Himeji Castle, Japan

Himeji Castle dates back to the 17th century and is one of the oldest well-preserved buildings in Japan. The snow-white castle complex with its winding alleys and fortified towers is considered Japan's most beautiful and most visited castle and is one of the country's most important sights.

Himeji Castle, or Himeji-jō, dates back to the 17th century and is one of the oldest particularly well-preserved buildings in Japan. The entire complex with its 83 buildings is located on the hill Himeyama in the middle of the city of Himeji and is one of the top 10 sights of Japan. In 1993, the castle was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a fantastic example of Japanese castle building.

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Origin of Himeji Castle

Himeji-jō is also called Shirasagi-jō ("White Heron Castle") because of its snow-white façade made of fireproof plaster and its shape, which is reminiscent of a bird. The first buildings were built as early as 1346 by the architect and samurai Akamatsu Norimura and his son Amakatsu Sadonori.

About 240 years later, under the Japanese commander and politician Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a large-scale expansion took place, so that the year 1580 is often given as the actual start of construction of the Himeji-jō. Its present form dates from the early 17th century.

The typical Japanese architecture with its curved roofs makes the 32-metre-high castle seem almost playful. Its spiral ground plan and the structure of the individual buildings also make Himeji-jō an absolute architectural beauty.

The defences of the Himeji-jō are highly developed, however, and the castle was considered practically impregnable in Japan. With its labyrinth of winding alleys, towers, warehouses, earthen ramparts, ramps, tunnels and gates, the Himeji-jō still looks like an impressive fortress today.

Tip: The winding alleys between the high walls of the Himeji-jō, some of which run in circles, not only prevented enemies from reaching the main defence tower and the keep in the past, but also still puzzle many a tourist today. To avoid confusion, a map is highly recommended for visiting the castle complex!

The fact that the Himeji-jō has survived to this day is in many ways also due to pure luck. Not only did it survive various battles in Japanese history, in the 19th century it was bought at auction by a Japanese man for a good 2,000 US dollars in order to make the land usable. However, the demolition costs were too high and so it was spared.

At the end of the Second World War, it had to endure heavy bombing raids, but the Himeji-jō also survived virtually unscathed. The venerable castle walls also withstood the 1995 Kōbe earthquake.

National celebrity

Today, Himeji-jō is the largest and most visited castle in Japan and is also one of the country's national cultural treasures. Together with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto Castle, it is one of the three most important castles in Japan. The castle is a 15-20 minute walk from Himeji Station.

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The Himeji-jō is surrounded by a wonderful Japanese garden, the Koko-en Garden. After sunset, the Himeji-jō is spectacularly staged by targeted lighting.

Himeji-jō in the film world: The graceful castle has already been used as a backdrop in several cinema films. In the James Bond film " You Only Live Twice", Himeji-jō functions as the base of the Japanese secret police, in "Shogun" it is shown as "Osaka Castle" and some scenes in "Last Samurai" with Tom Cruise were also shot there.

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