Himeji Castle was the first place in Japan to become a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993, after this there were dozens of others named. It’s actually the largest and arguably most impressive castle in in Japan and has 83 buildings. It takes hours to walk around inside of it, like a medieval Disneyland, it’s enormous and quite magnificent to behold.
It was built all the way back in 1333 as a fort on top of the Himeyama hill. The fort was then dismantled and turned into the Himeyama Castle in 1346.
It’s pretty much impossible to miss Himeji Castle as soon as you get out of the Shinkansen (bullet train) station in Himeji. This is only 40 minutes on the Shinkansen from Kyoto, so perfect for a day trip or even half day trip.
Himeji Castle is perched majestically on the hill and gleaming in white and gold. The nickname for the castle is Hakuro-jō or White Heron Castle because of its white, magnificent appearance, like a bird perched on a rock.
Watch my video from Himeji Castle
Over the centuries and subsequent feudal rulers, the castle has become ever more intricate, confusing and elaborate in structure, with almost endless labyrinths and spiral corridors that go around in circles. This was an intentional design feature to foil would-be invaders from getting to the castle keep and killing the royal family.
The strange curved walls of the castle resemble sensu or gigantic fans and are made of stone and wood. A tour of the inner boughs and guts of the castle (bare-footed of course) involves taking a tour through tiny rabbit warrens and cavernous little rooms. Each room had intimate stories contained in it of princesses, handmaidens, children, illicit love affairs and death. If only the walls could talk, they would have revealed some compelling stories. I could feel the rarified and ancient energy of the place. Although sparsely furnished and almost empty, there was an interesting and regal energy in the place, it was very obvious that the rooms were made for royalty even though they were now bare.
After almost 30 sets of incredibly narrow and steep stairs (not for the grossly overweight or unfit) eventually huge groups of people were spat out of the top of the castle onto the roof-top viewing platform.
This confusing journey I would later find out was designed in ancient times to stop people from invading into the keep, which made it more meaningful afterwards. No invading force ever tried to breach the castle in this way before, so nobody knows if the network of tiny rooms and stairs actually works. This journey into the labyrinth is testing to anyone with even mild claustrophobia. But I still recommend you give it a go because the view from the top was incredible.
The despite many attempts to destroy the castle – it’s still standing. Many earthquakes, bombing during WWII and a plan to demolish the castle back in the 1870’s all failed. – Himeji castle has strong bones and withstood all of it.