Himeji Castle is known as the “White Heron Castle” and it’s easy to see why.
Sitting on top of Himeyama hill, the castle’s brilliant white walls can be seen from all over Himeji. It stands poised like a bird ready for flight. However, the castle’s delicate beauty hides a dark past that it miraculously survived.
Himeji Castle was built in 1333 and was used up until its abandonment in 1871. The feudal system was abolished, and the castle was auctioned for around $2,000. The new owner wanted to destroy the magnificent castle and develop the land, but couldn’t because this was too expensive.
Himeji Castle lived on, but World War 2 struck. Himeji was severely bombed during the war. Amazingly, the castle survived, even though the surrounding area was burned to the ground. The castle was extremely lucky — a firebomb landed inside it but failed to detonate.
Himeji Castle’s charmed life continued. The Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 destroyed the nearby city of Kobe, yet Himeji Castle was undamaged. Even the bottle of sake placed on the altar on the top floor remained standing.
The castle was not only a remarkable piece of civil engineering, but of military design too. Himeji Castle was never captured by an invading force, thanks to its advanced defence systems. The path through the castle is like a maze, intended to be as confusing as possible for an attacker. The invader would have had to find the correct route, while being attacked from all sides with arrows, guns and boiling oil. I even saw tourists get lost despite the path being clearly marked.
This fine detail is found everywhere, from the tiled roof to the windows. The walls were built at an angle sufficient to support the castle’s weight, but too steep for an attacker to climb. This makes an elegant curve resembling a giant fan.
And that’s the amazing thing about Himeji Castle. The architects didn’t just build something that was long-lasting and militarily effective. They also crafted something that is utterly beautiful. Himeji Castle is a work of art.