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Himeji Castle

himeji castle, himeji castle osaka
Himeji Castle 姫路城, Himeji-jō is a hilltop Japanese castle complex located in the city of Himeji, Hyōgo, Japan The castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, comprising a network of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems from the feudal period8 The castle is frequently known as Hakuro-jō or Shirasagi-jō "White Egret Castle" or "White Heron Castle" because of its brilliant white exterior and supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight69

Himeji Castle dates to 1333, when Akamatsu Norimura built a fort on top of Himeyama hill The fort was dismantled and rebuilt as Himeyama Castle in 1346, and then remodeled into Himeji Castle two centuries later Himeji Castle was then significantly remodeled in 1581 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who added a three-story castle keep In 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu awarded the castle to Ikeda Terumasa for his help in the Battle of Sekigahara, and Ikeda completely rebuilt the castle from 1601 to 1609, expanding it into a large castle complex3 Several buildings were later added to the castle complex by Honda Tadamasa from 1617 to 16185 For over 400 years, Himeji Castle has remained intact, even throughout the extensive bombing of Himeji in World War II, and natural disasters such as the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake3210

Himeji Castle is the largest and most visited castle in Japan, and it was registered in 1993 as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country2 The area within the middle moat of the castle complex is a designated Special Historic Site and five structures of the castle are also designated National Treasures511 Along with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto Castle, Himeji Castle is considered one of Japan's three premier castles12 In order to preserve the castle buildings, it underwent restoration work for several years and reopened to the public on March 27, 201513 The works also removed decades of dirt and grime, restoring the formerly grey roof to its original brilliant white colour


  • 1 History
    • 11 Historical recognition
  • 2 Design details
    • 21 Defences
  • 3 Cultural impact
    • 31 Lore and legend
  • 4 Visitor statistics
  • 5 Gallery
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References
  • 8 External links


Himeji Castle's construction dates to 1333, when a fort was constructed on Himeyama hill by Akamatsu Norimura, the ruler of the ancient Harima Province3 In 1346, his son Sadanori demolished this fort and built Himeyama Castle in its place314 In 1545, the Kuroda clan was stationed here by order of the Kodera clan, and feudal ruler Kuroda Shigetaka remodeled the castle into Himeji Castle, completing the work in 1561315 In 1580, Kuroda Yoshitaka presented the castle to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and in 1581 Hideyoshi significantly remodeled the castle, building a three-story keep with an area of about 55 m2 590 sq ft515

Following the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu granted Himeji Castle to his son-in-law, Ikeda Terumasa, as a reward for his help in battle3 Ikeda demolished the three-story keep that had been created by Hideyoshi, and completely rebuilt and expanded the castle from 1601 to 1609, adding three moats and transforming it into the castle complex that is seen today35 The expenditure of labor involved in this expansion is believed to have totaled 25 million man-days3 Ikeda died in 1613, passing the castle to his son, who also died three years later4 In 1617, Honda Tadamasa and his family inherited the castle, and Honda added several buildings to the castle complex, including a special tower for his daughter-in-law, Princess Sen 千姫, Senhime4

In the Meiji Period 1868 to 1912, many Japanese castles were destroyed2 Himeji Castle was abandoned in 1871 and some of the castle corridors and gates were destroyed to make room for Japanese army barracks515 The entirety of the castle complex was slated to be demolished by government policy, but it was spared by the efforts of Nakamura Shigeto, an army colonel5 A stone monument honoring Nakamura was placed in the castle complex within the first gate, the Hishi Gate 菱の門, Hishinomon516 Although Himeji Castle was spared, Japanese castles had become obsolete and their preservation was costly5

Front view of the castle complex A 1761 depiction of the castle complex

When the han feudal system was abolished in 1871, Himeji Castle was put up for auction5 The castle was purchased by a Himeji resident for 23 Japanese yen about 200,000 yen or US$2,258 today5 The buyer wanted to demolish the castle complex and develop the land, but the cost of destroying the castle was estimated to be too great, and it was again spared5

Himeji was heavily bombed in 1945, at the end of World War II, and although most of the surrounding area was burned to the ground, the castle survived intact8 One firebomb was dropped on the top floor of the castle but failed to explode17 In order to preserve the castle complex, substantial repair work was undertaken starting in 1956, with a labor expenditure of 250,000 man-days and a cost of 550 million yen515 In January 1995, the city of Himeji was substantially damaged by the Great Hanshin earthquake, but Himeji Castle again survived virtually undamaged, demonstrating remarkable earthquake resistance10 Even the bottle of sake placed on the altar at the top floor of the keep remained in place10

The "Three Country Moat" in the centre of the castle complex

Historical recognitionedit

Himeji Castle was registered on 11 December 1993 as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan528 Five structures of the castle are also designated National Treasures: The main keep 大天守, daitenshu,1819 northwest small keep 乾小天守, inui kotenshu,20 west small keep 西小天守, nishi kotenshu,21 east small keep 東小天守, higashi kotenshu,22 and I, Ro, Ha, Ni-corridors and kitchen イ, ロ, ハ, ニの渡櫓附台所1棟, i, ro, ha, ni no watariyagura tsuketari daidokoro 1 to1123 The area within the middle moat of the castle complex is a designated Special Historic Site5

Along with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto Castle, Himeji Castle is considered one of Japan's three premier castles12 It is the most visited castle in Japan, receiving over 2,860,000 visitors in 201532 Starting in April 2010, Himeji Castle underwent restoration work to preserve the castle buildings, and reopened to the public on March 27, 201513

Design detailsedit

Himeji Castle is the largest castle in Japan2 It serves as an excellent example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, containing many of the defensive and architectural features associated with Japanese castles8 The curved walls of Himeji Castle are sometimes said to resemble giant fans 扇子, sensu, but the principal materials used in the structures are stone and wood56 Feudal family crests 家紋, kamon are installed throughout the architecture of the building, signifying the various lords that inhabited the castle throughout its history5

A depiction of the intricate castle complex The family crest of Ikeda Terumasa5

The Himeji Castle complex is located in the centre of Himeji, Hyōgo on top of a hill called Himeyama, which is 456 m 150 ft above sea level The castle complex comprises a network of 83 buildings such as storehouses, gates, corridors, and turrets 櫓, yagura516 Of these 83 buildings, 74 are designated as Important Cultural Assets: 11 corridors, 16 turrets, 15 gates, and 32 earthen walls10 The highest walls in the castle complex have a height of 26 m 85 ft5 Joining the castle complex is Koko-en Garden 好古園, Kōkoen, a Japanese garden created in 1992 to commemorate Himeji city's 100th anniversary24

From east to west, the Himeji Castle complex has a length of 950 to 1,600 m 3,120 to 5,250 ft, and from north to south, it has a length of 900 to 1,700 m 3,000 to 5,600 ft5 The castle complex has a circumference of 4,200 m 26 mi5 It covers an area of 233 hectares 2,330,000 m2 or 576 acres, making it roughly 50 times as large as the Tokyo Dome or 60 times as large as Koshien Stadium358

Weapon racks inside the keep

The main keep 大天守, daitenshu at the center of the complex is 464 m 152 ft high, standing 92 m 302 ft above sea level Together with the main keep, three smaller subsidiary keeps 小天守, kotenshu form a cluster of towers5 Externally, the keep appears to have five floors, because the second and third floors from the top appear to be a single floor; however, it actually has six floors and a basement9 The basement of the main keep has an area of 385 m2 4,140 sq ft, and its interior contains special facilities that are not seen in other castles, including lavatories, a drain board, and a kitchen corridor5

The main keep has two pillars, with one standing in the east and one standing in the west5 The east pillar, which has a base diameter of 97 cm 38 in, was originally a single fir tree, but it has since been mostly original5 25 The base of the west pillar is 85 by 95 cm 33 by 37 in, and it is made of Japanese cypress5 During the Shōwa Restoration 1956–1964 a Japanese cypress tree with a length of 264 m 87 ft was brought down from the Kiso Mountains and replaced the old pillar5 The tree was broken in this process, so another tree was brought down from Mount Kasagata, and the two trees were joined on the third floor5

The first floor of the main keep has an area of 554 m2 5,960 sq ft and is often called the "thousand-mat room" because it has over 330 Tatami mats5 The walls of the first floor have weapon racks 武具掛け, bugukake for holding matchlocks and spears, and at one point, the castle contained as many as 280 guns and 90 spears526 The second floor has an area of roughly 550 m2 5,900 sq ft5

The third floor has an area of 440 m2 4,700 sq ft and the fourth floor has an area of 240 m2 2,600 sq ft5 Both the third and fourth floors have platforms situated at the north and south windows called "stone-throwing platforms" 石打棚, ishiuchidana, where defenders could observe or throw objects at attackers5 They also have small enclosed rooms called "warrior hiding places" 武者隠し, mushakakushi, where defenders could hide themselves and kill attackers by surprise as they entered the keep5 The final floor, the sixth floor, has an area of only 115 m2 1,240 sq ft5 The sixth floor windows now have iron bars in place, but in the feudal period the panoramic view from the windows was unobstructed5


Defensive loopholes Angled chutes or "stone drop windows"

Himeji Castle contains advanced defensive systems from the feudal period8 Loopholes 狭間, sama in the shape of circles, triangles, squares, and rectangles are located throughout Himeji Castle, intended to allow defenders armed with tanegashima or archers to fire on attackers without exposing themselves9 Roughly 1,000 loopholes exist in the castle buildings remaining today5 Angled chutes called "stone drop windows" 石落窓, ishi-otoshi-mado were also set at numerous points in the castle walls, enabling stones or boiling oil to be poured on the heads of attackers passing by underneath, and white plaster was used in the castle's construction for its resistance to fire27

The castle complex included three moats, one of which—the outer moat—is now buried6 Parts of the central moat and all of the inner moats survive6 The moats have an average width of 20 m 66 ft, a maximum width of 345 m 113 ft, and a depth of about 27 m 89 ft10 The Three Country Moat 三国堀, sangoku-bori is a 2,500 m2 27,000 sq ft pond which exists inside the castle; one of the purposes of this moat was to store water for use in fire prevention5

The castle complex, particularly the Waist Quarter 腰曲輪, koshikuruwa, contains numerous warehouses that were used to store rice, salt and water in case of a siege5 A building known as the Salt Turret 塩櫓, shioyagura 16 was used specifically to store salt, and it is estimated that it contained as many as 3,000 bags of salt when the castle complex was in use5 The castle complex also contained 33 wells within the inner moat, 13 of which remain; the deepest of these has a depth of 30 m 98 ft5

"Diamond Gate", the first of the castle's 21 remaining gates5

One of the castle's most important defensive elements is the confusing maze of paths leading to the castle's keep9 The gates, baileys, and outer walls of the complex are organized so as to confuse an approaching force, causing it to travel in a spiral pattern around the complex on its way to the keep9 The castle complex originally contained 84 gates, 15 of which were named according to the Japanese syllabary I, Ro, Ha, Ni, Ho, He, To, etc5 At present, 21 gates from the castle complex remain intact, 13 of which are named according to the Japanese syllabary5

In many cases, the castle walkways even turn back on themselves, greatly inhibiting navigation27 For example, the straight distance from the Hishi Gate 菱の門, hishinomon16 to the main keep 大天守, daitenshu is only 130 m 430 ft, but the path itself is a much longer 325 m 1,066 ft5 The passages are also steep and narrow, further inhibiting entry5 This system allowed the intruders to be watched and fired upon from the keep during their lengthy approach, but Himeji Castle was never attacked in this manner so the system remains untested89 However, even today with the route clearly marked, many visitors have trouble navigating the castle complex

Cultural impactedit

Himeji Castle is frequently known as Hakuro-jō or Shirasagi-jō "White Egret Castle" or "White Heron Castle" because of its brilliant white exterior and supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight69 The castle has been featured extensively in foreign and Japanese films, including the James Bond movie "You Only Live Twice" 1967, and Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha 1980 and Ran 198512 In the television miniseries Shōgun 1980 it served as a stand-in for feudal-era Osaka castle,17 which has lost the surrounding fortifications In the video games Civilization Revolution and Civilization V, Himeji Castle is available to build as a world wonder

Lore and legendedit

Okiku's Well

Himeji Castle is associated with a number of local legends5 The well-known kaidan or Japanese ghost story of Banchō Sarayashiki 番町皿屋敷, "The Dish Mansion at Banchō" is set in Edo Tokyo, but a variant called Banshū Sarayashiki 播州皿屋敷, "The Dish mansion in Harima Province" is set in Himeji Castle There is a disputed claim that the castle is the bona fide location of the entire legend, and the alleged Okiku's Well remains in the castle to this day4 According to the legend, Okiku was falsely accused of losing dishes that were valuable family treasures, and then killed and thrown into the well5 Her ghost remained to haunt the well at night, counting dishes in a despondent tone5

The legend of the "Old Widow's Stone" 姥が石, Ubagaishi is another folklore story associated with the castle5 According to the legend, Toyotomi Hideyoshi ran out of stones when building the original three-story keep, and an old woman heard about his trouble5 She gave him her hand millstone even though she needed it for her trade5 It was said that people who heard the story were inspired and also offered stones to Hideyoshi, speeding up construction of the castle5 To this day, the supposed stone can be seen covered with a wire net in the middle of one of the stone walls in the castle complex5

A folklore story is also associated with Sakurai Genbei, who was Ikeda Terumasa's master carpenter in the construction of the keep5 According to the legend, Sakurai was dissatisfied with his construction, feeling that the keep leaned a little to the southeast5 Eventually, he became distraught and climbed to the top of the keep, where he jumped to his death with a chisel in his mouth5

Visitor statisticsedit

  • On 14 April 2009, the total number of visits since the Showa-era restoration surpassed 40 million28
  • 1964 – 1,738,000 Showa-era restoration work completed
  • 1989 – 1,197,000
  • 1990 – 811,000
  • 1991 – 871,000
  • 1992 – 885,000
  • 1993 – 1,019,000
  • 1994 – 983,000
  • 1995 – 695,000
  • 1996 – 861,000
  • 1997 – 716,000
  • 1998 – 792,000
  • 1999 – 713,000
  • 2000 – 662,000
  • 2001 – 708,000
  • 2002 – 729,000
  • 2003 – 814,000
  • 2004 – 771,000
  • 2005 – 778,000
  • 2006 – 899,000
  • 2007 – 1,023,000
  • 2008 – 1,195,000
  • 2009 – 1,561,000
  • 2010 – 458,000 restoration work started
  • 2011 – 611,000
  • 2012 – 711,000
  • 2013 – 881,00029
  • 2014 – 919,00029
  • 2015 – 2,860,000 restoration work completed in March30


Panoramic overview

A panoramic view of the castle grounds, with Himeji city in the background

Views from afar

Views from below

Views at night

Views from above

Views from the interior

Views with cherry blossoms

Views of the restoration

See alsoedit

  • Japanese architecture
  • Japanese castle
  • Koko-en Garden – Japanese garden joining the castle complex
  • List of National Treasures of Japan castles
  • List of reportedly haunted locations
  • List of Special Places of Scenic Beauty, Special Historic Sites and Special Natural Monuments
  • List of World Heritage Sites in Japan
  • Tourism in Japan


  1. ^ "Himeji Castle and its surroundings" Sansen-ya Retrieved July 6, 2010 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Himeji Castle starts its renovation in April" Official Tourism Guide for Japan Travel Retrieved July 1, 2010 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "A hilltop white heron 400 years old" The Daily Yomiuri Retrieved July 5, 2010 
  4. ^ a b c d e Jacqueline A, Ball 2005 Himeji Castle: Japan's Samurai Past New York: Bearport Publishing p 32 ISBN 1-59716-001-6 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm "National Treasure Himeji Castle Guide book" PDF Himeji Rojyo Lions Club 2000 Retrieved July 10, 2010 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Bornoff, Nicholas 2000 The National Geographic Traveler: Japan Washington: National Geographic Society pp 256–257 ISBN 0-7894-5545-5 
  7. ^ http://whcunescoorg/en/list/661
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Himeji-jo" UNESCO World Heritage Centre Retrieved July 4, 2010 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Eyewitness Travel Guides: Japan New York: Dorling Kindersley Publishing 2000 pp 200–203 ISBN 0-7894-5545-5 
  10. ^ a b c d e "Himeji Castle" Japan Atlas Retrieved July 5, 2010 
  11. ^ a b 国宝一覧 in Japanese Himeji city Retrieved July 5, 2010 
  12. ^ a b c "The Three Famous Castles of Japan" Kobayashi Travel Service Retrieved July 4, 2010 
  13. ^ a b 1
  14. ^ Hinago, Motoo 1986 Japanese Castles Kodansha International Ltd and Shibundo pp 121–125 ISBN 0-87011-766-1 
  15. ^ a b c d O'Grady, Daniel "Japanese Castle Explorer – Himeji Castle" Japanese Castle Explorer Retrieved July 11, 2010 
  16. ^ a b c d "世界遺産姫路城 城の楽しみ方" Retrieved May 18, 2016 
  17. ^ a b Lowe, Sam May 11, 2010 "Restoring a Japanese Treasure" Best Western's Travel Blog Retrieved July 11, 2010 
  18. ^ "姫路城大天守" Retrieved May 18, 2016 
  19. ^ "National Treasure, World Heritage, Himeji Castle" Retrieved May 18, 2016 
  20. ^ "姫路城乾小天守" Retrieved May 18, 2016 
  21. ^ "姫路城西小天守" Retrieved May 18, 2016 
  22. ^ "姫路城東小天守" Retrieved May 18, 2016 
  23. ^ "姫路城イ・ロ・ハ・ニの渡櫓附台所1棟" Retrieved May 18, 2016 
  24. ^ "Kokoen Garden, Traditional Japanese Garden in Himeji City" EOK Retrieved July 4, 2010 
  25. ^ 姫路市史第十四巻別編姫路城 Himeji City: City of Himeji 2001 p 494 
  26. ^ "Hoplology" Guillaume Morel Retrieved July 11, 2010 
  27. ^ a b Turnbull, Stephen 2003 Japanese Castles 1540–1640 Oxford: Osprey Publishing p 64 ISBN 978-1-84176-429-0 
  28. ^ 姫路城、入場者4000万人突破 昭和の大修理から45年で(共同通信2009年4月14日)
  29. ^ a b "平成26年度姫路市入込客数、観光動向・イベントアンケート調査報告書 P3" PDF Retrieved May 18, 2016 
  30. ^ Yoshiko Yukinaga "「姫路城来場者、日本一に。過去最多286万人」" Mainichi Shinbun Retrieved 13 May 2016 
Further reading
  • Mitchelhill, Jennifer 2013 Castles of the Samurai:Power & Beauty USA: Kodansha ISBN 978-1-56836-512-1 
  • Schmorleitz, Morton S 1974 Castles in Japan Tokyo: Charles E Tuttle Co pp 123–125 ISBN 0-8048-1102-4 
  • Motoo, Hinago 1986 Japanese Castles Tokyo: Kodansha ISBN 0-87011-766-1 

External linksedit

  • Official website
  • Japan's Samurai Castles
  • Asian Historical Architecture – Himeji Castle
  • Japanese Castle Explorer – Himeji Castle
  • UNESCO World Heritage Centre – Himeji Castle
  • Japan Atlas: Himeji Castle
  • The White Fortress: Himeji-jo UNESCO video at YouTube
  • Himeji Castle timelapse on YouTube
  • Discover the Himeji Castle in Japan

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