Himeji Castle (姫路城, Himeji-jō) is a hilltop Japanese castle complex situated in the city of Himeji which is located in the Hyōgo Prefecture of Japan. The castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, comprising a network of 83 rooms with advanced defensive systems from the feudal period. The castle is frequently known as Hakuro-jō or Shirasagi-jō ('White Egret Castle' or 'White Heron Castle') because of its brilliant white exterior and supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight.
Himeji Castle dates to 1333, when Akamatsu Norimura built a fort on top of Himeyama hill. The fort was dismantled and rebuilt as Himeyama Castle in 1346, and then remodeled into Himeji Castle two centuries later. Himeji Castle was then significantly remodeled in 1581 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who added a three-story castle keep. In 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu awarded the castle to Ikeda Terumasa for his help in the Battle of Sekigahara, and Ikeda completely rebuilt the castle from 1601 to 1609, expanding it into a large castle complex. Several buildings were later added to the castle complex by Honda Tadamasa from 1617 to 1618. For almost 700 years, Himeji Castle has remained intact, even throughout the bombing of Himeji in World War II, and natural disasters including the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake.
Himeji Castle is the largest and most visited castle in Japan, and it was registered in 1993 as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. The area within the middle moat of the castle complex is a designated Special Historic Site and five structures of the castle are also designated National Treasures. Along with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto Castle, Himeji Castle is considered one of Japan's three premier castles. In order to preserve the castle buildings, it underwent restoration work for several years and reopened to the public on March 27, 2015. The works also removed decades of dirt and grime, restoring the formerly grey roof to its original brilliant white color.
Himeji Castle's construction dates to 1333, when a fort was constructed on Himeyama hill by Akamatsu Norimura, the ruler of the ancient Harima Province. In 1346, his son Sadanori demolished this fort and built Himeyama Castle in its place. In 1545, the Kuroda clan was stationed here by order of the Kodera clan, and feudal ruler Kuroda Shigetaka remodeled the castle into Himeji Castle, completing the work in 1561. In 1580, Kuroda Yoshitaka presented the castle to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and in 1581 Hideyoshi significantly remodeled the castle, building a three-story keep with an area of about 55m2 (590sqft).
Following the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu granted Himeji Castle to his son-in-law, Ikeda Terumasa, as a reward for his help in battle. Ikeda demolished the three-story keep that had been created by Hideyoshi, and completely rebuilt and expanded the castle from 1601 to 1609, adding three moats and transforming it into the castle complex that is seen today. The expenditure of labor involved in this expansion is believed to have totaled 2.5 million man-days. Ikeda died in 1613, passing the castle to his son, who also died three years later. In 1617, Honda Tadamasa and his family inherited the castle, and Honda added several buildings to the castle complex, including a special tower for his daughter-in-law, Princess Sen (千姫, Senhime).
In the Meiji Period (1868 to 1912), many Japanese castles were destroyed. Himeji Castle was abandoned in 1871 and some of the castle corridors and gates were destroyed to make room for Japanese army barracks. The entirety of the castle complex was slated to be demolished by government policy, but it was spared by the efforts of Nakamura Shigeto, an army colonel. A stone monument honoring Nakamura was placed in the castle complex within the first gate, the Hishi Gate (菱の門, Hishinomon).Although Himeji Castle was spared, Japanese castles had become obsolete and their preservation was costly.
When the han feudal system was abolished in 1871, Himeji Castle was put up for auction. The castle was purchased by a Himeji resident for 23 Japanese yen (about 200,000 yen or US$2,258 today). The buyer wanted to demolish the castle complex and develop the land, but the cost of destroying the castle was estimated to be too great, and it was again spared.
Himeji was heavily bombed in 1945, at the end of World War II, and although most of the surrounding area was burned to the ground, the castle survived intact. One firebomb was dropped on the top floor of the castle but failed to explode. In order to preserve the castle complex, substantial repair work was undertaken starting in 1956, with a labor expenditure of 250,000 man-days and a cost of 550 million yen. In January 1995, the city of Himeji was substantially damaged by the Great Hanshin earthquake, but Himeji Castle again survived virtually undamaged, demonstrating remarkable earthquake resistance. Even the bottle of sake placed on the altar at the top floor of the keep remained in place.
Himeji Castle was registered on 11 December 1993 as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan. Five structures of the castle are also designated National Treasures: The main keep (大天守, daitenshu), northwest small keep (乾小天守, inui kotenshu), west small keep (西小天守, nishi kotenshu), east small keep (東小天守, higashi kotenshu), and I, Ro, Ha, Ni-corridors and kitchen (イ, ロ, ハ, ニの渡櫓附台所1棟, i, ro, ha, ni no watariyagura tsuketari daidokoro 1 to). The area within the middle moat of the castle complex is a designated Special Historic Site.
Along with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto Castle, Himeji Castle is considered one of Japan's three premier castles. It is the most visited castle in Japan, receiving over 2,860,000 visitors in 2015. Starting in April 2010, Himeji Castle underwent restoration work to preserve the castle buildings, and reopened to the public on March 27, 2015.
Himeji Castle is the largest castle in Japan. It serves as an excellent example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, containing many of the defensive and architectural features associated with Japanese castles. The curved walls of Himeji Castle are sometimes said to resemble giant fans (扇子, sensu), but the principal materials used in the structures are stone and wood. Feudal family crests (家紋, kamon) are installed throughout the architecture of the building, signifying the various lords that inhabited the castle throughout its history.
The specific style of the castle is a hirayama (平山城 flat hilltop). Two castles that were built during the same time and shared many of the architectural features are Matsuyama Castle (Iyo) and Tsuyama Castle.
The Himeji Castle complex is located in the centre of Himeji, Hyōgo on top of a hill called Himeyama, which is 45.6m (150ft) above sea level. The castle complex comprises a network of 83 buildings such as storehouses, gates, corridors, and turrets (櫓, yagura). Of these 83 buildings, 74 are designated as Important Cultural Assets: 11 corridors, 16 turrets, 15 gates, and 32 earthen walls. The highest walls in the castle complex have a height of 26m (85ft). Joining the castle complex is Kōko-en (好古園), a Japanese garden created in 1992 to commemorate Himeji city's 100th anniversary.
From east to west, the Himeji Castle complex has a length of 950 to 1,600m (3,120 to 5,250ft), and from north to south, it has a length of 900 to 1,700m (3,000 to 5,600ft). The castle complex has a circumference of 4,200m (2.6mi). It covers an area of 233 hectares (2,330,000 m2 or 576 acres), making it roughly 50 times as large as the Tokyo Dome or 60 times as large as Koshien Stadium.
The main keep (大天守, daitenshu) at the center of the complex is 46.4m (152ft) high, standing 92m (302ft) abov...