Himeji Castle in Spring

Himeji Castle: The Beautiful White Heron

Elegant and lustrous white, Himeji Castle appears like a giant heron flying in the sky. Together with a 400-year-long history, it’s undisputedly one of the most spectacular castles in Japan. After several years of extensive renovation, Himeji Castle was re-opened to the public in March 2015. The White Heron once again dominates the sky of Himeji.

The history of Himeji Castle (姫路城) dates back to 1580 when the shōgun Toyotomi Hideyoshi remodeled a fort standing atop a hill in Himeji into a formidable castle. Some 30 years later, the castle was enlarged by Ikeda Terumasa, a feudal lord of the early Edo period. He was awarded this castle by Tokugawa Ieyasu due to his service at the Battle of Sekigahara. The construction was completed in 1609 and the castle complex as it survives today is over 400 years old.

Today, Himeji Castle is a national treasure and one of the very first places in Japan that UNESCO designated as a World Cultural Heritage Site. Its imposing size and inimitable beauty attract nearly three million visitors each year, making it Japan’s most visited castle. Furthermore, thanks to its graceful and brilliant white appearance, the castle is often referred to as Shirasagi-jō (白鷺城), or the White Heron Castle.

The road leading to Himeji Castle
The graceful white heron of Himeji

Himeji Castle Architecture

Built during the feudal period, Himeji Castle contains an advanced defensive system. It consists of more than 80 structures spreading across multiple baileys. These baileys are then connected by a series of gates and winding paths. The goal of this labyrinth-like layout is to slow down and expose attacking forces to numerous stone-throwing platforms and firing holes.

At the heart of the complex stands the main keep, Daitenshu, a magnificent multi-story wooden structure. From the outside, it appears to have only five floors. But it actually has a seven-floor configuration, including six internal floors and a large basement. The floors are unfurnished and each level gets progressively smaller as you ascend. The keep also maintains some hidden features, such as mushagakushi (hidden rooms where warriors could lie in wait), nijyu-no-tobira (two-layered doors).

The maze-like defensive system
Cherry blossom tree in West Bailey, Himeji
The wooden frame of the main keep
Inside the main keep (lower floor)

The Restoration of Himeji Castle

In order to preserve the main keep’s original beauty, an extensive restoration began in 2009 – 45 years after “The Showa Era Restoration”. All roof tiles, joint plasters, as well as floorboards and windows, were replaced. The edges of eaves, gables, and other decorative components were either repainted or completely repaired.

The restoration team also repaired and reinforced the pillars, making them earthquake-proof. Known as “The Heisei Era Restoration”, this whole project costs approximately 2.4 billion yen and it took around six years to complete. In March 2015, Himeji Castle was fully re-opened to the public. And once again, the White Heron Castle dominates the sky of Himeji.

Himeji Castle in Spring

Facts about Himeji Castle

  • Unlike many other castles in Japan, Himeji Castle miraculously escaped the devastation of World War II. The castle remained largely intact, although the surrounding area was burnt to the ground. Fire and natural disasters also did no harm to the castle.
  • The only occasion that Himeji Castle was nearly destroyed is when the castle was put up for auction in 1871. A Himeji resident purchased it for 23.5¥ and intended to demolish the castle for crop farming. However, the cost of destroying the castle was estimated to be too great, and thus the castle was again spared.
  • When getting out of the main keep, be sure to check out the Okiku’s well on which a classic Japanese ghost story is based. In this story, Okiku was a maid of Aoyama, a retainer who planned a plot against his lord. Okiku overheard the plot and reported it to her lover, a loyal warrior. Thus, the plot was averted. When Aoyama found out that his maid had been the cause of his failure, he decided to kill her. So he accused her of having stolen one of ten very rare dishes. As a result, she was tortured to death and thrown into the well. From then after, Okiku became a vengeful spirit and haunted her murderer by counting to nine and then making a terrible shriek.
Only 23.5 Japanese yen for such a beautiful castle. What a deal!

Tips for visiting Himeji Castle

  • Lying on the Sanyo Shinkansen line, the town of Himeji is easily accessible from Osaka or Kyoto by shinkansen (approx. one hour). The castle stands about one kilometer down the main street and it takes around 15-20 minutes to walk there from the train station. Alternatively, you can take a bus which costs around 100 yen one way.
  • For those wanting to go inside Himeji Castle, a long waiting time should be considered, especially during the cherry blossom season (late March to early April), the Golden Week (late April to early May), and the summer holiday (July and August). The admission ticket costs 1000¥.
  • Only a limited number of visitors are allowed to enter the main keep at the same time. More information is available at Himeji Castle’s official website.


24 thoughts on “Himeji Castle: The Beautiful White Heron”

  1. I loved the Himeji castle, but the highlight of my Himeji trip was Mt. Shosha. It was quiet and lovely, and what I was expecting of a temple complex. I definitely recommend anyone visiting Himeji to spare half a day for the castle and half a day for Mt Shosha to balance the hustle and tranquil.

    1. Thanks for your information, Pelin! I haven’t been there but I just googled it. It looks like a perfect place to get relaxed 🙂

  2. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
    Bama says:

    I remember seeing the castle from the train, from the train station, and as my friend and I were walking down the main avenue leading to it. Such an imposing monument, indeed. Your photos bring back some good memories, Len.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Bama! Before visiting, I thought that Himeji Castle and Osaka Castle would be of the same size. But I was wrong. In comparision to Osaka Castle, the one in Himeji is indeed a giant 🙂

  3. This is hands down one of my favorite historical sites in all of Japan. 🙂 My first time at Himeji Castle was on a family vacation many years ago, before the latest restoration, when we did a half-day trip from Osaka during cherry blossom season. Then I returned in October 2016 with Bama as part of his first-ever trip to Japan. It was just as beautiful and impressive as I’d remembered, but the roof tiles looked brand new and the whole structure seemed to glow in the sunlight.

    1. Totally agree! The castle looks absolutely stunning on a sunny day 🙂 I was impressed by the skill of the Japanese architectures as well. I wonder how they could build such a complex structure without any guidance or machine.

  4. Nano @ Travels With Nano – Tokyo, Japan – Hi, I'm Nano! Welcome to my site! Travels With Nano is filled with everything I am passionate about: uncovering the world one sight, bite and cultural experience at a time. I'm here to share savvy travel tips and inspire (not influence!) your future travel adventures. Needless to say, I am thrilled to have you here reading!
    Nano @ Travel With Nano B. says:

    This is one of my favorite places in Japan. I really want to go back when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. xx, nano

    1. It must be wonderful! Image the cherry blossoms framing the white castle. When I was there, the flowers has started falling due to the unexpected heatwave 🙁 There was only one tree that is still in full bloom.

  5. Thanks for making me travel to a foregn land from my living room, much appreciated today. How are you over there?

    1. My pleasure! It’s not so bad here. The disease is still under control, with only 85 cases (most are imported cases) and 0 death. There is neither panic buying nor lock-down. People can still go out for shopping or cafe, but we have to wear maskes and avoid contact as much as possible 🙂

  6. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
    Jolene says:

    Hi Len, how’s everything in Vietnam? It’s grown to such global proportions it is very very unsettling… Are people still going to work or school as per usual? Hope you stay well!

    1. Thanks for asking, Jolene! It’s still pretty calm here. Until today, we are able to keep the number low, with 91 cases and 0 death. Thanks to early detection, we didn’t let the virus spread. No panic buying or curfew. But school has been closed for weeks. Bars, cinemas and theatres have followed suit since last week.

      But things might change in the next few weeks as more and more VNese from UK, US and EU come back, bringing the virus with them. Of the 91 cases, 80 are imported from those countries 🙁

      How about you? Things are still under control in Sydney?

      1. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
        Jolene says:

        That’s great, it’s amazing how your government has really controlled it early. Enforcing early lockdown is the only proven way to go.
        Australia is way behind other western countries. We are already 1,000 and it’s yet to peak. They are turning away people who want to be tested because our health system can’t cope. Our schools and workplaces are still open which is baffling. You may have seen headlines in the last few days that because some workplaces have sent people home to work, they just turn up on our beaches rather than self-isolate! People have no sense of social responsibility… Italy is a case in point. It’s so sad what’s happening in Europe, hope your friends in Germany are coping OK.

      2. Yeah, I have heard about the brainless action at Bondi Beach. Stupidity surely has no limit 🙁

        Last week, my relatives and friends in Germany were panic because they saw no action from the government. They are a bit relaxed now thanks to all the travel restrictions. But the number keeps increasing. Hope they don’t become the 2nd Italy…

      3. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
        Jolene says:

        I think America has become the second Italy… and Spain’s not far behind! Vietnam seems like a safe haven in comparison.

      4. For now 🙂 I hope the sistuation won’t get worse. My hometown Saigon has just closed the airspace, because our quarantines cannot cope with the influx of people from Europe and US.

      5. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
        Jolene says:

        That’s the “second wave” that we are all afraid of…

  7. Được xem bên trong lâu đài và nếu được chụp ảnh thì cô sẽ tìm đến. Hy vọng sẽ đến năm 2021. Cám ơn Len đã viết bài này.

    1. Dạ, lâu đài này thực sự đáng để xem đó cô. Về quy mô thì phải nói là nhất nhì Nhật Bản. Tuy vào bên trong lâu đài có hơi đông và mất thời gian, nhưng phải vào mới thấy sự khéo léo của kiến trúc sư thời xưa 🙂

  8. Mabel Kwong – Melbourne, Australia – Writer and multicultural blogger based in Melbourne. Writing to help you navigate cultural identities and confidently pursue creative passions.
    Mabel Kwong says:

    A wonderful write up of Himeji castle, Len. I have seen and heard many people visiting this castle, and from its historical significance, no surprise it is a popular attraction. It does sound strategically built with its unfurnished floors and labyrinth-like layout. It’s great to hear a limited number of visitors are allowed to enter at one time – not too crowded and hopefully one can have the experience of a lifetime. Hope you are doing alright over there in Vietnam and take care.

    1. Many thanks, Mabel! I’m getting used to the “new norm” in VN. Mask, temperature check, and health declaration are inconvenient, but it’s necessary atm. I hope you are doing fine as well 😀

      I must admit Himeji was still very crowded despite the limitation. However, it was pretty organised. So I could see everything without pushing through people. But after the pandemic, I guess the ticket system has to change. Perhaps less people and longer waiting time.

  9. vinneve – I believe in this quote "Life is a JOURNEY, travel it well." Wherever we may end up so long as there is LOVE we will be happy!
    vinneve says:

    Wow beautiful sceneries there! Also you have changed your blog theme again? it’s nice too!

    1. Yes, I did 😛 The last theme is good, but it’s not flexible enough. I can only use rectangular featured images. The homepage is a bit gloomy as well.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply