Located in central Himeji City in Hyogo Prefecture, Himeji Castle is the largest and most visited castle in Japan. It was registered in 1993 as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. Himeji City is just 30 miles west of Kobe and about 400 miles west of Tokyo.
The castle originated as a hilltop fort constructed by Akamatsu Norimura in 1333. The fort was dismantled and reconstructed as a castle in 1346. Later in 1581, it became a three-story castle under the direction of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1601, Ikeda Terumasa demolished the entire structure rebuilding in its place a five-story main tower with three smaller towers.
The castle is constructed out of wood with white plaster walls. It stands on a hill, which is 150 feet above sea level. The top of the main tower stands 302 feet above sea level.
Amazingly, the castle remained intact for over 400 years. During the Meiji period, many Japanese castles were destroyed as they were reminders of Japan’s feudal past. Himeji Castle was abandoned in 1871 and some of the castle corridors and gates were destroyed to make room for Japanese army barracks. The castle complex was slated for demolition by the government, but due to the efforts of an Army Colonel named Nakamura Shigeto, it was spared. Today, you will find a stone monument placed within the castle complex at the first gate, the Diamond Gate, honoring Nakamura.
In 1945, at the end of World War II, Himeji City was heavily bombed. Although most of the surrounding area was burned to the ground, Himeji Castle managed to survive intact. Then, in 1995, the city was substantially damaged by the Great Hanshin Earthquake and once again the castle survived virtually undamaged.
Today, the castle is regarded as one of the finest surviving examples of a prototypical Japanese castles, consisting of a network of 83 buildings with a remarkably advanced defensive system. The complex defensive design is like a labyrinth and even with the route clearly marked, many visitors to the castle are easily lost.
The castle has undergone a three year restoration. In June of 2014, the main keep was unveiled showing the public what the castle looked like in its original state. The castle was fully re-opened on March 27, 2015.