As a part of our Japan In 9 Days trip, we decided to stop at one of the best surviving examples of a samurai castle in Japan. It was simply stunning!
Why Himeji? The nerdy reason is that the Himeji Samurai Castle is a wonder in the game Civilization, so I did some research, and it was on the way, and it looked very cool. We arrived in Himeji in the evening, so we just had a nice meal at a local izakaya, and went to bed. Next day we woke up early, knowing that being early at all major attractions in Japan is key, and that we had a train to board to Kyoto that afternoon.
The Himeji Castle is a hilltop castle, it’s also known as White Egret or Heron Castle because of its brilliant white exterior and supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight. The castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, comprising of a network of 83 rooms with advanced defensive systems all around. It dates all the way back to 1333, being rebuilt, remodelled and reinvented for centuries to come. It’s the largest and most visited castle in Japan. It’s UNESCO World Heritage listed, and is designated as a national treasure in Japan.
So, it was a bigger deal than we thought initially. If you want to see a samurai castle, it does not come any better than this. The castle itself visible from most of town, since it’s perched on a hill, and it’s an imposing structure. The closer we got, the more excited we got. We were first at the gate when it opened, and we had many parts of the exterior and interior for ourselves the first hour or so. The whole complex, with defensive moats, curved walls, secret entrances, secret attack hallways, trap doors, loopholes, shooting galleries and all over being just awesome, was a highlight in Japan for us.
Not to mention all the cherry trees blossoming in the grounds around the castle, made it something we will remember for a long time. Inside they have a cool AR phone function, so that you can point your phone camera at areas, and samurais appear with full regalia, furniture and interior like it was hundreds of years ago. It looks like the castle is 5 floors, but there are floors hidden in the foundation as well. The paths surrounding and entering the castle are built so to confuse attacking enemies. Some paths even turn back on themselves. All around and inside the castle there are ingenious contraptions to make an attack and siege of this castle as difficult as possible. So, to stop on the way to or from Hiroshima, to visit this gem of a castle, is well worth the hours. And if you get there early like us, it’s like walking around in your own castle on a hill.