Himeji-jo, The White Heron Castle And Jewel Of Japan
If you are planning to visit Hyogo Prefecture, the home of Kobe, or anywhere in the vicinity, you must see Himeji Castle.
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 country.
Most Japanese castles have a nickname. Himeji Castle is called “Shirasagi-jo” (“White Heron Castle”) because of its elegant appearance unified by the white plastered earthen walls.
History of Shirasagi-jo
A fort was constructed on Himeyama Hill in 1333 by Akamatsu Norimura, the ruler of the ancient province. In 1346, his son Sadonori demolished this fort and built Himeyama Castle in its place.
In 1545, the Kroda 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 1561.
In 1580, Kuroda Yoshitaka presented the castle to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the ruler of Japan. In 1581, Hideyoshi significantly remodeled the castle, building a three-story castle keep with an area of about 55 square meters (592 sq ft).
Following the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu (the subsequent leader of the nation) granted Himeji Castle to his son-in-law, Ikeda Terumasa, as a reward for his help in battle.
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 today. The expenditure of labor involved in this expansion is believed to have totaled 25 million man-days.
Ikeda died in 1613, passing the castle on to his son, who died three years later. 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.
In the Meiji Period (1868-1912), many Japanese castles were deconstructed. Himeji Castle was abandoned in 1871 and some of the castle corridors and gates were destroyed to make room for Japanese army barracks.
A few years later, the entirety of the castle complex was slated to be demolished by a government policy, but it was spared by the efforts of Nakamura Shigeto, an Army colonel. A stone monument honoring Nakamura was placed in the castle complex with the first gate, the Diamond Gate.
Although Himeji Castle was spared, Japanese castles had become obsolete and their preservation was costly.
When the feudal system was abolished in 1871, Himeji Castle was put up for auction. The castle was purchased by a Himeji resident for 23 Japanese yen — USD $2,258 today.
The buyer wanted to demolish the castle complex and develop the land, but the cost of destroying the castle was estimated to be too large, and it was again spared.
Himeji was heavily bombed in 1945, at the end of WWII, and although most of the surrounding area was burned to the ground, the castle survived intact. One firebomb was dropped on the top floor of the castle but fortunately failed to explode!
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 yen.
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 resistance. Even the bottle of sake placed on the altar at the top floor of the keep remained in place.
This means Himeji Castle is one of the few castles that remains intact in its original form in all of Japan.
Himeji Castle Renovation
Himeji-jo recently underwent a 6-year renovation which finished in March 2015.
The castle is even more resplendent with its bright glimmering walls, tranquil lush gardens, and stately wooden interior. There has never been a better time to visit the radiant castle than now.
Hyogo is located in Kansai, also called Kinki region, which is in Southern Central Honshu. The Kansai region includes Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Shiga, Wakayama, and Mie prefectures.
If you visit Kansai area, it is worth seeing Himeji Castle.
If you are fond of castles, I recommend seeing also Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture and Kumamoto Castle in Kumamoto Prefecture. Together with Himeji Castle, they are considered Japan’s three premier castles.
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