Experience Japan as it was 400 years ago at Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle, a World Heritage Site which draws wonder and inspiration with its appearance and atmosphere.

Experience Japan as it was 400 years ago at Himeji Castle

Kerry from Australia is a fan of Himeji Castle. She saw the castle for the first time when she visited Japan as an exchange student in high school. “Wow, this is amazing. I still remember the impact I felt then”, she says. This is the second visit to the castle for Andrew, Kerry’s friend from New Zealand, and he has been looking forward to visiting it again. He says, “I really want to see it again. I was not familiar with Japanese history before, but I was still impressed by the beauty of the castle. Today I want to walk around it with images of samurais in my head.”

Hishi Gate, the biggest gate of Himeji Castle
Hishi Gate, the biggest gate of Himeji Castle (16th century)

Start from Hishi Gate when you visit Himeji Castle. There used to be 84 gates in the castle, and 21 of them still remain. The biggest is Hishi Gate, which strengthens the defense of the central part of the castle.

Guide map of Himeji Castle
Guide map of Himeji Castle
On the far right is Kyoko Aoki from “Kashinoki Kai”, an English volunteer guide group. She guides visitors through the history and hot spots of Himeji Castle. “We do not have a lot of members, but when we have someone available, we will guide you for free”, she says.

Our three visitors first made their way to “Nishi-no-Maru” or West Bailey. Nishi-no-Maru is the house of Princess Sen-hime who married the lord of Himeji Castle, Tadatoki Honda. She was also the granddaughter of General Ieyasu Tokugawa, who founded the Edo shogunate in 1603.

The building curves in the shape of a bow and the rooms are connected by a long corridor (about 240m) called Hyakken-Rouka. The pine wood corridor, polished by time, steps up at several points to indicate the increasing rank of the women who lived there.

Windows in Hyakken-Rouka command a very good view of Himeji City
Windows in Hyakken-Rouka command a very good view of Himeji City

One of Andrew’s favorite views is that of Himeji City from the windows in Hyakken-Rouka. He says, “You can see a lot of the sky at Himeji because there are not many tall buildings. There is a lot of green as well and so I love the view from here.”

A good spot for a photo. Princess Sen-hime and her husband Tadatoki
A good spot for a photo. Princess Sen-hime and her husband Tadatoki
This is the room where Princess Sen-hime gazed at distant shrines. The costumes and the hair of her dolls show the style of that time.

Graceful yet flawlessly armed. Himeji Castle is a fortunate “castle which has never been attacked”.

Stone walls piled up high diagonally
Tall, angled stone walls are characteristic of Japanese castles.

White walls and stone walls line the paths leading to Ni-no-Maru and the second Bailey, which contains the maintenance facilities for the castle. Kerry comments that she is amazed every time she sees the stone walls. She says, “I am amazed by the beautiful shape of the Main Keep of course, but I am also impressed when I see those tall stone walls, wondering how they built them before there were construction machines.”

Armor and helmet belonging to Kanbee Kuroda, a strategist who was born in Himeji
Tiles shaped like killer whales decorating the roof of the Main Keep.
Tiles shaped like killer whales decorate the roof of the Main Keep. The one on the left was made during the Edo period (1603~1868) and the one on the right during the Meiji period (1868~1912).

A special exhibition* was held in Ni-no-Maru showing materials and models related to Kanbee Kuroda, a subject which became popular because of a long-running historical drama series on Japanese TV. Jun is very interested in a uniquely-shaped helmet and colorful armor. Andrew seems to be drawn to the tiles shaped like Shachihoko, mythical sea creatures, which guard the castle from the roof of the Main Keep. He says, “These are a great accent to the beautifully curved roof. I feel the traditional culture of Japan in them.” It was believed that Shachihoko would extinguish fires by shooting water onto them.

* Held from Jan. 12, 2014 – Jan. 10, 2015

Himeji Castle was completed in 1609 after a total of 9 years of construction and together with Horyuji Temple in Nara was the first castle to be designated as a World Heritage Site in Japan. 12 castles in Japan have their main keeps intact as it was when constructed and only 4 of them including Himeji Castle are designated as a national treasure. Among them, Himeji Castle, also called “Hakurojo” or White Heron Castle, is famous for its elegant appearance and unique design with its several keeps. This is a real castle and the pride of Japan.

Himeji Castle was also a place where feudal lords, their families and samurais lived for generations. Musashi Miyamoto, a famous swordsman, is also said to have lived near this castle. During the period of war from the 15th century to the 16th century, castles were the base for battles and defense. Himeji Castle is equipped with the usual castle facilities including gates solidly reinforced with iron plates and arrow loopholes (holes to shoot arrows and guns through) arranged on the walls. However, it has never experienced a battle in its 400 years of history. It is therefore also known as a fortunate “castle which has never been attacked”.

Himeji Castle

Address: 68, Honmachi, Himeji City, Hyogo

Phone: 079-285-1146

Open: Sep. 1 – Apr. 26/ 9:00 am – 4:00 pm (Gate closes at 5:00 pm)
Apr. 27 – Aug. 31/ 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (Gate closes at 6:00 pm)

Closed: Dec. 29, 30

Access: Approx. 4 min by loop bus from Himeji Station of JR or Sanyo Electric Railway (Approx. 15 min walk)

Experience Japanese beauty and tea ceremony in 9 “gardens”

The garden of Oyashiki
The garden of “Oyashiki”. It is designed to frame the autumn full moon reflected in the pond.
Take no Niwa or the garden of bamboos
“Take no Niwa” or the garden of bamboos

It is said that about 4,000 samurais served Himeji Castle at its peak. “Koko-en”, adjacent to Himeji Castle, is where high ranking samurai were housed and is currently open to the public as 9 Japanese gardens. Kerry says, “It is interesting that each garden has a theme such as the garden of bamboo and the garden of flowers. I like the gardens in the season when leaves turn red.”

The pathway connecting the gardens is often used in samurai films.
The pathway connecting the gardens is often used in samurai films. “Rurouni Kenshin”, released in 64 countries in the world, was also filmed here.
Soujuan, a tea ceremony room in Cha no Niwa or the garden of tea
“Soujuan”, a tea ceremony room in “Cha no Niwa” or the garden of tea
You can experience the tea ceremony at Soujuan.

You can experience the tea ceremony at “Soujuan”. Andrew tasted powdered green tea for the first time in his life and smiled after taking a sip of it saying, “delicious”. English instructions on how to drink tea are also available.

Koko-en

Address: 68 Honmachi, Himeji City, Hyogo

Phone: 079-284-4120

Apr. 27 – Aug. 31/ 9:00 am – 6:00 pm (Last admission 5:30 pm)
Open: Sep. 1 – Apr. 26/ 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (Last admission 4:30 pm)

Closed: Dec. 29, 30

Access: Approx. 4 min by loop bus from Himeji Station of JR or Sanyo Electric Railway (Approx. 15 min walk)

* A general admission ticket to Himeji Castle is also available.

Taking a photo with Ninja at Himeji Castle.
Taking a photo with “Ninja” at Himeji Castle. Visitors can enjoy this service organized by young people who love Ninja.
Armor & Kimono Experience
There is also a place where you can experience wearing armor*. Andrew gave his frank opinion saying, “This is heavy. It’s amazing that they battled wearing this. Samurais must have been strong not only mentally but also physically.”

Armor & Kimono Experience: Joukamachi Style

Phone: 079-280-1086 (English available)

Price: From 3,000 yen for 3 hours (Kimono, accessories and hair arrangement included. Reserve at least 1 day in advance)

These 3 visitors fully enjoyed Himeji Castle

Our 3 visitors fully enjoyed Himeji, exploring Himeji Castle, taking a photo with Ninja, experiencing the tea ceremony and wearing armor. Both Kerry and Andrew want to visit again when the inside of the Main Keep is open to the public. She says, “Himeji Castle always helped me relax for some reason, so I often came here when I was having a hard time. I like it in all seasons, but Himeji Castle covered with cherry blossoms is truly beautiful. At the end of next march when the cherry blossoms bloom, the grand opening will take place. I would like everyone to come see it.”