Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle
Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan
Himeji castle in may 2015
Himeji castle in May 2015 after the five year renovation of the roof and walls
Type Azuchi-Momoyama castle [1]
Height 46.4 m (152 ft) [2]
Site information
Condition Intact, restoration work for preservation recently completed [3]
Site history
  • 1333, 1300 (Himeyama fort/castle) [4]
  • 1581 (expansion) [4]
  • 1601-1609 (expansion) [4]
  • 1617-1618 (expansion) [5][6]
Built by
In use 1333-1868 [4][7]
Materials Wood, stone, plaster, tile [6]
  • 1346 (demolished for reconstruction) [4]
  • 1601-1609 (demolished for reconstruction) [6]
Garrison information
  • ~500 (Ikeda family, soldiers) [6]
  • ~4,000 (Honda family, soldiers) [6]
  • ~3,000 (Sakabura family, soldiers) [6]
  • ~2,200 (Sakai family, soldiers) [6]
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Location Hyogo Prefecture
Type Cultural
Criteria i, iv
Reference 661
Inscription history
Inscription 1993 (17th Session)
Himeji Castle is located in Japan
Location in Japan

Himeji Castle (姫路城 Himeji-jō) is a hilltop Japanese castle complex located in Himeji, in Hyōgo Prefecture, 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 period.[8] The castle is frequently known as Hakuro-jō ("White Egret Castle") or Shirasagi-jō ("White Heron Castle") because of its brilliant white exterior and supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight.[7][9]

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 complex.[4] Several buildings were later added to the castle complex by Honda Tadamasa from 1617 to 1618.[6] 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 earthquake.[4][3][10]

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.[3] 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 Treasures.[6][11] Along with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto Castle, Himeji Castle is considered one of Japan's three premier castles.[12] In order to preserve the castle buildings, it underwent restoration work for several years and reopened to the public on March 27, 2015.[13] The works also removed decades of dirt and grime, restoring the formerly gray roof to its original brilliant white color.


  • History 1
    • Historical recognition 1.1
  • Design details 2
    • Defenses 2.1
  • Cultural impact 3
    • Lore and legend 3.1
  • Gallery 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Himeji Castle's construction dates to 1333, when a fort was constructed on Himeyama hill by Akamatsu Norimura, the ruler of the ancient Harima Province.[4] In 1346, his son Sadonori demolished this fort and built Himeyama Castle in its place.[4] 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 1561.[4][14] In 1580, Kuroda Yoshitaka presented the castle to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and in 1581 Hideyoshi significantly remodeled the castle, building a three-story castle keep with an area of about 55 m2 (590 sq ft).[6][14]

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 battle.[4] 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.[4][6] The expenditure of labor involved in this expansion is believed to have totaled 25 million man-days.[4] Ikeda died in 1613, passing the castle to his son, who also died three years later.[5] 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 Senhime).[5]

In the Meiji Period (1868 to 1912), many Japanese castles were destroyed.[3] Himeji Castle was abandoned in 1871 and some of the castle corridors and gates were destroyed to make room for Japanese army barracks.[6][14] 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 colonel.[6] A stone monument honoring Nakamura was placed in the castle complex within the first gate, the Diamond Gate (菱門 Hishimon).[6] Although Himeji Castle was spared, Japanese castles had become obsolete and their preservation was costly.[6]

Photo of the front of the castle complex
Front view of the castle complex

A 1761 depiction 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 auction.[6] The castle was purchased by a Himeji resident for 23 Japanese yen (about 200,000 yen or US$2,258 today).[6] 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 spared.[6]

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 intact.[8] One firebomb was dropped on the top floor of the castle but fortunately failed to explode.[15] 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.[6][14] 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.[10] Even the bottle of sake placed on the altar at the top floor of the keep remained in place.[10]

Photo of the
The "Three Country Moat" in the center of the castle complex

Historical recognition

Himeji Castle was registered on December 11, 1993 as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan.[6][3][8] Five structures of the castle are also designated National Treasures: the castle keep (天守閣 tenshukaku), northwest small tower (乾小天守 inui shōtenshu), west small tower (西小天守 nishi shōtenshu), east small tower (東小天守 higashi kotenshu), and I, Ro, Ha, Ni-corridors (イ, ロ, ハ, ニの渡櫓 i, ro, ha, ni no watariyagura).[11] The area within the middle moat of the castle complex is a designated Special Historic Site.[6]

Along with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto Castle, Himeji Castle is considered one of Japan's three premier castles.[12] It is the most visited castle in Japan, receiving over 820,000 visitors annually.[4][3] Starting in April 2010, Himeji Castle underwent restoration work to preserve the castle buildings, and reopened to the public on March 27, 2015.[13]

Design details

Himeji Castle is the largest castle in Japan.[3] It serves as an excellent example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, containing many of the defensive and architectural features associated with Japanese castles.[8] 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 wood.[6][7] Feudal family crests ( mon) are installed throughout the architecture of the building, signifying the various lords that inhabited the castle throughout its history.[6]

A depiction of the intricate castle complex
A depiction of the intricate castle complex

The Himeji Castle complex is located in the center of Himeji, Hyōgo on top of a hill called Himeyama, which is 45.6 m (150 ft) above sea level.[2] The castle complex comprises a network of 83 buildings such as storehouses, gates, corridors, and turrets ( yagura).[6] Of these 83 buildings, 74 are designated as Important Cultural Assets: 11 corridors, 16 turrets, 15 gates, and 32 earthen walls.[10] The highest walls in the castle complex have a height of 26 m (85 ft).[6] Joining the castle complex is Koko-en Garden (好古園 Kōkoen), a Japanese garden created in 1992 to commemorate Himeji city's 100th anniversary.[16]

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 ft).[6] The castle complex has a circumference of 4,200 m (2.6 mi).[6] 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 Stadium.[4][6][8]

Photo of gun racks inside the keep
Weapon racks inside the keep

The castle keep (天守閣 tenshukaku) at the center of the complex is 46.4 m (152 ft) high, standing 92 m (302 ft) above sea level.[2] Together with the keep, three smaller subsidiary towers (小天守 kotenshu) form a cluster of towers.[6] Externally, the castle keep appears to have five floors, because the second and third floors from the top appear to be a single floor; however, the tower actually has six floors and a basement.[9] The basement of the keep has an area of 385 m2 (4,140 sq ft), and the interior of the keep contains special facilities that are not seen in other castles, including lavatories, a drain board, and a kitchen corridor.[6]

The keep has two pillars, with one standing in the east and one standing in the west.[6] 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 replaced.[6] The base of the west pillar is 85 by 95 cm (33 by 37 in), and it is made of Japanese cypress.[6] During the Shōwa Restoration (1956–1964) a Japanese cypress tree with a length of 26.4 m (87 ft) was brought down from the Kiso Mountains and replaced the old pillar.[6] 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 floor.[6]

The first floor of the 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 mats.[6] The walls of the first floor have weapon racks (武具掛 bugukake) for holding matchlocks and spears, and at one point, the castle contained as many as 280 guns and 90 spears.[6][17] The second floor of the keep has an area of roughly 550 m2 (5,900 sq ft).[6]

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 ft).[6] 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 attackers.[6] They also have small enclosed rooms called "warrior hiding places" (武者隠 mushakakushi), where defenders could hide themselves and kill attackers by surprise as they entered the keep.[6] The final floor, the sixth floor, has an area of only 115 m2 (1,240 sq ft).[6] The sixth floor windows now have iron bars in place, but in the feudal period the panoramic view from the windows was unobstructed.[6]


Photo of defensive loopholes in one of the castle walls. Two of the loopholes are rectangle-shaped, one is triangle-shaped, and one is circle-shaped.
Defensive loopholes

Photo of two angled chutes or
Angled chutes or "stone drop windows"

Himeji Castle contains advanced defensive systems from the feudal period.[8] Loopholes (狭間 sama) in the shape of circles, triangles, and rectangles are located throughout Himeji Castle, intended to allow defenders armed with matchlocks or archers to fire on attackers without exposing themselves.[9] Roughly 1,000 loopholes exist in the castle buildings remaining today.[6] 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 fire.[2][18]

The castle complex included three moats, one of which—the outer moat—is now buried.[7] Parts of the central moat and all of the inner moats survive.[7] The moats have an average width of 20 m (66 ft), a maximum width of 34.5 m (113 ft), and a depth of about 2.7 m (8.9 ft).[10] The Three Country Moat (三国濠 sangoku-bori) is a 2,500 m2 (27,000 sq ft) pond; one of the purposes of this moat was to store water for use in fire prevention.[6]

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 siege.[6] A building known as the Salt Turret (潮櫓 shioyagura) 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 use.[6] 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 ft).[6]

Photo of the large
"Diamond Gate", the first of the castle's 21 remaining gates [6]

One of the castle's most important defensive elements is the confusing maze of paths leading to the castle

  • The White Fortress: Himeji-jo (UNESCO video at YouTube)
  • Himeji Castle timelapse on YouTube
  • Discover the Himeji Castle in Japan
  • Official web site - Himeji Castle in renovation period until 2014
  • Japan's Samurai Castles
  • Asian Historical Architecture - Himeji Castle
  • Japanese Castle Explorer - Himeji Castle
  • UNESCO World Heritage Centre - Himeji Castle
  • Japan Atlas: Himeji Castle

External links

  • Mitchelhill, Jennifer (2013). Castles of the Samurai:Power & Beauty. USA: Kodansha.  
  • Schmorleitz, Morton S. (1974). Castles in Japan. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co. pp. 123–125.  
  • Motoo, Hinago (1986). Japanese Castles. Tokyo: Kodansha.  
Further reading
  1. ^ "Himeji Castle and its surroundings". Sansen-ya. Retrieved July 6, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Virtual Tour - Himeji Castle". Retrieved July 4, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Himeji Castle starts its renovation in April". Official Tourism Guide for Japan Travel. Retrieved July 1, 2010. 
  4. ^ 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".  
  5. ^ a b c d e Jacqueline A., Ball (2005). Himeji Castle: Japan's Samurai Past. New York: Bearport Publishing. p. 32.  
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Bornoff, Nicholas (2000). The National Geographic Traveler: Japan. Washington: National Geographic Society. pp. 256–257.  
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Himeji-jo".  
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Eyewitness Travel Guides: Japan. New York: Dorling Kindersley Publishing. 2000. pp. 200–203.  
  10. ^ a b c d e "Himeji Castle". Japan Atlas. Retrieved July 5, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b 国宝一覧 (in Japanese).  
  12. ^ a b c "The Three Famous Castles of Japan". Kobayashi Travel Service. Retrieved July 4, 2010. 
  13. ^ a b [2]
  14. ^ a b c d O'Grady, Daniel. "Japanese Castle Explorer - Himeji Castle". Japanese Castle Explorer. Retrieved July 11, 2010. 
  15. ^ a b Lowe, Sam (May 11, 2010). "Restoring a Japanese Treasure". Best Western's Travel Blog. Retrieved July 11, 2010. 
  16. ^ "Kokoen Garden, Traditional Japanese Garden in Himeji City". EOK. Retrieved July 4, 2010. 
  17. ^ "Hoplology". Guillaume Morel. Retrieved July 11, 2010. 
  18. ^ a b Turnbull, Stephen (2003). Japanese Castles 1540-1640. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. p. 64.  


See also

Views from the interior

Views from above

Views from below

Views from afar

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

Panoramic overview


A folklore story is also associated with Genbei Sakurai, who was Ikeda Terumasa's master carpenter in the construction of the castle keep.[6] According to the legend, Sakurai was dissatisfied with his construction, feeling that the keep leaned a little to the southeast.[6] Eventually, he became distraught and climbed to the top of the keep, where he jumped to his death with a chisel in his mouth.[6]

The legend of the "Old Widow's Stone" (姥が石 Ubagaishi) is another folklore story associated with the castle.[6] According to the legend, Toyotomi Hideyoshi ran out of stones when building the original three-story castle keep, and an old woman heard about his trouble.[6] She gave him her hand millstone even though she needed it for her trade.[6] It was said that people who heard the story were inspired and also offered stones to Hideyoshi, speeding up construction of the castle.[6] 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 complex.[6]

Himeji Castle is associated with a number of local lore.[6] 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 day.[5] According to the legend, Okiku was falsely accused of losing dishes that were valuable family treasures, and then killed and thrown into the well.[6] Her ghost remained to haunt the well at night, counting dishes in a despondent tone.[6]

Lore and legend

Himeji Castle is frequently known as Hakuro-jō ("White Egret Castle") or Shirasagi-jō ("White Heron Castle") because of its brilliant white exterior and supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight.[7][9] 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 (1985).[12] In the television miniseries Shōgun (1980) it served as a stand-in for feudal-era Osaka castle,[15] which has lost the surrounding fortifications.

Cultural impact

In many cases, the castle walkways even turn back on themselves, greatly inhibiting navigation.[18] For example, the straight distance from the Diamond Gate (菱門 hishimon) to the castle keep (天守閣 tenshukaku) is only 130 m (430 ft), but the path itself is a much longer 325 m (1,066 ft).[6] The passages are also steep and narrow, further inhibiting entry.[6] 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 untested.[8][9] However, even today with the route clearly marked, many visitors have trouble navigating the castle complex.[2]

[6] At present, 21 gates from the castle complex remain intact, 13 of which are named according to the Japanese syllabary.[6], etc.).To, He, Ho, Ni, Ha, Ro, I The castle complex originally contained 84 gates, 15 of which were named according to the Japanese syllabary ([9]