Magnificent Himeji Castle, An Absolute Guide of all Must-See Highlights

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  • As the largest, most often visited and one of the Japan’s oldest surviving castles, Himeji Castle dates back to 1333. Originally built as a fort by Akamatsu Norimura and later transformed into a castle two centuries later in Himeji City, Hyogo, the “White Heron Castle” as Himeji is also known as, is a World Heritage Site that has undergone quite a bit of restoration to keep the original castle intact. Along with Himeji Castle’s unique building features and long history as a structure built to deter invaders, anyone who visits can get a tangible experience of what life might have been like as a dweller of this striking building.

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    Since there are many routes to discover all the secrets of Himeji Castle, in this article we will guide you with the best tips and pathways you should pay attention to as you journey through this legendary castle.

    Pathway to the Castle

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    Otemon Gate is the entrance most visitors take to enter Himeji Castle. From here on, it will be a fun and interesting journey as you navigate the mazes of pathways created to confuse enemies of the past.

    Hishi Gate

    This turret-shaped gate is actually the entrance to Ni-no-maru and it is known for its water caltrop crests engraved into the gate.

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    Continuing on from Hishi Gate, you will see many turret corridors built to slow down enemies and lead them to dead ends.

    Nishi-no-maru

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    This building was another addition constructed for Princess Sen. What’s interesting is that due to the lack of stones, gravestones or lanterns were actually used to construct the building. From here you can see the garden that overlooks the west side of the main donjon. This is where the warriors used to gather.

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    Also, when you go up the steps the building curves into a bow shape. As you go further you will reach Hyakken-Rouka, steps connecting the long wooden corridor, which has higher steps at certain points to indicate higher rankings of the women who lived there.

    Kesho Turret

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    After the castle was built, its ownership exchanged many hands until finally in 1617 Honda Tadamasa and his family inherited the castle and he added several buildings, one of which was a turret for his daughter-in-law Princess Sen. Kesho Turret is the place where Princess Sen would bow to the mountain and apply her makeup, or “kesho,” therefore naming the turret after her habit.

    Inui Small Donjon

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    A small tower located on the northwest corner, this is the largest of three small donjons with 4 layers, the first being underground.

    Main Tower

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    The main tower is usually built at the highest point above ground as an enemy lookout. It can also serve as a symbol of the castle lord’s power. In Himeji Castle’s case, a pair of shachi-gawara (grampus-shaped tiles) decorate the top roof. Also, another type of decoration is the combination of Chinese gable and Dormer gable, which add to the castle’s stylish beauty.

    Inside the Castle Keep

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    As you keep going up the stairs you will notice that the upmost floors get gradually more and more narrow. Since this area also becomes highly complicated, you can also expect to see multilingual signs explaining portholes, rock chutes, concealed spaces, and other escape routes. The highest floor contains a shrine and offers an amazing view of the castle grounds and Himeji- the best viewing spot.

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    You can also enjoy looking at fish-shaped ornaments in detail here.

    Karamete Guchi

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    The back gate of the castle, this is a winding path was constructed with intermediate gates to prevent an attack from outsiders.

    Bizen maru

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    Although destroyed by fire in 1882, this was where the castle lord lived as it is part of the main enclosure. Guests were also received here, where you can get an alternative view of Himeji Castle.

    Obi-no-yagura

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    Himeji Castle is known for its winged roofs, and this building is no exception with its sukiya style design. It is the highest stonewall turret corridor and was often used during tea ceremonies. You can spy a watchtower at the top.

    Okiku’s well

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    Himeji Castle really has everything, even a famous ghost legend! Okiku was apparently a servant of a famous samurai named Tessan Aoyama during the early days of the castle. She was in charge of the ten expensive golden plates his wife had gathered. Actually the successful samurai had taken a liking to Okiku but since Okiku did not reciprocate his feelings, he stole one golden plate and gave her an ultimatum that if she did not come to him she would suffer dire punishment. Since Okiku didn’t feel life was worth living for, she threw herself into this well. Legend goes that you can still hear her voice counting “One plate, two plates….”

    Ogi-no-kobai

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    This refers to the curved walls shaped after an open fan to prevent enemies from climbing inside the castle.

    Ru-no-mon

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    As this road cannot be seen from Hishi Gate where you first enter, Ru-no-mon is also dubbed a “secret passageway.” Other special details include a komon type of gate and the fact that the gate has been built to shake in several places.

    Sangoku-bori

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    The position of Sangoku-bori is an important contribution to the prevention of enemy invasion. It is actually a moat without water within the Hishi Gate and attempts to stop enemies from advancing to the secret gate or Ni-no-maru.

    Why you MUST visit Himeji Castle

    One of the oldest surviving castles in Japan, Himeji can also be seen as a miracle. Having never been attacked, the castle has been well protected and you can feel the history and experience the samurai lifestyle there once you come inside. The beautiful white castle features beautiful winged roofs and high level architectural techniques difficult to be seen in today’s modern society. The pathways inside may be slightly confusing, but hopefully this article can be a catapult to intrigue your interests in Himeji Castle!

    Himeji Castle Website*Available in Multiple Languages

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