When I had finished up at the Kokoen Garden I walked down the street to the main entrance of Himeji Castle. Also known as White Heron Castle because of its bright white exterior, Himeji Castle is the greatest castle in all of Japan. It started out in 1333 as a fort built on the hill that now houses the castle’s main tower and over the following centuries it would be steadily remodeled and expanded until 1618 when the current version was finished. Despite multiple natural disasters, neglect during the Meiji Period, and the bombing of the city of Himeji in World War 2, Himeji Castle somehow has survived to this day nearly unscathed, making it the premier example of Japanese castle architecture.
After crossing the bridge over the castle’s moat and passing through the gate I entered the lower bailey, which includes a large open lawn. This part of the castle is free to enter and the lawn is frequently used as a venue for various events. Just beyond the lawn is the ticket office where you pay to enter the central part of the castle.
Before climbing up to the main tower I explored the west bailey. This is the newest part of the castle, having been built from 1617 to 1618, and visitors are allowed to enter a long, narrow building that was once home to Senhime, a famous Japanese princess who experienced a very tragic life. Towards the end of the building there’s a room with a statue of Senhime in it.
From one spot in the west bailey there’s a nice view of Himeji’s central complex.
While exploring Himeji Castle there are many small details that are easy to overlook. In one part of the castle you can find a roof tile with a cross on it. Although Christianity never took deep roots in Japan, it is believed that one of the castle’s lords was a Christian convert and used the cross as his family’s seal.
It was then time to hike up to Himeji Castle’s main tower. The castle never saw combat but would have been very difficulty for an invading army to capture. Reaching the main tower would require an attacker to breach multiple gates, all while being shot at from above.
Inside the castle’s main tower there are exhibits detailing the castle’s history and many of the sliding doors have been removed to give visitors a better view of the tower’s layout and architecture.
From the top of Himeji Castle you can look out the windows the surrounding area and get a better idea of the castle’s size and complexity. Himeji Castle sat on the main road leading to Kyoto, so any army marching towards Japan’s heartland would have to deal with this castle before moving further east. On the top floor of the tower there’s also a small Shinto shrine that visitors can pray at.
As it was getting close to sunset I came down from the main tower and caught another view of it from directly outside. The late-day light added a golden tint to the castle’s structures.
Himeji Castle would be closing soon, so I slowly made my way down towards the lower bailey area, stopping to take a few photos along the way. This was my second time visiting the castle and I wouldn’t mind visiting it a third time if I were ever able to return to Japan. There are other great castles in Japan, but this one trumps all of them.