, is a long, narrow building.
Inside the west bailey, there is a long connecting corridor known as the “Hundred-Span Corridor”.
At the turret called Keshōyagura, Japan’s traditional card game, “karuta asobi,” is re-enacted using dolls in historical costume.
This is the castle keep as seen from the garden in the west bailey. This is the best spot for taking photos of Himeji, and you can also enjoy flower viewing here during cherry blossom season.
If you have extra time at night, why not take the opportunity to see the illuminated castle from the west bailey? Remembering the castle’s blue sky background in the daytime and the brilliant white of the castle at night will add a little extra color to the memories you have of your trip.
Address: Himeji-shi, Honmachi 68
Hours: 9:00-16:00 (gates shut at 17:00)
*Spring hours (April 27th to August 31st) 9:00-17:00 (gates shut at 18:00)
Closed: December 29th and 30th
Wi-Fi access: Yes (HIMEJI Wi-Fi)
Nearest Station: 20 minutes’ walk from JR Himeji Station or San'yō Himeji Station
Prices: 300 yen to 1000 yen
Phone Number: 079-285-1146
website: Himeji Castle