Pictures of the floating world

The beauty of Himeji Castle, Japan

Are you ready to see Himeji castle, the Castle of White Heron?

By Anna Purpurpurpur

Visiting Himeji Castle, frequently referred to as the White Heron Castle, was one of my goals in Japan. Moreover, it’s one of the most visited castles in Japan, attracting visitors with its beauty and historical significance. What’s so unique about it?

Actually, not that many Japanese castles you see today are original. Some were demolished on purpose by the Japanese themselves in the 19th century: in the rise of the Meiji Period (1868-1912), castles felt outdated because they were symbols of feudalism. Others were damaged during the wars or by natural disasters such as earthquakes. Some suffered during WWII. The majority of castles you can see today are rebuilt in concrete (many of them recently) with some small surviving original parts: see below some examples including Hiroshima, Osaka, Odawara castles.

Only 12 Japanese castles still hold the original tenshu – architectural structure. Himeji castle is one of 12 original ones that wasn’t destroyed by war or earthquake. Actually, in the 19th century it was sold to a private owner who planned to demolish it however the price of that appeared to be too high, and the castle eventually was left untouched.

Himeji Castle is also declared a Japanese National Treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Imagine what – I even brought a soft toy version of Himeji with me to London!

Also I’d suggest you to…look where you step while strolling along the city. In every Japanese city you can find artistic manholes, and in Himeji those are the prettiest!

What to expect when visiting Himeji Castle? 

We went to Himeji Castle by train from Osaka. From far ahead, you can see its magnificent white keep standing high, reminding you of a white bird (in contrast with Matsumoto Castle, nicknamed Black Crow Castle). The first fortifications on this site were laid in the first half of the 14th century, and the castle as we know it was completed in 1609 under Ikeda Terumasa. 

While visiting the castle, you’ll learn about its history: the castle consists of around 80 interconnected buildings- and if you go up the 45-metre-high main keep, you’ll see a beautiful landscape ahead of you. 

The best you can do is to stroll around, to explore the information signs and the museum inside the main keep and to learn about the structure of a Japanese castle and how the fortifications worked.

Also to understand the location better, read the stories of Osakabehime, a character of Japanese folklore tales living in Himeji castle, and the Shrieking Banshee, or Banchō Sarayashiki,  residing in the well within castle walls. To enhance your experience, you can use a special app.

We were lucky to see the castle after the significant restoration that started in 2010 and took 5 years. The garden around the castle is famous for its over one thousand cherry trees; however, we visited it in late summer and alas missed the hanami season. 

Kokoen Garden 

Kokoen Garden was probably one of the most impressive sites I’ve visited in the whole of Japan!

It was opened in 1992 and represents 9 styles of gardens of the Edo period. It’s the best Japanese garden you can imagine: there is a pond, wooden buildings, koi fish, paths and diverse blooming flora (and even some fauna apart from koi!). 

We also enjoyed the tea ceremony there: you get a detailed guide (in English! that’s not very common in Japan) of how you should behave and can drink your tea with seasonal sweet in tranquility of the garden.

Himeji Zoo

Himeji Zoo near the castle is a tiny zoo we also paid a visit to. I can’t say I was overwhelmed with it; however, if you have extra time, you can also pop in there. 

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