Date: 8 April 2016
Himeji Castle (Himejijō / 姫路城) is a hilltop castle located on the hill, Himeyama, in the centre of Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture. It is also known as the White Heron Castle (Shirasagijo) due to its white exterior. It is the largest castle in Japan with 83 buildings and is one of the twelve original castles of Japan, miraculously surviving the heavy bombing of the city in World War 2 and the Great Hanshin Earthquake.
After undergoing extensive restoration works for 5 years plus, it was reopened in March 2015 attracting a large number of visitors.
Take your time to read about the history of this castle to really appreciate it. After all, it is a wonder to be able to visit an original castle.
The castle dates back to the 1300s, starting as a fort on top of the Himeyama hill and was later rebuilt as Himeyama Castle. It was not until the 1500s that it was reconstructed into Himeji Castle. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, known as Japan’s second great unifier, who kinda ended the Sengoku period, later built a three-story castle keep here.
The castle was then given by Tokugawa Ieyasu to his son-in-law Ikeda Terumasa for his accomplishments in the Battle of Sekigahara (the battle that decided the win for Tokugawa over Toyotomi), who expanded the castle into the castle you see today. Honda Tadamasa, added several more buildings to the castle complex when he reigned as the Himeji domain ruler.
The castle was sparred from being destroyed in the Meiji Period (when many castles were destroyed to eliminate the symbol of the previous ruling shogunate) through the efforts of Nakamura Shigeto, an army colonel. Himeji castle was later auctioned and bought at a cheap price of today’s 200,000 yen. Due to the high cost of demolition, the castle again escaped from being destroyed.
Himeji castle is a good example of feudal Japanese castle architecture and even boost advanced feudal defensive systems. One of the defenses I found the most interesting is how confusing the path to the main keep is. The pathway was purposely built that way to slow-down the enemies and allow time for counter-attack from above.
The castle keep is six-storey, yes six. From inside the main keep on the top floor, you can see the shachi (the fish ornament with the head of a tiger), which are believed to protect from fire.
Another interesting building is the Nishinomaru, the residence for the princess. I found the views of the castle from this building so much more beautiful.
The cherry blossoms here are exceptionally pretty and I love this visit even more as the falling petals on the grounds creates a more dramatic touch to the views.
The entrance fee to this castle is 1000 yen or 1040 yen if combined with Kokoen Garden.
From Himeji Station, Himeji Castle can be reached by walking in 15-20 minutes, or by bus @ 100 yen, 5 minutes. I recommend walking to the castle as the street is lined with souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes.
To Himeji Station:
- From Kobe Station, by train on the JR Line in 37 mins @ 970 yen
- From Osaka Station, by train on the JR Line in an hour @ 1490 yen. Taking the Shinkansen can cut the time by 15 / 30 minutes depending on whether you are taking the Hikari or Nozomi trains, but that would mean an additional 1,730 yen.
- From Kyoto Station, by train on the JR line in 1.5 hours @ 2,270 yen. Shinkansen in 1 hour @ 5,270 yen.
- From Okayama Station, by train on the JR line in 1.5 hours @ 1,490 yen. Shinkansen in 30 mins @ 3,740 yen.
In my previous post on Amanohashidate, I mentioned that though Amanohashidate is a bit far-off from Kyoto, going towards Himeji is an option for a combined trip. That was exactly what I did – from Miyazu Station, I headed to Himeji Station via the earliest train @ 5.45 a.m. to arrive at 8.45 a.m. I was the only one on the train from Miyazu Station.
I was so nervous about coming to this castle after finding out how crowded it can get, to the point of having a congestion forecast and issuing numbered tickets. So, I figured I had to arrive first thing in the morning. You can checkout the congestion forecast at it’s official website here.