Friday, September 4, 2015

A White Egret standing in the Himeji Plain

Himeji Castle (National Treasure; UNESCO World Cultural Heritage) is a gracefully armed castle which has never been attacked.  It is one of the most beautiful and popular castles in Japan known for the white plastered earthen walls and six-story donjon as central keep.

The castle is nicknamed "Shirasagi-Jyo" meaning the White Egret Castle. This image would be similar to Neuschwanstein Castle of Germany which looks like a white swan. Since the Himeji Castle stands on a hill surrounded by a plain, it must have looked like an egret with its tall and white elegance in the paddies on the plain in the past.

The exterior of the donjon, or central keep, has 5 layers and there are 6 stories with the 1st floor being underground. A pair of shachi-gawara (grampus-shaped tile) decorates both sides of the top roof.  Dormer Gable and Chinese Gable are combined to express a stylish beauty of harmony. There are three small donjons, too.

It was reopened in April, 2015, after lengthy six years of renovations.  During the renovations, roof tiles were replaced, the outer walls were repainted, and earthquake resistance was reinforced.  Now it stands pristine white. 

Himeji Castle was originally built on the top of Himeyama Hill in 1346 by Akamatsu Sadanori as a fortification against local shoguns. Until it got nationalized in 1869 after Meiji Restoration, the lords in control of the castle changed several times.

In 1601, Ikeda Terumasa was handed control of Himeji Castle as a gift for his support for Tokugawa Ieyasu in the Sekigahara battle against the Toyotomis . He rebuilt the castle completely to its present day form. Several buildings were later added to the castle complex by Honda Tadamasa from 1617 to 1618.  The castle has kept its original form in nearly 400 years without damages not only by the domestic warfare but also the WWII.

During the peaceful Edo period, the castle was mainly a residence of the lord and a symbol of power. The most important castle's function, however, was warding off enemy attacks in case. The castle was protected by a formidable system of moats. Triple moats of inner, middle, and outer surrounded the castle in spiral.  Outer moat is not visible from the castle site.

Stone foundation walls and ramparts provided extra defense, some standing between enclosures and passageways, making enemy entry very difficult.  The walls have holes to shoot at the enemy from inside. Holes for muskets were round, rectangular, or polygonal.

The stone foundation walls rise steeply and the upper parts curve outward. This curving effect, called ogi-no-kobai (folding-fan slope), makes enemies very hard to climb up and also adds to the beauty.

The stone walls were built in the 'Random Style' according to the 16th century method. At the corners the larger square stones were piled on top of one another: this form of construction was called 'Trimmed Style'. To fill in crevices, natural stones from rivers were used.

This visit in June was my first visit to Himeji Castle after its reopen.  Instead of standing in a long line to go inside the castle, I strolled around along the inner moats seeing the castle from the different angles.  I'd like to return in autumn to walk under the tunnel of fiery maple leaves as well  as to go inside the castle.

Incidentally, Matsumoto Castle (National Treasure), Nagano, is another visually stunning castle in Japan. The keep, which was completed in the late 16th century, maintains the original wooden interiors and external stonework. It is known as "Karasu-Jyo", or Crow Castle for its striking black exterior. The black walls of the main keep and towers look like the spreading wings of a crow.


  1. こんばんわ。早い訪問でしょ~!!

  2. Location of the castle on the hill, and its appearance delights. This is a wonderful "White Heron". Regards.

  3. I like the contrasting black and white of the two castles. The first one pictured would be my favorite, however. It reminds me of a tall multi-layered wedding cake topped with heaps of creamy white icing. It is amazing, particularly in an age that sees so much destruction, that this marvelous monument survived, renovated but unscathed, throughout centuries. With all the trees around, it would look spectacular in autumn.

  4. Great photos ... It's wonderful, man.
    The heritage must be preserved for future generations.
    Caceres, also, my city, is patrinonio of humanity. Thank compatrir.
    Good weekend.
    A kiss,

  5. Dear Yoko - Himeji Castle is an exquisitely beautiful piece of architecture and deservedly a national treasure. I shall look forward to seeing your images when you return to find the maple leaves dressed in their autumn finery.

  6. 初々しい感じがします。 400年前にも同じような風景だったのでしょうか。 


  7. A gorgeous place !!!!!!
    Thanks for sharing those beautiful pictures and history of your country !
    Have a lovely weekend !

  8. I think Himeji castle is beautiful. It towers above like something from a traditional fairytale.I can imagine how it must have felt to enter it in the days when it was really in use as the headquarters of a powerful person. Quite frightening despite its beauty! I'm glad it has been so carefully restored. T


  9. Arquitetura graciosa. Belas fotos.

    ✿ Bom fim de semana!
    -`✿´- Beijinhos.

  10. .... and proud these beautiful castles stand indeed! how exciting, and absolutely stunning these places rise up... and how amazing their present condition. n♥

  11. 確か子供の頃に作ったプラモデルの一つに姫路城があったと覚えてますが、修理が終えたらこんなに白くなってるんですね。青空とお城の輝くような白さのコントラストがとても素敵です。

  12. Så mycket vackra byggnader ni har. Det är så spännande att se ert lands arkitektur det är jag mycket intresserad av.
    Era byggnader är så annorlunda än våra västerländska. De är vackra och lite mystiska.
    Jag njuter av dina inlägg
    Ha en fin helg
    Kram Meta

  13. A white and a black castle - both so elegant! The roof lines and the stone work on the white castle are fantastic. I love all the lines and angles of the architecture. Yes, do go back in the fall when those maples turn. I would love to see the inside. I wonder if you'll be permitted to photograph it?

  14. Greetings, Yoko! These are both incredibly beautiful places. I had no idea there were castles in Japan. I'm afraid our system of education is not so good sometimes! And your photos, as usual, are outstanding, providing so much insight into what the castles are really like. We have many white egrets here and I can see the resemblance to the White Egret Castle. I've gone through your photos several times ... they are stunning!

  15. Wow, what a wonderful and unusual castle! And the colour - white! Normally "defence buildings" try to camouflage in the landscape - but here it's vice versa. It looks more like a palace for a virgin Japanese princess... ;-)
    Have a great new week, Yoko. In the meanwhile summer and summer temperatures are already gone in Germany, we enjoy pleasant autumnal climate currently.

  16. So many incredibly beautiful images by lovely buildings

  17. Both castles are so beautiful. Himeji Castle is absolutely wonderful. I would love to see this World Cultural Heritage place in person. I may never visit Japan so I will see the treasures through your camera lens.

  18. Both castles are so beautiful. Himeji Castle is absolutely wonderful. I would love to see this World Cultural Heritage place in person. I may never visit Japan so I will see the treasures through your camera lens.

  19. Ooh we also went to Himeji during our trip last week! I loved both the city and the castle. It rained quite a bit at that time but it didn't diminish the beauty of the castle :) Thank you for your tips, by the way. Going around was quite challenging with the rain but my family and I had fun!

  20. How beautiful! Gorgeous photos! :)

  21. こんにちは。 姫路城に行かれたのですか、素晴らしい城ですね。 私は、1年位経って人が減ってきてからとおもっています。 早く行かないと、白い漆喰が灰色になってくるそうですが。 松本城との対比素晴らしいです。

  22. -`✺´-
    Uma boa semana, cheia de surpresas agradáveis!

  23. such a beautiful building
    i love the mix of plaster walls next to the rock
    and interesting to learn a bit about it
    how fun to consider it like a bird
    i have, long ago, been to the German castle
    thank you ~

  24. What a fabulous place! I am been charmed with of having known it though in the distance. It has to be impressive to be able to see it there.Thank you for your explanations and this photographic art with which you manage to make it come to us.


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