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himeji-jo castle

if you ask any japanese which is the best castle in japan, they are most likely going to tell you it’s himeji castle (姫路城).  this castle and its grounds are huge and exceptionally preserved.  you can count on taking a solid half day to walk through himeji castle.  the structure that you see today was completed in the early 17th century under the tokugawa shogunate, whose goal was to unify japan under one rule.  the castle’s function was as the main military base for western japan.  there are many reasons for the castle’s popularity; its size, excellent preservation for over 400 years, and its role in history.  but i believe most people find its architectural beauty and design to be very important as well.  in fact, himeji castle is also referred to as shirasagi-j0 (白鷺城), english for castle of the white heron.

i have to rank himeji castle as one of the must see sights in japan.  west of osaka and kobe, you can take the shinkansen (新幹線) bullet train to get here in about 45 minutes for 3,840 yen from osaka.  you can also take the JR limited express train for 1,450 yen and it takes just 1 hour.  you’ll have to walk 1.5 km (1 mile) north from the station to reach himeji castle, it’s easy to spot.  there many taxis waiting outside of the station if you prefer a ride.  the road leading to the castle is lined with many restaurants, which will come in handy after walking around the complex for a few hours.  one restaurant i ate at made the udon noodles fresh right infront of you.  yum!  there are also many shops on the street, these little guys were cute.

currently himeji castle is under restoration, with its completion date expected to be in 2014/15.  you can see some photographs of the progress here.  click on the “english” link for more information.  it’s likely that you wont be able to enter the castle, which is a shame.  the views out the windows are great, inside there is a small museum with information about himeji castle’s history, and you also get to see much of its internal structure and rooms.  all the more interesting if you are 191 cm (6’3″) tall like myself.

some displays within himeji castle:

main set of stairs within himeji castle.  from the outside the castle appears to have 5 floors.  but as part of its design to disorient would be attackers, there are actually 6 floors in the main building.

himeji castle can always have large crowds, but it’s especially crowded during the weekends and for the fall foliage.  peak attendance will be during cherry blossom season and on the occurrence of several festivals on the castle’s grounds.  here’s a schedule of events.  your best bet is a weekday, but if a weekend is all you have don’t let that be a deterrent.

past a few gates, a path leading to the main tower.  you can see defensive holes cut into the wall on the right.  these openings were used for shooting arrows and muskets.

but we are very lucky to be able to enjoy this wonderful keep today.  once the feudal system in japan came to an end in 1867 by order from shogun tokugawa yoshinobu, which restored power back to the emperor, there was no longer a necessity for such castles in japan.  if you would like to see more of japanese history for yourself, you can visit nijo castle in kyoto where the transition of power took place.

hence himeji castle was slated for demolition by decree from the central government, just like the vast majority of japan’s other keeps.  but army colonel nakamura shigeto mounted an effort to preserve himeji castle and he succeeded.

a view out the west end of himeji castle.  you can see part of the keep’s buildings and protective walls, himeji city, and a sachihoko on the roof.  this is a dolphin influenced talisman used to help protect the keep from fires.

when at himeji castle, i recommend buying the combination ticket that will grant you access to the adjacent garden.  it’s very nice to walk through and for an additional 500 yen you can have a sweet treat that changes with the seasons and some matcha tea.  you will also have an opportunity to talk with your server about the tea and sweet as you sit on tatami mats.

himeji castle:

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