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In Japan, castles are a part of their history and improved a lot in preserving their country’s treasure. It has been a cultural significance to the Japanese people, so they decided to rebuild the castles, years later. It’s incredible how a tourist spot like the oldest castle is visited continuously until today!
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Himeji Castle dates back to 1333 when Akamatsu Norimura, a samurai and military commander, originally constructed it by building a fort in the castle’s present location in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture. It was then formed into a full-scale castle in 1346 by Akamatsu Sadanori as reinforcement against external forces. In 1581, changes were made by Toyotomi Hidetoshi himself, one of Japan’s greatest historical figures, to officially complete Himeji Castle. Though war had accompanied the castle for hundreds of years, it remained intact and became one of Japan’s first world heritage sites.
※ Himeji Castle Official Site, "History of Himeji Castle"
Himeji Castle is one of Japan’s celebrated castles, but what makes it so special?
The story that comes with the Himeji Castle was already fascinating, but the architecture itself will give more reason to be fascinated. It has survived long years of medieval war and even climate change, so the structure of this elegant, white castle on top of a hill is quite exceptional to this age.
The castle can be seen even hundreds of meters from afar. It is quite undeniable that among all the towers standing tall, its central five-story tower is especially noteworthy and beautiful. This is called the Daitenshu, which served as the main keep, seated on the center of the complex. Smaller towers, identical to the main keep, were also connected to it. This treasure is recognized as one of Japan’s best, with its studded roof and white appearance. The keep is one of the main draws and there may be a line in crowded times to go up to each level by the narrow stairs.
The Hishi Gate, the biggest gate among the rest, is surely another spot that will leave you in awe upon entering the Himeji Castle. Visitors, upon passing by the entrance will most likely notice the intricate sculpture of the gate, with the “Hishi'' crests found at the top. Its Azuchi Momoyama Period style is retained to the present and visitors will automatically stop on their tracks just to admire this.
On the left side of the Hishi Gate is the Nishinomaru Garden. Japanese people are known to preserve natural resources, so this spot is well-taken care of. Anyone can have a rest while admiring the picturesque view of the old garden. This graceful part of the castle is very serene and enthralling with its countless cherry blossom trees that surely are refreshing. For another beautiful Japanese garden, you can visit Koko-en, which is found outside the castle and built more recently. It however costs an additional price to visit, but you can often buy the tickets as a set with the castle ticket.
Tourists shouldn’t miss the opportunity to travel just to take a look at the beautiful white castle in Japan, as access to the castle is quite simple.
A convenient option when visitors choose to travel is the bullet train or shinkansen. Himeji is a stop on the Sanyo Shinkansen line, therefore easily accessible from Tokyo in the east (and Kyoto and Osaka on the way) or Fukuoka from the west. It’s only about 30 minutes by the Nozomi Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka Station.
If you are starting in Osaka, you can also choose to ride on the local JR Kobe Line. This will take about an hour on the Special Rapid Service. Despite costing twice the time, it will cost about half the price. Of course, if you already have a JR Pass, we recommend taking the faster option as the shinkansen ride is covered by the pass.
Cherry blossom season is the most active time of the year. Thousands of people from around the world usually gather, visibly creating a full-packed Himeji Castle. During this peak season, the number of visitors are only limited to fifteen thousand a day, which may mean waking up earlier than everyone else to be able to acquire an entrance ticket.
If you are an adult, the price of your ticket is 1000 yen; otherwise it’s 300 yen. Visiting hours start as early as 9 am and end at 5 pm. Tickets can only be purchased upon visiting the castle since purchasing tickets in advance is prohibited by the management. The last piece of advice to keep in mind is that the Main Keep can’t be attained by a wheelchair as there are steep stairs and no elevator: nonetheless, a person with a disability can still freely roam around the grounds enveloping the castle.
※ Himeji Castle Official Site, "Himeji Castle Usage Guide" ※ Himeji Castle Management Office
Japan, with its unbelievably neat culture and popular modern technologies, accounts well for its famous world heritages, with Himeji Castle as the main star. Harboring the title as Japan’s best-preserved architectural castle, with all its magnificent walls and incomparable grandiosity makes it not just popular to people, but culturally significant to the nation as well. Dating back to medieval history where it was complexly built for a purpose, now serves its other purpose to the modern era- to share its history and cultural significance. Visitors always want a chance to know and uncover more of the secrets woven into its mighty barrier down to its grounds, passages, and compounded arrangements. This castle resting on a hilltop justifiably symbolizes the importance of knowing Japan’s preserved treasures.
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