My family loves visiting Japanese Castles. Each time we visit one, learning about the histories and stories behind each castle fascinates us. As we look at these awe-inspiring structures, I can only image what it was like during the feudal times when the lords and shoguns lived there. Today, I will share with you our family’s visit to Himeji Castle.
Unfortunately, many of the castles you see in Japan are replicas. The majority of them have either burned down or damaged during the war or earthquakes. As of today, there are only 12 original castles left in Japan.
- Bitchū Matsuyama Castle
- Hikone Castle
- Himeji Castle
- Hirosaki Castle
- Inuyama Castle
- Kōchi Castle
- Marugame Castle
- Maruoka Castle
- Matsue Castle
- Matsumoto Castle
- Matsuyama Castle (Iyo)
- Uwajima Castle
Of the original castles, the most grand of them all is the Himeji Castle in Hyōgo Prefecture in the Kansai region of Japan. It is considered one of Japan’s three premiere castles today, along with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto Castle.
How to get to Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle is located in Himeji City, you can get there either by Shinkansen, or Shinkaisoku 新快速 (Special Rapid Service Train). If you are already in the Kansai area, you can get to Himeji in 40 minutes from Kobe or 1 hour from Osaka by the Shinkaisoku.
When you arrive, you can see the majestic castle just down the road from the train station. You can either walk to the castle in about 15 minutes or take the bus. Buses leave every 5-7 min from the train station that will stop near the castle.
The current castle structure dates back to the early 1600’s, and the site has been used by rulers since 1333. It recently underwent years of renovation for major cleanup and restoration. It reopened to the public in March 2015. Besides being the largest and most visited castle, it is also one of the first Japanese UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
As you cross Sakuramon Bridge (桜門橋) through Otemon Gate (大手門), you can enjoy walking around the castle grounds at no cost.
Himeji Castle is also known as Shirasagijo (白鷺城) “White Heron Castle” due to its white exterior and resemblance to a bird flying.
Tour of Himeji Castle
Prior to entering Himeji Castle, you will need to purchase tickets from the vending machines, it’s ¥1,000 for adults and ¥300 for children (high school or younger).
Himeji Castle is built on a hilltop (Himeyama) so there is quite a bit of climbing, the stairs within the castle are also very steep. A word of caution to those who might have trouble climbing or walking for long periods of time.
The paths and walkways up to the castle are purposely designed like a maze, which is to confuse the enemy during attacks. In addition, these paths are ver narrow and steep, making it even harder to attack.
There are plaques throughout the tour explaining the purposes of specific building characteristics. In this example, many of the stones were repurposed to build the foundation and walls. These stones include gravestones, stone laterns, etc.
As you can see, many gates leading to Himeji Castle tower are very small. It would be difficult for more than a few adults (or an army) to enter through quickly.
The oil wall is a mud wall made using rammed-earth construction method, resulting in very strong and solid walls. This particular wall is the only rammed-earth wall remaining at the castle. It is originally covered in white lime plaster.
There are many gates; any potential invader would have to go through prior to getting to the main keep.
The Tenshukkaku (天守閣), meaing the main keep or the tallest tower of a Japanese castle.
On the first floor, there is a model depicting the Himeji Castle and the surrounding area during the feudal days.
History of the extensive repair done at the Himeji Castle over a 6-year period. Prior to 2009, the previous major restoration was completed in 1964. The recent restoration focused on replacement of roof tiles and walls of the main keep.
A model of the wooden skeleton that supports the castle. The castle withstood many natural disasters including the Great Hanshin Earthquake.
View of the train station from one of the castle windows.
Besides the first floor, there aren’t too many artifacts or castle information on display. Visitors are routed through each of the floors through barriers. As a word of caution, there is no restroom inside the actual castle so remember stop by prior to entering; otherwise it’s a long way down.
Each floor has a lighted display on the floor plan and a brief explanation of the special features on that floor.
The giant eastern pillar supporting the castle.
The giant western pillar supporting the castle.
Each floor gets progressively smaller as you go higher up. Even though the castle looks like it’s 5 stories from exterior, it’s actually 6 stories and has a basement floor.
Hiding place for warriors to surprise any attackers.
This well has been here since 1,500’s, and there’s a story of murder and betrayal connected to it. If you are interested in the story, read more here.
Ongoing restoration still happening at the Himeji Castle.
Detailed model of the Himeji Castle at the train station.
Local Specialty Food at Himeji
What is this sea creature you might ask? Prior to visiting Himeji Castle, we quickly grabbed a bite at the train station. At most large train stations in Japan, you can find all sorts of restaurants and shops nearby. The seafood shop we visited had live sea eel (anago 穴子) and we’ve never tried fresh anago before.
The anago sashimi (I did say fresh!) is thinly sliced into uzusukuri (薄造り) and it’s texture and flavor was similar to hirame (halibut). The thinly sliced anago was enjoyed with ponzu and it was quite delicious; however, there were a lot of small bones we had to pull out.
I hope you enjoyed this quick tour of Himeji Castle. Next, we’re heading over to Nagoya (名古屋), the 4th largest city (after Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka) in Japan! Please make sure to sign up for the FREE Just One Cookbook newsletter delivered to your inbox! And stay in touch on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram for all the latest updates.