Himeji Castle ( 姫路城 ) is enlisted as Unesco World heritage and a must see for every visitor of Japan. The dramatically beautiful hill top castle in Himeji (Hyōgo Prefecture) is a vast complex that overlooks the whole area. It consists of a central wooden defence tower covered by white plaster walls and fortified by various other strongholds, massive walls and gates.
The city Himeji is on the Sanyo Shinkansen line from Osaka and Kobe to Hiroshima and therefore easily accessible especially for holders of a JR pass. The castle is only 10 to 15 minutes walk from the station. The street that connects the station with the castle entrance (see the photo above) is Otemae-dōri and has many restaurants and souvenir shops.
The castle’s long history is filled with stories of warriors, princesses, secret passage ways and therefore fits all the clichés of what a feudal castle should look like.
The premises where the current castle was built have been in use since the 14 th century for it’s strategic location. The castle as we see it today was built in the shogun period to protect it’s owners during the many clan wars in that era. It was Ikeda Terumata who at that time ruled the area who started in 1601 the 9 year lasting construction of the castle and shaped it into it’s present form.
After a long and steep climb, the highest floors of the main tower offer a view of the entire area and on a clear day one can see the inland sea. The photo above shows the landscape surrounding the castle. The white buildings surrounded by the maple trees in the centre of the photo are the princess quarters.
The castle miraculously survived without damage many wars as well as heavy earthquakes and is therefore one of the best preserved feudal castles in the world.
Extremely well defended the castle was never seized. The visit is interesting and gives a rare chance to see the wooden architecture from the early 17 th century that forms the skeleton on the main keep (Daitenshu in Japanese). The whole structure has proven to be remarkably earthquake resistant.
After a 5 year renovation period the castle re-opened end of march 2015. Estimate 90 to 120 minutes to visit the castle. There are English speaking guides available or alternatively you can visit the castle and surrounding premises at your own rhythm.
Although the English translation is machine generated the official Himeji-jo website has a good overview of all the information you need.
Himeji castle in movies
Because of it’s dramatic beauty and epic dimensions Himeji castle featured as location and set in a large number of TV drama’s, historical films and movies.
Some famous examples of movies that used the castle setting are also known to the Western visitors. Such as Akira Kurosawa’s modern masterpieces Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985). The Himeji castle also appeared in Shogun, a popular series from the eighties and in the famous Ninja training scene in the James Bond movie You only live twice.