Visit Japan’s UNESCO-listed, most popular and largest castle (with nine lives)

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Japan’s largest and most iconic castle is not only impressive in person, it also has a long history that some refer to as “nine lives”.

Japan has its share of ancient and magnificent castles. Visiting the castles in Japan can be a great change from seeing the castles in Europe, where many of them look like piles of stones after seeing them. Himeji Castle (in Japanese spelling 姫 路 城) is a castle complex on a hill and is considered the most beautiful surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture.

Himeji Castle is UNESCO-protected and is as beautiful as it is elegant. The castle consists of a network of 83 rooms and has advanced defense systems from the feudal era of Japan. Perhaps the most beautiful Japanese architecture is in Kyoto.


History of Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is also known as Hakuro-jō or Shirasagi-jō Translated in Japanese into White Egret Castle “or” White Heron Castle “. This is because its bright white exterior reminds people of a bird in flight.

The castle is very old for Japan and dates back to 1333 when Akamatsu Norimura built a fortress on the hill, which was soon dismantled and rebuilt as Himeji Castle in 1346. It was later significantly rebuilt in 1581 and a three-story keep was added.

From 1601 to 1609 the castle of Ikeda Terumasa was completely rebuilt again and expanded into a large castle complex. But during this time, Himeji Castle has remained intact.

  • Built: 1346
  • Age: Almost 700 years (400 years for the castle as it is)

A cat with nine lives

The castle was very lucky in its day. Japan saw devastating civil wars devastate much of the country, and in the Pacific War Japan was massively bombed by the Allies (including the nearby city of Himeji). In 1995 the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck. But through all of this, Himeji Castle has managed to survive and stay intact.

  • Survived: Civil wars, American bombing, earthquakes and demolitions

Amazingly, Himeji town was heavily bombed during World War II and most of the surrounding area was burned down, but the castle survived. An incendiary bomb actually landed on the top floor of the castle, but could not be researched.

Another time the castle was forgotten was the abolition of the Japanese Han feudal system in 1871 (around the time Tom Cruise’s highly romanticized film was being made). The last samurai). Himeji Castle was then auctioned off for a song. It was planned to be demolished to develop the land for something else. But the castle was saved because the estimated cost of demolition was too high.

Related: The Do’s and Don’ts of Preparing a Trip to Japan

Defense design of the castle

The castle is well defended for feudal times. The complex once comprised not one, not two, but three moats – the outer moat is now buried. Only parts of the central moat are preserved, but all of the inner moats are preserved today.

  • Moat: Originally three moats

When visiting, you will be amazed at how complex the castle is and how numerous rooms it is. There are numerous warehouses in the waist area of ​​the complex, which used to be used to store rice, water and salt in the event of a siege. There are also 33 wells within the inner trench (13 remaining).

  • Ways: Deliberately confusing and tight

The maze of paths leading to the castle keep is a confusing rabbit enclosure – this was also part of his defensive plans (so that the oncoming troops would be confused). Not only do they turn around, they sometimes even come back to themselves. The distance from the Hishi Gate to the main keep is only 130 meters, but the way to get there is 325 meters. The passages are also very steep and narrow.

Today, despite the clearly marked routes, many visitors have difficulty finding their way around Himeji Castle. Even so, it’s not as confusing as Vermont’s Great Corn Maze!

Related: Beautiful tourist photos showing the best things Japan is known for

Visit the castle today

Today, Himeji Castle is the largest castle in Japan and the most visited castle in Japan. It is considered one of the three most important castles in Japan (the other two are Kumamoto Castle and Matsumoto Castle).

  • UNESCO: Added as a World Heritage Site in 1993 (one of the first in Japan)

All tickets are purchased on site and cannot be reserved online. It usually takes about 1.5 to 2 hours for visitors to view Himeji Castle. In the summer months it can get quite crowded and you have to wait about an hour to enter the castle.

  • Opening hours: April 27th to August 31st: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last entry at 5 p.m.) | September 1st to April 26th: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last entry at 4 p.m.)
  • Closed: December 29th and 30th
  • Address: 68 Honmachi, Himeji City
  • Entrance fees: Adult: 1,000 yen ($ 9) (ages 18+) | Students & Children: 300 yen ($ 2.50) | Groups over 30 people: Adults 800 yen and college students 240 yen

Tours are also offered in English and can be viewed on their website. At the time of writing, English tours have been canceled due to the pandemic.

Next: Wondering what to prepare for a trip to Japan? Here is where to start

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