Hyogo Prefecture is home to one of Japan’s most beautiful castles, Himeji Castle. It is such a fantastic example of ancient Japanese architecture, that it often tops lists as one of the must-see sites in Japan.
In fact, it’s one of the Top 3 premier castles in Japan, along with Kumamoto Castle and Matsumoto Castle. Himeji Castle is so cool it has even been a filming location for James Bond! Of course, it not only tops the list for these reasons, but its long-and-interesting history is fun to delve in while visiting the ancient fortress.
Himeji Castle history
Perched atop a hill in the middle of the town, Himeji Castle’s white exterior and graceful facade have earned it the nickname of “White Heron Castle”, as it resembles a bird taking flight.
5 Cool James Bond Movie Locations You Can Visit in Japan
Himeji Castle has since remained standing for over 400 years — which is no small feat, considering that many Japanese castles were destroyed in the Meiji period. It has withstood bombings during World War II, and natural disasters, such as the great Hanshin earthquake in 1995.
In 1993, Himeji Castle was listed as a world heritage site and today can be visited year-round, with only two closing days on the 29th and 30th of December. Plus, after a large-scale restoration completed in 2015, the castle is now more beautiful than ever.
The castle structure
Himeji Castle is the largest castle in Japan, with over 80 original buildings with numerous walkways and courtyards connecting them. Access to the outer bailey, or courtyard, is free to the public. In fact, every spring, the grounds are filled with blooming cherry blossoms and people enjoying hanami (cherry blossom viewing). You must pay to see the inner keep.
Inside the main keep (also known as daitenshu), you can explore all six floors. One of the highlights is the “thousand-mat room” on the first floor, which consists of 300 tatami mats. On this floor, the walls are filled with weapon racks (bugukake in Japanese) where you can admire old guns, matchlocks and spears. Another highlights are the third and fourth floors, with “stone-throwing platforms” (ishiucidana), which warriors used to defend the castle.
Surrounding the castle is a moat, where you can ride in a traditional Edo-period boat, though it is an extra cost. Next to the castle is a traditional Japanese garden, called Kokoen, where you can enjoy a tea ceremony.
Access to the gardens is only ¥40 extra, when you purchase a ticket to Himeji Castle and is well worth checking out. On the weekends, it does it crowded but you may also get to see samurai or two, with volunteers sometimes donning armor and entertaining visitors.
Come to Himeji Castle to experience the largest castle in Japan and to discover the secrets of defensive systems of the feudal period.