THE “WHITE HERON” – HIMEJI CASTLE

 

 

Himeji castle is one of the most beautiful castles in Japan. It is nicknamed as “Shirasagi” (the white heron) because of its white walls and high roof, resembling a soaring white heron. As the name suggests Himeji castle is located in Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture. Himeji Castle is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in 1333 AD and has undergone many changes since then until it acquired its current form.

 

The Exterior

 

At the entrance of the castle you’ll find yourself surrounded by walls reminiscent of the 〇△□ garden in Kenninji temple. The walls have holes or crenellations to be more exact through which the defending troops fired upon the enemy. The circular and triangular holes are for musketeers while the rectangular ones are for bowmen. As is the tradition with Japanese castles, the entrance is followed by a long winding uphill maze-like path to the main keep – a path riddled with traps and ambush points! You can see the many choke points to cut off invading troops as you travel along. The paths are also intersected by many gates as well. Some of them can hold nasty surprises for invaders, for example, one of the gates has a false roof through which defenders can poke the enemy below with spears! The main keep is also lined with murder-holes through which defenders can throw stuff such as boiling water, rocks, arrows etc. against enemies climbing the walls.

The castle is primarily made of wood, rocks and plaster. However at one point of time due to shortage building materials, even gravestones and sarcophagi were also used as building materials! Kind of eerie and sad, don’t you think? Not to mention there are lot of ghost stories involving Himeji castle!

The Main Keep

 

Thanks to the recent restoration work which was completed in 2015, the castle looks as beautiful as ever! Even the roofs have become pure white! Truly the white heron!! Once inside the main keep, you would feel as though you’ve travelled back in time! It has that nostalgic feel and smell of an old building. Walking on the wooden floors are sure to feel nice as well (No footwear allowed inside!). The first floor of the castle is full of Tatami mats(over 300 or so!). The walls are completely lined with weapon racks for spears and guns. The upper floors have a nasty surprise for enemies that have breached the keep – ambushes by defenders from hidden rooms! The uppermost floor is the smallest and was kind of like a viewing area for the lord of the castle.

When you visit Japan make sure to visit the oldest castle in Japan – Himeji!

PS It’s especially fun to rent costumes and cosplay as samurai, ninja etc. while visiting the castle!;)

 

Access

By train

A 700-series shinkansen train entering Himeji station.
Himeji is along the Sanyo shinkansen line (山陽新幹線) from Osaka and Kobe to Okayama and Hiroshima. The Hikari Rail Star offers frequent service to Himeji within the Sanyo region, as do the all-stopping Kodama trains. Since the station is elevated, it is possible to see Himeji Castle from a passing train.
From Tokyo, one Nozomi train per hour runs through to Himeji (3 hours, ¥15,710), otherwise you have to change at Shin-Osaka. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, there is also one Hikari train departing each hour, running through to Himeji, which you can take at no charge (3 hours and 40 minutes).
The overnight Sunrise Izumo/Sunrise Seto from Tokyo stops at Himeji. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can book a carpeted floor space at no charge; otherwise you can travel in a compartment or room by paying the applicable room fee and surcharges.
An inexpensive method of reaching Himeji from within the Kansai region is to take one of the frequent Shinkaisoku (新快速 – Special Rapid) commuter trains on the JR Kobe line (JR 神戸線) that begins in Osaka, which charges only the price of a local train. The ride takes 38 minutes from Kobe‘s Sannomiya station (¥950) or 57 minutes from Osaka (¥1,450).
It is possible to travel from Osaka to Himeji using direct trains over the private Hanshin and Sanyo Railways but as this takes longer than JR (1.5 hours, ¥1,250) it is only really worthwhile for holders of the 3 day or 5 day pass for Kansai’s private railway system.
From Kyoto, the Hikari shinkansen whisks travellers to Himeji in just under an hour. This trip can be taken without charge by Japan Rail Pass holders.
Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line,Shinjuku Gyoen Sta.No.1 exit(5minutes on foot)
Tokyo Metro Fuku Toshin Line, Shinjuku Sanchome Sta.E5 exit(5minutes on foot)

By Walk
It’s a 20 minutes’ walk from the station.

Hours

9:00 to 17:00 (until 18:00 from late April through August)
Admission ends one hour before closing

Closed

December 29 and 30

Fees

1000 yen (castle only)
1040 yen (castle and nearby garden)


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