Himeji Castle - A Japanese Medieval Castle
Himeji Castle is the most important, and probably most breathtaking castle in Japan. It is nicknamed the White Heron Castle because of the color of it and the way it looks. There is no denying it is an astonishing structure. It has also been in several movies including Tom Cruises The Last Samurai and the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice.
The History of Himeji Castle - The first fort was built on the site in 1333 and in 1346 it was further built so as living quarters were added. After this there is some discrepancy as to when the fortress was actually built and it is believed that the original "Castle" was built in the 16th century. The Castle as it currently stands was completed in 1618.
This page has lots of pictures and information about the Castle. I also have videos that I took inside and outside the castle. They are located here. Himeji Castle Videos
The Defensive Nature of Himeji
The castle is built with defense in mind and this first can be seen by how it sits on the top of the hill. This gives it a military advantage. And one of the most important defensive aspects of the castle is how difficult it is to get inside! You have to wind around in a series of gates and mazes to finally get to the castle. You don't feel like you are in a maze but you are. It is quite ingenious and made attack of it very difficult.
Other defensive structures include the high and thick walls, moats, and the portholes for stone dropping and arrow shooting.
The picture below is a shot of Himeji castle from a short distance away.
The picture below is a placard outside the castle that shows the various landmarks, gates and more. One of the things you can see is the circuitous route that has to be taken to get to the castle.
This is one of the many gates allowing entrance to the castle. You had to go through more than one of these if you wanted to take this castle. It is a very strong fortification and would have a guard shack at it.
Princess Sen - She was the eldest daughter of the second Shogun and one of the most famous residents of the castle. This is a statue of her and one of her hand maids playing a game.
These are the family crest tiles from the various families and lords who have owned Himeji. You can see these tiles as they are used in parts of the roof structure.
These are weapons racks inside the castle. In the earlier centuries they would have held various polearms but in later centuries, as gunpowder came into use, they would have held muskets and rifles.
Here is another picture inside the castle. You can see the absolutely beautiful flooring and woodwork. You can freely walk around most of this castle but it is necessary to take your shoes off. They give you a plastic bag so you can carry your shoes around, and they offer slippers if you want them.
This picture here is in the very top most room of the castle. The purple cloth surrounds the Shinto Shrine that sits there. It is called Osakabe Shrine.
This is one of the most famous things about this castle. It has the dual TigerFish gargoyle like creatures that sit at the very top. And this picture was taken from one of the windows in the shrine room. You can see the city of Himeji.
There are several different legends that have grown around this castle and the most famous is that of the serving girl Okiku. This is her well (Now called Okiku's Well) the story goes that she revealed a plot by an evil chief who wanted to overthrow the Lord. The evil chief, in revenge took one of the ten treasure plates that she cared for. As punishment for the missing plate she was tortured to death and then thrown in this well. It is said that she now haunts the grounds of the castle.
Here is a wonderful picture of Himeji Castle in the background and Okiku's Well in the foreground.
The picture below gives you a sense for the size of the castle. By the time you get to this point you have climbed quite a bit and gone through a good portion of the maze. You are now within one of the concentric rings of the castle.
Want More Himeji?
I purchased a Metal Earth Kit to make a miniature metal Himeji. Cool little project. You can watch the video right here: