Himeji Castle 姫路城
The most majestic castle in Japan
Japan's most famous castle reopened to the public in early 2015, after 5 years of work. This impregnable fortress, classified as World Heritage by Unesco for more than 20 years, can be admired from its park. A real dive into the heart of medieval Japan, in a unique building rich in history ...
A castle that marked the history of Japan
Designed in the 14th century, during the Nanboku-cho period (333-1392), Himeji Castle was the scene of many historical events. The site had been a stronghold since the end of the 14th century, before the famous Ieyasu (first shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty) took over the building, soon to be augmented by the impressive four-story keep in 1609, and large enclosures. Ieyasu Tokugawa offered the castle to his son-in-law in 1600, then the buildings of the western enclosure were built in 1618. Later, the system of the hans (the territories of the daimyos) was abolished: the castle was then sold at auction.
Never conquered, never a victim of earthquakes or fires, and even escaped the bombings of WW II in 1945. At the end of the 19th century, the city took charge of its maintenance.
- Read also: Himeji Central Park
The famous restored Himeji Castle
The castle benefited from major renovations between 2010 and 2015. After 5 years of scaffolding, Himeji Castle has regained its keep, its famous bright white color (its walls are whitewashed), and its nickname "castle of the white heron" ( Hakujoro in the original version).
Visitors can thus once again enjoy a building that remains the largest, most successful, and renowned of its kind, as well as the first Japanese site classified by Unesco (with the Horyu-ji temple of Nara), is one of the last twelve wooden castles in Japan.
The castle was showcased in the hit films, Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985) by the famed director, Akira Kurosawa!
- To read also: The Hôryû-ji temple
An impregnable castle
Himeji Castle is the largest castle in Japan, built 45 meters high, overlooking the city from the top of Himeyama Hill. The keep (tenshukaku) is also nearly 46 meters high. The castle is perched on huge curved stone walls. If the effect is striking, this technique is nevertheless only practical and not aesthetic, because it confers greater solidity.
The visit to the castle takes around 3 to 4 hours, especially if you want to enjoy a walk in the gardens of Koko-en, created in 1992 to commemorate 100 years of the city's history. It begins with the great Hishinomon gate, pierced in thick walls, which gives access to the interior moat of Sangoku-bori (the only ones still intact). If you want to discover them in a boat, it is possible on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays 1000 yen ($9/8€) - 10 departures/daily. The canals are on average 20 meters wide
- Read also: Hikone Castle
The canal is only a small part of the exceptional defensive architecture of Himeji, where one can admire the loopholes (on the perimeter walls) up close. The visitor then takes hidden passages and baffles, but above all the disturbing labyrinth which leads to the main keep of the castle: narrow and convoluted paths arranged to prevent an army from access to the heart of the structure, which housed the lord and his wealth.
Indeed, this labyrinthine plan constitutes the most effective defense of the castle: the enemies had to progress in a spiral pattern around the keep. The alleys are also very narrow and steep, which hampered the rapid advance of an army and allowed the soldiers of the castle to shoot at intruders using matchlock guns and bows.
In all, the castle consists of 83 buildings including 16 turrets and 15 doors. Out of 83 constructions, no less than 74 of them are classified as " Important cultural property ". The work is immense since it extends over 1,700 meters in length.
The large tower has 6 floors, which, as you go up, get smaller and smaller: if the first is 550 m2 (and is covered with 330 tatami mats), the last extends over "only "115 m2.
Visitors have the opportunity to observe many defensive installations, such as loopholes of various shapes or even trap doors and machicolations, intended to throw stones or boiling oil. In addition, on the first floor is the Weapons Museum. On the top floor, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the city. Take the opportunity to admire the shashi-gawara, motifs of mythical animals in the shape of fish, reputed to protect the building from fire.
- Also to visit: The Engyô-ji temple
After you discover the castle, do not miss to visit the small Art Museum of the city of Himeji, attached to one of the canals of the castle. The museum is housed in an astonishing red brick building, formerly a military warehouse. You will find the paintings by European masters such as Magritte, Monet, and Pissaro, and in its gardens bronze sculptures by Rodin. Not to mention that retrospectives of major artists are often organized there, all for a small entrance fee (200 yen, or $1.70/1.40€).
Before your visit, discover Himeji Castle in video with Japan Experience:
Comment se rendre au Château d'Himeji ?
Il est très facile de visiter le château en une après-midi sans avoir à dormir sur place, notamment depuis les grandes villes d'Osaka, Kyoto et Hiroshima. La gare de Himeji accueille les lignes de shinkansen Tokaido-Sanyo. Elle est ainsi accessible en moins d'une heure depuis Kyoto (5370 yens soit 45€ depuis la gare de Kyoto) et 30 minutes depuis Osaka (3810 yens soit 32€ depuis la gare de Shin-Osaka). Comptez une heure de trajet, toujours en shinkansen, depuis la gare d'Hiroshima (8650 yens, 73€).
eUne fois arrivé à la gare, empruntez simplement l'avenue Otemae face à la gare : aucun risque de vous tromper, vous apercevrez au loin le donjon blanc du château. Sur le chemin, vous passerez devant le Musée Miki, qui expose des œuvres d'artistes japonais, peintures et céramiques.
Au bout de 10-15 minutes de marche, vous atteindrez le pont Sakuramon qui marque l'entrée de l'enceinte du château. Ceux qui le souhaitent peuvent aussi emprunter le bus n°8 pour 100 yens (0,85€), qui les emmènera directement en face du pont Sakuramon.
How to get to Himeji Castle?
It is very easy to visit the castle in the afternoon without having to spend overnight, especially from the big cities of Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. Himeji station accommodates the Tokaido-Sanyo shinkansen lines. It is accessible in less than an hour from Kyoto (5,370 yen or $46/41€ from Kyoto station) and 30 min from Osaka (3,810 yen or $33/29€ from Shin-Osaka station). Allow an hour's journey, still by shinkansen, from Hiroshima station (8,650 yen, $75/66).
Once you arrive at the station, simply take Avenue Otemae across the station: you will see the imposing white tower of the castle in the distance. On the way, you will pass the Miki Museum, which exhibits works by Japanese artists, paintings, and ceramics. After a 10-15 min walk, you will reach the Sakuramon Bridge which marks the entrance to the castle grounds. Or take the # 8 bus for 100 yen ($.90/.75€ ), which will take you directly in front of the Sakuramon Bridge.
Address, timetable & access
Phone+81 (0) 792 851 146
Timetable15 min walk from Himeji station Access by tourist bus, Himejijo Otemonmae stop
PriceAdults 1,000 yen ($9.50/8€); -18 years old 300 yen ($2.75/2.25€).
AccessSep 1 - April 26: 9 am to 5 pm (doors close at 4 pm) April 27 - August 31: 9 am to 6 pm (doors close at 5 pm)