Himeji castle is an imposing structure built on a high bluff in the city of Himeji. It dates back to 1333. It is the grandest of the 12 remaining feudal castles in Japan. Among the Japanese, it is better known as the “white heron castle” and one can see why.
Its military architecture with (formerly) three moats qualifies it as the ultimate samurai castle. It has seven levels, including the basement and each floor is designed to ward off any attack. There are chutes for dropping stones on anyone attempting to scale the massive dry stone constructed walls. There are 997 openings in the walls – called Sama -oblong slots for bows and arrows, square, round and triangular ones for the guns. One floor is the armory with built in racks for the guns. We climbed right to the very top in our socks, careful not to slide on the well worn Japanese cypress wide plank floors. At the very top is a shrine – one that was relocated from the hilltop.
A scaled model of the castle. Timbers are Japanese Cypress.
In former times up to 40,000 samurais lived within the outer moat to protect their Lord. The castle was handed down from family to family over its long history until it became a military barracks in the 19th century. Selection of the family depended upon their strength. Restoration started in 1910 and in 1993 it was named a World Cultural Heritage site.
We also enjoyed a Japanese tea ceremony in a tea house within the beautiful and serene Kokoen gardens. We were served green matcha tea in a bowl with a small bean curd sweet (similar to marzipan) covered with a cherry blossom flavored wrapping.