A lot of visitors to Japan are interested in learning more about a very special kind of historical Japanese architecture that majestically graced various areas of the land of ancient Japan. We are talking about Japanese castles of course.
Japan’s Most Famous Castle
If you ever wondered what it may have been like to live in a classical Japanese castle, there is one place, in particular, you won’t want to miss when you travel to Japan.
One of these delicately crafted fortresses is truly famous as a destination for both Japanese and international visitors and should be part of any complete sightseeing itinerary during a stay in Japan. And if you ask a Japanese person which is Japan’s best castle, your most common reply will surely be “Himeji Jo” or Himeji Castle.
The White Heron Castle
Himeji Castle (pronounced Hee-may-jee) is like a picturesque scene from a fairytale or perhaps a romantic dream. Its white wooden exterior is so pristinely beautiful that it is also known in Japanese as “The White Heron Castle”.
The simple fact such a wonderfully ornate and gorgeously decorated piece of architecture could also historically function as a military fortress is a testament to the dedication to form and function found in much of Japanese design.
History Of Himeji Castle
The building of the castle initially began around 1340 and passed between numerous hands during its construction. This passing of hands was apparently often due to the very reason its construction likely began.
Every so often a new battle would decide what clan would take over Himeji Castle, its planning, and construction. In addition, the castle likely needed repairs as a result of such struggles between the battling clans.
The current keep of the castle reportedly dates from 1601, which is quite impressive for a piece of wooden architecture of such size.
Himeji Castle Survives The Meiji Restoration
The castle also is documented to have served as a stronghold of feudal resistance to the new centralized imperial government of Japan in 1868.
Thankfully only blanks were necessary to be fired on Himeji Castle by the newly modernized Japanese national military in order to convince the feudal warlords to see things in a new light.
Three years later, in 1871, due to the Meiji Restoration, the castle was reportedly sold at auction for 23 Yen. In modern Yen that is about the price of a single piece of small chocolate at a Japanese convenience store or around a quarter of an American dollar. That was a lucky bid for a nice castle.
Features Of Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle features some unique aspects which make it truly special. The pathway up to the castle is actually designed as a kind of spiral maze which was intended to confuse potential intruders and also to make anyone approaching a rather visible target.
Another very special aspect of Himeji Castle is the gorgeous pink Japanese cherry blossoms on the groves of trees decorating its landscape and blooming in spring. This time is known as Sakura season in Japan and Himeji Castle, with its white birdlike architecture, is a popular site for viewing the gorgeous blossoms as they make a truly magical scene!
How To Visit Hemiji Castle?
Another great thing about Himeji Castle is that it’s a piece of cake to visit. As you might have guessed the beautiful castle is located in the city of Himeji which is easily accessed via shinkansen. It’s just east of Kobe and only about an hour from Kyoto or Osaka so can make a great day trip, especially if you have a Japan Rail Pass during your trip.
From JR Hemiji station all you have to do is look out and you will see Himeji Jo sitting gracefully at the end of the main street. You can take a bus but it’s only about 10 minute walk to the main gate. There is something special about seeing the old and the new of the castle and the modern city together.