Himeji Castle

Himeji, Japan

Not having been in Japan for a few years, this trip was a nostalgic one for me. I stayed in Kobe, where I used to live and used it as a base to visit my favourite places in Japan. Not far from Kobe is the city of Himeji and so I went to visit 'my favourite castle'. (I have a lot of 'my favourites!')

Himeji castle holds the title as 'my favourite castle' for two reasons, the first being that it's a beautiful building and the second is because it's an authentic old castle. With Japan being extensively bombed during World War II, most of the castles that can be seen are concrete replicas from the late 1950s and 60s. Nearby Osaka castle, Okayama Castle and Hiroshima Castle are all replicas, for the authenticity alone Himeji Castle is well worth visiting.

The castle has had some major restoration work done from 2009 to 2015, the outside was replastered and the roof tiles restored. 

The castle is actually a castle complex with just over 80 buildings, surrounded by a moat. This is the main entrance the Otemon, this particular gate was built in 1938 and isn't the same as the one during the Edo period, but the reconstructed bridge called the Sakuramon which was built in 2007 is a replica of the Edo era one. (Helpful sign in Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese nearby!)

It's possible to take a boat trip around the moat. (When I first saw these traditional wooden boats in the canal at Kurashiki I thought 'how quaint' and thought they were just for that location. But then I saw them around the O-torii at Miyajima and then in the Himeji castle moat!)

Once through the main gate it's possible to wander around the grounds, the park area is free and the castle grounds are also the location of the Himeji zoo. For those who want to enter the inner castle grounds there is a fee.

Through to the inner castle and you make your way up to the main keep. (The highest part of the castle)

The main keep.

Himeji Castle is known as the 'White Heron' it's a wooden structure with white plaster on the outside. A traditional method using slaked lime, shell ash, hemp fibre and seaweed was used to make the plaster to protect the wall.(Helpful information booklet in English!) The decorative woodwork between the gables was also restored, it's all very beautiful to look at.

When you enter the main keep you need to remove your shoes. I was familiar with this process from when I visited years ago, but then we were given slippers to wear. Now the amount of visitors is so overwhelming that you're just asked to remove your shoes, are given a plastic bag to carry your shoes in and off you go. Somewhat safer it seemed to me as the wooden stairs are very steep and slipping up them in loose slippers wasn't all that safe!

The no shoes policy is to protect the wooden floors, the ground floor is very dark and atmospheric I thought, and then it lightens up as you go up the different levels.

One of the steep staircases! There were quite a few!

These internal platforms were for defence, they were for monitoring the surrounding area and for stone throwing should the castle be under attack.

Each doorway was doubly protected with and inner door (the small one) and an outer door.

Looking out the window in the direction of the train station. The straight road with the avenue of trees leads to the Himeji station, it's about a 10 minute walk. The gravel area in the foreground is part of the inner castle, the grassed area is still in the castle grounds but it's the free entrance park, it's ringed by cherry trees, very pretty during the cherry blossom season which I just missed! The castle grounds extend to the road to the train station and that's where the moat is. The grounds are huge! I only visited a small section, just the main castle.

Right on the top floor of the castle is the Osakabe-jinja shrine and people ring the bell and say a prayer. The shrine was relocated to the top of the castle from its former location outside.

The tops of gables have these mythical fish whose role was to offer protection from fire. (Important in a wooden building!) 

The timber beams inside the castle.

The shachi fish on the gables of a smaller castle building.

My recommendation for anyone wanting to visit a Japanese castle, Himeji castle is the one to see. It's the largest castle complex in Japan and a World Heritage Site. (I'll add it to my list of UNESCO sites!) Himeji is on the shinkansen line so easy enough to access and then it's a short walk straight to the castle. The castle can be seen in the distance as soon as you exit the station.